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Tips to Prevent Failed Sump Pumps, Basement Flooding Foundation Seepage Due to Chicago’s Chilling Winters

Starting in the late 1950s it became common practice to install a perimeter drain tile as part of the program to prevent foundation seepage and water from entering a homes basement and or crawl space. Whether the drain tile is installed along the interior or exterior perimeter of the foundation all systems will eventually drain into a sump basin complete with a sump pump design to discharge the water safely away from the structure and prevent foundation seepage and ultimately prevent failed sump pump.

Originally, you were allowed to tie the discharge line into the common sewer. However as a result of the housing boom a concern arose that allowing all that storm water to run into the main sewer could potentially overwhelm the system. So it became code in most villages and cities to discharge the storm water out to splash. Splash simply refers to the premise of having the sump pump expel the water back into the yard but for this to work the water must be pumped at least 4 to 6 ft off the wall. This will get the discharge past the recycle zone where the chances of it migrating back down to the drainage tile are greatly reduced.


Having a pipe sticking through the foundation wall brought about a whole new set of issues for the home owner which included but are not limited to, improper grading not allowing the water to run of causing pooling in the yard, areas where the soil is eroded by the force of the discharge not to mention the unsightly pipe sticking out of the wall.

There have been a number of different efforts made to rectify these issues and prevent failed sump pump.

1) Burring the sump pump run off underground is the most common. This is referred to as subsoil discharge. It is done by tying the discharge line coming out of the wall in to 4inch line which then is run underground to an alternate point in the yard. In order for this to work effectively the sub soil line must have the correct pitch to allow the water to drain off. But perhaps the most import part of a sub soil discharge is the termination point. In a perfect scenario you would like a direct discharge at grade however this is rarely the case. More than 75% of the time the system terminates into a bubbler pot.

2) Another way people try to prevent the sump pump discharge from flooding the yard is to install a length of flexible above grade that they can then move from place to place as needed.

3) In a limited number of cases the homeowner simply attaches a length of solid line to the discharge just to extend it a little further out into the yard.

Even with global warming Chicago is not immune from winters chilling effects such as heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures.

Each of the sump pump discharges situations has its own set of circumstances, which may prove fatal to the sump pump resulting in basement seepage and major damage if not discovered in time.

1) A properly installed subsoil discharge should have a freeze gap installed just outside the foundation wall at the point where the smaller line connects to the 4″ piping. A freeze gap provides an open area for water from the sump pump discharge to spill out should the below grade section of piping freeze. Should a freeze gap not be present a qualified waterproof can install one for you. (insert freeze gap photo ?)

Secondly the termination point must be keep clear of snow, ice and other debris which will prohibit the water from exiting the subsoil line. We suggest digging out both the termination point as well as a small path/channel for the water to drain. Also put down a small amount of an ice melting material, they do make several which are designed not to kill landscaping.

2) If a length of flexible hose used it, no matter how level you think it is, it will have a series of peaks and valleys. Water accumulates in the ridges of the line and freezes. They only way to prevent this is to un-hook the two line and clear a path for the water to run away from the house.

3) In the case of just a solid run of pipe it is important that you check to make sure there is a proper pitch. Then clear the area around the end of the line creating a small channel for the water to flow away naturally. In the most sever of case wrapping the line with a low voltage heating element (similar to that of a gutter heater) will help control some of the freezing. However this will require you to check the line frequently to insure no damage is being done. So this should be only a last resort.

The sump pump is the most integral part of any drain tile system. If the pump fails the drain tile keeps directing water into the basin. With no pump to discharge it away from the house it will flood your basement causing untold damages.

Written by Walter Slowinski