Sump Pit, No Pump?

I’m relatively new to Duluth, and I’m a first-time home debtor. Where I come from we don’t have basements (or winter). I’ve been in my house for a year, and haven’t had water issues in my basement. There is a sump pit down there. (I’m not sure if “sump pit” is the correct term; it’s a manhole-like pit with one large horizontal rusty metal pipe that comes from one side and ends near the middle and several smaller clay pipes around the edge.) We do not have a sump pump. I doubt it is a simple gravity drain, because there is no location on our lot that is lower than the pit. The house passed an I&I inspection shortly before we moved in.

While I haven’t been in the habit of looking under the manhole cover regularly, the two or three times I’ve previously looked in there it was dry. With all of this rain I figured I should have a look, and… It is full of water! I’m wondering if this is a problem. Is this water going to eventually flood our basement? Is my house contributing to I&I-related problems? Is it possible that the house passed its I&I inspection when it should have failed? Why is there a pit down there if there is no pump?

The previous owners of the house did not have a pump, and I am convinced (by the vintage shag carpet in the basement, among other things) that water has not previously been an issue in the basement. But with the water gathering in the pit and more rain to come, I am concerned.

If you are able and willing to speculate what sort of system this seems to be and to suggest what, if any, course of action I need to take, please post a comment. Thanks!



about 7 years ago

Every house I've lived in has the manhole cover in the basement, and none have used sump pumps. Maybe it's standard and sump pumps aren't required? I hope someone with actual knowlege chimes in to help. :p


about 7 years ago

My house has a similar "pit" and also passed I&I inspection. My basement has always been dry. We are having a pretty good soak, but I wouldn't be too concerned if the water does not continue to rise.


about 7 years ago

My experience was that I had to pull all the plumbing and clay tiles out of the manhole in our basement. That was where the drains around the base of the house connected to the sewer - the main problem I & I tries to resolve. So I then had to dig the pit to about 3 feet and put a sump pump and basin with its own drain to the backyard, and remove the connection to the main sewer pipe to pass the I & I inspection.

It's possible that your rainwater is being sent to a "daylight" drain instead of the sewer system, but that seems unlikely if the pipes are that old. Can you tell if it connects to your main sewer line? We've never had water in our pit, but the tile pipes were so full of mud, nothing could have flowed to the center of the house anyway.

It seems like the area of town you're in might have something to do with the amount of work that needs to be done to address I&I. There have been city financing programs if major work needs to be done.


about 7 years ago

Here is a good website with a picture and step-by-step instructions to tell if your footing drains are still draining to the sanitary sewer:

Based on what you are describing, I am guessing you are still dealing with an active connection from your footings to the sanitary sewer.  But without actually looking, it is hard to say.

We had a similar situation going at our first house and were not in one of the I&I target neighborhoods.  All was fine until the sewer line got plugged and the it backed up into the basement.  Same thing just happened to my neighbor.  And it Is a story I've heard many times in Duluth.  

Based on that not-so-uncommon experience, if you think your manhole is still connected to the sanitary sewer, I would consider getting the system disconnected and installing a sump pump.  I'm not sure if the I&I program still is funding projects.  But it would be worth a call to the city.


about 7 years ago

Thanks for these responses!

The information at the link that krlars2 provided and what I can see here in my house together suggest that I have active footing drains. The water continues to trickle into the pit from the clay pipes, but the water level in the pit has not changed in the past 18 hours (and I'm knocking-on-wood that it won't rise any further). I suppose this means that it is draining from the pit into the sanitary sewer. If this is the case, how is it that my house passed its I&I inspection when I was purchasing it?

Also... If my footing drains are active and still connected to the sanitary sewer, is there anyway I can manually plug the connection to protect my basement from sewage back-up, but also be able to open up the connection when the pit gets water in it from the footing drain? And now that I'm thinking of it, even if I plugged-up or disconnected the footing drain from the sanitary sewer, wouldn't a sewage back-up still cause problems in my basement via a shower that I have down there?

Finally... Is this situation something that a general plumber handles, or do I need to contact a sump pit specialist?



about 7 years ago

There will also be a trap between the manhole and the rest of the sewer in your basement. It's possible that the trap is plugged and the water can't drain. If you rarely get water in there it might just drain very slowly or evaporate.

A regular plumber can take care of the sump pump. I'd start by calling the I&I program and have them come out and tell you what's going on and what's required, and if they can help with the cost. If you need a plumber, I'd recommend American Drain and Sewer.

When I did ours, the City inspector had me install a gate valve and a backflow valve in the main sewer line to stop any possible backups from the city sewer to our floor drain or the shower I was installing. Don't know if they would make you do that or not.


about 7 years ago

The I & I Inspection is kind of flawed.  If they inspect it in the winter or during a dry time there won't be any water, so they say it's not contributing to the sanitary sewer system.  Once we get some rain the drain tile (if it is still intact) will send the water to that drain.  If it is draining then you should be fine but if somehow that plugs you could have a wet basement.  If you are in one of the targeted areas the city can help to you pay to install a sump pump. Good Luck.

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