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What is a Sump Pump?

A sump pump is an electric pump that is installed in the basement of a home and used to pump water out of the basement. Sump pumps generally work in combination with a sump pit, a hole dug in the basement sub-floor to collect water from the perimeter of the basement before it comes up to the floor.

Types of Sump Pumps

Pedestal or Upright Sump Pump- These pumps sit above the sump pit. Since its electrical motor is exposed, it’s not safe for use if the basement tends to flood. These pumps are also louder than submersible pumps. The pedestal sump pump is essentially a motor that is mounted on a small pedestal with a pipe running from the motor down to the bottom of the sump pit. It works much like a toilet. A float is attached to a separate metal rod connected to a switch on the pump. When the basement floods the water starts to fill the sump pit.  As the water rises, the float rises until it gets high enough to switch on the sump pump. Water is then sucked up through the pipe and into another pipe or hose that leads to your septic system or sewer system. The pedestal sump pump motor is not designed to be under water.

Submersible Sump Pump- The submersible sump pump actually goes down into the sump pit itself and is designed to operate when it is fully or partially submerged, and as a result, is much quieter. Submersibles are sealed to prevent electrical short circuits when water collects in the sump pit. It does not have a connecting pipe that draws the water out. Instead the water is filtered right through the bottom of the sump pump. The advantage is that the bottom of the pump has a screen or filter that keeps out gravel or debris that could be sucked into the impeller of the pump. The impeller is the device that creates suction. This style pump also removes the water gathered in the sump pit with a pipe or hose that leads to the outside, or in select municipalities, into the sewer system. Rising water levels in the sump pit trigger the pump to turn on automatically.

It is best not to oversize the sump pump as it will cycle on and off too frequently and will greatly shorten the pump’s life span. Properly maintained sump pumps should last anywhere between 10 and 15 years. General maintenance involves cleaning it out and removing any debris that might clog the pump. For submersibles, water needs to be run through it to check it for proper operation. Water can be run into the sump well using a garden hose to check it for proper operation. The pump should come on at the set height and shut off at a lower level automatically. If not, a new pump or service is in order. It is best to check your sump pump regularly to ensure it’s operational.

Though a sump pump is a simple device, it can be the best investment for your home you ever make.  Almost any homeowner who has a below grade basement should consider having a sump pump installed as a precaution, because even an inch of water can do extensive damage.

Things to Consider When Buying a Sump Pump

When choosing a backup sump pump, or any sump pump, it is important to choose the right size for your home as it can affect performance of the system. Other important considerations include pump rating, expressed in gallons per hour, water usage efficiency with water powered pumps, (one gallon of water input usually sucks two gallons of wastewater), and floater action, (a backup system should not have electrical parts for the floater. It should be stable and must not easily rub against other parts). Other considerations include covers, alarms, ease of installation, and of course, the warranty.

Backup Sump Pump

Sump pumps generally run on electric power from your home, but for areas prone to power outages, some sump pumps also have a battery backup system in case the electricity goes out, which is somewhat likely given the circumstances of sump pump use, which is often during heavy rain and storm conditions. A battery backup sump pump generally operates on one or two 12-volt-batteries.

Installing Basement Sump Pump Systems

Vulcan Waterproofing specializes in basement sump pump systems, but we provide instructions here should you want to attempt to do it yourself.

If you are planning a sump pump installation with only a pump and a sump basin, without any other perimeter drainage or French drain in your basement or crawl space, the first thing you should consider is:  Can I live with water on the floor?  If the answer is yes, then this solution is right for you. Without a drainage system to channel the water to the sump basin, the only way it can get there often requires you to push excess water into the sump basin.  With this in mind, you should store all items, especially electrical appliances, up off the floor on blocks or pallets and/or out of the normal path of the water.

Once you have decided that this type of installation is appropriate for your needs, you will need to find the lowest spot on the basement floor. This is and should be where the water puddles form in the basement after the rain and should also be where you install the sump basin. Make sure the sump basin you choose will be large enough to allow the sump pump and any float device to function properly without obstruction.

The next step to installing a sump pump is to determine the nearest location to discharge the water from the sump basin. This could be into the sewer, outside into a perimeter storm drain, or on to the landscape (local building codes vary). Once you get the water outside make sure it is directed away from driveways, patios, walkways, and neighboring properties and insure the ground is not sloped toward the house so the water will not run back against the foundation.

When purchasing your sump pump, the total height of the discharge line (total height is measured from the base of the pump when installed in the bottom of the sump basin to the highest point along the exit route of the discharge line) and the overall length of the discharge line are important factors when determining the volume of water the pump can handle. These factors, along with the amount of water you generally get in the basement when it rains will help enable you to purchase the proper size and type of pump for your needs.

You should have a dedicated electrical outlet installed for the sump pump (building codes vary so check with your electrician first). The outlet should be as close to the sump basin as possible. It is generally best to install the outlet when you have finished the sump pump installation as the length of the electrical cord on the pump you choose, would determine the maximum distance of the outlet from the sump pump.

This project is very labor intensive so be prepared and have a helper or two.

Sump Pump Installation – Tools and Materials for the Job:

  • Sledge Hammer or Jack Hammer

  • Rotary Hammer/Drill w/Masonry or Wood Bit (only necessary when discharging water through the wall)

  • Long Handled Spade

  • Long Pry Bar

  • PVC Saw

  • Wheelbarrow

  • 5 Gal. Buckets

  • Sump Basin

  • Sump Pump (automatic)

  • PVC Pipe & Fittings for Discharge Line (size according to pump specs)

  • Check Valve/Union

  • 1 Each PVC Primer & Cement

  • 1-2 Bags Ready-Mix Concrete

Make sure you use eye protection, hearing protection, gloves, and work boots.

In the location where you have decided to put the sump basin, mark the area of the floor to be cut out and make sure the opening is wider than the widest part of the well or basin you have chosen. Using a sledge hammer (or you can rent an electric jack hammer and blade from a local rental center) cut out and remove the concrete from the area you marked for the location of the sump basin. Dig a hole slightly deeper than the sump pump basin. Place the basin in the excavation then level the top of the basin with the floor using the dirt you dug from the hole. No part of the sump pump basin should be above floor level. If the basin is above the floor, take it back out of the hole, remove any obstructions and start again. It is best to have the basin a little lower than the floor level and slope the new cement down to the rim of the sump basin.  When backfilling around the sump basin, be sure to leave a 2”+ space for laying cement on top of the backfill.

There are many different sizes, shapes and styles of sump pumps. As a result, you should remove the sump pump from the box and follow the installation instructions for the particular pump you purchased.

Try to keep the discharge line as low as possible with minimal use of elbows. If you have to drill a hole in the wall to get the water outside, make sure there are no obstructions on the other side of the wall that would prevent you from doing so and again, make sure the ground is not sloped back toward the foundation. When discharging the water from the sump pump outside, in areas where the temperature drops below freezing, keep the outside pipe as short as possible. This will help to avoid having the sump pump discharge line freezing which, in turn, can burn out the sump pump.

Use the buckets to carry any remaining dirt and broken concrete up the stairs and outside to be hauled away. Don’t over-fill the buckets because they get extremely heavy.

Test the sump pump occasionally by running a hose into the sump basin and allowing the water to run at a low to moderate flow rate. The sump pump should cycle on and off without assistance. If the pump fails to come on or shut off automatically, contact the retailer or manufacturer for repair or replacement immediately.

While installing a sump pump is not an impossible DIY job, it can be difficult work, so have everything you need on hand, plan your time, and recruit a couple helpers or contact us for a free home inspection by a Vulcan Basement Waterproofing specialist.

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