Making sure your sump pump works now can prevent problems later
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 their sump pump now to make sure it works properly, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer Tom Scherer said.
A new NDSU video offers tips on getting sump pumps ready to handle spring and summer water. It's available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/home/sump-pump-tips.
Sump pumps come in two basic models: upright (commonly called a pedestal) and submersible. Either will work well with proper maintenance, according to Scherer.
The sump, which is the pit where the pump sits, may be connected to drain tile that drains the footings of the house, the area under the entire basement or just the area where the sump is located. Many houses have tile 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 said.
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.
Either type of pump should have a check valve on the water discharge pipe so water doesn't flow back into the sump when the pump shuts off. Water flowing back into the sump 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 discharge pipe on the side of the house 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 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.
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, but the submersible type need water around the motor for cooling. 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 length of drain tile connected to the sump, the lift from the sump to the discharge pipe on the side of the house and the length of hose or pipe on the outside of the house. A one-third horsepower pump is satisfactory for most houses, but if you have more than 40 feet of pipe outside the house, use a pump with more horsepower (one-half, three-fourths 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, under no circumstances should you 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 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 during flooding can contribute to sewage backflow. As a result, some cities have regulations against pumping into their sanitary sewer system. Some communities allow sump water to discharge into the sanitary sewer but only for specified periods during the winter.
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.
More information on this or other flood-related topics is available on NDSU's flood information Web page at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/.