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Please help! We can hear water, and our sump pump is too active!

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Jan 09, 2014, 01:31 AM
Please help! We can hear water, and our sump pump is too active!
Please help us diagnose our problem. Symptoms:
1. We can hear rushing water in the water main pipe that comes into our basement from underground. It sounds kind of distant, however. We have experienced no water pressure drop.
2. The sump pump in the annex off our basement, under our front porch (which faces the street) has been very active lately (currently maybe 3 gallons per hour?), and it seems to be getting worse . Our driveway has an ice stream going into the street!
3. In the middle of record cold snap, with heavy rain for a couple of days, but this problem started a few weeks ago, but especially bad since the weather got really cold (with rain in between).

Is there any risk in shutting off the water main valve at the street? (Not sure if this is relevant, but our electronic water meter is inside the basement). Not sure how to read it since there are no numbers on the display.

Jan 09, 2014, 09:09 AM
There is no risk is shutting off the water main, other than killing all water service to the house.

It sounds like you have a water leak. Take a look at your meter. Somewhere on there is a small dial or rotating star. This is the low-flow indicator and basically if it's moving then there is water flow. If you turn off all faucets in the house there should be no water flow. If you have water flow beyond that, then you have a leak.

Finding a small leak can be tricky plus small leaks tend to turn into large leaks. If you cannot find what is going on quickly, call a plumber.

Jan 09, 2014, 09:18 AM
Thanks, Jaybee! Our meter was recently replaced -- it is electronic and has no display!

We ordered the insurance from the water company, but need to wait 20 more days. Meanwhile, we are collecting water in our driveway in a large container, including at 4AM , and dumping it in the back yard.

Is there a way to find out, without involving the water company, whether the leak is from the pipe from the street to the house, or in the water main in the street itself? If I turn off the water main at the street (which is covered in frozen dirt), and the sump pump continues, should we assume that the source of the leak is before our pipe to the house?

We also are trying to figure out if any pipe is leaking at all, or whether this is smowmelt after a long rain storm, preceded by and followed by a cold snap.
Jan 09, 2014, 09:30 AM
Local responsibilities vary, but for example in our area, the public/city water system only is responsible for the main pipes (sewer and water lines)and not the feeder lines that extend from the street to our home.

Don't know what kind of insurance you purchased, but I would not wait on this. I would call the water system company.
Read the fine print in any insurance, often it does not cover the digging up and replacement of older/degraded water or sewer lines that can naturally break from stress of frozen lines or tree root issues (in other words, just about every type of issue likely) The water/sewer insurance stuff they tend to try to sell to homeowners here is totally bogus.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: Conrad,
Jan 09, 2014, 10:46 AM
quick and not totally complete test is for the water utility to shut off your service. if the water is still flowing, it might be them. if it's not, it is your problem.

the reason this is not complete is, of course, that any where along the line from the shutoff to the tap on the water main, there is the possibility of breakage. that is your territory. if the tap breaks, it's yours. if the main breaks, it's the utility's.

just to make your day complete, it is not usual for a city water main break to flood a homeowner's lot, the usual issue is flooding in the street.

bleah. good luck with this one.

sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
Jan 09, 2014, 10:47 AM
Generally speaking the water companies responsibility ends at the curb box shut off for your water service. Here in the not usually frigid south our meters are in this box so any leaks between the curb box and the house will be billed, and will be visible on the meter. Our town just installed electronic meters and will notify us if they see unusual water use patterns as the meters are read several times a day. We can even look on line to see our usage near real time.

It does sound like you have a slow leak in your water service. If you shut the water off at the curb box and the sump pump stops running after a few hours you have a leak between the shut off and the house. If it doesn't stop it could be a leak that is likely before the curb box and will be the water company's responsibility. Or it could be snow melt working its way into the sump, which would be normal.

General Disclaimer

Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Jan 09, 2014, 10:52 AM
Thank you, Sparky617, Swschrad, Conrad,and Jaybee!

Swschrad: you wrote that we can have the water utility shut off the water -- can't we do that ourselves? We pretty much know where the box at the curb is -- we will have to do some digging -- it had been previously covered by asphalt, and when we purchased the house 2 years ago,we had a small section of asphalt in front of our stone wall at the street removed, and is now filled with dirt. We believe that the box is under the dirt.
Jan 09, 2014, 11:19 AM
What a way to start a new year, right? Frown

Speaking only as to the insurance, I assume you're not referring to any kind of homeowners' coverage because of the 20 day delay. I suspect it's one of those outfits that solicit regularly and use scare tactics to frighten people into purchasing insurance to allegedly cover the lines beyond the property.

It's been awhile but I recall doing some checking on the company that solicits here and found nothing that would induce me to purchase their services.

Given the potential damage as well as the disruption to your lives, I wouldn't wait on this insurance but would take action now, especially if this so-called insurer hasn't even sent you a policy. You won't know what it really covers or what the exclusions are, and the damages could continue increasing.

I'm not as familiar with the primary issues you raise, but I think I would be cautious about turning off the water at the street. There may be some policy that your water services has that only it has the authority to turn off water at the street. I would check with them first, just to be on the safe side.

Good luck!
Jan 09, 2014, 12:45 PM
That is the exact type of insurance scam I was hinting at GardenSprite. People in older neighborhoods think it may protect them from roots getting into sewer deal.

OP: In our area, those shut off boxes are down inside a surface capped access pipe, and the actual "shut off nut" is about 6 feet under the soil, inside the pipe. (where the water line is) Takes a special wrench with a long vertical handle. Don't know where you live, or what depth the shut off is buried but I don't think this is a DIY option.
Jan 09, 2014, 01:12 PM
Thank you all for your comments -- we have called the water utility. If this ends up costing $10-$20k (might have to break our concrete porch/steps, two cement/stone walls...) do utilities typically have payment plans? This could bankrupt us!
Jan 09, 2014, 01:24 PM
Don't panic yet.
Get the facts first, then get several estimates for the job, if there is major work to do.
Plumbers often vary in rates on the same job based on experience/what type of work they are comfortable with, if they have the equipment necessary available, how busy they currently are, and if they are sensitive to your budget needs.
We are all pullin for you! Can happen to anyone.;(
Jan 09, 2014, 01:44 PM
shut off valves are oddballs, in my history they have been pentagon-shaped lugs that turn a long steel shaft to the actual valve.

I can't see a $10-20,000 dollar job. my mom, year before she died, finally got around to replacing the clay sewer and lead water feed 65 feet from the city lines. cost a tad over $3000.

if you have water lines underneath the slab, you will save money by having them rerun overhead in the ceiling. you'll have some patching to do, and maybe a bulkhead to frame out, but it was silly IMPHO to run water under the slab in the first place, and you wouldn't have the same type of failure ever again.

cost a dickens of a lot less to clean and fix up after the plumbers leave, too.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: swschrad,

sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
Jan 09, 2014, 02:11 PM
Thank you, Swschra... I live in a very expensive area in Conn. (two thermostats and two hours cost me $800 a few weeks ago)!
Jan 09, 2014, 02:19 PM
As Conrad advises, don't panic yet. Sit down and do something relaxing and take a break. Then get plumbers lined up for estimates.

In the meantime, contact your homeowners insurance agent. I've never had anything like this happen (knock on wood) so I don't have any insight as to whether it would be covered under HO insurance, if there is some weather related or other causal factor. But at least you'll have explored that option.

And if you haven't cancelled that other "insurance", you might want to stop payment on your check if it hasn't gone through.

Again, good luck.

Sometimes it even helps to go through the "it could be worse" scenario - you could have frozen pipes and a real mess!
Jan 09, 2014, 02:25 PM
Thanks, Garden!