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Time to Check Your Sump Pump

Making sure your sump pump works now can prevent problems later.

Weather conditions have been dry for more than a year in parts of North Dakota, and sump pumps may not have run in a while.

However, with the heavy amount of snow still on the ground, the threat of flooding this spring means homeowners should check their sump pump now to make sure it works properly, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer Tom Scherer says.

Sump pumps are available in two basic models: upright (commonly called a pedestal) and submersible. Either works well with proper maintenance, according to Scherer.

This is how a sump pump works: The sump is the pit where the pump sits. The sump may be connected to tile that drains the footings of the house, the area under the entire basement or just the area where the sump is located. A sump pump removes the water that drains into the sump.

The pedestal pump's motor is on top of the pedestal and the pump is at the base, which sits on the bottom of the sump. The motor is not meant to get wet. A ball float turns the pump on and off. One advantage with this type of pump is that the on/off switch is visible, so you can see the ball float's action easily, Scherer says.

Submersible pumps are designed to be submerged in water and sit on the bottom of the sump. The on/off switch is attached to the pump.

Pumps have three main types of on/off controls. The first type uses a ball float attached to the pump and connected to an internal watertight switch. The second type is a sealed, tethered float switch with an on/off setting that is adjustable by changing the length of the tether. The third type uses a diaphragm to sense the water level and turn the pump on and off.

Both pump types should have a check valve on the water discharge pipe so water doesn't flow back into the sump when the pump shuts off. Backflow can cause the pump to turn on and off more frequently than necessary, which decreases the life of the pump.

Here is how to check the pump:

  • Make sure the discharge pipe on the side of the house is not frozen shut or plugged and it directs water away from the house.
  • Make sure the pump is plugged in.
  • Remove the lid (if the sump has one) and use a flashlight to check if the sump is clean and the pump inlet screens are not plugged.
  • Slowly pour water into the sump. Try to simulate the speed that water normally would flow into the sump. Watch the on/off switch's action and listen to the pump. Make sure the pump turns on and off at least twice. If something doesn't work or sound right, fix it as soon as possible.

If you have a battery-powered backup sump pump, make sure the battery is fully charged. Then shut off the power to the main sump pump and the battery charging system on the backup pump. Pour water into the sump until the backup pump comes on.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about sump pumps:

Q: Can the pump burn out if the outdoor pipe is frozen shut or will it shut off automatically?

A: Most pumps will not burn up, but they can overheat. Almost all sump pump motors have thermal protection built in, but the submersible type needs water around the motor for cooling. If the pump overheats, shut it off and let it cool. The thermal relay will reset.

Q: What size pump should I have for my house?

A: There is no "correct" size. The horsepower is determined by several factors, including the length of drain tile connected to the sump, the lift from the sump to the discharge pipe and the length of hose or pipe outside of the house. A 1/3 horsepower pump works well for most houses, but if you have more than 40 feet of pipe outside the house, use a pump with more horsepower (1/2, 3/4 or even 1 horsepower).

Q: Do sump pumps have filters that need to be cleaned or replaced?

A: Sump pumps do not have filters, but they do have screens or small openings where the water enters the pump. These sometimes can be plugged.

Q: Can or should you pump into a sewer drain or basement floor drain?

A: No. If you have a septic system, do not pump sump water into the basement floor drain. During wet conditions, the septic system's drain field usually is saturated and struggling to handle the normal flow of water from the house. Adding flow from a sump can damage the septic system. Also do not pump water from the sump into a floor drain if you are connected to a public sanitary system. Putting additional water into the public sewer during flooding can contribute to sewage backflow.

Q: Where should the sump pump drain hose run?

A: Preferably, sump water should be discharged at least 20 feet from the house so it drains away from the house. Also, it should not be directed into a neighbor's lot, window wells or a septic system drain field.

Q: Can I replace a defective sump pump or do I need specialized tools or a plumber?

A: Almost all sump pumps come with a list of required tools and directions for installation. Replacing a sump pump should not be difficult for the "average" person.

For more tips on getting your sump pump ready to handle spring and summer water, watch an NDSU video at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/sump-pump-tips. Other information on this or other flood-related topics also is available on NDSU's flood information Web page at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/.


NDSU Agriculture Communication - April 3, 2013

Source:Tom Scherer, (701) 231-7239, thomas.scherer@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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