We recently purchased a house and inherited a "5 gallon lowes bucket shoved into a hole with gravel" sump pit. It sits approximately halfway across the width of our basement. There is consistently water in it 12 inches down from the slab. The water level rises and falls with rainfall/seasons, doesn't appear to be any sort of water leak. If I pump it to empty, it immediately returns to where it was before. Okay, cool, water table is 12 inches down, got it.

I finally got the motivation to dig a larger sump pit in the corner under the front side of our basement, in one of the lowest points I measured in basement. It's around 20 feet away from the current bucket-pump. I dug 35 inches down. No water. As I write this there's still water 12 inches from slab in old spot, no water 35 inches down from slab in new spot. There's no drain tiles or anything leading to the old spot, and the ground is like dirt, not particularly clay-like. Does gravity not exist under my house? Is the first pit like, supersaturated or something and acting as a mini-pond that's collected during rainy season?

I hope someone has the answer, it's driving me crazy!

  • Subsurface condition can vary drastically in some parts of the world. the original bucket could be firmly in an aquifer while then new one is in or separated by a more impermeable layer.
    – John
    Feb 24, 2019 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


Yes, gravity exists under your house and I’m pretty sure Sir Isaac Newton would agree, but I don’t think he could explain this...

But here are some ideas: 1) a small underground spring, 2) a bearing wall between the two locations, 3) Major addition separates areas

1) Because there’s different soil conditions at the two locations, it makes me think the original builder knew of a small spring and installed some gravel and a discharge pipe. The pipe is located about 12” down so the water never gets too high.

I’d check around your house and see if a pipe extends to a ditch, street gutter, etc. (Follow the roof drains too.)

2) If your house has a major wall separating the two areas, it could be keeping moisture from infiltrating your new hole.

3) Likewise, a major addition could have added a new foundation area, which is separate from the wet area.

I’ll check with Newton and see if he has revised any of his theories regarding basements...and then get back to you.

  • Thanks for your insight! The house was built in 1890, and I'm thinking the bucket-hole was created with the last 10 years. I've dug up all the gravel in the bucket-pit down to earth, about 15 inches down, and there's nothing there besides dirt. There's no wall, just a straight shot between the two holes, and judging by the pitting and cracking, the concrete floor is damn near original. The plan was to stick the pit in the corner and then do drain tiles all around the perimeter, but is this the house's way of telling me to just enlarge the current creepy bucket hole and put the pit there?
    – David
    Jan 23, 2019 at 22:54
  • Sounds like the original bucket hole will ALWAYS remain wet. Trying to move it would be difficult, but you could add trench and add drainrock and perf pipe to try and “relocate” it to the new corner location. That’s a lot of work...tearing out existing concrete slab, digging trench, reporting slab, etc. Yuck... can you create a sump pump where the bucket is located. I’d install a nice coffee table over it. (You can run the electrical under the carpet...they make nearly flat cables.)
    – Lee Sam
    Jan 23, 2019 at 23:08
  • @David was it really built in 1890? Or was that a typo?
    – Kris
    Jan 24, 2019 at 4:41
  • @Kris Yes, 1890. Relevant in that it's literally concrete sitting on dirt, without any fancy drain tiles or pipes leading off anywhere useful. There's obviously no exterior drainage solution either in place! It's a tight lot without land so I don't have much option aside from dealing with it internally.
    – David
    Jan 24, 2019 at 7:24

David, There are many good ideas listed above. Allow me to add my 2-cents. I have dealt with, seen and repaired this very problem in my customer's houses before.

Ground water is a funny and fickle thing. I wouldn't try telling it what to do. You are likely to lose.

First buy an off the shelf sump basin and float activated sump pump. They come as a package and are available in the plumbing houses or on-line. I would get a fairly good sized basin, 50-gallons. Dig out your hole (where you have a ground water problem) half again as large as you need. Fill the bottom of the hole with 6" of 1.5" minus round river/drainage rock. Drill a couple of hundred 1/4" holes in the sides of the basin to allow ground water to find its way into the basin. (these basins are made of heavy duty plastic.) Drop the basin into the hole to set on the new rock. Ensure the rim of the basin sits flush with the surface of the basement floor. Now back fill around the rest of the basin with the round rock to a level about 3" below floor surface. Finish the fill-in with hand mixed and poured concrete. Level with the surface of the existing floor. Now build a partition near the sump location, or install a column to house the utilities. I have systems built on this design that have successfully operated for years.

  • 1
    This doesn't really address the question, which is about varying water levels by location, nor does it suggest where the described hardware should be installed or why. The sump that exists now apparently works fine.
    – isherwood
    Jun 24, 2019 at 13:34

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