Sump pumps are one of the least understood pieces of machinery that exist within a home. Typically, these pieces of machinery go about their tasks without much thought, ensuring that basements don’t flood through rainwater seepage. They’re not much of a drain on the electrical system and enable easy removal of incoming water into the basement. However, in wintertime, things change drastically. Because of the dropping temperatures, sump pump discharge lines can become clogged with ice, leading to several problems with the pumps themselves. Here, we explore what you should do to prevent your sump pump discharge line from becoming inundated with ice.
When temperatures outside drop below 32°F (0°C), water will freeze. If you head out on a particularly chilly day, you’ll find puddles frozen and ice on surfaces all over. When sump pumps discharge water from basements, these too freeze when they hit the outside atmosphere. However, most homeowners don’t realize that the freezing happens from inside the pipe as well.
With each discharge of water from the basement, a layer of ice remains within the pipe. As successive layers build up, they start blocking off the easy egress of water from the line. Eventually, the entire thing ices over, and the water from your basement no longer has anywhere to go.
The most obvious answer to this question is that you’ll start to notice flooding in your basement. What’s more, your sump pump might start running continually and eventually stop working because it overheated while trying to drain your basement. The time it takes for this to happen may vary, with some commercial pumps managing to hold on for some time before they finally burn out. In any case, it’s not a good look for your basement. The buildup of water can lead to severe foundation damage.
You can’t control the temperature outside, but you can take steps to construct the discharge line that will ensure that it doesn’t freeze over. Typically, sump pump discharge pipes are either buried or extended out above the grade of the land. For buried pipes, a simple way to keep freezing at bay is to ensure it’s buried below the ground’s frost-line. The frost-line is the maximum depth to which ice penetrates the soil.
Above-ground pipes present a different problem, but one that can be rectified. When installing these pipes, you should ensure that they follow a downward slope to keep water flowing. Standing water in pipes is more likely to freeze, and this simple act of changing the angle of the line can make a lot of difference in keeping the interior of the pipe clear of ice. Additionally, the discharge pipe should have a smooth, rigid, freeze-resistant hose that carries the water at least 20′ (6m) from the house’s foundation.
The intake section can be vulnerable to freezing, and you should take the necessary precautions to avoid it happening. A larger diameter hose works well attached to the end of the sump pump hose, using clamps and wires to secure it. An air gap between the hose and the larger pipe provides a “breathing room.” If you’re looking for a less complicated insulation method, covering the outside line with hay and tarp could work to keep it warm enough to avoid freezing. Some homeowners think about adding antifreeze to their sump-pumps, but this is not recommended as it could cause corrosion to the pump itself and lead to mechanical breakdown.
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the discharge pipes still become frozen, and you have to find ways around it. You have the option of covering the line in insulation, but this thawing method can take a long time, and it’s not guaranteed to work. Portable heaters are a better option by providing a non-intrusive process of thawing the ice. Their heat output may be small, but over time they can have an impact.
There have been suggestions about using blowtorches on the pipe, but this will cause even more problems. Metal pipes will become brittle under the rapid heat change and likely snap or break completely, requiring you to perform a new install in the cold weather. PVC and plastic pipes may burn through completely, leaving holes and leaks in your line that need to be repaired before you can use it again. If the situation becomes dire and you’re not sure what to do, consult a professional to ensure that you don’t end up causing irreparable damage to your sump pump system.
Some contractors install freeze guards as a safety measure in case your drainage line freezes. These are outlets that allow water to exit your discharge pipe if the line is frozen. They function similarly to an overflow valve, and since they’re placed vertically, they usually don’t freeze over. However, if you intend to use a freeze guard as part of your discharge pipe assembly, its location is of the utmost importance. Having the freeze guard installed too close to the house’s foundation introduces a problem. The water that you pump out of your basement will simply flow back in. Eventually, it may lead to your sump pump running continuously and overheating, much like it would if you didn’t install the freeze guard in the first place.