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My fiancé and I are under contract on a new home which we are concerned it might be built on an underground spring. There are two sump pumps in the house, on opposite corners of the house. Both times we have seen the house was after a few days of no rain. One of the sumps only gets a tiny bit of water from the French drain leading to it. The other sump, there is a visible stream of water from both pipes leading into the hole. Every half hour or so, the pump kicks on and dumps about 3-4 Gallons (wild guess). We are concerned about a) flooding our basement, and b) future foundation issues.

Thing's I've researched:

  • The water bill is not very high, indicating there is not a leak in the mains.
  • The neighbors' pumps kick on intermittently also, but not to this extent
  • It is a 25 year old house, and there is no sign of foundation issues, and very little settling
  • Also, as a 25 year old house, it has been doing this for as long as any of the neighbors can remember, and do not know of one instance of the basement flooding.
  • Tried looking on the county website to see if there was an underground stream, but couldn't find anything.
  • Basement has no smell of mold or anything like that.

So my questions are this:

  1. Is this a red flag / deal breaker? Is this just something we need to keep an eye on, or is there a possibility that the foundation might crumble at any time?
  2. Assuming it is not critical, what precautions should I take? I already plan on buying a water-powered sump pump as backup, and getting a couple alarms for both pumps. The current pump already has a battery backup.
  3. The water looks clear and fresh. What can I do with all this water? Anything productive?

Update: To answer some questions, the home is in Maryland (US). There is a slight slope to the road and we are closer to the bottom, though it is so slight, I didn't even notice it until a neighbor pointed it out. It's a suburban area, homes line both sides of the street, spaced roughly 30 feet apart. I don't mind sharing the water with the neighbors...in fact I encourage it. The more water they take, the less I have to figure out where to direct.

  • If you're considering using the water, you should test it using a test kit available at most home improvement stores. This will give you an idea of how clean the water is, and how hard it is (remember clear does not equal clean). If it's good water, you might be able to store it and use it for clothes washing, flushing toilets, watering gardens/lawn, etc. Though it's not likely to be potable, so you're not going to be drinking it. – Tester101 May 19 '15 at 11:59
  • Thanks for the suggestion. I wasn't considering drinking it, mostly cleaning and gardening. Didn't think I could just store it in a 55 gallon drum / rain catcher because it would likely fill quite quickly. – dberm22 May 19 '15 at 15:50
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    Do you have any idea where the water is discharging to? I would suggest making sure it is discharging away from your house. That is a lot of water and I wonder if the water discharged is just making its way back into the sump. – Steven May 19 '15 at 18:12
  • @Steven The water discharges out of a hose that runs down a slight slope away from the home. The neighbor put in a french drain to collect the water and feeds into the sewer. – dberm22 May 20 '15 at 15:56
  • As long as you have your merchant marine license and the house has a sufficient number of life vests, you are all set. – Tyler Durden May 22 '15 at 22:22
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+50

You didn't indicate your location or site characteristics (slope, hillside, etc), but the location of the country, even generally could be helpful, but not required.

You indicated the water bill was not high, so it could not be a water leak. That would only be if the leak was after the meter. However, the leak could be before the meter and impossible to detect through usage alone. A few tests to help determine if this is a spring:

  1. Temperature: Spring water would be the average annual temperature (between 56-59°F). If it is different, turn on the cold tap water and measure it's temperature. If it is close to the temp of the water in the sump, that is more likely the source. If the water is a different temperature than either of those, it is likely ground water.

  2. Chemical Composition: Have the water chemistries evaluated and compared to the houses tap water - if they are very similar, the water is likely a leak from the main, and not a spring. If there is chlorine, that is a dead give-a-way (but it off gasses quickly, so absence is not a complete indication)

If it is, in fact a natural source, then if could be spring or runoff. Most springs are intermittent to some degree with natural cycles. Perhaps this is a heavier time or from recent storms that are working their way underground and bumping into an impervious layer of shale that your house was built on top of. As a home buyer, you only have a point in time reference, and the neighbors may not know the details from the inside of the house as to how often and consistently the pump runs.

You also assumed it is only pumping a few gallons — some sumps hold 15-25 gallons. If it were built intended to handle the flow you mentioned (~900 gal/day) it likely would have been larger to begin with to run less often.

Is this a red flag / deal breaker? Is this just something we need to keep an eye on, or is there a possibility that the foundation might crumble at any time?

If it has been in place for 25 years, I don't think this is a major concern. If it was retrofitted, especially recently, I might have a different opinion. But this depends on where you live somewhat — is your area composed of a lot of Karst or cave features? Florida for instance is known for its sinkholes and springs are one possible concern with those.

In most areas, however, if the water is directed well, this should not be a concern because the water is directed away from the foundations and out of the house properly. Consider getting a home inspection & point out your concerns. They may find additional evidence of water damage, remodeling or other evidence of concerns that you could have overlooked.

Assuming it is not critical, what precautions should I take? I already plan on buying a water-powered sump pump as backup, and getting a couple alarms for both pumps. The current pump already has a battery backup.

Alarms and backups are great. A small, but high-quality generator would be fantastic to keep things running for a longer period if needed. Make sure it's rated for constant duty. Be sure to have a plan to allow easy switching from the pump's current electric source to the generator. You could make this tie-in at the panel or the pump, but be careful not to backfeed into your system.

The water looks clear and fresh. What can I do with all this water? Anything productive?

Do you have gardens? Make a rain-barrel type system using large holding tanks - plus, you'll see how much water you are actually removing seasonally. But be careful in planning that whatever you do that your system is able to handle cold weather without freezing up or you risk a damp basement and a blown pump.

But If you really are pumping what you claim (3 gal every 5 min = 960 gal per day) you will likely have limited use for all that water, unless you're in California and will share with your neighbors!

Good luck with the new home!

  • Wow, thanks for the detailed response. To answer some of your questions, I updated my original post. Great insight in terms of what to test for. Much better advice than what my inspector gave us. – dberm22 May 19 '15 at 16:01
  • I agree with water testing to see if it is treated or not but water in the ground temp is not a good indication. – Ed Beal Nov 27 '17 at 15:32
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Buildings (or buying) a house on a location with a lot of water is never best thing to do, but people do it and if they do it properly they never have problems. The most important question is regarding house design; are foundations and concrete slabs appropriate for this situation. Main difference is that with underground water strongest force on the slabs is from lower side of the slab, and not from above. Keeping that in mind slabs should be thicker than normally. This picture shows what happens if that is not the case. Kepp in mind that this is drastic example and that this happened when there was "1 in a 100 years" floodenter image description here If the house is 25 year old and there are no visible damages educated guess is that there is no problem. BUT!!! Keep in mind that those sump pumps are hearth of your house...in other words if pump stop working....it's no good; also there can be some electricity issues (blackout etc.) which could stop the pumps.

  • I'm not sure I understand the significance of the picture you used. The slab is not structural and almost any concrete slab will crack eventually. – Steven May 20 '15 at 14:11
  • Basement slabs aren't structural? They're not considered part of the foundation? I always assumed they were. – dberm22 May 20 '15 at 16:02
  • The footings and walls are structural, but the slab is not. Some houses just have dirt especially if its only a crawl space. The concrete just provides a hard surface to put things on (walls, storage, etc.). It's usually about 4" stick and not re-enforced, hence why it frequently cracks. – Steven May 20 '15 at 16:24
  • I'm guessing you are from USA.....because in most parts of Europe (according to my knowledge at least) houses do not have crawl space... this one also doesn't....picture is not that significant, I just wanted to show you what underground water can do in extreme situations; in other words, you would have known if there is underground water problem. – python starter May 21 '15 at 14:27
  • When it comes to structural nature of the slabs you are both right......they can be structural but not necessary....In the case of OP's house I think (I hope) that slab is structural,because it would block the water,and wouldn't crack – python starter May 21 '15 at 14:29

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