Sump pumps – always needed, mostly forgotten

Sump pumps are one of those seemingly forgotten, but vital, components of your home. When it is working properly, we tend to forget about it. But, you will certainly know when it fails!

Most of the time, your home’s sump pump works efficiently and invisibly in the background. If you live in an area with much groundwater, its regular on and off sounds can get lost with all the other mechanical sounds of your home. In areas with low groundwater, the pump may not even turn on for years.

A sump pump is a critical piece of equipment because it protects your basement and crawl space from water accumulation and prevents water damage. Sump pumps can be somewhat mysterious, yet it’s one of those things where you don’t even realize it’s there until it stops working.

Sump Pump Installation Diagram

How does it work and why does it matter?
Simply put, a sump pump removes water collected in a sump well, commonly found in the basement floor or crawlspace of a home. Water from the foundation’s perimeter drains are funneled into the sump basin to be pumped away from the home, keeping the basement or foundation dry.

If the sump pump fails, water from floods and drain backups will damage your home’s foundation and its contents. In most cases, this happens during heavy rainfalls and when ice and snow begin to melt in the spring. Water can seep in through the foundation or basement walls and pool in the lowest area of the basement, continuing to rise as more water trickles in. There are several things you can do to prevent such a disaster from happening to your home.

Sump pump backup system
Homeowners often have a backup sump pump system in place. Having the backup system provides homeowners with extra peace of mind in the event that the main pump is overwhelmed during a storm.

Many different types of backup systems could help prevent damage in the event of power failure. One type has a marine-grade battery that can run the pump for up to 12 hours. Prepare for any power outages, as most sump pumps work on electricity. It might be a good idea to invest in a small generator in the event the power fails. In addition, there are sump pumps that work on city water pressure. This is a backup pump that will use pressure from the city water to activate a pump. However, they tend to be very expensive and not very common.

Consider a battery backup sump pump
Additional security would be a battery powered backup sump pump. A battery backup with a float switch enables the sump pump to operate during a power failure, which is often during a storm when you need it most. It’s easy to see why a battery backup sump pump is a good idea. Reminder: the battery should be checked monthly.

Alarms
Consider installing an alarm on your sump pump that will alert you when the pump stops working. This could be an audible alarm and/or an alarm that will notify you via text or email when an alarm condition occurs.

Sump Pump Battery Backup by Watchdog

A neglected sump pump will eventually lead to serious problems
Read the owner’s manual and become familiar with how it works. Don’t have the owner’s manual? You might be able to find it online. Learning how your pump works will help you know when it’s not working correctly and possibly even diagnose and fix the problem before you’re in the midst of a disaster. Keep the manual and other documents in a ziploc bag near your sump pump along with the name and phone number of a licensed plumber.

All season maintenance
Regular maintenance testing will give you ample time for repairs if needed. Be sure to inspect and test your sump pump system monthly to be sure it is in good working condition before it rains or the snow melts. You can do this by pouring water into the sump well to raise the float that triggers the pump to work. If working properly, the pump should remove the water from the well and shut off in a few seconds. Be sure the float moves freely and inspect the check valve. The check valve stops water from running back down the discharge pipe and back into the well. Using a wet shop vac, clean out the sump well of any dirt, sand, gravel, etc. as this can decrease the pump’s efficiency.

If installed and maintained correctly, a sump pump can last as long as 5-10 years depending annual usage and water table. 

Special emphasis on winter maintenance
Because all forms of precipitation can lead to flooding, including snow and ice, it becomes even more important to get control of your home’s sump pump situation on the outside of your home. A few things you can do to aid in drainage:

  • Remove snow around the area where the pump discharges and create a path for water to flow into a low spot in the yard, away from the home. Check out any drain outlets buried in the yard.
  • Check discharge pipe and surrounding area for ice buildup and melt off with hair dryer.
  • Keep an eye on this area so that it doesn’t get buried or damaged as snow begins to melt off the roof and icicles fall.

Insurance protection for your home and contents
A typical homeowners insurance policy does not provide coverage for water damage caused by a failed sump pump. The good news is that you can have this kind of coverage added to your existing policy in the form of a rider or sometimes called an endorsement. The cost of adding a rider is often low and well worth the peace of mind in the event a sump pump fails. The extra coverage may also include items damaged by water and the cost of water damage restoration. Just know that water damage can be very expensive to correct, including water removal, drying items and structures (including inside the wall cavity).

Water backup insurance vs flood insurance coverage
If you’re asking yourself, “do I need water backup insurance or flood insurance?” you’re not alone. It can be confusing. Homeowners policies don’t automatically give you sewer and water back up, but most have an option to purchase coverage. Some homeowners policies have a small amount of insurance coverage for water back up that might cover the sump pump failing and the sewer system backing up and into the lower level of your home or into the toilet or sink. In most cases, this scenario is considered water backup.

A flood is either ground water that comes in through doorways or windows from rising water and is NOT covered by a typical homeowners policy. Flood insurance is available through the federal government. A flood insurance policy is only available through the national flood insurance program. For more information, visit https://www.floodsmart.gov/flood-insurance/coverage.

Be sure to check with your insurance agent who can help you decide what’s best for you.

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