Footing Drain Disconnection FAQ’s


·        Background Questions: Reasons For Back Ups, Alternative Solutions

·        Installation Process: Costs, Homeowner Choices, Restoration

·       Maintenance and Operations

·        Legal Requirements


Background Questions: Reasons for Back Ups, Alternative Solutions

1.         Are there alternatives to managing the water other than Footing Drain Disconnection? Why was this option chosen? 
The SSO Task Force studied the issue of basement backups in 2000 to 2001 and identified three viable alternatives to solving these problems; footing drain disconnection, installing larger sewer pipes and building storage basins. This work found that footing drain disconnection (FDD) addressed the root cause of the basement backups, which was stormwater entering the sewer system during rain events. On average, every home with a connected footing drain adds 3,500 to 10,500 gallons per year of clean water that must be transported to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and treated before release to the Huron River.  FDD was cheaper overall and, very importantly, reduced the chance of exceeding the Wastewater Treatment Plant capacity.  FDD also provides the greatest security of the solutions as its capability to work effectively is not limited to certain size rainstorms.

2.         Can I avoid the need for footing drain disconnection if I take actions such as redirecting my downspouts, sloping soil away from the foundation or installing low flow fixtures?
While those are excellent approaches to reduce some causes of wet basements and to reduce the volume of water that goes to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, this will not prevent enough water from entering the sewer system inappropriately. Footing drains still collect much of the rainfall that enters the ground.  To protect your own and your neighbors’ basements, the large volume of water entering the sewer system from rain storms must not enter the sewer system and FDD is the practical means identified to do this.

3.         Why do I need to have this done and not my neighbors?
All buildings that have connected footing drains are scheduled for FDD work over the coming years. The schedule was established on a priority basis to disconnect the homes identified as needing protection from future basement backups and to accommodate a cost efficient installation process within a neighborhood.

4.         I get water in my basement now. Will this solve that problem or make it worse?
This work will only address basement water problems that are caused by heavy rain events resulting in basement backups through floor drains. It will not improve or worsen other causes of wet basements such as leaks through cracks in basement walls or floors due to poor site drainage and/or poor or blocked footing drainage pipes.

5.         What is the role of development in this problem? These basement backups have happened since our neighborhood has grown.
In tracking the source of the heavy flows that entered the system during rain storms in the year 2000, a Task Force of engineering professionals and community members identified that footing drains contributed 70-90% of the total volume of flow in the sewer system making this source the major cause of basement backups.
The existing sanitary sewer system without footing drain flow is more than adequate to handle recent and future development as planned for in existing treatment plant designs.  New developments do not have footing drains connected to the sanitary system and will not add wet weather flows to the collection system.


Installation Process: Costs, Homeowner Choices, Restoration

6.         Do I have to use a particular contractor (low bidder)?
Homeowners choose which pre-qualified contractor they want to provide them a bid. Homeowners only need to arrange one bid if the work can be accomplished within the $4,100 average estimate. If costs exceed $4,100, two estimates are needed. The homeowner may select either of the contractors, but must pay the differential between the lowest bid and the higher bid if the more costly contractor is selected.

7.         Can I use another contractor who is not pre-qualified?
No.  The City of Ann Arbor has developed a process for pre-qualifying contractors so that it is clear that they understand the methods and materials needed for a complete installation.  Using other contractors would be more expensive for Ann Arbor to manage and would reduce the ability to support quality construction. With several contractors already pre-qualified, there is adequate choice for homeowners to make a selection. Exceptions to using the pre-qualified contractors may be allowed but the homeowner may not receive full reimbursement for all costs not pre-approved for work using pre-qualified contractors.  Homeowners are encouraged to seek information/guidelines for reimbursement from FDD project staff before beginning work eligible for FDD funding.  Contractors willing to do this type of work are encouraged to contact the city to seek pre-qualification status.  

8.         Can I perform the disconnection work myself?
Yes.  Homeowners can perform the work.  In this case, the homeowner would need to apply for all of the necessary permits, would have to comply with the construction specifications and materials of construction, and would be reimbursed for materials only.  This reimbursement would only be made after the Construction Manager had completed his final inspection of the work.

9.         What will this cost me as a homeowner? 
The City will cover the costs necessary to complete an installation of the sump and basic restoration. In most homes this is $4,100 or less. Homeowners may choose to pay for additional items to meet their desires for more security and enhanced restoration. Some homeowners choose to purchase a backup pump or to do additional landscaping work.

10.       What does basic restoration mean?
Basic restoration inside the home means returning the home to the level of finish it had previous to the work. Concrete is replaced and smoothed, tiles are replaced with a closest match of available tile and the work site is cleared and cleaned. Outside the home, holes are filled in and grass seed is sown.

11.       How do I know the contractor is installing quality components?
All work done by the pre-qualified contractors is in compliance with a very specific set of specifications for both the components to be used and the process for disconnection.

12.       What will happen to my yard?
Every effort is made to minimize the amount of excavation and disruption in the yard. The least amount of yard disruption would be a small hole near the foundation wall where the discharge line exits your home. For more difficult installations due to the topography, type of soil or location of the discharge line, a trench across the lawn may be needed.

13.       How long does construction last? How dusty is it? How disruptive?
Construction lasts for 2-3 days. Contractors protect flooring and hang protective plastic to minimize the mess. There will be concrete removed and this can generate dust and is noisy. See homeowners’ surveys for rating on contractor cleanliness and courtesy. 

14.       How will this affect the radon levels in my basement?
Everything that is installed in the basement will be sealed, protecting the home from any additional radon exposure.

15.       Will my floor drain still work?
Yes. Footing drain disconnection does not affect the functioning of the floor drains.  If there is a floor drain that goes to your footing drains it must be abandoned by plumbing code.


Maintenance and Operations

16.       Who owns/maintains the sump, pump and additional plumbing lines?
The sump pump and lines are owned and maintained by the homeowner.

17.       What happens when my sump pump doesn’t work? What if the check valves (sewage backflow prevention devices) fail?
If your sump pump stops working, water from the footing drains will not be pumped out to your discharge lines and this water can collect in your basement. As with any primary appliance, it is critical that homeowners keep sump pumps in good repair. Most sumps pumps will operate for 10 to 15 years before needing replacement. Check valves need to be tested and maintained regularly or they could fail to operate and allow a basement backup to occur.

18.       Is there a warranty?
Yes, the work and the sump pump have warrantees through your plumbing contractor.
The sump pump warranty is normally 1 year. Warranty for installation work will be outlined in your contract with the plumbing contractor.

19.       Why is the City mandating a system that has potential to fail when I have never had a problem related to this before?
Any system like this does have the potential to fail, typically because of a loss of power or because the sump pump fails to operate. However, the alternative is that your home or the home of your neighbor could experience a basement backup when footing drain flows overwhelm the sewer system and the Wastewater Treatment Plant in times of heavy storms. Building code in Ann Arbor and in most other communities changed in 1982 to require that footing drains use sump pumps or similar systems to direct footing drain flows to the stormwater system or to an alternative onsite system like a rain garden or detention basin.

20.       What is a backup sump pump and why would I need one?
A backup sump pump is a secondary pump that will operate if the primary sump pump fails due to a power outage or mechanical failure. Under normal conditions, the primary sump will start running when the water in the sump reaches a certain level. If a power failure occurs during a period of footing drain flow, the water level will continue to rise past that level without the primary pump operating, and the water can build up in the footing drains and in the soil around the basement. Basement wetness can result from water pressure building up around the outside of the basement walls, where it can seep through cracks in the concrete walls or floor. Water may also seep through the sump lid.

The decision to purchase a backup system is dependent upon each homeowner’s individual needs. The factors that should be considered are the level of finish of the basement, the frequency of power outages, past wetness problems, and home elevation relative to surrounding areas. Power outages frequently occur during storm events and it is advisable to have a backup system installed if you are at all concerned about basement wetness. 

21.       What if I have a floor drain near the sump, wont the ground water seeping into the basement flow out through the floor drain from the sump?
Not necessarily. If the pump fails to pump out the ground water from your sump the water can build up in the footing drains and in the soil around the basement. Basement wetness can result from water pressure building up around the outside of the basement walls, where it can seep through cracks in the concrete walls or floor. The location that the water seeps through the basement walls or floor may not be near a floor drain and in that case the water may not drain out. Water may also seep through the sump lid into the basement and if there is a floor drain nearby the ground water may drain out through the floor drain without dispersing across the entire basement floor.

Please note that relying on draining the ground water out through the floor drain to the sanitary sewer system during a power outage or pump failure is counteractive to the goals of the footing drain disconnection program and it is not a reliable long term solution because it allows the water to enter the basement before it drains out, potentially causing damage.

22.       What are the options for a backup system?
Backup sump pump systems are homeowner options and must be paid for by the homeowner. These backup systems exceed building code requirements and are considered a home improvement that is not fundable by City project dollars. The battery backup system is the most commonly chosen back up system by homeowners. For a short list of advantages and disadvantages of the different back-up sump pump systems please continue reading below. For further information regarding these back-up options please speak with a contractor or look up manufacturer information.

A battery back-up sump pump is an emergency backup pump that draws its power from an industry standard deep-cycle marine battery and pumps the water out of the sump during the loss of electricity or failure of the primary sump pump. The pump is installed in the sump and the battery pack is on the floor nearby. Battery based systems are usually fully automatic and maintain a full charge while the power is on and switch over automatically when the power turns off (indicated by an alarm).


  • Low maintenance requirements other than replacing the battery and checking the water level in battery.
  • Low up front cost
  • Easy to install
  • Works if primary pump fails


  • Limited amount of energy in battery to power pump. Time varies by manufacturer of battery and backup pump, generally 7-24 hrs.
  • Cost of battery replacement

A water powered back-up system is an emergency backup pump that uses the pressurized fresh water supply in the house to create suction that draws the water from the sump up through the discharge pipe to the outside of the house. It will require installing copper pipes from the nearest water supply pipe to the sump area. The pump starts automatically if the power turns off or if the primary pump fails.


  • Power provided by city water pressure. As long as there is water pressure in your house the backup pump will work.
  • Works if primary pump fails


  • Uses about 2 gallons of pressurized fresh water to pump out 1 gallon of sump water. Water usage will show up on the water bill.
  • More expensive installation cost than battery backup
  • Every 3 years a plumber has to certify that sump water is not mixing with the pressurized potable water
  • Additional water supply pipes around sump area
  • Sump cover may not be radon sealed

 A manual start portable gasoline generator could also be used to provide power to the primary pump. These can be found at hardware stores and can vary in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. It will require that an extension cord is run from generator outside the house to the sump pump. Before purchase you would also need to verify that the generator will meet your power needs including the sump pump.


  • May cost less than battery back-up pump
  • Portable generator has multiple uses


  • Have to be home to start the generator
  • May have to refuel generator often
  • No second backup pump

An automatic standby generator can be used to power select circuits in the house such as the sump pump, furnace, refrigerator and other appliances during power outages. The generator would start automatically when the power goes off and can be installed to be powered by natural gas, propane or gasoline. Usually it has to be professionally installed.


  • Power selected circuits or entire house for longer periods of time
  • Starts automatically


  • Installation and maintenance costs
  • No second backup pump

23.       If my sump pump fails to operate, isn’t this as bad as having a basement backup?
No.  If your sump pump fails, the water that comes out of your sump is clean water from the ground around your basement.  Normally this would drain to the nearest floor drain.  On the other hand, if there was a basement backup caused by a surcharged sanitary sewer system, there is the potential that much more flow would enter your basement.  This water would contain sanitary sewage, which is a more significant problem to manage.

24.       How will this effect local surface water issues? (We already have street/yard trouble)
The water that currently flows through the footing drains will be routed to the stormwater system or to an alternative discharge site like a rain garden for homes that can accommodate that within their yard.  In very large storms when basement backups can take place, the stormwater drainage system is designed to pond these excess flows in the streets until the downstream drainage system can accommodate these flows.  The FDD generated flows are a small portion of these flows and would normally result in less than an inch of additional standing water for short periods of time.  A storm water system which holds back or delays a portion of the large volume of flow, caused by heavy rains, helps preserve the natural ecosystem of the Huron River.

25.       I was told check valves were not allowed due to the potential to heave the basement floor. Is that true?
If footing drains are disconnected from the sanitary plumbing as part of a check valve installation, this problem will not occur.  However, using check valves can result in heaving the basement floor IF installed when footing drains are still connected to the sewer system and if that sewer surcharges.  The FDD program disconnects the footing drains from the sewer system and pumps the water out to discharge lines leading to the stormwater system to prevent this potential problem. The backflow prevention (check) valves that are installed on floor drains and other basement facilities as part of the FDD process are able to contain the pressure generated by the surcharged sewers in the basement plumbing.

26.       How noisy is the pump? How often will it run?
The pump sounds much like a refrigerator motor. How often the pump runs depends on the amount of water being removed from your footing drains. In homes completed to date, this has been quite variable.

27.       What happens if the discharge line freezes in the winter or is broken?
It is possible for the discharge lines to freeze as they are installed above the frost line.  Normally, the water discharged from the sump pump is warm enough to flow without freezing to the storm drainage system.  Additionally it is a cyclic flow which means it flows very fast while the pump is operating and hardly at all when not.  This means that if the lines placed with the proper grade they should not contain water for an extended period of time therefore minimizing possible freezing.  If it does freeze, there is an emergency discharge near the home that allows water to be pumped outside the house. Also, homeowner construction of fences and lawn watering systems could break the discharge line.  In these cases, the emergency discharge would put the sump water next to the house until the homeowner can repair the line. The winter of 2002/2003 proved to be a good test for the potential of freezing discharge lines with several periods of extremely cold weather and a considerable frost depth.  None of the 75+ installed discharge lines had any reported freezing problems.

28.       How much will it cost to run my sump pump?
It has been estimated that the average property owner will pay less than a dollar a year for electricity to run the sump pump.  Of course, some will be higher and some lower depending on the amount of water that is pumped.

29.       If I have to replace the sump pump, what are the costs for doing this?
Sump pumps can be purchased from local home improvement and hardware stores for less than $100.  Often the property owner can install these units, but it not, estimates to replace the sump pump can be obtained from local plumbers.  A common rule of thumb is that installation costs are equal to the equipment being replaced.

Legal Requirements

30.       May I choose not to participate in the program? What are the consequences of that?
Participation in this program is mandated by city ordinance. The FDD program offers homeowners the opportunity to have the City pay for installation if the work is completed within the schedule of the program. If the homeowner does not comply with the notices to arrange disconnection, a fee of $100 per month will be charged to the homeowner for the additional costs associated with handling un-metered footing drains flows into the sewer system. Disconnection is still required and if done after the 90 day notice expires, the disconnection work would no longer be paid for by the city.


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