Basement Water Despite Sump Pump

I have a sump bump in the basement that generally only operates when we get a lot of rain.
When we get particularly heavy rains (most recently 2" in 24 hours) I get water in different parts of the basement even though the sump is pumping regularly. The water appears to be coming up from the floor.
The top of the sump pit appears to be at the same level of the basement floor. The float is set very high, so that the pump does not turn on until the pit is almost completely full (less than 1" from the top). Would setting the float a bit lower cause the pump to get rid of the water before it rises to the level of the floor? During heavy rains the pump runs about every 5 minutes.
Maybe one pump is inadequate and I need another one in a different part of the basement? Or maybe it is not deep enough?
The drainage outside the house can definitely be improved. The ground is sloped away from the house and the gutters extend around 6 feet, but I have a feeling that roof water is being deposited too close to the house. How much of an improvement can I expect by improving this situation (e.g. using a dry well or french drain) since the issue appears related to the height of the water table?
I do plan to get a professional to check everything and give advice, but I really want to learn as much as I can first. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
-- Dave
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Your float is too high and setting it lower should be your first try in fixing it. However... I bet if you set the float low enough, the pump will run almost continuously. That is not good either. How big is your pump?
Odds are your drains are clogged up. My basement was fine until we had a flood, then I had a problem similar to yours becasue the flood filled the drains with debris. I solved it by installing a second sump where the water was worst.
It was years ago, but my recollection is that cleaning the drains was impractical.
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"The drainage outside the house can definitely be improved. The ground is sloped away from the house and the gutters extend around 6 feet, but I have a feeling that roof water is being deposited too close to the house. How much of an improvement can I expect by improving this situation (e.g. using a dry well or french drain) since the issue appears related to the height of the water table? "
These are contradictory. If the drainage outside can definitely be improved, that doesn't sound like a water table issue. I'd lower the float level so the pump comes on when the water level is still quite low. See what happens, it's the easiest thing to try. If it works set very low, you could then try raising it a bit to decrease the cycling. A second sump pump could help, depending on if the water is showing up at areas farthest from the current one.
As far as what's going on outside, I'd get out there during a heavy rain and take a good look. It's the best way to see where water is running, pooling, etc. You may be surprised at what you find. I'm not a big fan of dry wells, unless absolutely necessary because there's nowhere else for the water to go. The first line of defense is to channel the water away from the house as far as possible. Six feet is a good start, 10 would be better. Make sure there is good pitch, like 3/4" per foot away from the house and that there is nothing in the way, like plastic landscape borders, etc.
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What fills the pit if you have no drain tile, how deep is the pit and pump to the bottom.
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You seem to say you have no tile system and it is a interior house pump, if so your main to the street is clogged, either way remove the outside cover and see if it is backing up when pump shuts off. A tree root blocked mine, rodding to street fixed it.
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If your sump pump is set to turn on at less than an inch from the top, this means that the gravel (if you have gravel) under the concrete is full of water, and the water is saturating the concrete floor from below. If you have a low area in the concrete floor the water will seep into this area as it may be below your water level. Lower your turn on level so that it is at least a couple or more inches below your concrete bottom, more if you have the room. Your pump will run continuously for a few hours to a few days draining the water from under your floor. It may and should slow down after that.

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On Fri, 1 Apr 2005 12:26:57 -0500, "Eric Tonks"

Honestly I don't know the details of my installation since it was here when I bought the house.
The pump is definitely set too high, as the well is filled to the top before the pump turns on. Then when it does, it only empties the well halfway. I seem to remember that it was different before; I am pretty certain it used to drain nearly all the way to the bottom.
I also notice that the pump is shifting inside the well; it is not fastened to the bottom. Again I don't remember if it was always like this or if this is new.
The float is attached to a short wire that is attached to a clamp. How do I lower the turn on level?
I need to be extra careful now because they're expecting more torrential rains this weekend. I would love to adjust the pump now but if I somehow render it inoperable, I'll be in lots of trouble...
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On Fri, 1 Apr 2005 10:41:43 -0600, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (m Ransley) wrote:

Honestly I do not know if there is drain tile. I just see the sump pit with holes in it and water flowing in from the sides. If I peek to the ouside of the pit I just see concrete, filled with water.
Clearly it turns on too high, but I'm not sure how to adjust it...
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On Fri, 1 Apr 2005 12:26:57 -0500, "Eric Tonks"

OK, I figured out how to adjust it by shortening the cable to the float. However, I've made it as short as I can without risking the float catching on the pump itself, and still the water gets almost to the top before it pumps.
I guess I need a new float switch, or maybe a new pump...
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DaveR wrote:

drainage tile bottom, on the side of the sump.
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Dave,
A few suggestions and long-winded comments:
1) Ideally, your sump pump is tied into underground tile from a perimeter drain system. When you get the water level in the sump very low, then you can do some investigating to determine if this is true. You should be able to see the circular cutouts in the plastic sump basin where the tile connect to it. In a corner installation, you will typically have 2 tie-ins with one tile entering parallel to each of the two walls forming the corner.
2) If you anticipate heavy spring rains and/or you already have a problem, then you want to force the pump to evacuate as much water as possible from the sump. Set the float or override the float if necessary. If you override the float, then you need to be in the basement nearby to make certain that you don't run the pump dry. You can override the float very easily - just get a piece of string and tie up the float so that it can't lower (temporarily!).
3) The gravel bed under your concrete basement floor functions as a buffer zone for water. When you evacuate as much water as possible from this area and from the soil under your house, then you have a cushion for the next storm. Generally, ground water must fill these buffer areas before the water can begin to infiltrate your basement. And with good perimeter drain tile and a properly functioning sump pump system, you will usually be able to remove water from these buffer areas fast enough to prevent them from overfilling during and after a heavy rain. Think of the area under your basement floor as a huge drywell. Note that this buffering function is dependent upon how well your sump pump is evacuating water under the entire basement floor and the surrounding soil. This will depend upon the depth of the gravel under your basement, the existence and current quality of the perimeter drain system, soil type, etc.
The more you lower the water level in these buffer areas, the more you are paying in electricity for the extra cushion of safety that you achieve. Personally, I feel that having the sump pump run more and avoiding a basement flood is well worth the extra bit of cost. We all pay for auto insurance, life insurance and home insurance. Setting your sump float to the lowest possible setting is just one more form of insurance.
4) You obviously have had a sump pump & float system which wasn't functioning optimally. You also may have no drain tile feeding the sump or a tile system which is clogged. If you have drain tile and you continue to have problems, then a "Roto Rooter" type of company may be able to come in and examine your tile system with a miniature camera. They may also be able to clear some blockages in the drain tile system, or locate areas of collapsed drain tile and address them (jackhammer, etc.)
5) For now, you should set you sump pump to the lowest reasonable water-level setting and see what happens. When the sump pit water level is low, examine the pit to see if you have drain tile coming into the pit. You can also hook up your old sump pump to function as a second pump if there is enough room in the pit. Buy some cheap flexible corrugated black plastic pipe so that the old pump can pump water to a safe location outdoors via a basement window, or have it drain into your basement drain or utility sink if you have city hookup and not a septic system for your sewer drains. Remove the float from the old pump and lock the remaining float arm in the "always running" mode. Using the old sump pump will double your pumping capability when you need it. This will provide you with valuable information about how well you can alleviate you water problems via the single sump pit that you have.
6) If you continue to have problems, then you must: a) Clear blocked drain tile if that is a problem as discussed above. b) Address all outside issues if possible. I have a very nice neighbor who is uphill from me. He had one roof drain which was dumping directly on the ground and the water was running onto my property & eventually to my basement. He fixed the problem by rerouting the water and helped me considerably. As you have guessed in your situation, it is possible for your water being dumped 6' from your house to still contribute to your problem. Then again, maybe not. The water entering your basement can be coming from far away, but it can also be coming from roof water that you are dumping 6' from your foundation. The biggest problem about addressing basement water issues is that we are forced to intelligently guess about what is happening out-of-sight and underground. c) You may need to install perimeter drains to dump into the sump pit. This is expensive. You can cut cost by hiring moonlighters from a basement company who will work off the books on a weekend. You can do it yourself if you are ambitious. The cost of materials is rather modest - this is labor intensive. Professionals will want to do a "complete system", whereas you can experiment with partial solutions. Adding drain tile along one or both of the two walls that would "feed" you sump pump may help tremendously. You can add drain tile in stages along additional walls as needed. d) You may need a second sump pit and pump on the opposite side of the basement. As above, this is a bit expensive to hire out, but can be done rather cheaply. I intend to install 2 sump pumps & pits this summer with help from my son. The cost for 2 will be just a few hundred dollars since I already have perimeter drain tile but no sump pumps. e) Use caution when taking the advise of "professionals." Obviously, it is difficult for those who sell basement waterproofing systems to be objective when advising you. This is an industry which makes a living through scare tactics and oversell. It is extremely common for homeowners to pay $10,000 or more when the actual fix that was needed could have been done for less than $1000. Also, remember that a 5 year, 10 year or lifetime warranty may be totally worthless if the company that did the work goes bankrupt, changes hands, restructures, etc. Even if you don't anticipate hiring such companies, it is extremely worthwhile to observe how they operate when installing systems for neighbors, friends and relatives. I have learned considerably by observing in many such cases. The most recent example was my next-door neighbor who probably paid between $8,000 and $12,000 for a "total system" whereas he and I could have addressed 95% of his problem with just one half day's labor and $25 in materials. From my observations, the folks who are "professionals" form companys with extremely poorly paid "grunts" who do the heavy manual labor and who are very poor at evaluating situations that they encounter. Project supervisors aren't much more astute. Even the sales reps and company bosses are rather obtuse in evaluating situations. They are experts at following a scipt which involves over-engineering every situation. Think of the car mechanic who will guarantee his work when fixing an auto which has an engine which isn't performing optimally. The mechanic is an expert at replacing spark plug wires, spark plugs, air filters, pcv valves, etc. He is also an expert at remove fuel injection systems or carb systems and sending them our for rebuilds. Etc., etc. Of course, when he replaces every replacable component in the fuel delivery and ignition systems, the car will probably run much better than before. But you may be paying $1200 for a problem which could have been fixed for $50. I have seen auto shops which specialize in such extreme approaches to every situation in which an auto runs poorly. Sadly, the approach of almost ever "pro" toward basement water problems is very similar.
Good luck, Gideon
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I am almost sure this is not the case. The former owner was an avid (yet not very proficient) do-it-yourself'er. It seems he just cut a hole in the concrete, dropped a plastic bin in there, and drilled some holes.

We had a massive storm this weekend and the new pump kept up fine, taking about 2 minutes between each evacuation.

Maybe this explains why I STILL had floor water after this storm, even just a few feet away from the sump pit. We had a major storm just 5 days earlier, and the new pump had only been doing its job for about 18 hours before the new rain came.
While the pump did keep one side of the basement TOTALLY dry (which is a first) it did not seem to help on the other side. I believe poor storm drainage on that side of the house is to blame (the gutters only extend about 6' and the ground is not sloped as far as it could be; my options are limited since we are close to the neighbor's property).

This is my main concern; that there is no drain tile.

Yes I believe so. We have a concrete path about 6' away from the "bad" side of the house that is seriously water damaged. The leaders drain directly onto this concrete. I tried extending the leaders a few feet beyond the concrete path, and it made things worse. So I believe the concrete path is actually slowing down water entry into the ground, if that makes any sense. The other side of the path has ground sloping a bit towards the path, which I know is not good.
I have plans to get rid of the path and do a better job of grading the land, but if the path is indeed serving to slow-down the water, I will need something else, like gravel or a french drain. I'm quite a novice at all this, but I'm learning...
Thanks so much for your detailed response. It is appreciated!!
-- Dave
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I went out and bought a new sump pump.
This one empties the pit when it is about halfway full. Hopefully that's not a problem in the heavy rains when the pit is filling very rapidly?
Thanks for everyone's advice...
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