Above-Floor Plumbing: A Better Way to Build a Basement Bath(ARA) - It’s a common basement renovation scenario: You want a new bathroom and your plumber recommends a sewage ejection system. That requires digging through the concrete: a messy and time-consuming job with a high price tag.

Mike Sikorski says that scenario was turning off his customers. Today, the East Taunton, Mass., plumber happily recommends above-floor plumbing instead. “The last sewage ejector I put in was about three years ago,” he says. “I recommend Saniflo aboveground plumbing for all my basement baths now. It’s less invasive, it’s a ‘cut-and-dry’ installation, and there are no surprises.” Sikorski customers “get more bang for their buck” with the system. “If you can save people money, that’s a plus.” Saniflo’s modern toilet systems use above-floor, or “macerating,” technology.

There’s no need to dig. Instead of routing flush water through underground drainage lines to a sewage ejector, waste is moved to a pump. The pump liquefies waste and paper, and releases it under pressure through small-diameter piping to the sewer or septic tank. It requires no special maintenance, and the pump (which can be hidden behind the wall) is sealed for life. Satisfied Customer Tom Proudler is a Santa Rosa, Calif., building contractor who traveled to Raynham, Mass., to help his daughter renovate her basement. He had never heard of above-floor plumbing before Sikorski recommended it.

“It’s the neatest thing,” Proudler says. “It’s not as noisy as an ejector, and it saved us a ton of money. Sikorski agrees. “With a sewage ejector — just as you would for conventional plumbing — you’ve got to jackhammer and dig up the floor, not knowing what’s beneath. Then you have to re-cement it. Frankly, digging is unpredictable.” There are several hazards, he explains. “To start with, I don’t know how thick the floor is, or if there are unforeseen rocks or pipes. And if I run into a ledge, the customer has to reconfigure the layout for the bathroom. Plus, any time you disturb the concrete floor, there’s a chance of water seeping through.” Saniflo systems can handle the toilet and all the bathroom fixtures, and work up to 15 feet below and as far as 150 feet away from a septic tank or sewer line. Plus, there is no need for a storage tank to hold accumulating waste.

The Problem with Sewage Ejection Sewage ejectors require concrete excavation to install drain lines and a storage tank. “There’s really nothing to be gained by using sewage ejection,” says Rob Weed, a manufacturers’ representative with Studnicky Associates. “You still have to trench through the concrete just as you would have to with conventional plumbing.” “With a sewage ejector, you’re limited to an area with enough space for the sewage tank and a way to access it,” Sikorski explains. Typically, these storage tanks (30 by 30 inches) accumulate waste over numerous flushes before the ejector moves it up into the main drain.

“When not installed properly, the tank cover can leak water if the pump fails and also cause gases to come into the house,” he says. You don’t have that problem with above-floor plumbing, which pumps the system clear of waste with every flush. “What if you had a leak?” The possibility for a storage-tank leak kept homeowner Frank Hunt from choosing a sewage ejector pump when he remodeled the basement in his suburban Chicago home and added a bath.

“I didn’t care for the idea that there would be a storage tank of that size,” he explains. “What if you had a leak in that big tank?” Instead of taking that risk, Hunt chose a macerating system for his project. An above-floor plumbing system can be installed in half a day, with no digging, saving the customer a lot of hassle and a lot of money. With 3/4-inch discharge pipe, it’s simple to install even in a tight space. Alternatively, a sewage ejector typically requires a two-inch pipe, adding installation challenges and noise. “I don’t understand why more installers don’t recommend macerating technology,” Weed adds. “Hands down, it’s a better way to go.”

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