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Check Your Sump Pump Now

Now is the time to check whether your sump pump is working properly.

For many homeowners, a sump pump is their first line of defense against getting water in the basement.

The threat of flooding this spring means homeowners should check the sump pump now to make sure it is working 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 will work well with proper maintenance, according to Scherer.

The sump may be connected to drain tile that drains the footings of the house, under the entire basement or just the area where the sump is located. Many houses have tiling installed only around a portion of the house. The water that drains into the sump must be removed. That’s accomplished with a sump pump.

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 of 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 and can be either a ball float connected to an internal pressure switch or a sealed, adjustable, mercury-activated float switch. The sealed mercury switch generally is more reliable than the pressure switch.

Either type of pump should have a check valve on the water outlet pipe so water doesn't flow back into the sump when the pump shuts off. Water flowing back and forth can cause the pump to turn on and off more frequently than necessary, which decreases the life of the pump.

To check the pump, first, make sure the outlet pipe is not frozen shut or plugged and that it directs water away from the house. Next, 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 is not plugged.

If the inlet from the tile is near the bottom of the sump and no water is flowing into the sump, temporarily plug the inlet. Then 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 the pump turn on and off at least twice. If something doesn’t work right, fix it as soon as possible.

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

Q: Can you burn the pump 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 if left in this condition. Almost all sump pump motors have thermal protection built in. If they do overheat, shut them off and let them cool. The thermal relay will reset.

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

A: There is no “correct” size. The horsepower requirement for a house is determined by several factors, including the area of drainage connected to the sump, the depth to groundwater and the depth of the basement. A one-third horsepower pump is satisfactory for most houses.

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, under no circumstances should the sump be pumped 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 to the flow with a sump pump can damage the septic system. Even if you are connected to a public sanitary system, the sump should not be pumped into a floor drain. Putting additional water into the public sewer system can overload it. As a result, some cities have regulations against pumping into their sanitary sewer system.

Q: Where should the sump pump drain hose run?

A: Preferably, sump water should be discharged at least 20 feet away from the house so it drains away from the house. Also, it should not be directed onto 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 details on sump pumps or other flood-related topics, check out NDSU’s flood information Web page at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/disaster/flood.html.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

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