Summer storms have made their way across the United States over the past weeks with more on the horizon.
For homeowners with below-ground basements, it’s also the perfect time of year to check that sump pumps are working.
“They should be checked at least twice a year,” said Mike Collier with Collier Plumber Inc. in Seattle. “Usually, you find out during a heavy rain that the pump quit working and now your basement is wet. It’s very important to check them … before the rains start coming.”
Sump pumps in a sump pit in the basement are generally out of sight, which for many homeowners also makes them out of mind. These dutiful little devices serve an important purpose, though; especially during heavy storms.
“The ground water that collects around (a basement) has no way of leaving the basement without mechanical help,” said Todd Mitchell with Gordon Energy &Drainage in Olathe, Kan., whose company has installed thousands of sump pumps in newly constructed homes.
“It can’t be done by gravity or the lay of the land, so now the water is there; it’s collected into a sump pit basin or holding tank in the floor. The pump is designed to discharge it away and never let it get to the level to where it will enter the basement.”
Several factors could cause the sump pump to fail, which could easily lead to thousands of dollars in water damage. They often die on their own, typically after about five years, though some can last decades; mechanical switches can stick and corrode from hard water elements; and the pump can become clogged from sticks and debris that enter the pit.
An electrically powered backup sump pump offers an additional layer of protection against those scenarios.
The most common issue, though, is when the electrically powered sump pump fails to operate because of a power outage. For homeowners in storm-heavy regions of the country, or for those who experience regular power outages, a battery back-up pump offers additional security.
They also cost twice as much as a standard sump pump, which ranges from $100 to $500, depending on its pumping capacity.
Sump pits must be large enough to accommodate a backup pump.
“Sometimes, that is an issue, and they have to remove it and replace it with a little bit bigger pit,” Mitchell said.
Checking if your sump pump is working is easy. Though different pumps have different ways you can manually turn them on to test them, a universally accepted method is to pour water down into the sump pit until it reaches the level of pump. The pump should automatically power on and begin pumping.
“If the pit continues to fill up (with water) and the pump doesn’t come on, then you have a pump issue,” Collier said.
Homeowners should also check that their sump pits are clear and that the water discharged is flowing away from the home and not reentering the ground at the same point, only to be pumped back out again.
If it appears you do have a problem with the pump, first check to make sure it’s plugged in and that it hasn’t tripped a circuit. Typically, it’s more cost effective to replace a pump than to fix one.
Another way to make your pump last longer is to install a check valve on the discharge pipe that exits the pump. A check valve, which costs only a few dollars, will prevent water that the pump has already pushed out from reentering the sump pit.
“Every time it’s pumping the same water, it’s doing more work that it doesn’t have to do,” Mitchell said. “A check valve will stop that from happening. The water stays in the pipe and never comes back into the pit.”
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie’s List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health; www.angieslist.com/.