Interesting Facts About Sump Pumps

As a homeowner, the first word you associate with sump pumps is likely not “interesting.” You might say they’re “useful” or even “necessary.” But “interesting”? Probably not. As your Pittsburgh plumber, we find sump pumps to be extremely interesting—mostly because we know they can save you thousands of dollars in completely avoidable, “interesting” problems.

What is a Sump Pump?

Sump pumps are installed in basements or crawls spaces, and they have one job: Prevent water under and around your foundation from seeping (or pouring) into your basement or crawlspace. When water in the sump pit reaches threatening levels, the pump activates and pushes the water away from your home’s foundation—keeping your home and belongings safe and dry.

Although sump pumps aren’t necessarily equipped to handle major natural disasters, such as river floods, they’re nevertheless essential in areas with high water tables, significant snowfalls, and heavy rains.

Flooded Basements and Insurance Claims

Before we dive into the exciting world of sump pumps (ahem), let’s talk about homeowner’s insurance for just a moment.

Most insurance policies are meant to cover sudden situations, not damage-over-time scenarios. For example, if your basement carpeting is damaged because the water table is high and water seeps through the floor or because your backyard swimming pool sprung a slow leak, your insurance will likely not cover you. But having a sump pump that’s in good working condition could prevent both of those scenarios. Now you’re interested to learn more, right?

Note: Homeowners insurance policies vary dramatically. Talk with your agent to get a good understanding of what water-related damages are covered under yours. Also, consider adding a rider that covers sump pump failure—but be aware that if you file a claim under that rider, you may incur a surcharge.

Do You Need a Sump Pump?

Sump pumps can help prevent costly damage to your home and belongings. You could benefit from installing a pump if:

  1. Your homeowner’s insurance requires it.
  2. Your basement has ever flooded.
  3. You live in a low-lying area that collects water.
  4. Your basement is finished and/or you store valuables in that space (including appliances such as washer/dryer).
  5. You’ve noticed dampness and/or mold growth in your basement or crawlspace.
  6. You live in a geographic location that receives significant rain or snowfall.
  7. You already have a sump pump that’s nearing the end of its lifespan (approximately 10 years).

Sump Pump Parts

Sump pumps have four main components:

  • Sump pit. The sump pit, or sump basin, is exactly what it sounds like—a pit dug into the ground in the lowest area of your home. Sump pits vary in size from 24” to 36” deep and from 16” to 24” in diameter.
  • Pump. Submersible sump pumps are installed inside the sump pit, and they have a special housing to protect the electrical components from water damage. Pedestal sump pumps, on the other hand, are installed outside the pit. They’re easier to service, last longer, and are less expensive than the submersible options—but they’re also less attractive and louder, and they’re more likely to clog.
  • Switch. Sump pumps have one of two switches: one that turns on via a pressure sensor and one controlled by a float activator. In either case, the pump turns on automatically when the switch is triggered. (Although manual sump pumps are an option, we don’t recommend them.They’re only effective if you happen to be home, you realize what’s going on, and you turn them on. In most cases, manual sump pumps only help to recover from a flooded basement; they don’t help avoid a flooded basement.)
  • Outlet drain. This pipe carries water out of the sump pit and diverts it away from your home.
  • Bonus component: battery backup. Sump pumps run on electricity, so they’ll do you no good if you lose power during a storm. Given that you’re trying to protect your home from water damage, it’s worth the additional cost of purchasing a battery backup.

Testing Your Sump Pump

There’s no great time to learn your sump pump isn’t working, but there’s definitely a worst time: when you’re standing in an inch of water in your basement. Set yourself a reminder to test your sump pump every three months or so:

  • Fill a bucket with water.
  • Slowly pour the water into your sump pit until the pump comes on.
  • Now, make sure the pump turns off when the water level recedes.

If the pump doesn’t activate, it may need to be serviced, and we’re happy to help. But first, try a little DIY maintenance:

  • Check to make sure the pump is still receiving power. In damp conditions, some ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) switches trip.
  • If your pump is submersible, pull it out and make sure the inlet grate is free of debris.
  • If you have a float activator, make sure it’s not obstructed and isn’t set too high.
  • Find the end of the discharge pipe (outside your home) and make sure it, too, is clear of leaves, dirt, and rocks

If you have the opposite problem and your sump pump runs continuously, you may have a faulty switch, or the check valve that prevents water from flowing back into the pump may need to be replaced. It’s also possible your water table is high enough that your pump actually needs to run frequently. If that’s the case, preventive maintenance is even more important, and it’s worth having a backup pump on hand.

Finally, if you test your unit and can hear the pump running but no water is leaving the pit, the impeller that drives water through the pipe may have detached.

Sump Pump Alternatives

If you have a concrete foundation and you don’t already have a sump pit, it can be daunting to think about putting a hole in your basement. If you’re more concerned about heavy rain and/or snowmelt than a high water table, you may benefit from installing or repairing more substantial rain gutters.

At Taggart Plumbing, we’re honored to help Pittsburgh homeowners protect their investment by servicing and installing sump pumps. Call us today for an estimate.

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