Creative innovator behind sump pump with a brain

By on June 10, 2011

Photo: Dan Gierke, inventor of the Nexpump, stands next to a Nexpump Ai Series, their top-of-the-line sump pump. Photo by Ben Draper

by Lynn Meredith
ELBURN—Sometimes, necessity forces us to use what we know to create something completely new.

That’s exactly what happened to Elburn resident Dan Gierke during the torrential rains of 1996, which flooded thousands of basements and destroyed many homeowner’s properties. It was during that crisis, when he knew his basement was going to flood, that he created Nexpump, a sump pump with a brain.

As Chief Engineer at Arthur Andersen, Gierke had worked with computers and electronics since they first came on the scene. For 10 years he had set up electronics, designed programs and solved networking issues for thousands of Arthur Andersen employees. All this experience came together when he invented Nexpump.

“My whole background linked up to this product and this job,” Gierke said. “I was refinishing the basement (in 1996) and heard the sump pump beeping. The lights were flickering, and we were about ready to lose electricity. We were going to flood. I knew we’d need two pumps, so I thought, ‘I’ll just make something.’”

Nexpump is a sump pump system that uses artificial intelligence to detect when the pump stops working. It then fixes the problem. Finally, it notifies the homeowner that there is a problem. All this happens before the rain begins to fall, so that the property is not in jeopardy when it does rain.

“With most sump pumps, the first notification you get (that something is wrong with the pump) is squish, squish under your feet. We are the first company to have a fully-integrated notification system. When something goes wrong, you get an e-mail and/or phone calls,” Gierke said.

Nexpump’s motto is “Perceive. Prevent. Inform.” There are not one, but two pumps and not one, but two sensors that test in real time. If the float goes bad or a clog in the vapor lock happens, the sensors immediately detect the problem. The system also runs tests twice a day, every 12 hours, to check the pumps and battery.

“Most of the time, the pump has stopped working in December. Then when the first big rain comes in spring, the homeowner realizes the pump is not working. In winter, things will freeze or rust, or parts just go bad,” Gierke explained. “If the float goes bad, then you’re in trouble. When errors occur, the system turns on the pumps, so if there is water it will get pumped.”

Once the system has detected the error and prevented it from causing an overflow into the basement, the next step is to notify the homeowner that something is wrong. Even if they choose not to handle the problem at that moment, at least they know about it.

It’s also the first system in the world that has Internet connectivity that will allow people without landlines to connect to the computer system.

“A lot of people, when it rains, get the chair and sit next to the sump pump to make sure it’s working. One lady used to sleep with her phone. This takes the load off their shoulders now that (they) know. We protect them ( from damage to their property),” Gierke said.

The product has been successful since the first unit was sold in 2003. After creating the pump in 1996, Gierke said it literally sat on the floor for five or more years as he added to it. He tested it through friends and family. Now, instead of selling out of his basement, he has a full assembly shop and corporate headquarters on Stover Drive in Elburn. The business has grown 200 to 300 percent in just the last four months. His wife Chris and son Ryan are the main employees.

“It seems like I do about everything here,” quips Chris, when asked what her role is. “(Actually), I help if they need me with accounting and office work.”

Ryan, a recent graduate of Elmhurst College in marketing and a football coach at Kaneland, contributes his time and is learning the business.

Gierke attributes his time at Arthur Andersen to his success with this business.

“Arthur Andersen gave us so much rope. I learned so much from that. I always say to people that you can take knowledge with you. And sometimes that’s priceless,” he said.