Umbrella Plumbing

What is a Sump Pump and How Does it Work?

A sump pump detects elevating water levels and pressure and pumps that water away from your home’s foundation to prevent damage. Sump pumps are emergency measures to protect your home, so their power supplies can vary.

They usually contain a one-way valve, so water doesn’t get back into them. They can even have alarms that notify the owner when it activates. Sumps are usually two feet deep pits or basins built below the main surface of your basement. The discharge line the pump uses is called an effluent. It leads to a designated drainage area.

What does a sump pump do and how does it work?

Sumps are two feet deep and often 18 inches in diameter. When the water rises, a floating switch completes an electrical current, which operates the pump. If the pump is attached to an alarm, that would also trigger at this time. The water is pushed through a one-way valve (so it can’t back up) and out into a specified drainage area. This could be a creek, pond, or even a neighborhood drain — as long as there’s no danger, the water will flow back to the home. Homes with a high water table or areas that receive a lot of rainfall or flooding will have one. They’re usually in the basement or crawl space at the home’s lowest level.

There are a variety of sump pumps available. Submersible pumps function underwater, while pedestal pumps have a noisy motor that sits atop them. There are battery-operated backup pumps meant to enhance a sump pump, not replace one. There are water-powered ones that serve this purpose as well. Aside from various pumps, there are variations to the switches as well. Pressure switches use the water pressure to indicate whether to activate or not. Float switches are described above. Diaphragm switches will actively switch on or off as pressure rises and lowers and are quite reliable.

What is a sump pit?

A sump pit is a hole dug into the lowest possible part of the home. It contains a gravel base and is dug out with the sole purpose of holding your sump pump. If enough water enters the pit, the pump activates and dispels it.

  • Sump pits are compact
  • Sump pits are uncomplicated
  • Sum pits aren’t optional

How to check a sump pump

Most common issues with sump pumps

If your sump pump is overwhelmed with the volume of water, you may want to consider adding a battery backup. If you find your sump pump still can’t handle the water being thrown at it, you may want to consider adding another sump pump in another corner of the basement.

If your pump works, but no water seems to get into your sump pit, you may have a drainage issue. Your basement should be directing water to the pit. Ensure the drain isn’t clogged or collapsed. If it’s not installed with the proper pitch, it may also fail to divert water. You may need this inspected and fixed or possibly installed.

Sump pumps can get dirty or clogged. Perhaps dirt and debris have gotten into the sump pit, or the mechanical parts have gotten dirty due to an open sump pit, where silt tends to gather. Perhaps the float switch is jammed, or the switch has become tangled in the system. You can prevent this with an airtight sealed lid, but if it’s a bit too late for that, you’ll want to get your pump inspected.

If your sump pump runs nonstop or way too often, that’s a sign there’s a problem. It could be the switch is stuck, or the pump itself is too small to handle the job. If the check valve in the discharge line is broken or missing, water could be flowing right back into the pit through the discharge line. For these issues, you’ll want it inspected.

A sump pump generally lasts about ten years before it needs to be replaced.

Checking your sump pump

Here’s how to check your sump pump. First, make sure your sump pit is unclogged.

Check the power. There will be two cords leading away from your sump pump. One will plug into the wall (the float cord), and the pump will plug into the back of the float cord. Unplug them both, then plug the pump cord into the wall directly. This will turn the power on to the pump, and you should hear the motor. Don’t forget to plug everything back in properly.

Slowly pour five gallons of water into the pit to test a sump pump with only one cord. This should lift the float, which activates the pump. Wait for the pump to dispel all the water and ensure it turns off.

What is a sump pump inspection?

A home inspection will include your sump pump. After all, it is a key safety component for your home, and you will want to ensure it works. Here are some principal elements an inspector will analyze with your sump pump inspection:

  • A GFCI receptacle. While debated, this can prevent electrical shock but can also trip and become a nuisance. Still, a home inspector will ensure this works properly. This is one of those reasons it’s crucial to have a backup power source for your pump.
  • A backup power source because emergencies happen. This is especially true in a bad storm, where power is likely to go out.
  • Your check valve. As mentioned above, water can simply re-enter the pit if this is broken. This can be a common cause your sump pump is constantly running.
  • The alarm. While not a requirement for a pump, they can be invaluable for warning owners about flooding, especially if there’s a problem with the pump. The alarm may give you enough time to troubleshoot it before the home is significantly damaged.
  • The pit is large enough for the pump to work.
  • A cover so water doesn’t evaporate into the home.
  • Water is discharged 20 feet minimum from the building.
  • Discharged water is not draining back into the building.
  • Discharged water is also not draining into your neighbor’s building.

Sump pumps can be a life saver if water is out of control in your home. They will turn on as water fills the basin and turn off when the danger is no longer present. It’s important to ensure yours works (not only runs but turns off), especially before you leave your home for a longer period, such as a business trip or vacation. If a flood happens, a sump pump will be a saving grace. Don’t forget a backup, in case the power goes out. With a good sump pump in place, you can travel with peace of mind.