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Homefix: Of sump pumps and snowmelt

Q: My home is 23 years old. A friend replaced my sump pumps last October and told me that in the front corner of my crawlspace there was water but the sump pump should take care of it. In January, I noticed that whenever it rained the sump pump that is closest to that corner kicked on more often. Last week, after the snow started melting it started kicking on again. Is this normal, or could this be a sign of a problem in my crawlspace that should be checked out, and what kind of problem would it likely be? I have no clue as to whom to call for crawlspace problems.

A: Homes with below-grade crawlspace foundations should have, at the minimum, a sump pit in the event water should enter the crawlspace. Any space below the outside grade level of the home is subject to water entry, especially when most of the surrounding soils have been saturated by rain or snowmelt.

It is normal to hear the pump in operation during heavy rains or when the snows begin to melt. If the pump kicks in when the weather is clear, you may have a plumbing leak that is flooding the crawlspace. In most instances, I recommend that my clients have a sump pump installed unless the elevations of the home make it possible to install a pit and a pipe that can drain by gravity alone.

In either case, the drainage pipe should extend a minimum of 6 feet from the foundation and terminate in a "pop-up" cap or a grate-covered drainage box.

On the systems I have installed, I used a rectangular plastic drainage box that had an opening to accept a 4-inch drainpipe. I buried the box to be flush with the yard and then filled the box with river rocks to keep it from floating out of the ground and to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the water that normally remains in the box.

Do not simply terminate the drainpipe flush with the yard. An open pipe is a tempting hiding place for rodents or rabbits and, as far as I know, a rabbit can't back out once inside the pipe. A blocked drainpipe is as useless as no drainage pipe at all.

(Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home-improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 286, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or e-mail him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.)