First Aid for the Ailing House

New Sump Pump Activity Could Indicate a Leak

Q: Thanks for answering an earlier question I had about water heaters.

I have another water-related question. We are on one acre in an unincorporated area, and are on well water with septic system. Our house was built in 1988, and we are the original owners.

My basement has two sump pumps. One is the typical sump pump that collects drainage water and ejects it to the back of our property. Because of a fairly high water table, this sump pump runs year-round, and cycles fairly often, about once per hour, but I have the float set to allow water to back up into the drain tiles a bit, otherwise the pump would cycle every five minutes.

The other sump is the one I have a question about. It is what our builder called the "gray-water" sump. It is situated near our laundry, and receives the water ejected from our washing machine. It also receives water from the kitchen sink. Those are the only two inputs to the sump pit (which is sealed). The gray-water sump pump ejects the contents up to the line that goes out to our septic.

Here's my question: The gray-water sump pump has been cycling more frequently lately, even when we are not doing laundry or running the dishwasher. Is it possible that this sump also receives drain tile water? Also, do you think it is a problem to be sending more water into our septic system? I am not sure why this pump is running more lately -- there have been no changes to gutters, downspouts, grade around the foundation, etc.

I was just wondering if you had any ideas or comments. Thanks for any insight. -- via email

A: It does sound as if the gray-water sump is getting water from the high water table. You should open up the sump and examine it carefully, and see if a crack has developed, in which case it should be replaced.

It is not a good idea to dump additional water into the septic system; it could interfere with the necessary process, cause too fast dilution of the tank's contents and not allow them to settle properly, and it could overload the absorption field.

Q: I recently pulled up the 1980s tile-on-plywood covering our bathroom floor to discover, to my delight, the original 1925 white hexagonal tile floor below in excellent condition. However, there are gobs of brown construction adhesive on it that I can't get up with a razor scraper. One website suggested mineral oil, but I worry that it might stain the unglazed tiles. I tried turpentine, which I had on hand, but that didn't soften it. How can I get the adhesive off without damaging the tiles? -- Greensburg, Pa., via email

A: The chemical you need to use, acetone, is noxious. You will need to use eye and skin protection and plenty of ventilation. It is also best to wear a chemical respirator labeled for acetone, which you may be able to rent from a janitorial supply firm.

Apply the acetone to the construction adhesive with a soaked rag, which should be left for about 15 minutes, covered with plastic to keep the vapors at a minimum and the rag from drying too fast. Scrape the loosened adhesive with a plastic scraper. Repeat if needed.

Q: Thank you for your wonderful column -- it's my favorite thing in our local paper. I would appreciate it if you could give me any insight into this issue.

I live outside Burlington, Vt., and recently we had some extremely cold weather (minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit) and a lot of wind.

I live in a refurbished camp with gas-heated hot water for heat. I have had some antifreeze added to the heating pipes to protect against freezing.

When we had the very cold temperatures, I heard a lot of gurgling in my pipes -- particularly at night. It almost sounded like air being pushed through the pipes. Now that it has warmed up, I hardly hear the gurgling.

Is there an explanation for this? Needless to say, the idea of frozen pipes is never far from my mind, but I don't want to drive myself crazy if there is another explanation. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. -- Vermont, via email

A: Yes, it sounds as if there is air in the pipes, but there is also another issue. When the antifreeze was added, was the size of the circulator increased? Antifreeze causes additional resistance and restriction in the lines, which requires a more powerful circulator.

You should have an experienced HVAC contractor make sure that the pump is properly sized and have him or her purge the air out of the lines. Antifreeze also reduces the efficiency of the system.

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