Basement Septic Pump System failure - UPDATED with a new question.

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by steve42, Jun 23, 2014.

  1. steve42

    steve42 New Member

    Messages:
    23
    Location:
    Alabama
    We closed on a home in April of this year. During the pre-purchase inspection, the inspectors noted that the septic transfer pump in the basement was leaking (after they ran water for about an hour for th inspection). We specified that the leak had to be repaired prior to closing. The homeowner checked it himself and declared that the wax ring needed to be replaced, and that he was doing it. Then, in conjunction with some other plumbing items that needed to be fixed, he wound up having his home warranty company send out a plumber to make a few other repairs. During that visit, the plumber stated that there was no visible leak at the septic pump.

    The day after we moved in, we found water on the floor around the pump after 2 uses of the toilet and no showers. We contacted our realtor, who in turn spoke with theirs, and we were told to call the warranty company since it would be covered for 60 days after the closing. When the plumber came out, he agreed there was an issue and he could see evidence of the leak that he did not note on his prior visit. He claimed that the seller's realtor was on site when he came out before and that she had made statements that they should "just make it look good" when discussing the repairs.

    We called our realtor and passed this on, and he called back 5 mins later to tell me he and the seller's realtor were on their way out. The seller's realtor took great pains to say that she never said that, and that she was not even in the basement when he looked at it because the seller said he had already addressed the problem. She then agreed that it was a defect and that the repairs would have to be done. The warranty company said they would pay to fix the leak, but not to remove the floor and fixtures to expose the leak. The seller's realtor said that she was going to have her handyman come out and that we could get other quotes on exposing the leak (and replacing materialsTow afterward) and let the plumber repair it, and that she would make sure the work was done and hope to get the money from the seller.

    Two months later, the seller's realtor is no longer motivated to make sure this is done. Her handyman said the job would cost $1400 (or $2500 if the shower stall had to come out) but he didn't put it in writing and he said he would not do the job. Our other quotes ran higher than this (probably because they are actually licensed contractors). The sellers have not come up with any money and we still have no bathroom.

    We have a friend who is a semi-retired (but still licensed) contractor and he has agreed to help us get the work done. He came over today and he began by removing the toilet. The wax ring was fully intact and was not making any sort of seal. The underfloor tank is completely full in spite of the fact that the bathroom has remained unused for two months, which means the septic pump is not kicking on.

    The label indicates that this is a Hilo Industries Powerflush 1100, P/N 010902. My research indicates that in 1999 when the bathroom was built, Hilo was owned by Zoeller but that Star Water Systems took over the Hilo line in 2002. The part of the assembly that I have seen is similar to the Zoeller 102 Qwik Jon Complete Pump System.

    SepticPump.JPG

    I would like some insights. I would say that either the pump or the float switch have failed. The seller told us that he replaced the pump less than a year prior to the sale.

    I was uncomfortable with the idea of septic pumping from the beginning. The bathroom would be nice to have, but it's not worth it to me if this is not a reliable solution.

    EDIT: I added a grainy photo, but it was from the inspection report, not my own, so sorry for the quality.

    Thanks,
    Steve
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
  2. Reach4

    Reach4 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    2,432
    Location:
    IL
    I have no info on establishing responsibility. I don't know how to fix things at this point. But I thought I would ask some questions to maybe help clarify the problem.

    If that is the extent of your septic pit in the basement, then your toilet must be elevated.

    1. Where is the leak occurring? At the box in the picture, or at the base of a toilet?

    2. If it is around the pictured box, where does it come out of? If you don't know, I was thinking you might dust some powder to trace the flow of water. Baking soda or powdered boric acid come to mind. Don't use powdered sugar or flour, since bugs can eat those.

    3. Do you (or have you) ever heard the pump run?

    4. What is that dial in the top of the box?

    5. Is there an accessible outlet powering the pump, and if so, is the outlet live?

    6. Where does the main sewer exit the house if you know? Is that through the basement wall above the basement floor?

    7. Is the toilet on the basement floor level, or is it elevated?
  3. steve42

    steve42 New Member

    Messages:
    23
    Location:
    Alabama
    At this point, it is impossible to say. In order to see the rest of the holding tank and the inlets, the toilet and subfloor had to be removed. Because we haven't been able to use the bathroom for a month and a half, it was all dry until our contractor friend began experimenting with it. All the moisture appears to be focused around the toilet drain which feeds directly into the holding tank.

    Again, it's not sourced from that end.

    No. We moved in and went to bed the first night. The second day is when we found the leak was still there and we haven't used the bathroom since. But since the tank was full of water (from when the inspectors ran the water for an hour) and it didn't get pumped out, I can assume it isn't pumping.

    Not a dial... it's just an Industry Association sticker of some sort.

    Yes, a GFCI, and yes.

    The main septic outlet pipe exits the basement wall at about 5 feet off the basement floor. The septic tank is downhill from there. This pump is in the same area but the waste is pumped up about 4 feet to join the main drain line.

    It is elevated about 9 inches off the basement floor. The toilet can be mounted on the holding tank itself or the way it was done with a subfloor.


    Steve
  4. Reach4

    Reach4 Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    2,432
    Location:
    IL
    I am not a pro. I am offering a point of view which may or may not have any merit.

    That 2 inch ID 2-1/4 OD (is that a correct guess?) pipe comes from the area under the toilet and into the box. The box does not appear to leak at this time.

    OK. So it's your theory that either the pump is bad, or the switch that detects the water level is bad, or that some wiring between those are bad.

    Then the toilet wax seal is unable to withstand the pressure and some water leaks out.

    I agree with your theory.

    Somebody has to undo the 14 screws and lift the lid on the box. I think I would precede that with removing the check valve first. Have somebody standing by with a wet-dry vacuum to suck up what spills.
    Does the vent line have a union in it? Maybe the lid should just slid up the vent pipe.
    Once the checkvalve is off, suck on the pipe to the pump with the vacuum to see if you can draw down the water level before unscrewing the lid. That would minimize the spill.

    But you are not going to try that DIY while you think you have insurance. Because unless you have a pro do it, you are not going to get compensated by the insurance. You are going to have to get it done. If it costs more than the insurance will readily pay, you may consider suing. Maybe you will just eat the difference. But you are going to get it done anyway. The longer you dawdle, the less likely you can collect on the insurance.

    "The warranty company said they would pay to fix the leak, but not to remove the floor and fixtures to expose the leak. " The leak is not your primary problem. The pump system is. Get them to fix the pump, and the leak problem may just go away or be a very minor fix.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2014
  5. steve42

    steve42 New Member

    Messages:
    23
    Location:
    Alabama
    I have attached a stock picture of the Zoeller 102, which I believe is about the same tank. This will help you see what is not obvious from the image I attached. Also, Terry has a manual for the Zoeller version on his site.

    Zoeller-102-Qwik-Jon-Complete-Pump-System.jpg

    The toilet sits directly atop the 3" hole in the low section of the tank. The tank is actually capable of directly supporting the toilet without a subfloor (why you would do that, I don't know). The floor of the bathroom is elevated so that the low section slides beneath it and the toilet bolts to the tank through a slightly larger than normal hole in the subfloor (no closet flange, it bolts to the white flange that is attached to the tank with the square plate bolted inside the tank for stability).

    The taller portion of the tank unit is the end you saw in my original attached photo. On the tank, the manufacturer included "knockouts" where additional fixtures can be drained into it. The 2" pipe entering the left side is from the shower and lavatory. The 2" pipe entering the right side is from a laundry sink. The top pipe with the rubber connector is the where the black water is pumped up to the main drain line. The other top pipe is the vent.

    The plumbing company that originally came out for the seller is supposed to be there in two days to address the issue. They could have been there tomorrow, but my wife told them not to send the same kid that came out the last two times so they said it would be an extra day.

    I agree that it is the home warranty company's responsibility to fix the pump/switch. Our contractor is coming out again today to make sure he doesn't see any other leaks, but I think the leak was due to the fact that the tank was full and the wax ring wasn't sealing.

    Thanks,
    Steve
  6. steve42

    steve42 New Member

    Messages:
    23
    Location:
    Alabama
    OK, here's an update.

    When we pulled the toilet, the holding tank was full, which meant the transfer pump was not clearing the tank. Since the bathroom has been unused except for the 2 toilet flushes and my daughter's tooth-brushing, that means the tank was full when the previous owner replaced the wax ring. He should have noticed that the tank was not being cleared, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he may not have realized it was full when looking straight down the outlet.

    I found the manual for the replacement pump that the previous owner installed when the original pump failed. It is a Utilitech from Lowe's, and definitely not the right one for the job.

    I called today and spoke with the Technical Support department at Zoeller Pump Company. The man I spoke with confirmed that the Hilo Industries Power Flush 1100 unit was manufactured by Zoeller and was a re-badged Qwik Jon 102. He said that if the original pump was replaced with any other type of pump, it would likely fail because the float switch for the correct pump is specially configured for the application and a conventional float switch would have caused the replacement to cycle frequently until it stopped working. The correct pump for the unit is a slight upgrade from the original. It is a Zoeller WM266 (p/n 014955) which is a 0.6 hp pump.

    To double-check that the plumbing from the other fixtures to the holding tank is not leaking, we poured water into the drains until the tank filled again and let it sit overnight. There is no water standing in the floor today, but the pump has not removed any of the water from the tank either.

    I am a bit disgusted because if the plumber who was originally called had done any amount of checking, he would have seen that the pump was not working, ordered the correct replacement pump, and done all of the work from the workshop side without any demolition. If we had known that was the issue, we would not have torn out the floor under the toilet, which is now going to require we replace the floor and all of the tile in the bathroom. :mad:

    The plumber will be out in the morning to look at the situation. Unless my contractor friend can be there to prevent him from talking down to my wife or blowing smoke about the solution, I will likely wait around to see what he has to say before I go to work.

    Steve
  7. steve42

    steve42 New Member

    Messages:
    23
    Location:
    Alabama
    Things have been a bit crazy, and I have neglected to check in here, but I have an update and a question.

    First, a more experienced plumber from the company sent out by the home warranty service agreed with my assessment of the situation. The former owner installed the wrong type of pump to replace the failed one a couple of years ago. It worked for a while and then failed. When the home inspector ran the water, the tank filled up. The toilet-to-holding tank connection is the one that is least "sealed" and so the water leaked out there.

    They ordered the correct Zoeller pump and are scheduled to come out tomorrow to install it. They stated on their work detail on the last visit that the toilet will need to be seated in order to verify the leak is eliminated.

    I was reading through the manual again and saw the statement that for a toilet installation over a sub-floor, the installation requires a Zoeller Flange Extender kit (Zoeller #008634) which consists of a Plastic Locator Ring and two wax rings. I can't find that plastic ring anywhere in my basement, so I assume that the former owner trashed it during his previous repair attempt. No one in my area stocks the kit, so I ordered it direct from Zoeller. Unfortunately, it will not arrive in time for the plumbers' visit.

    I have never seen an actual photo of this kit, only the line drawing on page 10 of the manual [Item(s) numbered 25], so I am wondering if the plastic trim ring is anything like this:[​IMG]

    If so, can I have the plumbers use one of these and two standard wax rings instead of the kit I have ordered long enough for them to test the seal?

    Have any of you ever installed the Zoeller Qwik Jon 100, 101, or 102 systems with a sub floor where the 008634 kit had to be used? Is this a good alternative, or am I going to have to pay for the plumbers to come out and finish the job after the kit arrives?
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