Sump Pumps

When warm weather approaches, so does the potential for serious rainstorms and flooded basements. For many homeowners the line of defense against water in the basement is a sump with a pump in it. The sump may be connected to drain tile that drains the footings of the house, under the entire basement, or just the area where the sump is located. Many houses have tiling installed only around a portion of the house. The water that drains into the sump must be removed, and this is accomplished with a sump pump.

The two basic sump pump models are the up-right (commonly called a pedestal) and the submersible. Either will work well with proper maintenance.

Pedestal pumps have the motor on top of the pedestal and the pump at the base, which sits on the bottom of the sump. The motor is not meant to get wet. The pump is turned on and off by a ball float. One advantage of this type of pump is that the on/off switch is visible so the action of the ball float can be easily seen.

Submersible pumps are designed to be submerged in water and sit on the bottom of the sump. The on/off switch is attached to the pump and can be either a ball float connected to an internal pressure switch or a sealed, adjustable, mercury-activated float switch. The sealed mercury switch is generally more reliable than the pressure switch.

Either type of pump should have a check valve on the water outlet pipe so water doesn't flow back in the sump when the pump shuts off. Water flowing back and forth can cause the pump to turn on and off more frequently than necessary and decrease the life of the pump.

How do you check or test a sump pump?
First, make sure the outlet pipe located outside your house is not frozen shut or plugged and that it directs water away from the house. Next make sure the pump is plugged in. Remove the lid (if the sump has one) and use a flashlight to check if the sump is clean and that the pump inlet is not plugged. Then slowly pour about 5 gallons of water into the sump. Try to simulate the speed that water would normally flow into the sump. Watch the action of the on/off switch and listen to the pump. Make the pump turn on and off at least twice. If something doesn't work right, fix it as soon as possible.

Where should the sump pump drain hose be run?
Preferably, sump water should be discharged at least 20 feet away from the house in such a way that it drains away from the house. It should not be directed onto a neighbor's lot, into window wells, or allowed to drain into your floor drain.

What size pump should I have for my house?
There is no "correct" size. The horsepower requirement for a house is determined by the area of drainage connected to the sump, the depth to groundwater, the depth of the basement, and many other factors. A 1/3 hp pump is satisfactory for most houses.

Can or should you pump into a sewer drain or basement floor drain?
No, you should not. If you have a septic system, under no circumstances should the sump be pumped into the basement floor drain. During wet conditions the drainfield of the septic system is usually saturated and struggling to handle the normal flow of water from the house. Adding to it with a sump pump can damage the septic system. Even if you are connected to a public system the sump should not be pumped into a floor drain. Putting additional water into the sewer system can overload the public system, and there are regulations against pumping into the public sanitary sewer system.