Consider for a moment the humble sump pump. Sure, they’re not the most attractive electromechanical devices you’ll encounter during the course of a day. But, when someone needs one-really needs one-these warty-looking little units are worth their weight in gold.

The sump pump is a blissfully plain device that simply suctions undesired water or other liquids out of a basement or other pit and moves it up, out and away from a building’s foundation to a suitable location. While many appliances have been developed and refined since the technological boom that began in the post-World War II era, a good sump pump-like a good hamburger-doesn’t need much improvement.

That seems to be the consensus among this month’s participants, Mark Huntebrinker, director of marketing for Zoeller Pump Co., which manufactures the M-53 Automatic Sump Pump and the N-267 Submersible Sewage Pump; Ricky Setticase, product specialist, domestic building services for Grundfos Pump Corp., in Olathe, Kan., manufacturer of the SU25 Economical Sump Pump; and Tony Renfro, vice president of sales and marketing for Blue Angel Pumps in Harrison, Ohio, manufacturer of BSP15 and BSP25 Battery Back-Up Systems.


Reeves Journal: What exactly is a sump pump and how is it used?

Zoeller: It’s a submersible or pedestal pump of lower horsepower that is typically contained in a basin design to pump excess water that enters unwanted areas. In general, submersible means the motor resides under an acceptable level of water in the basin.  Pedestal means the motor resides above an acceptable level of water in the basin. It’s typically used in a residential application, either with new construction or on a replacement basis.

Blue Angel: When water pressure builds up around concrete ceiling and walls, it forms a perimeter. That hydrostatic pressure, from the water pushed up against it, can cause concrete to crack. A sump pump is used to remove surface and groundwater from a basement foundation. The water is pumped up vertically and out.

Grundfos: Sump pumps and utility pumps have several applications. They are found in basements of people’s homes and used to pump water away from the home. I utilized a pump to make a fountain in my backyard by the patio. Both pumps can also be used in elevator pits and for water transfer.


RJ: What recommendations do you have for installation?

Blue Angel: In new construction, the pit is dug when the basement foundation is poured and the pump will be installed in the pit when the plumbing is installed. The water will discharge into a stream or municipal drain, depending on the local codes. For the initial installation, make sure the sump basin is clear of debris. The pump should be on a flat surface. The switch should not be installed directly underneath the inflow of water, which could cause it to stay in the off position. Keep it away from the sides of the pit to prevent switch hang-up. Use the same size PVC pipe as the pump’s threaded discharge, usually 1 ½ inches. That’s a common mistake. Also, use a check valve to prevent water from coming back into the pit.

Zoeller: Properly size the pump for the application, which factors in the vertical lift of the discharge line and the distance the line runs before discharging. Match the width of the discharge line with the width of discharge on the pump. Strongly consider using a battery or water-powered back-up sump pump in case of electrical failure(s). If a check valve is being used we recommend drilling a vent hole to prevent air-locking. A high water alarm system is always recommended on a submersible pumping system.

Grundfos: Make sure the tether, which we recommend on the float switch, is at the proper length for your basin requirement. You want it to come up to a reasonable level in the basin. That affects how often it comes on and off. We also recommend a battery backup or high-level alarm, which we sell, that’s audible when tripped.


RJ: What are some common symptoms of malfunction and how does a user do troubleshooting?

Grundfos: Symptoms would include if the pump doesn’t start, starts and stops too often, won’t stop or if it isn’t delivering water out of the system. If a pump fails, it’s probably clogged by debris. If it doesn’t work, maybe you have a blown fuse. The float could be obstructed. Debris could be blocking the float switch.

Blue Angel: Flooding would signal a malfunction, or if you hear the pump turning on and off too frequently or shutting off. If the pump runs all the time, it could be a worn-out switch. We suggest you install a battery or some other back-up system. Electricity goes out during storms, when flooding occurs. A second pump that runs on a 12-volt battery is installed in the same PVC pipe. At least put in a high-water alarm, which is fairly inexpensive. If the pump is not working, take it out and inspect it for debris. Try turning the pump 90 degrees from the inlet of water, in case water is hitting the switch. If the unit still doesn’t work, it must be replaced.

Zoeller: Cycling-how many times the motor runs in the pump. If it’s cycling with a high frequency in the pump, that’s not a good sign. If the pump comes on but won’t shut off, the float switch is out of adjustment. If the pump is running but not pumping, the pump is probably air locked. Make sure your 3/16” vent hole has been drilled and it is not clogged. If it has not been drilled, disconnect the pump from your power source and drill the hole. If the vent hole solution is not the problem, remove the pump from the pit after disconnecting the power and piping and make sure the impeller rotation is not being restricted.


RJ: What new features have been added to sump pumps over the past few years and what problems are they designed to solve?

Zoeller: We’ve added an electrical cord protector on the cap to alleviate shipping damage to the cord. We’ve also designed an impact-resistant base to assist in shipping.

Blue Angel: We have designed sump pumps to address the two biggest failures in the industry. Switch failure is the big one. We are now putting microprocessors we call “Intelli-Sense” switching in the pump. The electronics measure the difference between air and water. If it senses water, it will tell the pump to turn on. As it’s pumping the water, it calculates how long it needs to run and sets a run time depending on demand. This prevents short cycling and extends the life of the pump. The average pump used to last 150 cycles. The new switch lasts over a million. The second biggest problem is from debris. We’ve designed the suction so water intake is above the floor, which prevents nails and rocks from jamming the pump.

Grundfos: With the sump pump market, homeowners basically want to see something that goes in and works. You don’t need fancy materials of construction. People just want maintenance-free equipment that’s going to cost between $200 and $300, plus installation. For more bang for the buck, there are new sensor floats in the handle of the pump that recognize water level accordingly. For back-up accessories, you can get a double pump at a DIY chain or through professional contractors. A sump pump’s lifespan is 7-10 years, usually maintenance free. Considering the potential damage from flooding and mold, it’s a good investment.


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