Pump in basement needs care

April 05, 2009|By Tribune Newspapers

Think of your home's foundation as a cracked concrete cup half-sunk in a mud puddle. Water wants to seep in from the surrounding soil, and the only thing that keeps it at bay is a sump pump hidden in a pit in the basement floor. It's easy to forget and neglect that pump, but you don't want it to fail, especially after a soil-soaking heavy rain or a spring thaw. A few simple precautions, taken every few months and whenever a heavy rain is predicted, can detect a problem before a crisis.

Check the outlet. The pump should be plugged into a ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet, which will cut power to the pump in case of an electrical problem. Check the button on the outlet to make sure it hasn't been tripped. If it has, it may indicate a problem.

Check the pump switch. The pump is in a pit about 2 1/2 to 3 feet deep. When ground water rises in the pit, it triggers a switch that turns the pump on to send the water away. To test the switch, pour a couple of 5-gallon buckets of water into the pit and see if the pump turns on.

Maintain the check valve. Water is sent away through a discharge pipe. In the pipe is a check valve to make sure the water flows only one way. That valve should be replaced every two years or so.

Clear out the pit. Remove any sticks or other debris from the bottom of the pit (use a kitchen strainer with a handle as a scoop). If you are handy, occasionally unplug the pump, disconnect the check valve and lift the pump from the pit. Remove any debris and rinse the pump with water to make sure it's clear. Reinstall it, making sure the connections around the valve are tight. Plug it back in. If you're not handy, get a plumber to do it.

Get a backup. A secondary sump pump, powered by a dry-cell battery, can be placed in the pit so it switches on if water rises above the primary pump's switch.

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