Question: We have a 15-year-old home with a sump pump that we constantly have on. When we first moved in, I was advised by someone at Home Depot to simply disconnect the outside hose in the winter, which we’ve been doing. Sometimes — maybe one time each winter — a big block of ice forms where the pipe from the house drains, and we break the ice up. Last winter, someone came by when the big block of ice happened to be there and said that shouldn’t be happening. Then, we learned earth on the side of our house is eroding and that maybe the draining sump pump pipe contributed to it. Should we keep doing the same thing, and simply keep building up the soil as necessary, or should we have a hose coming out the pipe?
— Jessica Senehi
Answer: You have addressed a common question that I often get during standard home inspections, especially from homeowners who have never had a sump pit and pump. The simple answer is to continue your current, proper course of action, because the negative effects of not removing the discharge hose extension can have much more serious results than the formation of a small block of ice.
Removing the sump pump discharge hose extension outside your foundation should be a critical part of your pre-winter maintenance schedule. If your solid discharge pipe extends a short distance outside your house or foundation wall, it should have a fitting on the end that accepts a standard corrugated sump hose. A pipe clamp is often used to secure the pipe to the fitting and simply loosening this clamp with a screwdriver, twisting and sliding the hose off is all that is required. After dumping out any water still in the hose, rolling it up and storing it in your garage or shed for the winter should ensure it is ready to reinstall in the spring next year.
The main reason that this hose should be removed and stored for the heating season is to prevent freezing. Most homes have hose extensions that range from 10 to 30 metres long. Most homeowners do not fully extend the hose, or have it perfectly sloped, so that all the water drains after the pump discharges. Also, the corrugations in the flexible pipe collect water, especially if it is left partially coiled. This water will certainly freeze if the pump is left connected, and the best case scenario is that the hose will spring a leak outside the home when the water expands upon freezing.
In many cases, the pipe slowly freezes, allowing a partial blockage situation. If the pump engages during an early thaw, or if it simply turns on to remove excess water from the sump, that water will surely cause the exterior hose to freeze solid, blocking it completely. Next time the pump engages there will be no where for the water to go. The pump can therefore run non-stop until it seizes, requiring complete replacement. A worse possible situation is that the frozen discharge hose will burst outside your foundation, or the inside solid portion of the pipe cracks or leaks. Either of these may cause more than just a nuisance lump of ice outside the house.
In the earlier scenario, where the pump seizes and stops working, the weeping tiles and pit may fill completely during the spring thaw, causing potentially serious damage to your basement floor slab. Less likely, but possible, the pit could overflow and partially flood your basement. If you don’t have any kind of high water alarm or alert system for your sump, you may not know you have a problem until everything in your basement gets soaked.
Surely, that is something every homeowner wants to avoid.
So, what is the solution? In this case, as with many home-related issues, doing the simplest thing may be the best. After removing your small, flexible sump pump hose extension and storing it for the winter, place something directly underneath or over the small pipe sticking out of the wall. A small concrete or plastic splash block, readily available at home and garden centres, placed below the pipe may help redirect any winter sump discharge safely away from your foundation. This will also help prevent the erosion you may be correctly attributing to the sump pump, at least partially. Alternatively, a larger, loose-fitting pipe or downspout may be placed over the small discharge pipe, which should not freeze solid, but will redirect any water away from the house. Many homeowners use a short section of non-perforated weeping tile hose for this purpose, due to its durability and strength. It can be held in place with a piece of twine or wire secured to the smaller pipe it is draining.
Ensuring that your sump pump remains plugged in and functioning, even during the coldest winter months, will require removal of your small exterior discharge hose to prevent freezing and damage or leakage. Using a splash block, or larger loose-fitting pipe for that time of year, may help minimize the erosion and amount of soil required to build up against the foundation next spring.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.