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How Sump Pumps Help Keep Your Basement Dry

Preventing flooding and mold growth in a basement is something many homeowners worry about. A sump pump can help protect your home from moisture intrusion and deter the growth of mold, mildew and fungus. Sump pumps are self-activating electrical pumps that are installed below basements and crawlspace floors. They help to remove rising groundwater before moisture seeps into the house. Regular maintenance can help ensure your pump runs reliably year-round, keeping your home dry and your worries at bay.

A shop vac hose in the water of a flooded floor.

How a Sump Pump Works

A sump pump is typically located in the lowest part of your basement or crawlspace in a sump pit or sump trench. The recommended minimum size for this pit is 24 inches deep by 18 inches wide. This size helps ensure sufficient space to keep the pump float from jamming, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, or InterNACHI.

The pump float acts as a sensor - when it detects rising water levels, it activates the pump. Once triggered, the pump will remove excess water through a series of pipes to a discharge location away from the structure's foundation. Proper drainage is vital to keep water from re-entering the house, which would place strain on the sump pump and could shorten its life expectancy.

There are three main types of sump pumps:

  • Pedestal pumps. This type sits above the water line. Since they're not designed to get wet, pedestal pumps are typically less expensive and easier to access for maintenance. However, they can be very noisy.
  • Submersible sump pumps. This one sits below the water line, which makes it a quieter option. Since the pump is constructed from submersible materials, it's typically more expensive but also usually has a longer lifespan than pedestal pumps.
  • Water-powered sump pumps. This is a backup pump that will kick in when the main pump suffers a mechanical or electrical failure.

Maintenance and Testing

InterNACHI recommends preventive measures to help keep things running smoothly. The maintenance schedule depends on the type of pump and usage frequency. Before performing any maintenance, be sure the sump pump is unplugged.

  • Monthly cleaning. If yours is set up to regularly dispose of water from a washing machine in addition to moving moisture away from the home's foundation, it may benefit from monthly cleaning. Check the pump screen or inlet opening to remove debris that could clog the machine and overwhelm the pump.
  • Quarterly cleaning. If yours is only used sporadically, check the inlet screen every three to four months for debris.

After a cleaning session, test to make sure your pump is working properly by pouring water into the pit. This should activate the pump, which in turn should dispel the water. If the pump does not activate or the water is not fully dispelled, contact a professional inspector.

Professional Inspection

An annual professional inspection is an opportunity to test your pump's performance and repair any parts that may be broken or near the end of their life expectancy. Professional inspectors will clean the float and also check that the following elements are operating correctly:

  • Ground fault circuit interpreter (GFCI). Building codes recommend sump pumps be connected to a GFCI to reduce the risk for electrocution. In some cases, however, the GFCI may trip despite safe conditions, which will deactivate the pump without your knowledge. The inspector will check that the GFCI is working correctly and the pump is still activated.
  • Alarm. The alarm can alert you to mechanical problems before flooding occurs.
  • Check valve. This device prevents discharged water that's remaining in the discharge line from re-entering the pump.
  • Back-up power source. Sump pumps are most needed during heavy rains, which may also accompany storm conditions that trigger power outages. A battery or water-powered sump pump can serve as a backup.

To make sure your home has the right protection, contact your local independent insurance agent.

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