While a comprehensive waterproofing and drainage systems have many layers, sump pumps are considered the most essential. Most homeowners in the D.C area have a sump pump in their basement to protect the house from flooding.
Unlike the membranes, drainage sheets, and perforated pipe, which usually last for the life of the structure, sump pumps need replacing every few years. The US Department of Housing and Development estimates the average life expectancy of a pump at ten years. Just like all mechanical equipment, by performing regular maintenance, you’ll give a longer lifespan to the equipment.
How a Sump Pump Works
Sump pumps will turn on automatically; this is due to a pressure sensor or float activator in the system. The pressure sensor activates as water builds up in the pit, or around the pedestal and creates more pressure than air, prompting the pump to start working. Similar to the one in your toilet tank, the float activator has a ball that floats on top of the water, moving the arm as the water level rises.
After the sensor or arm tells the pump to start working, a centrifugal pump begins to move the water. When the pump is on, a screw or fanlike device called an impeller turns. The spinning impeller, using centrifugal force, drives water toward the sides of the pipe, creating a low-pressure area at its center. Water from the pit rushes to fill the void, and the impeller’s spinning action pushes it out through the pipe. Technical speak aside, the process is similar to water draining down a sink or bathtub, but with an electric helper.
What To Do if Your Sump Pump Fails
Hopefully, you have a backup system in place in case the worst happens. Pump failure leaves your basement with no recourse for eliminating water that is entering your basement, leading to flooding.
Remember, you don’t have to be waist-deep in water for it to wreak havoc. As little as two inches can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your structure, carpeting, belongings, drywall, wood support beams, and interior air quality.
Remember too, to call your insurance agent for flood policy information. Most homeowner’s insurance coverage does not include flood damage, and often you’ll have to take out a separate plan to qualify for reimbursement. Like most of our insurance, we pay premiums in the hopes that we never have to use them.
These days, some insurance companies offer sump pump failure coverage. This plan takes the form of a rider or endorsement attached to a standard homeowner’s insurance policy. Premiums are usually affordable, and you can receive up to $10,000 to replace or repair anything resulting from a flood or backup and pump failure, including pipes, drains, sewer fittings, and appliances.
As long as water threatens a property, then the sump pump fails to respond when the floods breach the barriers, you have cause for an insurance claim. The key to approval by the underwriters is proper pump maintenance, including debris removal and functioning mechanical parts.
The minute you notice or receive an alert that your pump fails, call us. We can help excavate the water and begin the remediation process with a team of professionals and commercial-grade equipment. Our first order of business is to drain the water from the space to initiate the drying process.
Waiting For Failure Isn’t An Option
This main pump is usually hard-wired to the home’s electrical system for power. Inevitably, during a storm, the power will go out, and the water removal system won’t be able to perform its task. Every home with a sump pump should have a reliable backup sump pump system for peace of mind.
But, power outages aren’t the only cause for pump failure, just the most obvious. You could be in a situation where the level control on the primary pump is obstructed or fails. Debris in the sump pit could prevent the level control from properly operating.
The pump fails due to some other mechanical problem because some components of the sump pump may be vulnerable to damage from power surges. The leading mechanical cause of sump pump problems is a switch problem.
Switch issues occur when the pump shifts from its position inside the basin, rendering the float ineffective. The float is responsible for the smooth operation of the on/off switch. Your sump pump relies on both the switch and the float arm mechanisms to operate.
Your water discharge pipe is clogged. If water cannot exit your home through the discharge line, your system will not work. It is important to keep the discharge tube protected from freezing and free of sticks, dirt, rocks and other debris. Protecting the water’s exit point of the discharge pipe will keep debris and animals out of the system, making it optimal for your sump pump.
Debris clogging the primary pump will also cause pump failure. Leaves, paper, dirt, garbage all flow with storm water and can find a new home in your sump pit. An interruption in the flow of water due to an obstruction will shut down the mechanics.
Types of Sump Pump BackUp Systems
A Battery Backup Sump Pump is a separate system that is installed adjacent to your primary electric pump in the sump basin. These typically run on 12-volt or 24-volt D/C battery power and can either be plumbed into the central discharge pipe (the pipe hooked up to the sump pump to carry the water outside of the house) or can be installed with an independent discharge pipe.
Similar to your main sump, the battery backup sump pump has a float switch so that when the water rises in the sump, it raises the float and the backup pump is activated. This device helps keep water out of your basement if the primary pump cannot keep up with the inflow due to excessive amounts of water entering the sump pit. During an abnormally heavy rainstorm or snowmelt, the backup pump will assist the primary pump in evacuating the water.
In the case of a power outage or if the main pump/level control fails, it will take over the role as the primary pump allowing time for the power to be restored or the A/C electric pump system to be serviced. When operating intermittently with a fully charged battery, most backup sump pump systems can provide pumping relief for days.
Some of the most advanced backup sump pump models incorporate unique monitoring systems that signal the homeowner with a message and audio alarm when the following conditions exist:
- Pump failure detection
- High water alarms
- Battery charging level
- Low battery fluid
- Corroded battery terminals or the battery is defective
- Unit is not receiving A/C power
- Pump was activated
Water-Powered Backup Sump Pump is appropriate in areas where a pressurized municipal water supply is available (city water). A water-powered backup sump pump can be a reliable backup sump system without the need for a battery power supply.
This type of system uses the energy of flowing water through a venturi (a smaller section of tubing to detect water flow rates) to create a low-pressure region. As the pressurized water moves through the device, gravity and flow pressure push water out of the sump pit and empty it.
As with your leading sump pump system, the water-powered pump is installed in a sump pit, where a float will activate a valve to control the flow of pressurized city water. When the water level rises to a certain level, the valve will open, and when the water lowers the valve closes, and the flow of water stops.
These water-powered backup sump pumps are not intended to for use as a primary sump pump. They will require the use of municipal water for optimal operation and are not as efficient as an electric or battery operated sump pump.
Another drawback of water-powered pumps is that a water-powered backup pump must use a separate discharge than your primary pump.
Because, if the two pumps were to be linked together, a failure of the primary pump check valve would allow the municipal water to enter into the sump pit through the central pump. Plus, a failure in the incoming water pressure from city water supplies could allow sump water to infiltrate into the municipal water and produce a contamination risk.
Battery Backup Power Inverter systems offer a few advantages of the regular battery backup systems, but the difference is that the standard battery backup pumps pull directly from the 12- or 24-volt D/C battery power. The inverter models convert the low-voltage D/C current into 120-volt A/C current that powers the pump.
Getting Sump Pump Help
Our mission is to keep water out of your basement. Please reach out to us today with questions or to schedule an appointment with one of our professionals.
Any water that flows into your basement will make its way to this lowest point, which is why submersible sump pumps are in sump pits at the lowest point of your basement. When water enters your basement, the pump pulls it away from your foundation into your wastewater system and keeps your basement from flooding.
Sump pumps need replacing every few years. The US Department of Housing and Development estimates the average life expectancy of a sump pump at ten years.
Sump Pump Classifications
Like their name suggests, submersible pumps sit down inside a reservoir or sump pit. They are submerged during operation and have protective barriers that make them waterproof. The motors are stronger than the pedestal-type, making them suitable for areas of greater flooding.
Because they sit down in a reservoir, submersible sump pumps are, as a rule, quiet. The water muffles the sound of the motor. They are also out of the way when it comes to moving things around in the basement. They are not as prone to clogging as a pedestal pump but typically have a shorter lifespan.
A pedestal sump pump consists of a motor that sits atop a pedestal (hence the name) with a hose that goes down into the sump reservoir. The pump draws the water up through the hose and out to where it drains away from the house.
The motors have less power than the submersible models and work best where flooding is possible but usually minor. They start working when their float rises with the water in the reservoir and trips the switch.
Because the motor sits on a pedestal above the floor, the components are easier to reach for servicing. The other side of the coin is that the pump can get in the way of your moving things around in the basement. Pedestal pumps are also louder because there is no water to muffle the sound of the motor.
Factoring in Insurance
Sump pumps do the most work during spring and summer with heavy rains after snow melts. Homeowners’ policies ordinarily exclude water which enters into or overflows sump pumps. An insurance rider for sump pump failure often must be bought separately. You may have to buy it on its own from the National Flood Insurance Program.
The endorsement typically covers loss due to sump pump failure, power interruption and a pump overwhelmed by rising water. The same endorsement also usually includes sewerage backup.
Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Sump Pump
D.C residents spend an average of $460 to repair a sump pump and replacing a pump averages around $1,000. Both options will potentially save you thousands of dollars in repairs of a water-damaged basement.
The first warning sign is often a basement floor that goes splash. Beyond that, warning signs include:
1. Makes strange noises
Sounds coming from your pump can indicate worn or damaged parts. If the motor noise from your sump pump is excessive, the motor could have a failed bearing. Rattling or grinding noises may mean a jammed or damaged impeller, the fan on the bottom that pulls water into the pump.
2. Vibrates Excessively when Running
Pumps that have sucked up hard debris can have their impellers bent or damaged. An impeller is like a propeller except that it draws things in instead of propelling something along. Impellers are balanced to minimize wear on the shaft that they spin on. One that is bent or damaged will cause the whole thing to wobble and create stress on the shaft. The wobbling creates noise and is an indicator of future pump problems. Re-bending an impeller is nearly impossible to do right, so your best bet is to replace the unit.
3. Infrequent Pump Usage
Similar to car batteries, limited use of a sump pump will reduce its shelf life. Regularly testing your sump pump in between heaving rains will give you an early indication of any problems and support the mechanisms inside the appliance.
Do yourself a favor and keep a notebook of when you test the pump. If this is the first time you’ve considered activating it, or you’re new to the home, call us for maintenance and testing.
4. Runs All the Time
The leading cause of sump pumps running all the time is a switch problem. The float is responsible for the smooth operation of the on/off switch. Your sump pump relies on both the switch and the float arm mechanisms to operate. Switch issues can occur when the pump shifts inside the basin, rendering the float ineffective, or the switch loses connection with its power source.
Tethered switches that drift to the side of the pump are prone to hanging up on your sump basin. Vertical floats with plastic brackets frequently break, and the vibrations from an improperly installed pump may push any float switch against the side of the container.
If your sump pump runs continuously for no reason, it may not be able to handle the water load it’s supposed to, and you may want to consider replacing it.
5. Irregular Cycling
If your sump pump is cycling on and off frequently, even in heavy rains, there’s probably something wrong. It might be as simple as an incorrectly adjusted float switch that is causing the pump to come on when only a few inches of water accumulates in the basin.
Wiring malfunctions could also contribute to the pump turning on and off at odd intervals. A short in the electrical system, either in the house or the machine will prompt the pump to start or stop sporadically.
6. It Runs for a Long Time
This symptom probably means that your pump does not have sufficient horsepower, either for the volume of water it is required to handle or for the distance, it must pump it. Calculating what size pump you need is a pretty involved matter involving pipe diameters, plumbing elbows or pathways, and reservoir dimensions.
Determining pump size not only includes the volume of water that it will be moving, but also the drain pipes and layout. If the pump has to push water up tall, vertical plumbing fixtures, it will need more power to combat gravity. Also, if there are a lot of turns and elbows in the layout, more power will be required to force water through the bends. Sump pumps that have to eliminate water through long drain pipes also need a lot of horsepowers to move water to the opening.
7. Visible Rust
The brown stuff could be from corroded battery terminals, but sometimes the discoloration is due to bacteria. Commonly referred to as Iron Bacteria because of its color, the blight feeds off the iron in water causing discoloration and in extreme cases, a gel-like substance that can clog plumbing, including your sump pump.
Iron bacteria is not a human health hazard, but it will cause problems with water flow in your drainage system.
8. Seven Years Old or Older
Regardless of maintenance and cleaning, these devices do not last forever. If yours is older than seven years, go ahead and replace it.
9. The Motor Gets Stuck Sometimes
The life of a pump motor can run out prematurely if it’s endlessly sucking up sediment and other material. A filter can be used to help keep such things out of your pump and extend its life. They do have to be cleaned and replaced periodically.
10. Motor Failure
Your sump pump could stop working because of an internal wiring failure. If the pump is getting electrical power to the unit but is still not working, there could be an electrical problem inside. Make sure it’s plugged in, and that it didn’t throw a fuse or breaker before searching for other causes.
If water cannot exit your home through the discharge line, your system will not work. Your pump system may have an extension hose that drains water away from the pit. When the temperature drops below freezing, this hose can ice up, resulting in a clog. When the pump tries to send water through the frozen hose, the water backflows or stops moving entirely, causing the motor to run at a higher output level, leading to burnout.
11. Installed by the Builder
Not all contractors are plumbing or waterproofing experts. New construction homes are not exempt from basement flooding, so if your sump pump came with the house, call us for an inspection.
12. Frequent Power Outages
Most sump pumps are directly wired into your home’s electrical system. Some components of the sump pump may be vulnerable to damage from power surges, causing pump failure.
We always recommend an auxiliary sump pump that runs on a marine battery. If you only back up the power system, not the pump; you protect yourself only from power failures.
Unsure of Your Sump Pump’s Status?
We can help determine the age and working condition of your sump pump long before you need it. Contact us today for an appointment.