Finalizing sump-thing

October 17th, 2014
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I am working down the list of plumbing connections I have to make to the new sump pit. Those that require digging or moving soil are done.

The connection for the exterior footing drains is in place. I also have the interior footing drains connected, and so is the sump discharge into the sewer, although it is a temporary connection at this point.

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Plumbing per code

To turn the temporary sump discharge into a permanent one, I need to switch out the Schedule 40 PVC piping with Cast Iron Soil Pipe (CISP), as per the Chicago plumbing code requirements. I have to use CISP where the pipes are concealed, i.e. under the future floor slab. Once I am in the sump pit, I can re-connect to the already installed PVC pipe setup.

I got myself the right CISP pipe, fittings and gaskets, widened the hole into the sump to fit the two inch CISP pipe, and made the new connection.

Sewer extension

When we ripped out the old sewer to replace it, the City required that I separate the sanitary sewer line from the storm sewer line .

To extend that line, I bought a four inch diameter CISP pipe and took it all the way to the porch footing. Once the porch gets torn down and the footing is redone, I will continue to extend that line into the back yard.

I may never connect a downspout to that storm sewer line, as I have ambitious plans for sustainable and infiltration based stormwater management in the yard. Instead, that storm sewer line may be repurposed into a sanitary sewer one day — if we ever build a garage with a studio apartment above it. But those are distant dreams and warrant a whole new blog post.

Cistern connection

I have a couple of connections to go, and one of them is the future discharge connection to the underground cistern (see also graphic above). This requires another hole to be punched into the sump pit through which I can fit the pipe. Because this is not part of the sewer plumbing system, I used a Schedule 40 PVC pipe for the rough-in and will again extend it into the yard once we redo the porch footing.

Electrical conduit

The cover for the sump pit will be in the middle of a workshop area. I wasn’t interested in having power cords from the pit cover running across the floor; I’d rather avoid that kind of trip hazard. And I did so by installing a 1 1/2” diameter galvanized electrical conduit from the pit up to the basement wall. I can have an outlet near the top of that conduit, and thus circumvent the power cord spaghetti sprawl.

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Sump-thing afoot…

October 9th, 2014
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… precisely, footing drains. The interior footing drains are now connected to the new sump. But I also have plans for footing drains running around the exterior periphery of the house. Now is a good time to get started on those – or at least get started with the connection to the sump as shown in the sketch below.

sump-03

The ground in the back porch is still a mess and needs to be leveled out. That gives me a good working platform. I blocked the hole I punched into the sump for the drain connection to prevent dirt from falling into the pit – and started digging the trench.

People have commented on what hard work it appeared to be, excavating the sump pit. That was actually not bad because with the long-handled shovel, I didn’t need to bend down too much.

Digging the trench, on the other hand, was hard work indeed, with a lot of bending down and slicing though stiff clay. Add to that 100% relative humidity and no breeze. I was soaking wet from the start. I’ve never sweated so much – not even in a steam room.


There are two more interesting things worth mentioning:

Did you notice that I always have water in the bottom of the trench? That is because of the rains we had saturating the soil. The advantage of having the water in the trench is that I didn’t have to measure the depth while I was digging along. The standing water acted like a level, and as long as I had the trench bottom barely covered, I knew I was at the right depth.

At one point the trench was full of water. That happened over lunch when we had a downpour and I had the sump pump disconnected. This reinforces the need I had identified for the “seamless transition” from the old grease trap to the new sump pit. I am glad it worked it out that way and thus we stayed out of trouble.

The trench digging was done, and so was my back. Still, I had to put some stone chip bedding down in the trench, level it out, place the rigid drain pipe, and cover it with more stone chips.

I stubbed the two drain pipe ends and will connect to them when the back porch comes down and we redo the footings and foundation wall.

My bones were hurting and I was in the mood for sump-thing soothing. Not sure if the Little Sumpin’ will do it this time round. But what about the Little Sumpin’ Extra?

Little-Sumpin-Extra

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Connecting sump-thing

September 30th, 2014
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I am done thinking. And I’m ready to get my hands on some pipe and start connecting sump-thing.

That’s easier said than done, because before I could get anywhere near the pipe, I was thinking again:

The old grease trap which we repurposed into a sump pit is still active. There is the sump pump, plugged in and running, discharging the water the pit receives from the interior footing drains.

sump-05

 

With all the rain we’ve had I needed a seamless transition — a switch from the old grease trap to the new sump in less than a day — or I would have had to deal with a lot of standing water. In short, time was the driving factor.

I punched a hole into the new sump, then disconnected the interior footing drains from the grease trap and re-routed them through the new hole into the new pit. Because I still had a trickle flow coming out of the footing drains, I needed to dismantle and fill the grease trap right away. In doing so, the flow couldn’t escape into the grease trap anymore, but rather followed the path of least resistance – through the drain pipe and into the new sump pit.

Before I could fill in the grease trap, I also had to disconnect and remove the sump pump. I was in a hurry to transfer it into the new sump pit and reconnect it, before things got too wet.

To keep things moving along, I opted for a temporary sump pump connection, using Schedule 40 PVC fittings. It is temporary because the Chicago plumbing code requires Cast Iron Soil Pipe (CISP) in all concealed (i.e. buried) locations … in other words, CISP all the way into the sump. Once in the sump, I can use Schedule 40 PVC pipe and fittings.

The Schedule 40 made for a very quick connection and allowed me to have the system up and running again before the day was over.

That was quite sump-thing, giving me a thirst for a Little Sumpin’.

Little-Sumpin

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Thinking about sump-thing

September 25th, 2014
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I’ve been thinking for a while … thinking about the sump plumbing. What do I need to connect to the sump, how should I connect it, and where should I connect it?

Sump plumbing should be relatively straightforward. So why did I have to think for a while? Because I also tried to build some future proofing into the system. Plus, I needed a seamless switch from the old repurposed grease trap to the new sump.

sump-03

There is the water draining into the sump. We had the interior footing drains routed into the old grease trap. Those will now need to drain into the new sump. There also will be exterior footing drains that I need to connect to the pit.

I also have to pump the water out of the sump. That means re-routing the existing sump discharge into the sewer from the grease trap to the new sump pit.

It is typical to pump the sump water into the combined sewer system. But it is not ideal, because Chicago’s combined system barely copes as it is. Adding more water is best avoided and I have little interest in contributing to combined sewer overflow into the Chicago River or Lake Michigan. Plus the water draining from the footing drains into the sump is ground water, a valuable resource that I could use for irrigation.

At one point we will have a underground cistern in the back yard, which should be fed by the roof runoff. But I also could increase the size of the cistern and, in addition to the roof runoff, feed it with the sump water. That should provide me with a nice reliable water supply for irrigation.

To pump the water out of the sump into the future cistern, I need to rough in a discharge connection now. Once I activate that connection, I can cap the discharge into the sewer, or I can keep it, put the pump on a timer, and use it to flush the sewer once a day.

Why would I want to do that? It goes back to the check valve functionality issues we encountered. Our low flow fixtures don’t generate enough waste water volume or velocity to flush solids effectively past the check valve gate. Using the sump water at around 50 gallons per minute (gpm) to flush the system would alleviate that problem.

Last but not least, I need an electrical conduit through which I can route the sump pump power cords to an GFCI outlet on the basement wall.

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Sump-thing pretty heavy

September 16th, 2014
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Yes to a new sump pit. No to a small and cheap plastic, fiberglass or structural foam pit. We very much prefer a sump pit that lasts for evah, like a concrete manhole structure, 36 inch in diameter and 42 inches deep.

That sucker would weigh a ton – or probably more than that, and would require some heavy lifting. As it turns out, the real problem is not the weight but the size. There is no way to get a 36 by 42 inch concrete manhole into the enclosed back porch.

What to do when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? You start munching on smaller pieces, right?

sump-02

That is exactly what we did here. We installed the new sump pit in pieces … Three, 12-inch tall reinforced concrete rings with one 18-inch tall cone on the top. The concrete rings weigh around 525 pounds each and the cone between 700 and 800. That’s still a lot of heavy lifting, but the bottom line is that we were able to fit (roll) each piece through the back porch door and down the stairs.

Because I didn’t eat all of my breakfast, I didn’t quite manage the heavy lifting by myself, but instead got some help. And even though I say “heavy lifting,” a more descriptive expression would be “heavy sliding followed by carefully dropping.”

Nevertheless, we got the new sump pit structure into place, set to the right elevation and leveled.

Now I need a plan – a plumbing plan. What, how, and where do I connect to the sump pit?

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Digging for sump-thing

September 12th, 2014
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I have to decide what that sump-thing will be.

There are your inexpensive plastic, fiberglass or structural foam sump pits, typically measuring 18 inches in diameter and up to 30 inches in depth – just large enough to accommodate a sump pump. Even the existing grease trap, which we repurposed into a temporary sump pit is larger.

I wasn’t convinced that these plastic pits would be structurally sound enough. That said, it’s hard to find horror stories about collapsed sump pits. But there is another issue that bothers me.

These small pits will fill up quickly but will also be emptied in no time, once the pump comes on. It will cause the sump pump to short-cycle a lot during wet weather. That can’t be good for the longevity of the pump.

I decided to go big and dig deep! I opted to install a manhole size sump pit, 36 inches in diameter and 42 inches in depth, made out of concrete.

Hmm, that is the interior size of the pit. To fit the structure I need a 48 inch wide hole that is at least 42 inches deep. I needed an excavator and promptly found one.

sump-01

The next challenge was to convince Cathy that it was worth fueling the excavator. She pointed out that, to her knowledge, this kind of excavator runs pretty well on homemade tacos. Well, let’s see if that worked out.

I guess it did.

May be I should consider a career change. How about grave digger?

Now that I dug myself into a hole, it’s time to think about some heavy lifting.

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Terminating the temporary

September 7th, 2014
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I mentioned the old grease trap in the back porch. It was a hot mess back in 2010 when I cleaned it up. The intent at the time was to temporarily re-purpose it as a sump pit.

grease-trap-03 grease-trap-04

 

grease-trap-05 sump-05

Back then, I connected the interior perimeter drains to it. We also terminated and stubbed the new sewer lines, which allowed me to install and connect a sump pump.

This temporary band-aid has lasted long enough. With the old back porch being torn down sometime soon, I had a sense of urgency to demo the old grease trap. Before I could do that, I had to install a new and proper sump pit. And before I got to that, I had to rip out the old concrete floor.

That put me back into recycling mode. We threw the concrete chunks into the back of my truck and hauled them to the recycling company down the street at Kedzie and I55.

Next step: Getting the excavator and starting to dig.

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The back porch project

September 4th, 2014
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And a project it is!

Back-porch-01

We knew pretty much from the beginning that the back porch would need to be replaced. It may look sort of OK from the outside, but the bones are rather ailing.

Because it was an enclosed porch, we had planned to rebuild it as an enclosed porch. That got us into a whole lot of trouble, starting with zoning. Not only did we have to apply for an administrative adjustment because our building set backs weren’t right, but we also found out that the currently existing enclosed porch was never permitted. Setting this right rested on our shoulders. The good news is that another administrative adjustment and a $250 fee got us a permit for a new enclosed porch.

Back-porch-02

Nice porch, isn’t it? And expensive, too, as we quickly found out. We knew that we didn’t want to spend that kind of money, but still tip-toed around the issue for a couple of years. Then, our neighbors got their back porch replaced – a typical open, Chicago-style back porch. That made us realize that an enclosed back porch is more a “want” than a “need.”

We already have 1,500 square feet of living space on the 1st and 2nd floor – which is a lot for an old building like ours. Adding another 250 square feet of conditioned space seemed too much of a luxury, certainly at that price tag.

Changing plans

So, we decided to instead build an open porch, with the exception of the basement level where we can have a workshop and tool and bicycle storage. We also decided to keep the roof access to our future vegetable garden, the PV, and the Solar Hot Water panels.

Back-porch-03

We also decided to keep our options open. If we want to turn the back porch into a three season room or sleeping porch at one point, we should be able to do so. That would require us to waterproof each porch floor, but we can plan for that.

The building permit we currently have includes the porch … except that the porch we now plan on building is different from the porch on the permit plans. I hate to admit it, but we need to pull another building permit, just for the porch.

This time around I won’t have to do it, but rather we will have our porch contractor take care of it. It’s nice to have that task delegated, except that the contractor isn’t a great communicator. Let’s see where that will take us…

While we wait for the plans and permit, I have some serious prep work to do, like that old grease trap, which we temporarily turned into a sump pit.

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Utility room pipe insulation

August 25th, 2014
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We have diligently insulated the pipes in our plumbing system, including all hot and cold water pipes. If you want to know why, you can read up on the rationales in the blog post [LINK] “Plumbing – energy conservation (part 1)” and “Pipe insulation.” And, I shouldn’t say “we,” because Cathy did all the insulating.

We did the same thing for the PEX tubing feeding our hydronic heating system – or more simply put – the baseboard radiators.

pex-13

This should help with our energy saving efforts and assures we get the precious hot water where we want and need it: At the point of use, such as the faucet or the radiator, instead of losing it along the way to the delivery point.

But one key area has not received any pipe insulation yet – the source of the hot water, the utility room. All of the piping running from our boiler to the hot water buffer tank, to the domestic hot water storage tank, and to the heating system manifolds, are still sitting there naked without their winter coats.

And this really matters, particularly when you have large hot water storage tanks like we do.

An argument against hot water storage tanks you may have come across is about “standby loss.” That’s the thermal energy that should arrive at your faucet or radiator, leaking from the storage tanks and heating up the utility room.

The hot water storage tanks come insulated, which reduces the standby loss. But the various plumbing connections to or from the tank (a minimum of four) are not. They effectively siphon the heat out of the tank along the metal plumbing lines. Just put your hand on one of those connections at your hot water tank – but be careful not to get burned!

Cathy came to the rescue to control that thermal energy bleeding. She put her skills to task and insulated the entire plumbing system in the utility room with closed cell pipe insulation.

Not an easy job, considering that some of the tubing was hidden behind the tanks and in very awkward corners. Plus, the connections at the storage tanks were rarely a uniform pipe size, but tend to step down, which required a lot of puzzling with the corresponding pipe insulation sizes.

utility-room-007

Does this stop the heat bleeding? No. But it minimizes it and slows down the heat loss, whether through standby or the delivery process. That in turn allows for more hot water to be delivered where we need and want it – at the point of use.

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Plumbing inspection

August 21st, 2014
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Today, we had the final plumbing inspection for the garden unit and 1st floor. And as usual, I was wondering what kind of inspector I would get, what mood he or she would be in, and what things that could throw up a read flag.

Will the dual flush toilets be a problem? Particularly the one in the garden unit with the little hand wash basin atop?

toilet-01

Will I get questions about why I have plumbing stubs for a bath tub in the basement, but no tub installed? What about the grey water rough-in, which just sits there, connected to nothing, because the current code doesn’t allow graywater use? Will that raise eyebrows … or worse?

Everything installed is compliant with the Chicago plumbing code. Yet, there is no shortage of anecdotes about inspections gone wrong and rumors about notoriously difficult to deal with inspectors.

It turned out that I was overthinking it. The inspector took a look at how the first floor toilet and sinks were connected. Down in the garden unit he barely looked under the sinks.

To my surprise, he asked about the water heater. I took him back to the utility room, explaining that we don’t have a water heater but a hybrid system.

utility-room-006

I turned the lights on and heard him say: “Oh – you have zones.” I do indeed, and proceeded to brag about our mechanical system – but he was more interested in getting to the next job.

Why do I feel the urge to share this? Because I have not yet had a bad experience during an inspection or with an inspector. I don’t know where the rumors are coming from or why the inspectors have such a bad reputation. Maybe the root of those anecdotes lie in projects where someone tried to cut corners – and got caught.

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