Q&A / 

Sump Pumps – Backup Pumps

Basements are common in many parts of the United States. These "inground" empty swimming pools have a tendency to fill up in periods of wet weather. If the ground around your house slopes away quite nicely, you can often control this seepage with a linear French drain setup. I have written about these in two past bulletins. However, many houses sit on level or nearly level ground. The only hope of draining water around these foundations is with a sump pump.

The Sump in Pump

A sump is simply a pit or recessed area that collects a fluid. The fluid is then pumped from the pit. If there was gravity flow away from the area, there would be no need for the sump! Years ago in many of the older houses in Cincinnati, basement drainage water was directed into the public sewer system. You didn't need sumps. However, the engineers soon figured out that this water was overloading the sanitary sewer system. New laws were enacted that outlawed the introduction of storm water or sump water into sewage systems across the nation. You simply have to collect this water from the inside of your house (or outside with a linear French drain) and redistribute the water to the surface downslope from your house.

As you might imagine, these laws and the ease of building on level land has created a huge need for sump pumps.

Sumps and Sewage

Probably one of the biggest beefs that manufacturers of sump pumps has is their misuse. Some people buy a sump pump and try to use it as a sewage ejection pump. This is a big mistake!

Regular sump pumps are designed to handle liquids and some solid particles. Usually the largest object that can make it through a sump pump impeller is a 1/2 inch diameter sphere.

Sewage ejection pumps will handle much larger objects. Often they can pass a 1.5 inch or larger object. Don't make the mistake and place a sump pump in a sewage ejection pit!

Common Problems

Sump pumps fail for several primary reasons. Often the sump pit is too small. It is not uncommon for an uneducated homeowner to create a sump with a 5 gallon bucket. This is too small. The float rod that controls the pump can rub against the side of the bucket. Make sure you install your sump pump in a pit that is 18 inches in diameter and 22 inches deep.

Pumps can also fail to operate because of check valve problems. Sometimes a homeowner will fail to install a check valve. This simple device is just a one way valve. It only allows water to travel out of the sump. You install a check valve just above the top of the sump. This minimizes the amount of water that flows backwards into the sump after it pumps. Without a check valve all of the water in the vertical discharge pipe flows backwards into the sump. This can cause the sump to fill up again and you just make the pump work too much for nothing.

The power supply to a sump pump should be a dedicated outlet. This means the sump has its own circuit breaker. You don't want the pump to trip the breaker if the toaster or microwave or TV is drawing current at the same time! The outlet should also be a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter as well. The presence of an electrical pump that close to water is simply asking for trouble.

Never use an extension cord with a sump pump. Install the dedicated outlet directly above the sump pump if at all possible. If you ever work on the pump or decide to clean the sump pit, ALWAYS disconnect the cord from the outlet.

Checking the Pump

If you rely on your pump to keep your basement dry, you had better clean the pump every 3 - 4 months. This is especially true if your pump discharges water from a washing machine. Lint from your clothes can clog the intake filter on a sump pump very quickly.

If debris can somehow enter the sump pit, you need to install a screen to keep the largest pieces from interfering with the sump pump. Remember, the pump will fail to operate when you most need it! They rarely fail to operate during dry weather.......

Pump Power

If I were buying a pump today, I would purchase as much power as possible. More power means faster pumping and pumping capabilities to greater heights. A fierce storm may create a deluge in your basement one night. You may need that extra $20 worth of pump. Don't try to save money when buying a sump pump, check valve and sump basin. These items are critical defense weapons you need in your battle against Mother Nature. Remember, Mother Nature always bats last...........

Sump Pump Discharge Piping Tips

Pumping Basics

When a specific sump pump is built, there is a maximum amount of work it can do. After all, pumping or lifting water is work. Lifting water against the force of gravity causes a pump to work harder. The higher the discharge point is above the pump, the less water it will pump in a given time.

Furthermore, if you install lots of turns and bends in the pipe, these fittings create additional friction. To maximize the amount of water discharged by a pump, you need to limit the amount of fittings in the discharge pipe AND minimize the height between the pump and the discharge point.

The size of the discharge pipe should never be less than the discharge outlet port on the pump. Many standard residential pumps have a 1.5 inch discharge port. Standard 1.5 inch inner diameter PVC pipe can be used to pipe the water out of the sump.

The Discharge Water

A common mistake made by builders and homeowners alike is to simply expel sump water alongside the exterior of the foundation. I have seen this done hundreds if not thousands of times. This water simply enters the soil, travels down the side of the foundation and re-enters the sump!

Sump discharge water needs to be piped far away from your house. I always install a solid 4 inch sloped drain pipe for this purpose. The pipe does not have to be deeply buried. Direct this pipe to a low spot in your lot beyond the boundaries of your foundation.

If you live in a cold climate, you will want to install a wye fitting in this discharge pipe at or near the house. This wye fitting will allow you access to the drain pipe to clean it out AND to pour a warm salt brine in the pipe should it freeze up during the winter months. It is not uncommon for the end of the pipe to get clogged with ice as the sump water drains from the end. A strong salt brine poured into the wye will melt the ice. NEVER pour this brine into the sump! Salt water can accelerate pump corrosion!

Backup Sump Pumps

I can't tell you how many times basements have flooded when a power outage results from a severe rain storm. However, I can tell you that it is very frustrating and expensive. If you have a finished basement or valuables you wish to protect, then you might be very interested to know that two primary backups sump pumps are available.

The first backup sump pump can be installed anywhere. It derives its power from a standard 12 volt high output car or marine battery. Many of the pump manufacturers listed here make a battery backup model.

Some of the battery backup pumps come with lights and alarms that will tell you the status of the power supply. For example, the Zoeller model will produce a continuous steady beep if the battery is low. If the battery has a partial charge, it will produce a chirp similar to that of a smoke detector with a low battery. Depending upon the size battery and the height of the pump to the discharge point, some models can pump up to 8 or more hours.

If you are fortunate to have a reliable municipal water supply with moderate (50 PSI) to high (80 PSI) pressure, you can purchase a backup sump pump that operates on water pressure alone! The only pump manufacturer that had this model was Zoeller. This little pump can quite possibly get you through an emergency until such time as the power is turned back on.

These backup pumps are not as powerful as a standard sump pump that operates on 115 volts of standard house current. For example, a standard 115 volt 1/3 horsepower pump can almost always discharge about 34 gallons of water per minute assuming the discharge point is 10 feet above the pump.

Depending upon the model you look at, a battery backup model will pump up to 21.6 gallons per minute with a 10 foot discharge height. The water powered pumps are the weakest. If you have 60 PSI of water pressure at your house, you can get the water powered pump to discharge only 6.35 gallons of water per minute.

Remember that the backup pumps are just that - a backup. Do not use one as a primary pump. The intent of the pump is to get you through the emergency. If you get a backup pump, read and follow the installation instructions carefully!

To discover some of the manufacturers I found, just CLICK HERE.

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