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  • FIRST POST
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 2:30 PM
    • 42Posts
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    Boyley
    Private Pumping Station Problems
    • #1
    • 15th Sep 17, 2:30 PM
    Private Pumping Station Problems 15th Sep 17 at 2:30 PM
    Afternoon all,

    This is a long (ish) one so please bear with. I'd be delighted to hear your thoughts on the matter we are currently dealing with.

    My two neighbors and I each bought a new build property back in 2012/2013. The three properties were built on a plot of land with a private pumping station already installed (by previous land owner - a developer that never developed on it). Rather than connecting directly to the main gravity sewer, they are served by a private pumping station and wet well, many of which qualify for adoption these days by Thames Water, but ours (due to its commissioning date August 2011) doesn’t. At the time of purchase we were told that it would qualify, and I believe the estate agent and developer genuinely believed it would. We missed the cut off date by a few weeks!


    Shortly after the properties were occupied, residents in the already existing properties complained of odors/sewerage smells which we now know are linked to our private pumping station. Short of speaking to Thames Water and the developer in the early days on numerous occasions, very little was achieved and the situation remained unresolved. It is worth noting at this point that we have never experienced any odors in any of the new build properties. It is accepted by the council that the problem is somewhat twofold, and caused mainly by our pumping station and in part by substandard seals and plumbing in the existing properties.


    Fast forward to late Summer 2016, and following a couple of independent reports commissioned by the Council in conjunction with their Environmental Health, my two neighbors and I have been presented with a report condemning our sewerage and drainage infrastructure as unfit for purpose due to the over-sized specification of the pumping station wet well. In short the pumping station does not pump out frequently enough in order operate efficiently, causing a build-up of odors affecting neighboring properties. In essence the capacity of the well is too large for the number of properties, and people it serves.

    I have contacted the NHBC, under which this is apparently not covered as the problem is not due to constructional or installation defect. The NHBC suggested liability sits with the supplier/installer, the body which signed off the installation (the Council) and/or the developer. The developer very recently confirmed that neither he, nor his company has any liability in this matter. All further communication should be directed through his solicitor (He was very good up to this point with snagging).

    After taking legal advice our solicitor advised that there was probably a case against the developer under the Defective Premises act 1972 however this is denied by the developer and his solicitor as the Act relates to dwellings, which the pumping station is not. Our solicitor didnt think there was a case against the NHBC or council.

    We were also advised that taking the developer to court even if we won could cost more than what it cost to put right (Circa £15,000+ 10,000 court and legal fees) even if were were successful, and that not all cost are recoverable.

    As it stands, work is currently in progress to decommission the pumping station and connect to the main sewer directly, all at our own cost.

    I'm staggered that we seem to have no where to turn to other than to foot the bill ourselves and have the work carried out. None the less i'd be interested to hear any thoughts on who actually might be at fault.

    Regards
    DB
Page 1
    • stator
    • By stator 15th Sep 17, 3:06 PM
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    stator
    • #2
    • 15th Sep 17, 3:06 PM
    • #2
    • 15th Sep 17, 3:06 PM
    When you bought the property, did your solicitor know about the private pumping station? Did they check it was up to standard? Did they advise you to check anything? Did they advise you to take out an indemnity policy? Did you have a mortgage? Did the lender question anything relating to the pumping station?

    I don't think anyone can advise you what your chances of success are against the original developer, but that is where the moral liability lies. They will of course fight you every step of the way.
    Changing the world, one sarcastic comment at a time.
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 3:14 PM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    • #3
    • 15th Sep 17, 3:14 PM
    • #3
    • 15th Sep 17, 3:14 PM
    Thanks for your response stator.

    We were never advised to check anything or take out any kind of indemnity - and yes the property is mortgaged and it was never raised by the lender. Not even when we remortgaged.

    We had to set up a management company for the three of us and were told this would transfer over to Thames Water in a years time. Trouble is unless the pumping station was in service prior to July 2011, it isnt eligible for adoption.
    • stator
    • By stator 15th Sep 17, 4:58 PM
    • 5,805 Posts
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    stator
    • #4
    • 15th Sep 17, 4:58 PM
    • #4
    • 15th Sep 17, 4:58 PM
    You could try making a complaint about your conveyancer if you think they didn't advise you correctly regarding the original purchase. An unadopted private sewer is definitely something they should have asked questions about, but only if they knew about it. Go back over your paperwork to see if they did.
    Changing the world, one sarcastic comment at a time.
    • Furts
    • By Furts 15th Sep 17, 5:02 PM
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    Furts
    • #5
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:02 PM
    • #5
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:02 PM
    Anybody who purchases a new home with a pumping station has to scrutinise everything. Alarm bells immediately ring, and one has to consider carefully the attitude of the water authority. Basically why should they adopt something which will be a long term liability and expense to them? Their default response will be to try and avoid getting involved. In turn a developer and owners have to be 110% certain nothing is wrong to prevent adoption. Bluntly I am amazed that you have ended up in this situation.


    I am with your solicitor. Why should the council pick up a liability - unless they did Building Control.


    I would have thought a bond would have existed to cover against your situation. It does with roads and adopted sewers and the latter is exactly what you hoped to achieve.


    I would be going after NHBC, all the more so if they were the Approved Inspectors. The scheme would have been run past NHBC in order for them to take on the risk, and the developer will have paid a premium, in turn paid between the three future owners.


    I would challenge NHBC. All work is covered by their Technical Standards. These comprise various parts, but in essence are split into design, specification, and site works. There is not a cop out that springs to my mind.


    There is a puzzle in all this. A pumping station is an expensive piece of work. It is to be avoided at all costs unless there is no alternative. So why can you now make a gravity connection when the developer did not do this?


    Finally who designed the size of the pumping station?
    • Furts
    • By Furts 15th Sep 17, 5:09 PM
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    Furts
    • #6
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:09 PM
    • #6
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:09 PM
    As a rider to the above, I trust you have professional advice, design and everything in line for the decommission and new drainage. If not, and anything, anywhere, is wrong you will end up with no Adoption and in much the same place as you are now.
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 5:12 PM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    • #7
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:12 PM
    • #7
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:12 PM
    They certainly knew about it - as it was clearly marked on the drawings. Sounds like it is certainly worth following up. The adoption criteria wasn't clear around the time of construction.

    In truth, whilst painful at the moment, connecting straight to the mains will save money in the long term as we are solely responsible for the private sewer, and maintenance is expensive. If something goes wrong its extortionate. Companies have you over a barrel for call out fees.
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 5:15 PM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    • #8
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:15 PM
    • #8
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:15 PM
    Furts

    The pumping station wasnt put in by our builder. It was installed by a previous developer who then sold the plot to 'our' developer.

    The same council that condemned it were responsible for building control and sign off!

    There are thousands of these pumping stations up and down the country and we have had few problems with ours, but it is too big and therefore doesnt operate efficiently!
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 5:17 PM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    • #9
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:17 PM
    • #9
    • 15th Sep 17, 5:17 PM
    Furts the reason there is no adoption is because it wasn't in service prior to July 2011.

    And yes - we are footing a hefty bill to connect to the mains and decommission that has been approved by that same building control and council
    • Furts
    • By Furts 15th Sep 17, 5:39 PM
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    Furts
    Furts

    The pumping station wasnt put in by our builder. It was installed by a previous developer who then sold the plot to 'our' developer.

    The same council that condemned it were responsible for building control and sign off!

    There are thousands of these pumping stations up and down the country and we have had few problems with ours, but it is too big and therefore doesnt operate efficiently!
    Originally posted by Boyley


    What I am getting at is whose design was it, and for how many homes the land that was sold off?
    • Furts
    • By Furts 15th Sep 17, 5:40 PM
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    Furts
    Furts the reason there is no adoption is because it wasn't in service prior to July 2011.

    And yes - we are footing a hefty bill to connect to the mains and decommission that has been approved by that same building control and council
    Originally posted by Boyley

    But adoption will be Thames Water? If so, what are you working to with regard specification and design?
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 6:54 PM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    But adoption will be Thames Water? If so, what are you working to with regard specification and design?
    Originally posted by Furts
    The pumping station is a standard bit of kit, a Vortex packaged system. We are bypassing it altogether and connecting straight to the gravity sewer. A heck of a lot of groundworks involved. We of course already connect to the same sewer anyway - albeit via the pumping station at the minute.

    There are mixed professional views on whether it is over capacity or not and how many properties it could serve - but I expect it is roughly twice as big as it needed to be from my maths and quotations on similar systems
    • EachPenny
    • By EachPenny 15th Sep 17, 7:53 PM
    • 2,102 Posts
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    EachPenny
    I don't understand the conclusion arrived at by Environmental Health, nor the solution currently being implemented. You say "In short the pumping station does not pump out frequently enough in order operate efficiently, causing a build-up of odors affecting neighboring properties." If this is a pure pumping station, rather than a packaged treatment plant, then the obvious solution to the infrequent pumping is either to alter the control system so the pumps cycle on a more frequent basis, or reduce the capacity of the wet well. It shouldn't be costing multiple-thousands of pounds to fix the problem (which may come up as an issue if any legal action is taken).

    The effect of the wet well being over capacity would be the foul discharge from your properties would sit in the wet well for a period of time before being pumped out. do you know how long this is? Unless you and your neighbours have some serious health issues, the far greater percentage of the content of the wet well would be 'clean' water (i.e. drainage from baths, showers, washing machine etc) the soap and detergent content of which typically has a 'nice' smell. I would expect the contents of the wet well for up to four or five days to have very little unpleasant odour. It is also strange that the neighbours are aware of the problem and not you.

    Pumping stations are normally designed to either operate on a timed basis, or a level basis. The timed approach means the pump(s) are switched on after a specific amount of time after the last cycle - most likely to be used where a relatively large catchment produces a reasonably steady flow. Level switched pumping simply means the pumps start when a specific trigger level is reached. Your description makes it sound like the latter is being used and the claimed problem is it is taking too long for the trigger level to be reached.

    In terms of solutions, the easiest (and I assume not feasible) is to adjust the trigger level so the pumps operate when a smaller volume of water has collected. The second best approach is to modify the control system so the pumps are operated after a certain period of time even if the trigger level hasn't been reached. If the manufacturer cannot or will not supply such modifications, then a competent electrician should be able to make the necessary changes, but this would impact on the manufacturer's support (if any).

    The third option, possibly the one of least cost, is to reduce the capacity of the wet well. There are a variety of ways of doing this, but the simplest would be to (carefully!) lower some concrete blocks into the wet well. This in principle is no different to the toilet flush volume reducers which replace some of the space in the cistern/wet well with a semi-permanent object.

    But the thing that interests me is the comment about the existing property's waste traps. That indicates the source of the smell is via the connecting sewer, not above ground. Even poor quality waste traps should still prevent smells coming back up into the house from the sewer.

    The thing I would have looked into is whether the problem is the pumping station causing a rush of air through the rising main (the pipe connecting the pumps to the gravity sewer) and that this air is not being vented properly and is causing the water seal in the neighbour's traps to be broken allowing the smell out. This should be extremely unlikely as the neighbour's drainage system should have at least some external ventilation preventing an air pressure build up - but I've seen many strange drainage problems and assuming things have been done correctly is never a good idea. If this was the actual cause of the problem then the simple solution would have been to add a vent pipe to the rising main discharge manhole, which at most shouldn't have cost more than a few hundred pounds.

    It sounds like it is too late to stop the work to replace the pumping station with a gravity connection. But if it was me I would want a lot more detail about the problem and why I was being expected to carry out expensive work to solve what should have been a relatively simple issue. Presumably a pumping station was originally installed because it was cheaper to do that with a shallow rising main, rather than laying a gravity pipe in deep excavations?
    "In the future, everyone will be rich for 15 minutes"
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 8:17 PM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    I don't understand the conclusion arrived at by Environmental Health, nor the solution currently being implemented. You say "In short the pumping station does not pump out frequently enough in order operate efficiently, causing a build-up of odors affecting neighboring properties." If this is a pure pumping station, rather than a packaged treatment plant, then the obvious solution to the infrequent pumping is either to alter the control system so the pumps cycle on a more frequent basis, or reduce the capacity of the wet well. It shouldn't be costing multiple-thousands of pounds to fix the problem (which may come up as an issue if any legal action is taken).

    The effect of the wet well being over capacity would be the foul discharge from your properties would sit in the wet well for a period of time before being pumped out. do you know how long this is? Unless you and your neighbours have some serious health issues, the far greater percentage of the content of the wet well would be 'clean' water (i.e. drainage from baths, showers, washing machine etc) the soap and detergent content of which typically has a 'nice' smell. I would expect the contents of the wet well for up to four or five days to have very little unpleasant odour. It is also strange that the neighbours are aware of the problem and not you.

    Pumping stations are normally designed to either operate on a timed basis, or a level basis. The timed approach means the pump(s) are switched on after a specific amount of time after the last cycle - most likely to be used where a relatively large catchment produces a reasonably steady flow. Level switched pumping simply means the pumps start when a specific trigger level is reached. Your description makes it sound like the latter is being used and the claimed problem is it is taking too long for the trigger level to be reached.

    In terms of solutions, the easiest (and I assume not feasible) is to adjust the trigger level so the pumps operate when a smaller volume of water has collected. The second best approach is to modify the control system so the pumps are operated after a certain period of time even if the trigger level hasn't been reached. If the manufacturer cannot or will not supply such modifications, then a competent electrician should be able to make the necessary changes, but this would impact on the manufacturer's support (if any).

    The third option, possibly the one of least cost, is to reduce the capacity of the wet well. There are a variety of ways of doing this, but the simplest would be to (carefully!) lower some concrete blocks into the wet well. This in principle is no different to the toilet flush volume reducers which replace some of the space in the cistern/wet well with a semi-permanent object.

    But the thing that interests me is the comment about the existing property's waste traps. That indicates the source of the smell is via the connecting sewer, not above ground. Even poor quality waste traps should still prevent smells coming back up into the house from the sewer.

    The thing I would have looked into is whether the problem is the pumping station causing a rush of air through the rising main (the pipe connecting the pumps to the gravity sewer) and that this air is not being vented properly and is causing the water seal in the neighbour's traps to be broken allowing the smell out. This should be extremely unlikely as the neighbour's drainage system should have at least some external ventilation preventing an air pressure build up - but I've seen many strange drainage problems and assuming things have been done correctly is never a good idea. If this was the actual cause of the problem then the simple solution would have been to add a vent pipe to the rising main discharge manhole, which at most shouldn't have cost more than a few hundred pounds.

    It sounds like it is too late to stop the work to replace the pumping station with a gravity connection. But if it was me I would want a lot more detail about the problem and why I was being expected to carry out expensive work to solve what should have been a relatively simple issue. Presumably a pumping station was originally installed because it was cheaper to do that with a shallow rising main, rather than laying a gravity pipe in deep excavations?
    Originally posted by EachPenny
    You make so many good points and correct assumptions it is hard to know where to start, I will try bullet pointing some answers.

    1. Yes the current system operates on a float level and they are set as low as they can be. The report claims that septicity occurs after 6 hours and the pumps are only operating twice in a 24 hour period.

    2. The system is not vented - much to our surprise.

    3. There are apparent 'Flat spits' where sediment accumulates and dangerous gases build up which are disrupted when pumps are activated.

    4. We toyed with the idea of reducing capacity with concrete but this was still a reasonably expensive option and there were no guarantees it would solve the problem - what's more we would still have a pumping station and all the ongoing maintenance costs and no idea of any future adoption terms.

    5. The report was actually very comprehensive and carried out via an external firm RWC Plc . It detailed numerous options many covered by yourself above, but ultimately the best solution was deemed to be to connect to gravity if possible.

    6. The other properties have also had some work carried out at their own cost. Not all properties were affected in the first place indicating sub standard drainage seals and internal plumbing although the main properties affected were nearest where the pumping station joined the gravity.
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 15th Sep 17, 8:29 PM
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    Boyley
    As an aside I would also add that what with possession being 9/10ths of the law, our names on the management company and the urgency to fix immediately (as we have done twice when capacitors have failed) that it is extremely difficult to pass the buck after the event. Add to this the 5 years since construction and the response very much seems to be that of 'your problem'
    • EachPenny
    • By EachPenny 15th Sep 17, 11:29 PM
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    EachPenny
    Taking your points in a slightly different order... yes a pumping station does have ongoing maintenance and running costs and a gravity solution is almost always* the preferable option if economically and practically viable. (*the main exception being where the discharge sewer is subject to flooding)

    I don't have all the facts and it isn't an area I'd claim expertise in, but 6 hours to septicity does sound very fast. There are other solutions to septicity, and one is to add an aeration/circulating pump which as you already have a power supply in the pumping station is not usually difficult or expensive.

    I guess it is 'flat spots' - either in the rising main or in the wet well. That could be a problem if the rising main is excessively large, but again in either case the problem could be solved relatively cheaply.

    Reducing the capacity of the wet well with concrete shouldn't be that expensive, concrete is a relatively cheap material after all.

    At the end of the day, if you are happy with a solution that means a reduced maintenance cost gravity connection then you have a fair outcome. But I would be very wary of trying to recover the costs of the work off anybody else involved with the pumping station design and construction, including the developer of the properties. Any legal action would hinge on whether the costs you have incurred are reasonable and whilst you have a technical report giving you one set of opinions, any party you take legal action against would obtain their own technical report which is likely to contain different opinions.
    "In the future, everyone will be rich for 15 minutes"
    • Furts
    • By Furts 16th Sep 17, 7:18 AM
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    Furts
    T

    At the end of the day, if you are happy with a solution that means a reduced maintenance cost gravity connection then you have a fair outcome. But I would be very wary of trying to recover the costs of the work off anybody else involved with the pumping station design and construction, including the developer of the properties. Any legal action would hinge on whether the costs you have incurred are reasonable and whilst you have a technical report giving you one set of opinions, any party you take legal action against would obtain their own technical report which is likely to contain different opinions.
    Originally posted by EachPenny
    My thoughts much like this. I believe you should have gone after NHBC. Their default position is to contest anything so one has to be prepared for a fight. There are clear design requirements here, and design is part of the Technical Standards. However, they will not be a route now because you have commenced work. So they have been let off the hook.

    My intuition is the 2011 adoption date is a red herring. Thames Water were never going to adopt a pumping station that was not working correctly. To do so would mean they were funding repairs that were not their liability. This is no different to roads and sewers. They go through a maintenance period as part of the adoption process.
    • Boyley
    • By Boyley 16th Sep 17, 11:48 AM
    • 42 Posts
    • 14 Thanks
    Boyley
    My thoughts much like this. I believe you should have gone after NHBC. Their default position is to contest anything so one has to be prepared for a fight. There are clear design requirements here, and design is part of the Technical Standards. However, they will not be a route now because you have commenced work. So they have been let off the hook.

    My intuition is the 2011 adoption date is a red herring. Thames Water were never going to adopt a pumping station that was not working correctly. To do so would mean they were funding repairs that were not their liability. This is no different to roads and sewers. They go through a maintenance period as part of the adoption process.
    Originally posted by Furts
    Furts whilst I value your comment - I'm afraid you are wrong. This has been an ongoing case for some years, every avenue has been explored (perhaps not as rigorously as it could have been) and I reject that the NHBC has been 'let off'. I didn't accept their first response and the case was referred internally. I am copying their response below :

    Thank you for providing us with a copy of the report.

    To explain, the cover NHBC provides in years 3-10 is for physical damage caused by building defects found in load bearing elements of the home and also below ground drainage that is the responsibility of the homeowner.

    It is our investigator’s understanding from the report that the pumping station is not the correct size for the amount of properties that it is serving and as such is not operating frequently enough to be efficient. However this is not due to an installation or construction defect that is causing physical damage and would not be suitable for a claim under Section 3 of our policy.

    Approvals given by the Authority that signed off the design and installation confirm the specification and therefore should bear the liability.

    Remedial options should be discussed between the builder and the Control body that approved the system.


    To clarify on the Thames Water adoption, details of the pumping station and its whereabouts were submitted to Thames Water long before any action was taken on the operation. The eligibility criteria is not met due to the date of commission, not the operation.

    As for work commencing now, we dragged this out as long as possible but remedial action has to be taken as insructed by the council and environmental health. The pumping station was condemned over a year ago. Believe me when I say we have not taken this lightly.
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