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Sump Pumps Tutorial

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. Technically qualified personnel should install & repair pumps and motors. We recommend that a licensed contractor install all new systems and replace existing pumps and motors. Failure to install in compliance with local and national codes and manufacturers recommendations may result in electrical shock, fire hazard, unsatisfactory performance, and equipment failure.

Age of Pump
    It is impossible to predict how long a sump pump will last. In questioning manufacturers, pumps can last anywhere from three to 20 years. One manufacturer states that a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years is reasonable. The U.S. Department of Housing and Development estimates the life expectancy of sump pumps at 10 years. The pump’s life expectancy will vary due to how much the pump has run in its lifetime.

    Write down the pump installation date on something on or near the pump so it is easier to keep tabs on the age of the pump. As the pump approaches the anticipated life expectancy, consider replacing it.

    During the life of the pump, some service may be necessary. Certain parts like the impeller, o-rings and switch wear out. The average switch life on an automatic pump is four to seven years according to one manufacturer. Consider having the pump serviced every few years.

Electrical Power Outage
    It is not uncommon to have the electrical power go out during violent thunderstorms. This is not good when a home is prone to water in the basement during rainstorms. Back-up pumps that do not need house power are the answer to overcome power outages.
Improper Installation
    Many times the installer does not follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Ask the installer for the owner’s manual and installation instructions. Read them completely. Here are some common mistakes to look for: Most manufacturers recommend or require a check valve be installed on the discharge line. If not installed, the backflow of water can cause the pump impeller to rotate backwards and unscrew off the motor shaft. If this happens, the pump motor will run but will not pump any water. Most manufacturers require the drilling of a small air relief hole in the discharge line between the pump and the check valve. This is intended to prevent the pump from having to overcome the air pressure in the discharge pipe. Check to make sure the discharge pipe is of the required diameter. The proper size is usually indicated in the owner’s manual. Install the pump on a dedicated electrical circuit. A dedicated circuit means the pump outlet is the only thing on that electrical branch circuit. Many pump motors require between 10 and 15 amps of power when starting. This is near the capacity of many electrical circuits. Check to make sure the electrical outlet is grounded (3-prongs). This can be checked with a circuit tester, which is available from any hardware or home improvement store. Make sure an extension cord has not been used to power the pump. Check the pump's electrical cord to make sure it does not interfere with the operation of the pump. The sump pit should have a solid bottom surface. A dirt or gravel bottom can increase the chance that rocks and debris will enter the pump that is too large for it to handle. This may cause the impeller to get stuck. Clean all dirt and debris out of sump pit before installing the pump. Make sure the check valve is not installed backwards. Usually there is an arrow on the valve pointing in the direction of water flow.
Lack of Maintenance
    Some pump manufacturers recommend the pump be run every two to three months. Some recommend a yearly program completed just before the rainy season hits. Follow the pump manufacturer’s recommendations. These will include: Fill the sump pit with water to make sure the pump operates. If there is a back-up pump, unplug the primary pump and run the back-up pump to make sure it works properly. Don’t forget to plug the primary pump back in after completing the test. When testing your sump pump, go outside to make sure it is discharging water. In some cases, the pump can run but not pump any water. This can because the impeller has disengaged from the pump shaft or the check valve is installed backwards. Check the operation of the float to make sure it is not restricted. Clean out the air hole in the discharge line. Listen for any unusual noises when the motor is running. Replace the battery on the back-up sump pump every two or three years.
Lightning or Power Surge Damage
    Some components of the sump pump may be vulnerable to damage from power surges. To help prevent this, protect the entire electrical system from power surges with a service entrance (whole house) surge protection device.
Product Defect
    Product defects are probably rare. While some product defects may not exhibit a problem when the pump is new, it is still wise to test the pump when it is installed to make sure the pump operates properly.

If You Are Installing A New Sump Pump

  • Locate the sump approximately 6” from the basement wall in the lowest point of the basement floor.
  • With chalk, mark out the diameter of the pit on the floor
  • Cut through the floor with masonry drill or other concrete cutting tool and excavate below the floor to the required depth.
  • Level the bottom and set sump pit in place. Tie in any sub-floor drains. Back-fill and mortar tile or sump pit in place. The top should be flush with the floor for surface drainage unless otherwise specified by codes.
  • It is recommended that the bottom of the tile be provided with a concrete base. However, a concrete block or bricks may be used to provide support for the sump pump.

Sump Pump Installation

  • Clean any debris from the pit and set pump in place. A solid bottom is required to prevent clogging of the pump from sand and dirt.
  • Locate the pump in the pit so that the pump housing and any float control will not come in contact with the side of the pit and create operational problems.
  • Pipe the sump pump discharge into the house drainage system, to a dry well or splash block or to a storm drain depending on local plumbing codes. Do not connect the sump pump discharge to the sewage system. The discharge piping should be as short as possible, with a minimum number of turns, to reduce pipe friction losses. It is recommended that the discharge pipe diameter equal to or larger than the discharge size of the pump. Do not connect with anything less than the size of the discharge tapping of the sump pump.
  • Always install a union in the discharge line just above the sump pit to allow easy removal of the pump for cleaning and repair.
  • Install a swing type check valve on the discharge piping to prevent backflow of water into the sump.
  • Drill a relief hole (1/8” or 3/16” diameter) in the discharge pipe. This hole should be located below the floor line between the pump discharge and the check valve. Unless such a relief hole is provided a bottom intake pump could “air lock” and will not pump water even though it will run.
  • Secure the pump cord to the discharge pipe with tie straps, pipe strapping, or other suitable device, making sure not to kink or severely bend the cord where it exits the pump. Do not allow the cord to interfere with the float control motion or to drape over the pump motor
  • Connect the pump cord to the electrical outlet after the discharge piping is complete and the sump cleaned. Run water into the sump to test the pump. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO OPERATE THE PUMP WITHOUT WATER. The pumps seals and bearings could be damaged if the pump were to run dry.
  • Fill the sump with water to the normal turn-on level (as indicated in the manufacturer’s literature) and allow the pump to remove the water to the normal turn-off point (also described in the manufacturer’s literature)
  • Install a sump cover. A cover will help prevent solid matter from falling into the sump, help control odors, and help guard against accidental injury.
  • RECOMMENDED: A liquid level alarm connected to a circuit separate from the pump circuit will tell when a problem exists that requires immediate attention.

Sump Pump Maintenance

    DANGER!!! Unplug sump pump from power source before handling. Failure to do so could result in severe personal injury or death when touching the pump or discharge piping.
  • Clean the pump screen or inlet opening. If your sump collects the discharge from an automatic washing machine, cleaning will be required more often. Before removing the pump be sure to disconnect the unit from electrical power; and reconnect after completion of the cleaning.
  • Check the operation of the float to make sure it is not restricted.
  • Clean out the air hole in the discharge line.
  • Pour enough water into the sump to cycle the pump and assure its proper functioning.
  • Remove and clean the pump. Clean the sump pit also. Unless your pump instruction manual specifies otherwise, no lubrication or other maintenance will have to be performed on the pump.
  • Replace the battery on a back-up sump pump

Sump & Sewage pumps Do's and Don'ts

    Sump & Sewage Pumps Do's
    • Always disconnect the pump from the power source before handling
    • Size the pump to the proper capacity of the home. In a two-pump system each pump should be sized to meet the homes pumping requirements
    • Consider a two pump system with an alarm where an installation may become overloaded or primary pump failure would result in property damage.
    • Inspect pump for any visible damage caused by shipping. Do not install a damaged pump. Contact vendor if pump appears to be damaged
    • Thoroughly read all installation material provided with the pump
    • Review all applicable local and national codes and verify that the installation conforms to each of them
    • Always connect pump and controls to a separately protected and properly grounded circuit. (GFI recommended)
    • Be sure that the pit is large enough to allow proper clearance for the pumps float switch.
    • Clean all built up debris in sump pit.
    • Be sure that the pump has a hard, flat surface beneath it.
    • Install a check valve and a union in the discharge line.
    • Drill a 3/16" weep hole between the check valve and the pump housing.
    • Verify that the sewage pit is gas tight and well vented to prevent odors
    • Keep all warranty information, installation instructions, and receipts for future use.
    Sump & Sewage Pumps Don'ts
    • Ever cut, splice or damage the power cord.
    • Carry or lift the pump by its power cord.
    • Use an extension cord with a sump, effluent or sewage pump
    • Use a discharge pipe smaller than the pumps discharge size.
    • Flush any items that are not biodegradable such as paper towels, feminine hygiene products, condoms, or other items that could jam the pump impeller. A moderate amount of tissue paper in a solids handling sewage system is acceptable.
    • Pour chemicals into the pump system such as acid’s, floor wax, paints, or any degrease chemicals.

    Sump Pit Requirements

    • The sump pit must not be less than 18” in diameter and 24” deep, unless otherwise specifically recommended by the manufacturer.
    • The pit must be accessible and located such that all drainage flows into the pit due to gravity.
    • The sump pit may be constructed of tile, concrete, steel, plastic or other suitable material as approved by local codes.
    • The pit bottom must be solid and provide permanent support for the sump.
    • The sump pit must be fitted with a removable cover adequate to support anticipated loads in areas of use and to prevent refuse from entering the pit.

    Testing A Sump Pump

    • Check that the outlet pipe is not frozen shut or plugged and that it directs water away from the house.
    • Check that the pump is plugged in.
    • Remove the lid (if the sump has one) and use a flashlight to check if the sump is clean.
    • Check that the pump inlet is not plugged. DISCONNECT POWER WHILE CHECKING & CLEANING

    Types of Sump Pumps

      There are six types of pumps used for dewatering basements or crawl spaces.All six types have their specific advantages and disadvantages. Before deciding upon a particular model, the installer must determine his requirements. The pump capacity (quantity of water pumped in gallons per minute or gallons per hour) and head (the vertical height the water is lifted, normally stated in feet of water) are measures of the pump performance. The pump capacity decreases as the head increases. Performance data supplied by the manufacturer is an important aspect in pump selection. Motor horsepower normally ranges from 1/6 to 1/2 HP.
  • Emergency DC with Battery Back-up Type Unit
      These pumps can either be a pedestal or submersible pump or have a direct current motor. The pump is powered by a battery pack that is continually charged by a battery charging unit that plugs into house 120-volt electrical system. Many of these back-up pump systems come with an alarm system that sounds if the back-up pump is being used or the battery is not charging properly.The manufacturers recommend the batteries be replaced every two years. This could be a problem if the homeowner forgets to replace the battery. The batteries usually have a continuous run time of seven to 10 hours which should be plenty of time for the electric utility company to turn power back on.
  • Emergency DC (12 Volt) With Power Pack
      An emergency type unit is available that uses a direct current motor and is furnished with a power pack to operate from a normal 115 volt AC household electric power. The sump pump provided is normally a pedestal type pump and includes a liquid level control for automatic operation.
  • Pedestal Type
      Also referred to as a column type, upright or cellar drainer, the pedestal sump pump has an open motor that is supported on top of a column attached to the pump casing. When installed, the motor sits outside the sump and above the basement floor. The motor is not designed to be submerged in water.
  • Submersible Type
      This pump uses a watertight motor designed to be immersed in water. The motor is coupled directly to the pump casing and is designed to be completely hidden within the sump.
  • Water-Powered Type
      Water-powered sump pumps work by using city water pressure instead of electrical power. These pumps do not use electricity.These pumps require between 40psi and 80psi of water pressure in order to function. This means these pumps cannot be used if the house gets its water from a private well.If the city water pressure drops below the minimum pressure required, the pump will not work. The amount of water able to be pumped is much less than other pumps. If the basement has a significant water problem, these back-up pumps may not be an option.

    Selecting the Best System

      Every house should be evaluated based on its own needs. However, a system that takes care of most of the potential sump pump problems and meets the typical needs of a house with wet basement problems is a dual pump system that consists of:
      • Primary Pump (Pedestal or Submersible)
      • Emergency Back-up Pump
      • Emergency Back-up Pump Alarm
      With an emergency back-up pump, not powered by 120-volt house power, if the electricity goes out, the back-up pump will take over. Using two pumps instead of one, it is very unlikely that both pumps will malfunction at the same time due to age. And, with the alarm system, you will be able to tell when the primary pump has failed and the back-up pump had to be used. That will tell you when it is time to replace the pumps.RULE OF THUMB: The quality of the sump system you purchase should be related to the value of what the pump is there to protect.

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