Basement Sump Pumps: Do’s and Don’ts

Basement Sump Pumps: Do's and Don'ts from J&A South Park of Pittsburgh, PA

Do You Have a Sump Pump? If So, Here’s Some Do’s and Don’ts

If you have ever wondered, “What is a sump pump?” then you’re pretty fortunate because you almost certainly don’t have the need for one. But for those unlucky homeowners of wet basements, here’s the scoop.

A sump pump is located in the basement, either beneath (in the case of a submersible pump) or above the floor. Its job is to pump out water that collects in the sump basin, discharging it to the outdoors.

Keeping your basement dry is critical to the foundation integrity of your home. Water problems can wreak havoc on your basement and on your wallet! There doesn’t even have to be a huge flood to cause major damage. Smaller, slow leaks and cracks in your house’s structure can lead to unwelcome water in your home.

Basement dampness and flooding are due in part to inclement weather and a poor foundation. The other part of the equation is the system that’s managing your water flow – your sump pump.

A bit of background

For years, sump pumps have been a rather familiar fixture in homes, especially in lower-level areas of the country or in places where the rapid melting of heavy snow can trigger flooded basements. In fact, the popularity of sump pumps has grown exponentially in the past couple of decades, mostly due to an amendment to the U.S. Federal Clean Water Act in 1987 that mandates that certain homes must have a sump pump installed, even if they are not necessarily at a high-risk for flooding.

Moreover, the American Society of Home Inspectors performed an annual survey that indicated more than 60 percent of American homes experience underground wetness or water damage. There’s a probability that an even larger percentage will deal with flooded basements at some point.

Here’s another important point regarding the use of sump pumps. If you’ve read any of our recent blogs, you are aware of the importance of keeping your home free of mold and mildew. Sump pumps not only help keep your belongings safe but also help prevent the growth of mildew and mold in your basement. In some instances, the dreaded black mold can quickly grow in moist areas, spread throughout your home, and make your family sick.

The best way to put a stop to mold growth in the basement is by not producing the moist, warm environment it needs to grow. This means keeping your basement dry.

In the event that you do require a sump pump in your home, here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to purchasing, installing, and operating it.

Sump Pump diagram for Basement Sump Pumps: Do's and Don'ts from J&A South Park of Pittsburgh, PA

How does a sump pump work?

However, before we talk about the do’s and don’ts, let’s briefly describe how a sump pump works.

Every sump pump has a sensor that’s called afloat. When your pump is installed, the sensor is set to a precise height. When the water in your sump pit reaches that height, the pump actuates and carries the water away through a discharge pipe where it can drain safely away from your house’s foundation into the higher sewer.

Now, on to our do’s and don’ts.

DON’T install a sump pump by yourself.

While you might be able to install a sump pump yourself, it’s especially difficult and even dangerous when not done right. So, do it right. That means if you’re not experienced in sump pump installation, don’t do it yourself.

Avoid the stress and potential risks of a DIY installation and call a plumbing professional for proper sump pump installation. J&A South Park employs certified plumbers with years of experience with sump pumps.

DON’T buy a pump that’s not properly sized.

With a new sump pump installation, don’t merely assume any pump will do the job. It’s important to have a sump pump correctly sized for your projected needs based on what’s typical in your area with flooding frequency and average rainfall. Your J&A South Park professional will be able to assist in the proper sizing of a sump pump.

DO test your sump pump.

If you use your sump pump frequently to take care of moisture and water, it will become quite apparent when there’s a glitch in the pump. Most likely, it will stop pumping. However, if you’re relying on the pump only sporadically, you should perform regular tests to ensure it’s still in working condition when you do need it.

Stairs leading down to a wet basements because of Basement Sump Pumps: Do's and Don'ts from J&A South Park of Pittsburgh, PA

One pump technician describes the three levels of need for a sump pump.

Level 1 exists in homes where drainage is poor and sump pumps run continuously, even with little or no rain. In these homes, it’s absolutely essential to keep your sump pumps well maintained. Testing is almost certainly not necessary because the pump is going off every couple of days. You might want to keep a spare pump in your home, however, for quick replacement in the event of a pump failure.

Level 2 is probably the ideally designed system in which more often than not, your sump pump isn’t routinely running. Your pump will usually kick on during heavy rains for a brief period and right back off. These pumps will necessitate intermittent testing to ensure accurate performance.

Level 3 is where those who reside in homes where the sump pump doesn’t begin to run, even during a weeklong rainfall. You’ll want to test your system at least annually to make sure your pump is still working in the rare instance you really need it.

To test it, slowly pour a five-gallon bucket of water into the drum to check for proper functioning. The pump should turn on immediately. If there’s a problem, shut it off and discharge the water. A repair might be necessary. Again, the plumbing professionals at J&A South Park are well trained in all aspects of a properly functioning sump pump.

At night, you might want to inspect for slow leaks by taking a reading on your water meter. Don’t use any water overnight. Then take another reading in the morning. If the reading has changed drastically, contact a plumbing professional to troubleshoot the leak and have it repaired if necessary.

DO listen to the motor.

Taking time to listen to your sump pump meticulously can spare you trouble in the long run. Your sump pump will make certain noises as it runs, including the hum of the motor and the slosh of moving water. If the sound changes, it might indicate a problem.

A change in the pump’s acoustics will not only let you know there is a potential problem but may also give you a clue as to what it is. Whatever the issue, you’ll be grateful you listened and had it fixed before the situation turned into a flood.

DO have a backup plan.

When you install a sump pump, you also need to have a backup plan. This is especially important if you live in a flood-prone area or have problems with a wet basement or crawlspace.

Sump pumps run on electricity, but your power can go out during a storm when you need it the most. Consider installing a battery backup system so your pump can keep you dry even if the power goes out. If the storm is over but your sump pump still isn’t running, check the breaker and make sure the unit hasn’t become unplugged. More than one plumber in Pittsburgh has earned a tidy service call sum just because a plug came out of the socket.

One more thing. Be sure to store the battery on high ground so it can’t be damaged by flooding. Otherwise, it will become submerged soon after activation or ruined by the rising water before it even has a chance to turn on. Install the backup battery in a location that won’t be affected by floodwater so the sump pump can operate even during a blackout.

DON’T allow debris to get inside the pump.

To sidestep this mistake, make sure your sump pump does not sit on any loose silt, small-sized gravel, or any other type of debris that could certainly be sucked up into the pump because it will cause a problem.

Rather, use larger rocks or gravel at least the size of a dime, so your pipelines won’t get clogged, which can ruin the pump’s motor.

DO clean drainage pipes.

While you’re in a cleaning mode, check the drainage plumbing for any signs of blockage or clogs. Get rid of any debris in or around the pipes to keep water running liberally when your sump pump is in use. If you encounter problems clearing the pipes, call your plumber so you can get them taken care of before the waters come flooding in.

DO have a maintenance plan.

Sump pumps are a dependable piece of equipment, but just like any other appliance in your home, routine maintenance is always advised. Don’t get us wrong. You can’t avoid all problems with maintenance. After all, it’s a mechanical piece of equipment subject to failure. But there’s little doubt you can avoid a number of issues by performing regular maintenance.

Simply take a few minutes each season, particularly when heavy rains are common such as in early spring and late fall, to make sure your pump is up to par. There are a few basic tasks you can perform.

  • Make sure the outlet that powers the pump is functioning and that the cord hasn’t experienced any damage.
  • Is the pump upright? The vibrations from the motor can cause it to fall over which could disable the float, leaving it powerless to start up if the basin begins to fill.
  • If you’re able to do so, remove the pump for the pit and clear away any debris from the bottom grate. The pump’s suction can pull in small stones and other runoff that can eventually impair the equipment over time.
  • Lift the float switch to activate the pump. If it doesn’t start up, contact a plumbing professional to service it.
  • If there is no damage and it still doesn’t activate, ensure the water is properly draining away from your foundation. If it’s not, check to make sure the pipes are joined correctly and not loose.

Clean and dry downstairs living space because of Basement Sump Pumps: Do's and Don'ts from J&A South Park of Pittsburgh, PA

When to call for help.

If your sump pump isn’t working properly, and you’re not sure why you should call for help. J&A South Park can send out a licensed plumber to assist you with common problems with your sump pump.

Yes, you can go through the everyday reasons and do some troubleshooting, but if you’re really not sure what the issue is, it’s time to call in the professionals.

There are several reasons why it’s best to call in a professional when your sump pump has you baffled.

  • There’s really no such thing as a minor sump pump problem.
  • Any shortcoming can trigger a flooded basement and expensive cleanup.
  • It’s best to let a licensed plumber who recognizes common sump pump problems examine your system.
  • Having a professional inspect and maintain your sump pump can add years to its life.
  • Licensed plumbers can do the job safely because they have the experience and know-how necessary for working around water and electricity.
  • You can trust that your sump pump problems will be fixed because the work is guaranteed.

Don’t let sump pump issues escalate into a flooded basement. Contact J&A South Park, and one of our licensed plumbers can offer repair options to fit your needs.

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