What Is the Purpose of a Sump Pump?

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Sump pumps keep water leaks from ruining your basement.
Sump pumps keep water leaks from ruining your basement. (Image: les marches d'escalier image by rachid amrous-spleen from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>)

Homes with basements usually have a sump pump in them. The sump pump removes accumulated water from a sump pit and channels it away from the home to prevent the basement from becoming flooded. Water can enter the basement through perimeter drains when it rains or as ground water if the basement is located beneath the level of the water table.

Where the Water Goes

When groundwater levels climb, a sump pump diverts water from the house to a municipal storm drain or a dry well at least 20 feet away from the house. In older properties, sump pumps discharge to the sewers via a floor drain. However, most municipal bylaws prevent newer properties from doing this. The excess water can overload a municipal sewage system and even damage a septic system.

Sump pumps need to ensure discharged water doesn't run into window wells, neighboring lots or septic system drain fields.

Types of Sump Pumps

Sump pumps are either submersible or pedestal/upright types. The former sees the pump placed together with a waterproof motor in a single unit. It fits inside the sump and does not pose a problem if it gets wet.

A pedestal pump has the motor placed on top of a column above floor level in a basement. The pump remains in the sump but the motor should not get wet due to its elevation. Submersion creates the danger of electrocution given the combined reality that water is a conductor and the motor is not protected through waterproofing. Both types of pumps connect to an outlet pipe to drain water away from the house.

Choosing A Sump Pump

An automatic pump is wired to switch on/off at a particular water level. Manual pumps require a homeowner to switch the pump on and off when needed.

The horsepower of a pump varies with the size of the pump, which shouldn't be too small for the house. A 1/3 horsepower pump is sufficient for most houses. The head pressure of the pump determines the maximum height a pump can remove water, e.g. a 13-feet shutoff head on a pump pumps water up 13 feet before flow is completely lost.

Sump Pump Maintenance

A homeowner should examine a sump pump annually to ensure it's still in good working condition with no dirt or debris that could impede operation. During the dry season, a way to test if the pump is functioning is to remove the cover and slowly pour water into the sump pit or tank. The float should rise with the water level and trigger the pump switch. If the pump engages properly, the water level will drop, together with the float and shut the pump off.

Importance of Cleaning a Sump Pump

Other than annual "checkups", a sump pump system that runs frequently because of a higher water table, regular water drainage or rainy weather should be checked often. Frequent operation of the sump pump can lead to mechanical failure, and, in a worse case scenario, a flooded basement and expensive repairs.

A homeowner should remove gravel, sand, dirt and even leaves from the sump pump so that it remains efficient. These actions can also extend a sump system's lifespan and prevent the sump pit from overflowing.

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