Spring is here! Do you have a Sump Pump?

What is a Sump Pump?

Sump pumps are designed to handle rain water and melting snow that accumulate in your building.  They consist of a tank that is usually buried below the basement floor, sometimes with a side inlet into the tank.  The tank is the “Sump” and the “Pump” removes water from the tank.

These can be a pedestal-type (the pump sits on top of the Sump) or a submersible-type (the motor and pump are at the bottom of the sump).  The pump needs power to operate. Usually there is a 120 volt receptacle that the pump plugs into.  Sometimes the pump is wired permanently in place. The pump is activated by a float switch and is triggered when the float is raised to a set level.  The pump pushes the water collected in the sump through a black polyethylene pipe outside.

In rare cases the pump discharges into the city waste system but that is no longer permitted and existing systems like this are grandfathered.  

This discharge pipe ideally leads on to the ground, well away from the home.  Often these are buried just slightly below grade but also commonly above the ground.  The pipe should slope away from the house to avoid the water sitting in the pipe and freezing.  

This illustration shows a typical Sump Pump arrangement.  The pump is submersible and there are two inlets. There should be a cover that can be removed and the check valve (green component) is optional but a good idea.  There is typically standing water in the sump hole.

What should you watch for?

The first step is to test that the pump works.  If there is water in the sump, you can test by removing the cover (and there should be a cover over the sump hole) and raise the float.  Only do this long enough to know that the pump turns on. If there is no water in the sump, even in the spring thaw, the sump pump is likely a precautionary step and may not be needed normally.  You can still test the pump by lifting the float and listening for the pump to turn on. Again, only for a second to make sure the pump turns on. Testing the pump should be done by lifting the float with a stick to avoid risk of electrical shock.


You know there is a problem if the pump is plugged in and the sump hole is full of water with the float completely submerged.  Call a plumber!   

Other problems to watch for are:  Excess noise or vibration, the pump running continuously, debris in the sump hole, caved in sides of the sump, rusted pump or a pump that is loose in the sump and pipes that do not discharge away from the house or do not have enough of a slope.  

Sump Pumps are not expensive and if you can, have a back-up pump available.  

Posted by Jeremy Scratch

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