Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
How to Maintain Your Sump Pump & Extend Its Lifespan
Water damage is one of the worst problems the average homeowner will have to deal with. Irreplaceable possessions can be completely destroyed, cleanup is difficult and expensive, and the musty smell can linger for weeks. And in the battle against water damage, your home’s sump pump is the often unsung hero keeping disaster at bay.
If you’re a new homeowner who is just learning the ropes of home maintenance, you might not know if your home has a sump pump or where it’s located. But it’s important to get to know this device and how to take care of it throughout the year because it’s your most important defense against basement flooding.
What is a Sump Pump?
In a home with a basement, a sump pump typically sits in a small sump “pit” at the lowest point of the basement floor. The job of the sump pump is to catch groundwater that seeps in through a foundation drainage system and pump it away from the home, either into a storm drain or a nearby area that drains naturally. During rainy seasons, flooding events and even plumbing-related floods, a working sump pump can evacuate hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water per hour.
Types of Sump Pumps
Residential sump pumps fall into two broad categories: submersible and pedestal.
- Submersible pumps sit in the wet sump pit all the time, which makes maintenance a messier job and adds a lot of wear and tear. They are, however, much quieter than pedestal pumps.
- Pedestal pumps are cheaper, longer-lasting and easier to maintain, but the noise they produce during pumping may make them impractical for many homes, especially those with finished basements.
Sump Pump Backup Systems
Beyond the basic choice of submersible vs. pedestal, you have more choices when it comes to backup pumps. Though not all sump pumps have accompanying backup systems, it is very important to choose one that has this feature — if the main pump fails for any reason, including a power outage, the backup pump should save the day.
Many sump pumps have a fully integrated battery backup system that self-charges while the power is on so that it can operate even when the power is off. Other models may require you to supply your own battery, often a car or boat battery. Another type of backup system connects to your home’s plumbing and uses water pressure to keep groundwater moving when the electricity is off.
Whichever type you own, you should familiarize yourself with the maintenance and replacement schedules that are specific to your model. Maintenance steps can vary, especially when it comes to taking care of those ever-important backup batteries.
Sump Pump Annual Maintenance Checklist
Keeping your sump pump in tip-top shape is a small job — so small it’s easy to overlook. Since the consequences of sump pump failure can be huge, it’s recommended that you maintain your sump pump at least once per year, ideally during spring cleaning, when seasonal rains really put the pump to work.
Here’s your essential sump pump maintenance checklist:
- Make sure your primary pump is connected to power and turned on. If your pump is plugged into an outlet rather than hard-wired, make sure the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) on the outlet has not been tripped.
- Test your pump for functionality by pouring a bucket of water into the sump pit. The pump should turn on automatically and pump the water away in seconds. Sump pumps use a float to detect water, and this float can become stuck due to dirt and sediment. So if your pump is powered on but doesn’t start pumping during the test, try to loosen the float before calling for service.
- Disconnect and clean the pump. Disconnect the pump from its power source and discharge line. Remove the pump from the pit and carefully clean all accessible parts of dirt, sediment and small stones. If possible, remove the grate at the bottom of the pump and clean it separately. If the sump pit is messy, clean up the area while you have the pump removed. Model-specific instructions on how to clean a sump pump may be helpful, but most pumps can be safely cleaned with a garden hose, paper towels and a stiff-bristle brush.
- Check the pump’s discharge line for obstructions. Small particles usually flow through, but sometimes small rocks get wedged in the pump, grate or discharge line where they can inhibit the flow of water.
- Perform model-specific maintenance to the battery backup system as needed.
In addition to annual maintenance, it’s worth testing your sump pump with a bucket of water at least once per month, especially during the rainy season. If something goes wrong with your pump, it’s better to find out during a controlled test than during a heavy rainstorm.
When to Replace Your Sump Pump
No sump pump lasts forever, and your pump could fail due to old age in the middle of a major rain event. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to estimate your pump’s lifespan and replace it proactively.
As a general rule, submersible pumps last 5 to 15 years and pedestal pumps last 20 to 30 years. Frequency of use plays a large role in the lifespan of a pump, so if you live in a wet area with a high water table, expect your pumps to wear out on the lower end of that spectrum.
To help make a plan for replacement, check your sump pump’s original documentation (or find it online by searching for your model number) to see what replacement interval the manufacturer recommends. It may also be helpful to schedule an annual visit from a licensed plumber to inspect and maintain both your sump pump and water heater. Just be sure to remind your plumber of your sump pump’s age and ask for a professional opinion about when replacement is warranted.
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