sump pump

How A Sump Pump Works

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Many of our customers do not understand what a sump pump is. Which is a problem, considering living in Toronto, and by extension, Canada requires some houses to have sump pumps. Here at Crystal Drain, located in Toronto, we understand this issue more than anyone else. Therefore, we will answer that as well as how sump pumps work. It is an important tool that some homes require and have. Furthermore, it can save you lots of money if installed properly.

What is a Sump Pump?

A sump pump is a pump that is used to remove water that has built up (usually because of rain or ground water) in a water collecting sump basin. They are primarily located in basements and built under concrete.

Located in your basement or crawlspace, the purpose of Sump Pumps is removing excess water from entering your home. Most sump pumps are usually installed in sump pits (or sump basins) which are dug underneath the concrete floor.

When it rains, water begins to collect from the foundation drains and is pushed through a pipe in the basement wall. Most sump pumps turn on automatically once the water rises through a float activator or a pressure sensor. The pipe system should direct water away from the house, and expel it onto the ground surface at a safe distance. 

The water should not be going directly onto the street or into the sanitary sewer system. Should the sump pump fail to work, there is also an option for you to manually activate the pump. Without a sump pump, groundwater can quickly collect in your foundation and possibly flood the basement.

The 2 categories of Sump Pumps

  1. Submersible Pump
  2. Pedestal Pump

A submersible pump is inside of the sump pit and hidden from view. It runs quietly but will wear out faster as they are under water. They last anywhere from five to fifteen years depending on the amount of routine maintenance you perform.

Pedestal pumps are cheaper and do not sit under water. They can last up to twenty-five years with good quality maintenance and care. Unfortunately, it is considerably loud in comparison to the submersible. You’ll be able to hear when it is in the process of discharging water. For anyone who is working or sleeping near the basement, this can be quite a bother.

Types of Sump Pumps

There are 3 types of sump pumps available to consider:

  1. Battery Backup Sump Pumps
  2. Combination Sump Pumps
  3. Sewage Pumps

People often overlook Sump pumps in everyday households. However, If your sump pump fails during a natural emergency (Eg. downpour of rain, float switches) your basement can flood causing immense damage to your house and appliances, all while creating a giant mess for you to clean up afterwards.

Learning how to get and what is the right sump pump for your home is integral to protecting your home in case of emergency.

Battery backup Sump Pumps

Battery backup pumps give you added safety in case the main power source goes out. As sump pumps are electric-powered, they can become useless during a power outage, which is actually when you need them most. Having a battery backup is a great plan B option.

Battery backups have many uses for other emergency situations apart from power outages. They are put to work if and when the main pump stops working or can’t keep up with the electrical power supply needed. This can happen more frequently during natural events such as heavy rain storms. In the event of a blackout, the battery on the backup unit will step in, supplying the pump with extra power so it continues working, even though there is less electric power coming from the electricity source.

Battery backups are also generally easy to install and are low maintenance only needing a checkup every few months. Having a backup available is always recommended to prevent basement flooding in case of blackouts and unexpected electricity shortages. You can have an additional power source connected or choose to get an auxiliary pump.

As technology advances, some of the newer models of sump pumps can alert you in case of an emergency or if there is a failure within the system of the pump so you can solve the issue quickly instead of seeing it fail during a time of need. 

Combination Sump Pumps

Combination sump pumps are exactly what it sounds like; a blend of a primary sump pump and a battery backup all in one! For example, anyone who’s ever had to deal with the result of a flooded basement, knows exactly how tiring and hopeless the cleanup process can be.

With a combination sump pump, protection is there under normal circumstances and in power outages as well. It being combination is an added measure to ensure that your house does not flood. It includes dual float switches for added protection. 

The sump pump runs on your houses AC wall current normally, without depleting the battery backup. However, in times of emergency if the AC current fails, the battery will kick in and power the sump pump. The backup pump will also turn on in the event the primary pump cannot keep up with the water as it enters the basin. 

Combination sump pumps are second only to flood insurance. It is an excellent machine to rely on during natural forces like heavy rain fall. Not only is it easy installation but also very user friendly. 

Sewage Pumps

Sewage pumps aren’t like traditional sump pumps. They are primarily designed to pump sewage waste and other debris from your home to your septic tank system which is responsible for carrying out domestic wastewater for treatment.

Sewage pumps can process solids up to 2″, which is one of the biggest differences between them and regular sump pumps. Once installed, sewage pumps run automatically. Installation can either be in the septic tank itself, or in a separate pump chamber.

Power Supplies

Another important point is the sump pump’s power supply. The fact that sump pumps rely on electricity to operate does make them vulnerable in the event of a power outage. Fortunately, there are backup options available. For some people, at least those on municipal water systems — and assuming the city water system is still functional — water-powered sump pumps that don’t need any electricity are an option. These pumps literally use the pressure of flowing water to pump water out of the sump. The downside to this design is that the pumping process uses virtually the same amount of city water as the quantity of water it pumps out. So, while water-powered pumps aren’t necessarily a good choice for a main pump, they offer a viable option for a short duration backup pump.

Pump Selection

Some things you should consider when selecting a pump are:

  • Power 
    • The power of sump pumps can range from anywhere between 1/4 horsepower to 1 horsepower.
  • Head pressure 
    • The hydraulic head pressure of a sump pump can tell you the maximum height that the pump will move water. Eg. A sump pump with a 3.7 m maximum head/shutoff head will raise water up 3.7 m before it completely loses flow. There will also be around a 10% discrepancy accounting for physical limitations of the pipes.
  • Automatic vs. manual operation
    • Control of the pumps is possible with the use of a level switch. Manually operated ones are a little bit cheaper, but automatic ones prove to be far more easy and convenient.
  • Power cord length 
    • If your sump pump is far away from the main power source, it requires you to run the powerful electrical motor a longer distance from the main service panel. This all requires heavier gauge wiring to assure sufficient voltage at the motor for your sump pump to perform well. Keep in mind plugging it into an extension cord is not the best way to do this.
  • Phase and voltage
    • Sump pumps powered from the AC mains are available with single-phase or three-phase induction motors. These motors go for 110–120 volts, . Three-phase power have motors rates 220–240 volts and 460-480 volts but are usually not available in residential locations, used more in industrial applications.
  • Water level sensing switch type
    • Pressure switches are fully closed off, usually inside the pump body, making them immune to impediments or floating debris and solids in the sump basin. Float switches, especially the types attached to the end of a short length of flexible electrical cable, can get tangled, more so if the pump moves a lot in the basin due to torque effects when starting and stopping. Pressure switches are typically factory set and not adjustable. Float switches, however, can be adjusted in place to set the high and low water levels in the sump basin.
  • Backup system and alarm for critical applications
    • Choose the alarm notification and backup system that fits with your personal lifestyle. Eg. Battery, text

How to care for your Sump Pump

Performing sump pump maintenance at least once a year is necessary to check if it’s running correctly. Ideally, early spring is the perfect time to check, this is right before it starts to rain frequently.

To perform the check, you will need to slowly pour buckets of water into your sump pit and wait until the device turns on. Once it turns on, wait for all the water to pump out. If the water is not properly drained or fails to turn on, you should call us to inspect and repair or replace the machine.

Additional maintenance tips include:

  • Clearing debris from intake screen
    • Make sure the vent hole in the discharge pipe is clear as well.
  • Taking out visible debris from sump pit
    • Physically remove a submersible pump from the pit and clean the grate on the bottom. The sucking action of the pump can pull small stones into the grate, blocking the inlet or damaging the pump over time.
  • Making sure it’s plugged in and the cord is intact
    • Make sure the pump is plugs in to a working ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet and the cord is in good shape. In damp areas, GFCI ­breakers may trip, shutting off the sump pump or causing it to short circuit. Check in on your sump pump periodically so you can reset the GFCI if necessary.
  • Properly positioning the pump if it has fallen or leaning to one side
    • Ensure the pump itself is standing upright. Vibrations during operation can cause it to fall or tilt onto one side. This can jam the float arm so it can’t activate the pump.
  • Periodically pour a bucket of water into the pit
    • To make sure the pump starts automatically and the water drains quickly once the pump is on. If the pump doesn’t start, have it serviced
  • Ensure the outlet pipes are tightly joined together
    • Draining out at least 6 meters away from your foundation is also good. 
  • Testing  the backup battery and having good backup options
  • Removing obstructions from discharge pipe

How can a professional help?

Aside from installing the sump pump, we can also help you inspect your pump annually. We will:

  • Check to see if pump and switches are running smoothly
  • Clear debris and obstructions
  • Test battery back-up pump
  • Check alarm’s battery
  • Conduct a flood test
  • Check discharge line for clogs

How They are Installed

  • Usually a 2 feet in diameter and 2-3 feet deep hole is dug out in a specific part of the basement authorized by the homeowner.
  • The sump pump pit is installed to collect water either from the ground or perforated pipes connected to it. The lid of the pit is installed flush with the floor.
  • When water is at a specific level in the pit, the sump pump will discharge the water through an ABS pipe that is connected outside.
  • Some sump pumps are battery activated and will continue to work during a blackout.
  • Once sump pump system is installed, all broken concrete around sump pit is re-poured.
  • Annual maintenance is required by the homeowner to make sure sump pump is in working order.
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