Canada has an established population of pressure sewers and grinder pumps. These installations came about to address one or more of the design issues mentioned above. Some sites are approaching twenty years in age. They have excellent operating records, and new units are being added regularly. A review of Ontario locations shows that both the North and South are well represented.
A typical system
Let us take a look at a typical pressure sewer system. Beginning at the house, the various plumbing fixtures connect to a 113 mm (4.5 inch) outside diameter drain, waste and vent pipe which exists the basement below the frost line. This pipe discharges into the tank of the grinder pump station (Figure 1). The pump is located in the tank, and operates on level control. Only the top of the station is visible above grade, creating an unobtrusive profile that can be readily disguised.
Once the sewage leaves the grinder pump station, it enters a section of piping known in the trade as a "lateral" which is typically 31 mm (1-1/4 inch) to provide a non-settling transport velocity of at least 0.6 m/s (2 feet/sec). A redundant check valve and isolation valve with extension handle in a protective tube known as a "curb stop" must be provided.
From the lateral, the sewage enters the pressure sewer, which is much smaller than a typical gravity sewer. The common size range is 50 mm to 100 mm (2 inch to 4 inch). Because the liquid is being moved by pressure differential instead of elevation differential, it does not require any particular slope and can be buried just below the frost line. The development of "trenchless" excavation, or directional drilling, has dramatically increased the speed and decreased the cost of installation.
Hydraulically, the pressure sewer piping is laid out as a multi-branch system without loops. If you look at your hand, your fingers may be compared to the branches of a grinder pump system. They join at your hand, which may be compared to the forcemain transporting the output of all the grinder pumps to treatment.
Demonstration projects and years of field experience have verified a mathematical model which predicts how many grinder pumps will be operating in the system at any time. This has been incorporated by the manufacturer we represent, Environment One, into a computer program which can model any piping layout. The program calculates the friction head based on the predicted number of operating pumps and adds the static head. This yields the discharge pressure required at each pump.
The pumps are the positive displacement type, rated for continuous operation at any pressure between a negative and 42 m (60 psig or 138 feet). (This is important; centrifugal pumps would respectively run out and shut off under these conditions.) Typical pipe would be polyvinyl chloride or high density polyethylene material in standard dimension ratio 11 or 13.5 wall thickness. A total piping length of 3 to 4 kilometres (2 to 2-1/2 miles) is achievable.
The successful operation of grinder pumps in treatment plants of most types has been documented, including aerated lagoons, activated sludge plants, trickling filters, rotating biological contactors and constructed wetlands.
Reduced captial cost of new sewer installation
John Brooks Company retained a consulting engineer to prepare the report Cost Analysis of GP 2000 Low Pressure Sewer System. Four residential developments constructed with gravity sewers were examined to determine if grinder pumps would have been a realistic alternative. One of these (Case D in the report) was a 12 lot project where a lift station was installed. The comparative costs were:
Lift station and Gravity Sewer Cost for 12 Lots
Cost per Lot
Pressure Sewer Cost for 12 Lots
Cost per Lot
The cost of the pressure sewer system is only 53 percent of the cost of the gravity system. The report concludes that any small development where a lift station is required will find pressure sewers and grinder pumps to be a very cost-effective alternative. Other projects we are involved with support this finding.
Elimination of infiltration
Another development studied in the report (Case A) turned out to be an illuminating study of infiltration, which is defined as surface runoff which enters the sewer system. This is a completed project, so the infiltration allowance was the one used in design.
Consider a 16 lot subdivision with an area of 11,000 sq. m (2.7 acre), serviced by a gravity sewer 200 mm (8 inch) in diameter and 230 m (759 feet) long. Sanitary effluent production is determined by the calculation (350 1/day per person) x (3 persons per residence) x (16 residences) = 16,800 litres/day. Infiltration is estimated from the formula I = 0.283 x D x L, where I = infiltration, D = the pipe diameter = 200 mm and L = the pipe length = 230 m. From this the infiltration flow is 13,000 litres/day, which is 77 percent of the sanitary flow, or 44 percent of the combined flow.
The infiltration allowance almost doubles the design flow, with a predictable effect on capital and operating costs. But a grinder pump system does not need this allowance. It is a closed system and surface runoff cannot enter it.
The writer has observed flowmeter readings at the outlet of a pressure sewer system where it discharges into the gravity system of a neighbouring community (where the treatment plant is located). The flowmeter was installed for billing purposes. During a half hour period in January, on a warm day when snow melt would be expected, the flow was clearly in the range of 0.9 to 1.6 l/s (14.2 to 25.4 US gpm). This was for 150 connected residences at 3:00 to 3:30 in the afternoon.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Environment issues Certificates of Authorization to permit construction of new sewage works. They recognize the necessity for pressure systems, and design requirements are found in the "Adverse Conditions" section of their publication Guidelines For The Design of Sanitary Sewage Systems.
Grinder pumps may be installed close to houses on private property, and become part of the homes. People are wary of a technology that is new to them, and need to be informed ahead of time when a retrofit project is proposed for their area - for instance, if a pressure sewer is proposed to replace failing septic tanks. Some jurisdictions wisely reduce the sewage surcharge to compensate the homeowner for what can be perceived as a potential inconvenience and expense.
A key issue is whether the unit is reliable. But with 100,000 installations in North America, the service record for Environment One grinder pumps has been tracked. The average residential user can expect a life of 9-10 years before the first service call, and units occasionally last as long as 17 years. Service is not expensive, especially when divided by the number of years of operation. One owner has hidden the grinder pump under a planter on his patio. The unit has been in place since 1990 and has not required any attention.
Roberts, C.R., (1997) Cost Analysis of GP 2000 Low Pressure Sewer System. Report by: McElhanney Engineering Services, Surrey, BC.
Information received from W. Horkey, President, Pumps & Systems Inc., Thunder Bay, Ontario.