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Sump Pump: Q&A

I admit that discussing sump pumps incites only slightly more excitement than an evening with a life insurance agent. However, if you’ve got a sump pump protecting your basement or crawl space from flooding, then you might find the following article of great interest. And if you don’t have a sump pump, but need one, then you, too, should read on.

Here, are 11 frequently asked questions—and answers—about sump pump installation and operation. Following the advice given here will help ensure that your sump pump will operated when necessary, and last as long as possible.

1 Our basement has only flooded twice in 15 years. Would it be wise—or a waste of money—to install a sump pump?

This is a matter of personal preference, and depends on the cost of installing the sump pump compared to the inconvenience and expense of having a flooded basement. If the basement is finished or used for storage, waterproofing the space and installing a sump pump will help protect your investment and personal property. A battery backup unit can also be installed alongside the primary pump for additional protection against power outages and primary pump failure.

2 Is there any way to prevent the sump-pump drainage pipe that extends to the outdoors from freezing? And if the pipe freezes, will the pump burn out?

There’s no simple way to prevent the pipe from freezing, but there is a product called, Freeze Stop, which will allow water to exit your basement even if the discharge pipe is frozen solid. The device is cut into the discharge pipe, right where it exits the house. Then, if the discharge pipe freezes, the water will be diverted through the Freeze Stop, and drain to the outdoors.

Most sump pumps have a thermal relay switch that’ll trip if the motor becomes overheated. The relay will then automatically reset itself after the motor has cooled. 3 The basin I purchased for my sump pump has no holes in it. How many and what size holes must I drill, and how far up from the bottom do I place the holes in the sides? Should I also drill holes in the bottom? Some contractors drill holes in the bottom of the sump basin and around the sides to allow excess water to enter and prevent the basin from floating up. If you choose to drill holes in the basin make sure the holes are smaller than the “solids handling rating” of the pump (generally ¼ in. to ½ in. for a standard sump pump). This will prevent larger solids from entering the basin and clogging the pump. To connect to the drain tile, a 4 ½-in.-dia. hole is standard and is generally placed 10½ in. below the top of the basin.

4 How far can a sump pump push water up from the sump pit? Is it strong enough to pump up a 4-ft. pipe? Most sump pumps are sized to provide the appropriate amount of flow at 10 ft. of lift. The performance data on the product should indicate the maximum lift the pump can provide as well as the maximum flow rate. 5 How do I know what size sump pump I need? What you need to consider is horsepower not size. The horsepower requirement for a house is determined by the area of drainage connected to the sump, the depth to the groundwater, the depth of the basement, and a few other factors. A 1/3-hp pump is standard for most houses.

6 What is the most common reason for sump pump failure? The leading cause for a sump pump to fail tends to be a switching problem. Sometimes the pump can shift inside the basin causing the float that operates the switch to lodge against its side. Debris can also be a factor; it can interfere with the action of the pump switch. It’s important to make certain the pump switch and float-arm assembly move freely.

7 What’s the difference between a standard sump pump and a grinder pump?

A sump pump is designed to remove excess water that enters the basin from the drain tile installed around the perimeter of your foundation. A grinder pump is designed to macerate sewage into a fine slurry and then pump it to the main sewer line located above the grade of the property.

8 When my sump pump flushes, it makes a loud banging sound. How do I silence the racket? The noise is a result of water hammering, and a special check valve can be installed to quiet the racket. This device is commonly referred to as a quiet check valve or spring-loaded check valve.

9 We have two sump pumps. One runs quietly during pumping and at shutoff. The other pump makes a loud "slurping" sound when it shuts off, similar to sucking on a straw at the bottom of a glass. Is there a way to adjust this noisy pump? In this situation the pump isn’t turning off at the proper height. Inspect the “off” position of the switch and adjust it as needed so that it turns the pump off before the water reaches the intake area of the pump. It’s common for the sump pump to leave several inches of water in the bottom of the basin when it turns off.

10 Our sump pump only operates two or three times a year, during the heaviest rainstorms. I’m always concerned that after being dormant for many months the pump won’t kick on when it’s needed. How can I check my sump pump to see if it’s working? Start by making sure the discharge pipe isn’t clogged with debris. Also, check that the pipe empties onto a down slope so water doesn’t flow back toward the house. Once every couple of months, use a flashlight to look around inside of the sump. Clean out any debris you see, which can clog the pump’s inlet. Finally, dump five gallons of clean water into the sump and listen for the pump to start up. If it doesn’t kick on, contact a pump specialist.

11 My sump pump is located in the laundry room, which has never flooded thanks to the pump. However, the room right next to the laundry room floods occasionally. How come? In this situation the drain tile may not extend throughout the entire basement, allowing excess water to penetrate the foundation next to the laundry room. Another possibility is that the foundation wall has a crack that’s allowing water to penetrate. Next time it floods, check to see if the foundation wall is leaking. If it is, there are several waterproofing products available, including hydraulic cement that you can use to plug the leak.

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