Monday, February 7, 2011

Of sump pits and backwater valves

Thanks to a follower for the suggestion for this one. He keeps asking me advice for his own sump pit installation, which I offer. He's saving a lot of money doing it himself. It's not "skilled work", but it's not simple either. It's mostly hard work, and really, who's up for that?
I've installed a lot of these things. There are, like anything else, Cadillac systems, and Chevettes. In the end, the thing to remember about Cadillacs and Chevettes, is that both are a vehicle that get you from A to B. Same goes for sump pits. They're all supposed to remove water from your foundation.
Recently, the City and Province have joined forces to "help" encourage people to install these things. While this isn't a bad idea, I'm not so sure it's a "good" idea either. To qualify, a property owner needs to have a permit for the installation. In the case of a backwater valve, this makes sense, as the City has the legal jurisdiction to enforce the Winnipeg Plumbing By-law, but what's with the sump pit/pump?
The pit should not be connected to any "waste water" system, as it's been illegal to connect the weeping tile system to a sump pit since about 1990, so let's do this little experiment.
Go into your basement, and take a sledge hammer (I'd use a quickie saw with a diamond blade and a water feed to keep the dust down, but this is not me doing this... it's you... in your basement) and pound a hole through the floor. Ideally, you'd have a 5 gallon bucket nearby, and you could  trace the outline of the pail on the floor before you start smashing. Make the hole slightly larger than the pail. Now start digging. For the first bit, you can use a spade, but eventually a clam shell digger will be handy. I'm going for a coffee... lemme know when you can fit the pail in the hole. By the way... use the pail to schlep the mud out of the basement. If it's clay, dump it in the neighbours garden.
Now look. The hole is filling with water! Where's it coming from?!  It's under the floor, in the soil. It seeps into the lowest point. What to do?! Drill the bucket full of holes about 3/16" round and put it into the hole you dug. While whistling, "There's a hole in the bucket", place your new pump from Princess Auto into the bucket, and snake the pipe out the back door. Plug it in, and you have a Chevette.
What part of this Chevette requires a permit... or an inspector... or as the FreeP reported,

The average range of costs for a complete retrofit of an in-line backwater valve and sump pit and pump system is $2,500 to $9,000

Wow. Methinks someone chargeth to much. The maximum assistance available is for 60% of a sump pit install up to $2K.  So that'd be.... umm.... high school math.... ummm... $3200 total bill? I'm guessing that the owner will be on the hook for the rest if it's more, and why wouldn't it be more? Don't get me wrong, I've never installed a Chevette as described, but a Cadillac is the same, just with a bigger pail that has a lid, a solid pipe out the wall instead of a hose out the door... you get the idea.

The City and their friends have single handedly, (well, double handedly I guess) raised the profit margins of basement contractors (as if they really needed any help with that), and plumbers. There simply aren't enough people around to do the work, let alone get three quotes as required to qualify for the assistance. The only things I see that require a permit is the 110 volt dedicated sump pit receptacle... and that's electrical. I didn't see any mention of an electrician on the City web page. Maybe I missed it

The back water valve is another issue, leaving people ripe for the picking. A simple fix is called a bayco valve.

It's a glorified ball that hangs in your catch basin. When the water rises, the ball closes off the opening, and water can't come up.  To install it, you need to know where your catch basin is, and own a screw driver. About $20 at your favourite store. This ONLY works if you have no basement plumbing aside from your catch basin, pretty common in Winnipeg. If you have ONLY a catch basin AND a washing machine, you can install an in line back water valve protecting the laundry arm of the drain.

About $25 at Home Despot. If you have a full basement bathroom, you need a back water valve... and a plumber.

Imagine I was one of those foundation repair salesmen, and you invited me to your home. What would I be selling you? And here we have the reason I'm blogging from my small modest home in the West End. I'd sell you the Bayco and the branch line protection if that's all you needed, and charge you about $300 to cover my time and for forcing me to listen to your incessant blather while I worked instead of selling you the full bore "whole house" back water valve that we need to bust out the concrete floor for, have a licensed plumber (or his 17 year old helper) hook up, and have a City Inspector come visit... if he had time to fit you in.

This is a cash cow for the guys able to do as many of these as they can squeeze in, and the reasons are simple. Bad planning.
If the City REALLY wanted to help, they'd have made their intentions known, and offer a limited license to people who can demonstrate they have a legitimate business, insurance, and be willing to post a small surety or bond for the first 10 inspected installations (or whatever). Now, with twice as many people able to provide estimates and actually do the work with a permit, everybody wins.
Given how old the average plumber is.... at $120 per hour... it seems that no one is really well served.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I was starting to get suspicious that I might be able to do this myself and give up on trying to chase down contractors.

    Are bayco valves just held in by tension?

  2. Hi Curt, thanks for asking! A bayco, or "stop cop" is held in when you compress the unit via the 3 or 4 screws that hold it together. The unit is 2 brass pieces, connected with a neoprene sleeve. When you tighten the screws, the neoprene snugs up against the interior wall of the pipe.