Are you curious what a sump pump is? Maybe you have one in your home and need to know about maintaining it, or you’re just curious how it got there and what it’s for. In the worst case, maybe you are experiencing water in your basement and want to know the best way to prevent this continuing to happen. Sump pumps are a great solution to search! Here, we offer explanations on everything sump pumps. Check out our insights on the workings of sump pumps and how to keep yours working to collect and pump water safely out of your home.

Why We Need Sump Pumps

One of the most overlooked components in residences today is below ground level, and it works quite well – until it doesn’t. These simple but powerful systems can be crucial in protecting your home from the damage related to water coming into the lower levels. I am speaking of the almighty sump pump.

First, the history of the sump pump:

French drains, as they are frequently called, have very little to do with the country as their name might suggest. In fact, French drains are an American invention. They were popularized by Henry Flag French (1813-1885) who was born and raised in Concord, MA. They were developed to respond to the homes built in the late 1700s and 1800s before foundations were constructed out of reinforced concrete. The results of this type of construction were often the flooded rooms, mostly basements, of some of the more important people of Massachusetts.

How Does the Sump Pump Work?

At the top of this page is an early drawing of Mr. French’s French Drain.

As you can see, the objective was rather simple. Create a drain route line around the entire perimeter of the floor for excessive rainwater which had found its way into the home, giving it another way out. In the beginning, a hand pump was used to reduce the water level in the home, the water being captured in a tank designed to handle large amounts of water run-off. The holding tank (a few feet deep or so) would then be pumped out again outside the home and foundation, often some distance of several feet, to avoid returning moisture creeping in.

Types of Sump Pumps

When it comes to the actual design of the pump in your sump pump systems, there are two primary types of sump pumps you will usually find. The design of your pump will vary based on the size of your sump basin and whether or not it requires a pump that can be positioned under the water or out of the water. These two types of pumps are pedestal and submersible pumps.

Pedestal Sump Pumps

Pedestal sump pumps are a type of sump pump that has the pump motor positioned above the water basin and is best for a smaller sump basin or pit. This type of sump pump tends to be the easiest design to work on if any maintenance is needed, as well as the quickest to operate.

Submersible Pumps

Unlike the pedestal pumps, a submersible sump pump is positioned underwater in the sump basin and can be used for a much larger size of sump basin or pit. A submersible pump can be slower to operate and more difficult to do maintenance work on than the pedestal type because of the way the submersible sump pump is positioned in the basin (due to it being difficult to reach the submersible pump).

How did I get a French Drain in my house?

Installing a French drain around the inside perimeter is most commonly done after the house has been built. Most commonly, this is done in response to a wet basement or right before performing a basement finishing. To install this kind of drain, the perimeter of the basement floor is jackhammered down to the footing and the concrete is removed. A layer of stone is laid down, and a perforated drain pipe is laid on top of it. Water is collected from the basement wall floor joint as it enters, and a pump is installed in a hole at the lowest point in the basement to remove water away from your home and away from the foundation and prevent it from flooding your basement.

How Commonly are Sump Pumps Used?

Except for recent “Storms of the Century” such as the Hurricane Sandy storm in 2012, for many years, drainage of excess water from a typical storm was handled by pumps or, more accurately, sump pumps. The typical sump pump often is attached to a battery backup system to assist in a loss of power for a short time while rainwater or storms continued. I’ve known people who have kept up to 4 backup batteries ready for their sump pump, just in case the power was lost for a significant period.

Sump Pump Life Span

Don’t ignore this important objective of keeping your basement dry, even in the most torrential storms. A sump pump’s life will typically last 5-10 years or more. An easy way to check (assuming your pump was installed so it does NOT go into the sewer line, which is a statewide violation) is to simply wait for a strong storm, and look for a piece of plastic (most often gray PVC) or pipe pumping water from the inside of your home to the outside.

The Sump Pump Battery

The sump pump may be battery powered as well as powered by the household electrical current, depending on whatever energy source is available. Battery boxes typically sit on a shelf (often home-made), and a quick check of the power output of the battery will determine if the right amount of voltage is present to drive the floatation device to expel excess water. Sometimes, a backup sump pump is installed next to the main system in case of a failure in the pump system.

Priorities to Consider when Purchasing a Sump Pump or a Replacement:

1) Pump Size

Search for the right size to support your home. Don’t be fooled by low-cost alternatives to the one recommended by your plumber, the cost of water damage and dealing with a flooded basement will not be worth the money saved by buying a sump pump system that isn’t right for your home. The price often varies depending on the pump’s horsepower strength and flow rate, and you don’t want a pump that won’t have enough horsepower to move water away from the house when you really need to. The sump pit should also be big enough to collect and handle the kind of water volume your home is accustomed to receiving.

2) Installation

Proper installation must be conducted by trained personnel. The pump part of the sump pump relies on a motor that turns an impeller (a fan-like component). This impeller directs the flow of water through the discharge pipe with a good amount of pressure. Not only is the right size pump and sump pit important, but the discharge pipe, as the name implies, is the tube designed to push the excessive water after from your home. In a phrase – size matters! You also don’t want a lot of debris getting built up in the drain, valve head, or pipe systems and hindering the flow of water.

3) Float & Switches

Float failure and/or switch failure are rare, but they can happen. The pump relies on a system of a float that switches (not a pressure switch) its functions on and off automatically. As the sump pit or tank begins to fill, a floatation device rises with the water to turn on a switch to begin the pumping action. It will float in the tank until such a time as the water reaches a certain level that exceeds the safety point, in which case the switch is lifted and it activates the automatic pump. A sump pump could also have a pressure sensor instead to perform this function instead of a float. Some homes that are located below the water table will likely experiencing the sump pump running periodically to keep this continuous water out of the house.

If you’re one of the lucky ones not to have to rely on your sump pump because you live well above the water table-GREAT! But don’t be fooled into complacency and forget to test it out. At least once a year, preferably twice, using a hose or bucket, fill the sump pit so that the switch is lifted and you can feel confident you’re probably safe from a basement flood and the switches are working. But don’t forget, if you lose power for a significant period, you’ll need to rely on your battery backup to keep your sump pump powered for use, so make sure the battery is also fully charged and ready for service.

4) Pipes

It’s a good idea to be extra careful during the winter months, as a frozen water removal tube is equally useless. If a freeze is coming, and there is water in the tube or discharge pipes, odds are it won’t freeze since it’s moving water is usually picking up some heat from the home as it travels and thus is unfrozen. But a sudden freeze overnight can make it useless and, in a worst case scenario, could result in flooding in your basement. Debris in the pipes can also create blockage or even a clog in the pressure of the water that you may be unaware of, especially if there is no functioning check valve. Test it! – Don’t Guess.

Sump Pump Maintenance Tips

White vinegar poured into the sump pump tank/pit and activated by manually pulling up the float switch until empty will remove any debris or potential clogs in the pipes or valve head. Once or twice a year give your sump pump a nice salad dressing like this, sans the oil of course.

You may want to consider adding a backup sump pump as an extra step to ensure your home is protected from any flooding in the event of a component failure in the main sump pump. It never hurts to take extra steps of caution.

What do you do when you didn’t install it?

If it’s more than ten years old, it may still work fine. But following the manufacturers procedures, the Muccia Plumbing tech will carefully advise you on all of your options, choices, and costs. Keeping debris out of your sump pump systems and preventing freezing or failure of components are the best ways to guarantee your house is safe from water damage. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

Contact Muccia Plumbing for Sump Pump Maintenance & Service

Call Muccia Plumbing at 201-243-1414. For a small fee, we will inspect the current status of your sump pump unit. Most, if not all sump pumps have a date stamp on the label to let our techs know the age it was installed. We offer top-rated sump pump works and service to help you install, maintain, or repair your sump pump system if needed. We are here to help at any time in case of an emergency, and we fix many problems related to HVAC as well. We have more articles with tips on maintaining all of these systems in your home or business, and we invite you to have a look. Take it from the experts!