Sump pumps really aren't very complicated devices compared to some of the other things you have in your home. And yet their service can save you thousands in water damage, should flooding occur. Yes, the sump pump is the unsung hero of our basements.
Here is how to use a sump pump, maintenance requirements, and what to do if you have a power failure:
- Sump pumps generally fall into two categories: submersible pumps and pedestal pumps. Both of these models serve to pump water out of the sump and away from where it can harm your property. Both kinds of pumps sit at the bottom of your sump and activate based on a float switch that tells them when the water level has risen to a certain height. In fact, the parts of a sump pump are pretty much standardized these days. The main difference is that the pedestal sump pump has a motor that sits atop a pedestal, which stretches out of the pit and in plain view; while the submersible sump pump does not. This motor is supposed to remain dry, and the visibility can make repair a bit easier, which is one reason why you may want to buy the pedestal version instead of the submersible pump.
- Power. For most households, a 0.33 horsepower sump pump will serve adequately. If you feel that your basement suffers greater amounts of water than the average household basement, then you can use a 0.5 horsepower sump pump - it can pump more gallons per minute (standard unit of flow rate) and can pump the water higher.
- Drainage. In older homes, sump pumps are often set up to drain into places that, by today's laws, are illegal. Check your local laws to make sure that your sump pump empties legally; often the older sump pumps are set to pump into the sanitary sewer (often illegal) as opposed to a storm drain or other legal setup. I've seen sump pumps that just pump the water right out onto the street, which can also be illegal. Check your local sump pump regulations to make sure your sump pump removes water at a legal distance and to a legal destination.
- Maintenance. Sump pumps don't often require maintenance, but you must check on them once in a while. Once you see the evidence of a sump pump problem, all too often the damage has already been done. It's best to be familiar with some of the main causes of sump pump failure so that you can occasionally check the condition of the sump pump and prevent that awful water damage. Any time you perform maintenance on the sump pump, unplug it!
- Check once in a while to make sure that the switch float inside your sump pump is floating freely; if it gets stuck, the sump pump won't be able to detect the water rising.
- A plug in the opening to a sump pump can obviously make it difficult for a sump pump to fulfill its vital duty. Check your sump pumps occasionally to make sure that screens and openings aren't clogged.
- Clean out the sump pit occasionally as well, since it accumulates dirt.
- Compressed air trapped between the water pumps and the check valves can impair a sump pump's performance or simply render it inoperative. This is a pretty common problem in sump pumps with a solid pipe that leads to the check valve. If your sump pump has a solid pipe there, cut about a 1/8-inch hole through the side of the pipe within the sump; this will prevent compressed air from becoming a potential problem for your sump pump.
- Power outage will prevent any sump pump from working if it runs only on electricity. If your drainage problems often coincide with power outages, then a plug-in sump pump spells disaster for you. Consider buying a sump pump with backup battery power instead, or one that runs entirely on battery power. A battery backup sump pump will save you the headaches of what to do if your basement is flooding at the same time your power goes out.