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Sump pumps provide peace of mind to residential and commercial property owners. Most of the time sump pumps do the job they’re intended to do, which is to prevent a basement from flooding by removing water that collects in the sump basin and extracting it through a hose to an exterior location. But when a sump pump fails, the results can be disastrous. A flood in your home or business due to a sump pump failure can be devastating. It can cause extensive permanent damage to your property and disruption to your home life and business operations if not cleaned and remediated right away. Not only that but if the water damage is not completely treated and dried, you could also find yourself with a secondary problem from mold and mildew.
What is a Sump Pump?
A sump pump is a submersible pump that sits at the bottom of a sump pit, which is typically installed at the lowest point in your basement or crawl space. Ground water surrounding your home’s foundation is channeled into a perimeter drain system installed at the base of the foundation. Water finds its way into the perforated drainpipes and is quickly diverted to the sump pit. The sump pump, which is triggered by a float switch, removes the water by pumping it to the nearest storm drain, dry well or detention pond. A sump pump turns on only when water inside the sump pit reaches a pre-determined level. Most new homes are equipped with sump pumps but older homes can be retrofitted with a sump system to prevent basement flooding.
Types of Sump Pumps
There are 3 types of sump pumps. The pedestal pump, submersible pump, and ejector pump.
If your pump sits on a pedestal and stands about 30 inches tall with a hose or pipe connected to the motor and extends down into a “sump pit,” you have a pedestal pump. This is a very common style of pump. The motor on a pedestal pump is not intended to be in the water. As the water level rises, it activates a “float switch” which activates the pump. Then, the water is pumped out through a pipe or hose out and away from the building.
If your pump actually sits on the bottom of the sump pit, you have a submersible pump. This pump is much smaller than the pedestal variety, usually standing about 12 inches high. Usually, there is a 4 inch rod extending up from the pump with a float device attached. When the water reaches the float it activates the pump. The water is sucked down through the bottom of the pump. A screen at the bottom of the pump stops gravel from being sucked in.
Most commonly found in crawlspaces, ejector pumps consist of pea gravel, this type of pump is able to handle small debris being sucked into the pump without damaging the impeller or other mechanisms within the pump.
Picking a Sump Pump
Manual vs. Automatic: In nearly all circumstances, an automatic sump pump is superior. The additional cost is minimal and the peace of mind is invaluable. Manual sump pumps are typically only used for catastrophic events such as river flooding. Of course, just because a sump pump is “automatic” doesn’t mean it will always work. The water sensing mechanism can easily malfunction due to clogging and render the unit useless.
Single vs. Primary W/ Backup: Recently, many homeowners have began installing sump pumps with a secondary backup unit. These two stage units were designed to address the fairly common occurrence of a mechanical failure. Unlike other household appliances, if a sump pump fails, it will usually lead to an extremely expensive flooding event. Thus, spending an extra couple hundred bucks on a backup unit is cheap insurance.
Normal vs. Battery Backup: What happens when the same storm that threatens to flood your basement also knocked out power to your home? Unless a battery backup is in place, the sump pump will fail. This is a fairly rare event of course, and many home owners elect to forego the extra protection. Base your decision on the likelihood of power outages. In the Pacific Northwest, where trees straddle every power line, power failures are common. However, in many locations, these are rare enough events to skip the battery backup.
Sewer vs. Storm Drain: In the past, sump pumps were just piped into the existing sewer line running out from the house. This worked well until the local water treatment plants ran out of capacity. In response, many municipalities created laws banning sump pumps from directing water into sewer lines. Why does this matter? Often, it is much more difficult to tie into a storm drain that a sewer line.
Why do Sump Pumps fail?
Sump pumps can fail for any number of reasons, including a power outage, lack of maintenance, mechanical failure, or improper installation. In some cases, a property owner may install a pump that is too small to adequately pump out the volume of water that enters the basin. While proper maintenance is key to keeping your sump pump in good working order, an extreme weather event can cause the pump to work overtime and either burn the unit out or overwhelm it with excess water.
Sump Pump Maintenance
Test your sump pump regularly to make sure it will operate when the next big downpour occurs. Test it by pouring a bucket of water into the sump pit. The pump should turn on, remove the water from the pit and shut itself off in a matter of seconds. Ensure that the float and the check valve move freely.
To clean your sump pit, remove any dirt, sand, gravel and other debris to increase the pump’s efficiency and prolong its life. Ensure that the discharge line opening is free of obstructions so that water can be pumped through the line and out of your basement or crawlspace.
Sump Pump Replacement and Repair
Like any equipment with moving parts, sump pumps will wear out over time and will need to be replaced. There is no general rule on how often a sump pump should be replaced since it depends on how often the pump operates.
When is a mold remediation professional necessary for a sump pump issue?
When a sump pump fails, mold growth often occurs as well. If this is the case, a certified mold professional is recommended. The necessity of a mold expert depends largely on the location of the sump pump. If it is located in a finished basement, and carpeting, drywall and contents are saturated, a mold professional is critical. If the sump pump is located in the crawlspace and the excess water simply pooled on the soil, an expert may not be called for.