All About Your Home’s Sump Pump

“Sump” is a funny word. It literally means a reservoir designed to drain or hold liquids. A sump pump empties that reservoir when needed. They could’ve called it a “hole in the basement floor” pump or “reservoir” pump… but sump pump just sounds better, don’t you think?

No matter what you call it, a sump pump can prevent a lot of damage. Over 60 percent of basements will flood at one time or another (at least according to the American Society of Home Inspection Organization). Sump pumps prevent that flood damage.

Sump pumps are installed in the lowest part of a basement, in a hole or a pit. Installing a sump pump is not a DIY project. It’s considered “heavy construction,” and requires a professional’s skills. Installing a sump pump usually involves:

  • Using a jackhammer to break a hole in the concrete floor.
  • Digging a large hole and removing the dirt.
  • Creating a hole through the exterior basement wall for the drainpipe.
  • Assembling and installing the sump pump.
  • Then, there’s the electrical work ’cause, of course, a sump pump needs power.

If you can do that, good luck, otherwise, hire a pro.

How a sump pump works.

Sump pumps prevent flooding by managing excess water that builds up in the soil around your home’s foundation. When it rains a lot or large quantities of snow melts very quickly, water seeps into the ground too quickly. Soil can’t effectively absorb this water quickly enough, so the ground becomes saturated. Instead of absorbing into the soil, water moves through it–and into nearby structures like your home.

Sump pumps prevent excess water from damaging your home by creating a natural place for it to go instead. Water from saturated soil runs into your sump pump pit, located at the lowest part of your home. When enough water enters the pit, it lifts a sump pump float located inside the pit. Eventually, the float rises high enough to reach and activates a switch. When the float flips this switch, it tells the sump pump to start siphoning water out of the pit.

Most sump pumps use a centrifugal pump to move water. When the motor is on, it causes an impeller to turn and force water toward the sides of the pipe. This creates a low-pressure area (a void) at its center. Water from the pit rushes to fill the void, and the spinning impeller pushes it out through the pipe. These pipes carry the water from the pit all the way out of your home. There, water runs through an external sump pump “hose,” which drains the water back into the soil safely.

Sump pumps use standard household current, so they don’t require specialized wiring. You do want a grounded outlet and, since they are near water, a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) on the outlet is a must to prevent accidental electrocution.

How to make sure your sump pump is working.

Most of the time, a sump pump is like a back-up quarterback. They may not do much now, but they have to be ready to lead the team when they’re needed. When the snow starts melting or it starts raining in biblical proportions, you need that sump pump to be ready.

To make sure it IS ready, slowly pour water into the pit every few months. The float should rise with the water, activate the pump, and then shut back off when the water is gone.

If your sump pump fails this test, send it to its room to let it think about how it’s disappointed you.

…Or you could try to fix the problem with these solutions.

Check The Electricity

Let’s start with an easy one. Check the electrical connections.

  • Make sure the pump is plugged in.
  • Press the reset button on the GFCI.
  • Check the circuit breaker. If needed, flip the switch to “on” or replace the fuse.

Clean the Sump Pump Pit

Sump pumps remove groundwater from your basement before it reaches the basement floor. The water is probably a little dirty. While it’s a nasty job, remove the cover and thoroughly clean the pit and float. Make sure the float moves freely on its mount.

Check For Rust

Even corrosion-resistant sump pump parts will rust. Check the rod the sump pump float moves up and down on. If it’s pitted and corroded, it isn’t going to work correctly. You could replace the rod, or you could try to remove the rust with sandpaper. If you clean it, make sure you protect yourself from particles by wearing safety goggles and a mask. When you’re done, grease the rod with axle grease before you put it back in your pump basin.

Check the float for damage

Sometimes, the float can get punctured or split. Water enters the float through this puncture, fills up the float and… well, it’s not a “float” anymore. If your float sinks like the Titanic when you fill the sump pump basin with water, then it’s broken. You’ll need to get it replaced–and the sooner the better.

What about the float switch?

The sump pump float moves upward with the rising water until it flips a switch to turn the pump on. If the float rises correctly but the switch doesn’t activate, the problem is probably the switch itself. To be sure, lift the bracket attached to the float. If the pump does not turn on, you probably need to replace the switch or the whole pump.

Even though we ignore sump pumps most of the time, when we need them, we really need them. If your sump pump doesn’t work when you need it, you could be looking at thousands of dollars in flood damage.

Luckily, it really doesn’t take a lot to keep your sump pump working properly. Just a little maintenance every few months can make sure your sump pump is ready when you need it. If you think there’s a problem with your sump pump’s electrical connection, let Early Bird know. We’ll be there to help before your basement floods.