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Install and Maintain Sump Pumps Safely

  • Posted: 02.21.2019
Photo of a sump pump
Image: Safe Electricity

While we haven’t yet had the torrential rainfalls that frequently mark the arrival of spring, this is a good time to ensure that your basement is prepared to handle downpours. A crucial appliance in many Iowa basements is a sump pump, which can help protect you from floods in your basement.

Safe Electricity offers these tips for installing and checking this essential appliance.

Sump pump installation safety
Sump pumps are self-activating electrical pumps that protect homes from water intrusion. They are usually installed below basement or crawlspace floors in a sump pit to remove rising groundwater and surface runoff before it has a chance to get into the home.

Types of sumps

  • Pedestal pumps sit above the water line and are not designed to get wet
  • Submersible pumps sit at the bottom of a sump pit and are designed to be underwater
  • Water-powered pumps are used as backups when the main pump fails

The National Association of Certified Home Inspectors offers these tips to keep in mind when installing a sump pump:

  • Be sure the installation includes a check valve. This should be installed to prevent water from re-entering the sump pit when the device shuts off.
  • Install an alarm. If your sump pump burns out, loses power, gets clogged or fails for some other reason, an alarm will alert you that there is a buildup of water in the pit.
  • Consider a backup option. In the event your main pump fails, a backup pump can take over and keep pumping water until problems with the main pump are rectified. One of the most common backup solutions uses a second electrical pump powered by a battery. Another is a water-powered pump powered by city water.
  • Make sure the pit is large enough for the proper operation of the pump and float. Most sump pits should be no smaller than 24 inches deep and 18 inches wide.
  • Don’t forget to put a cover on your sump pit. This keeps water from evaporating into the home and can keep objects from falling into the hole. It also keeps small children and pets from doing the same. An airtight sealed sump pump lid and pipes can prevent radon or other soil gasses from entering the home.

Sump pump maintenance and operation
If you have a sump pump installed in your home check it regularly to ensure that it is in proper working condition. Experts suggest checking it every few months or at least once a year (now is a good time to do so).

To check your sump, remove the cover, and slowly pour water into the sump tank. Watch for the “float” to rise and trigger the pump. Once the pump is engaged, the water level will quickly lower and the float will shut off the pump. If you find you have to do any maintenance on the pump, make sure you unplug it prior to any work. Find more details at this sump pump maintenance site.

If your pump does fail and you find your basement has been flooded, do not wade into the basement water unless you are absolutely positive that no outlets or cords are in the water. The best bet is to have your utility shut the power off before venturing into the basement to make sure no one gets injured or killed from electric shock. Do not allow children or pets near the flooded basement, and remember that the flooded area will be slippery, even after the water recedes.