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Sump pumps

A sump pump is a great way to reduce the risk of flood damage to your home. And, in many cases, installing a sump pump will result in a reduction to your home insurance premium. If your home sits in a high-risk area, chances are the property already features a sump pump.

But, where should you look if you’re unsure? And, if you’re considering installing a sump pump, how do you figure out the power and capacity you require? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is a sump pump?

A sump is a low space that collects liquids- your car, for instance, has a sump to collect oil. In the same way, homes have a small pit that’s dug into the floor of the basement and designed to collect floodwater that filters through the loose earth surrounding your foundation. A sump pump is a simple device that detects water in the sump and moves it away from the property through a network of pipes. Check out this video for a simple explanation of how a sump pump works.

Sumps are usually 2 feet deep and 18 inches in diameter. When the water rises to a certain level, a float completes an electrical circuit, and the pump engages. Systems usually contain a one-way “check valve” which prevents expelled water from flowing back into the pit.

Sump pumps require electricity. As their purpose dictates that they’re operating in or around water, it’s important that the outlet you connect the pump to features a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). We also recommend connecting your sump pump to a back-up power source. Flooding often accompanies severe storms, which can also cause power failures. If your sump pump detects water but has no power to operate, you’ll experience the same damage as if you were completely unprotected.

For more information on sump pumps, take a look at the City of Edmonton’s Sump pump guide.

What size pump do I need?

Sump pumps come in a variety of outputs. Each pump comes labelled with a reference chart explaining how much water it can displace.

The chart contains two columns: “head” refers to the vertical distance that water must travel from your sump pump to the outlet pipe; and “flow” refers to the volume of water that the pump can displace (in gallons per minute). Note that these figures are inversely proportional- for any given pump, the flow reduces as the head increases. That’s because the pump has to work harder to push the water further up, thus decreasing its efficiency.

To figure out your flow rate, wait for a rainy day and run your pump until the water drops below the shut off level. Then, disconnect the pump from all power sources and measure the distance the water rises in one minute. For an 18-inch sump, one inch of water is equal to one gallon. In a 24-inch sump, one inch of water is equal to two gallons. Once you’ve determined the flow rate of your home, multiply the rate by 1.5 to allow a margin for severe storms.

Next, use a tape measure to determine the vertical distance from the bottom of your basement to the outlet pipe. This is usually located on or around ground level. Then simply reference the chart on your pump to determine if the flow rate is sufficient for the head distance.

Experts recommend a power rating of 1/3 horsepower for most average homes. You’ll also want to take into account elbow joints, narrow pipes and check valves, as these will increase friction, potentially requiring a more powerful pump. If you’re in any doubt, contact a plumber to determine whether your sump pump is sufficient.

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Maintaining a sump pump

Sump pumps require scheduled maintenance. Dirt, sand and other debris can clog the pump and prevent it from working at capacity in the event of an emergency. Most homeowners only find out that their pump isn’t working when it’s too late, so we recommend servicing your sump pump every six months.

The good news is that, if you’re handy, most of this maintenance can be done yourself. Check out for a simple guide or follow the steps listed below:

  • First things first- make sure the pump hasn’t fallen over or isn’t leaning to one side as a result of vibrations during operation. If the pump is not sitting upright, the float arm can become jammed.

  • Check the GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet to make sure it’s plugged in and the cord is in good condition. If there is moisture present, the GFCI breaker may trip, causing the sump pump to shut down. If so, you’ll need to reset it.

  • Pour some water into the pit to test the pump. It should start automatically, and drain the water away quickly. If not, be sure to have it serviced by a professional. You may also want to go outside and make sure the water is being discharged.

  • Disconnect the check valve and remove any debris.

If DIY isn’t your thing, simply call a professional to conduct the service. They’ll be able to ensure your pump is working at capacity and test the back-up power source and alarm. They’ll also be able to check the discharge line for clogging.

You may also consider installing a backwater valve to prevent your sewer line from backing up into your house. It’s also a good idea to remove debris from any drains- whether inside your home or the municipal storm drains near your home.

What to do when something goes wrong

As long as it has a back-up power source, sump pumps are fairly reliable. Here are some of the things to watch out for:

  • Debris in the pump: Sump pits can fill with debris, especially if it’s an open pit without a solid lid. If too much dirt or debris gets into the pump itself, the system will not operate properly, and may even shut down completely. You should also be aware that if a switch gets stuck in the ON position, the motor can burn out, potentially causing a fire.

  • Clogged or frozen discharge lines: Consider a system that includes a slotted discharge pipe. This will allow water to escape your home even if the pipes are clogged. You may also consider adding a vented cover to the end of the discharge pipe to prevent rodents from entering the system.

  • Wrong sized pump: If your pump’s flow rating is inadequate, it could struggle to displace all of the water entering your home and you’ll risk burning out the motor.

  • Missing or broken check valve: Water that’s expelled from the sump pump must usually travel 6-10 feet vertically to exit your property. Any problems with your check valves will increase the back pressure on the pump, putting it under additional strain.

  • Improper connection to sewage line: Sewer systems are not designed to handle large volumes of runoff resulting from heavy rain or snowmelt. If your home’s sump pump is connected to the sewer, you may be at risk of contributing to an overload of the system, which can cause water backups. This connection may also provide an additional point of ingress for water. You may want to consider disconnecting your pump from the sewer system.

Finally, be aware of the life expectancy of your sump pump. Most pumps last around 10 years, but the lifespan is affected by the acidity and cleanliness of the water entering the pump.

What will your home insurance provider want to know?

Water damage accounts for more home insurance claims that fire and theft combined. In fact, the average cost of a flooded basement insurance claim is $43,000. As such, it’s likely that your home insurance provider will want to know whether your home has a sump pump, and, if so, whether you have a back-up power system.

If you live in an area that’s at risk of flooding, your home insurance provider may require a sump pump before they’re willing to provide coverage. The bad news is that coastal flooding and seepage of water into your basement are usually excluded. The good news?

Square One provides a discount to customers with a sump pump. To get a home insurance quote in just 5 minutes, click the button below. Or, contact us at 1.855.331.6933.

Getting to know sump pumps

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