How To: Sump Pumps

Advocate Master Plumbing performs 24 hour emergency sump pump repair and installations. When you have a flooded basement you need fast, professional emergency plumbing services. We only install the most reliable sump pumps sized to your specific home demands. We also provide back up sump pump system installations and repairs.

As a Lee’s Summit plumbing company we prefer to recommend you hire a professional rather than you working on it yourself. As simple as a standard sump pump looks it is easy to mess up. Even the simplest sump pump discharge pipe installation error can flood your home. And with a professional sump pump repair and installation you get a 1 year parts and labor warranty every time. This is in addition to the manufacturers sump pump warranty.

Below you’ll see some basic sump pump repair, service and installation techniques. Feel free to jump ahead by clicking the appropriate link.

Sump pump system parts

The standard sump pump system is made up of a few different parts. It’s important that you know what these sump pump parts are before attempting any DIY sump pump repair. Use this listing of the various parts of a sump pump system as a guide.

Primary sump pump

Your primary sump pump is the main pump that comes on when enough water enters the sump pump pit and activates the sump pump float. This primary sump pump can come in many different forms. The most common form is a submersible sump pump. This means it’s in water all the time. This extends the life of your sump pump motor life by keeping it cool.
Some primary sump pumps have a motor that sits outside the pit. And some don’t have a standard sump pump float. Instead there’s a magnetic switch or hidden float. You’ll sometimes find a separate electrical cord for your sump pump float.

Sump pump pit

The sump pump pit is basically a black plastic basin that sits under the floor of your basement.

Your homes drain tiles, corrugated pipe that surrounds the footings of your homes foundation, discharge into the sump pump pit. It’s important that all groundwater that gets around the footings be redirected into the sump pump pit and then pumped out to your yard. Otherwise, water pressure will build up around your foundation walls and create cracking and settling. The sump pit holds your sump pump and has a lid with the discharge pipe and power cords exiting the pit.

Sump pump check valve

When your sump pump completes a pumping cycle and turns off there’s still water in the

discharge pipe. If that water falls back into the sump pump pit it will make the pump activate more often and make it less efficient. This will also age the sump pump more quickly. For that reason there is a sump pump check valve installed on the discharge pipe. This is usually attached by rubber couplings with adjustable band clamps or just glued on.

Sump pump discharge pipe

The sump pump discharge pipe is the conduit through which the water is pumped. It leaves the pit, travels through the check valve and exits the house. The minimum standard is that the sump pump discharge pipe be at least three feet away from the house. If you choose to bury the sump pump discharge pipe it should be doubled in size to three-inch pipe and be rigid pipe only. The discharge pipe will be buried above the frost line. That means you need a rigid, over-sized sump pump discharge to prevent standing water & ice plugs. If the sump pump discharge freezes completely, at any point, the sump pump could be damaged.

Back up sump pump systems

The two most common types of back up sump pump systems are the battery back up sump pump system and the water powered back up sump pump system. They both act as back up sump pumps. So they should only come on in case of a power failure or sump pump failure.

Battery back up sump pump system

The standard back up sump pump system for the last few decades has been the battery back up

sump pump. It’s a separate pump that sits in the same pit as the primary sump pump. It has its own float that’s usually about 6 inches above the primary sump pump. It’s power source is a large trickle charge sump pump battery that is plugged into the wall. It’s always being charged.
It usually discharges into the same 1-1/2″ plastic sump pump discharge pipe as your primary sump pump. And there are usually some solid state sensors that will mount on top of the sump pump battery case. These back up sump pump systems only come on in the event that your primary sump pump fails or is overpowered by excessive groundwater flow.

Water powered back up sump pump system

The new back up sump pump system to hit the plumbing industry in the last 10 years is water

powered. It creates a siphon action to pull water out of the pit. These are usually all one
piece pumps with their own float and also sit inside the same pit as your primary sump pump. They’ll also discharge into the same sump pump discharge pipe. The advantages of this type of back up sump pump system over the traditional battery back up sump pump system is the upfront cost and no maintenance. Just don’t shut of the water to your house when you go on vacation.

How to service your sump pump

Sump pump service should be a basic yearly home maintenance task. Better to find sump pump problems before it’s needed. It doesn’t take that long and it will save you a lot of money and stress. The best time for servicing your sump pump is before Spring rains.

Tools & materials needed for a sump pump service

The tools & materials needed for a sump pump service aren’t that involved. And since your sump pump service may not involve every step you may not need all of these. You’re going to need a pair of disposable rubber gloves, a flat head screwdriver, a saw or reciprocating saw, a utility knife, a bucket, some rags and possibly some clear silicone caulk.

    1. Unplug your sump pump. Unplug your back up sump pump system if it uses electricity. This will usually involve silencing the back up sump pump system alarm as well. Follow the instructions on the back up system.
    2. Using your utility knife, cut away any sealant around the sump pump pit lid. This is common due to radon systems.
    3. Remove your sump lid and set it aside.
    4. Check the water level in the pit. There may be none or there may be a little. Either is normal. But the sump pump should never be completely submerged. This would indicate the need for a sump pump repair or sump pump installation.
    5. Using your saw trim any water or drain pipes inside the sump pit so they’re close to flush to the inside of the pit.
    6. Inspect the electrical cord. Be sure it can’t hang up the sump pump float. I prefer to coil the sump pump electrical cord around the discharge pipe to take up any slack.
    7. While wearing your gloves clean out any debris from the bottom and sides of the sump pump pit and put it in your bucket. The pit is plastic. You should see black plastic at the bottom. Rocks and dirt is common. So is construction garbage. Be careful.
    8. Using your screwdriver tighten any bands around rubber transition couplings. These will sometimes loosen and come apart.
    9. Inspect the sump pump discharge pipe from the threaded connection on the pump to outside your home. You’re looking for cracks, leaks or anything out of the ordinary. I will gently wiggle the pipe to check it hasn’t broken or come loose at a glue joint.
    10. Plug the sump pump back into its electrical outlet.
    11. Empty your bucket and fill it with water. Drop the water in the sump pump pit. Do this enough times to activate the pump & watch it work.
    12. Inspect the discharge outside your home. Be sure it’s flowing away from your home and not back toward it. If it’s flowing back toward it you’ll need to either extend it further away, at least 3 feet from your foundation, or add dirt around your foundation.
    13. Reinstall your sump pump lid. Silicone as needed.


How to service your battery back up sump pump system

A battery back up sump pump system does need to be serviced. This is something a homeowner can do with limited technical skills. We’ll assume you’ve followed the above instruction already. This will simplify the battery back up sump pump system service significantly. You shouldn’t need any tools for a standard battery back up sump pump system maintenance.

    1. The battery in your back up sump pump system may be sealed or may need to have deionized water added every 6 months. It’ll depend on your style of battery.
    2. After adding deionized water to the battery you’ll want to check the electronics for any error lights. This will tell you if there are any repairs necessary. If so proceed accordingly.
    3. Inspect the battery terminals for debris. Clean as needed.
    4. Check that the battery terminal wing nuts are tight.
    5. Check all wires leading to and from the battery back up sump pump system are securely attached and not kinked.
    6. Check the plug is securely in its place.
    7. Unplug your primary pump.
    8. Fill the pit with water until the back up system is activated. Watch it run.
    9. Silence the alarm. It’s just letting you know that your back up sump pump was activated.
    10. Plug your primary sump pump back in and you’re done.



How to service your water powered back up sump pump system

A water powered back up sump pump system is much simpler. The manufacturers will recommend you pull up on the float on occasion to keep the seals from sticking. Otherwise, you might consider
extending your primary sump pump maintenance by unplugging your primary sump pump before filling the pit for a test. Fill the pit enough to activate the water powered back up sump pump system. Then plug-in your primary sump pump and let it pump out the rest of the water.

DIY sump pump replacement

Before considering a DIY sump pump replacement be sure you’re up for it. Usually a sump pump failure occurs when it’s raining. That means you’ll be working blind with your hands under water in the sump pit and you’re on the clock. The water is rising or already flooding your basement. These situations call for a professional sump pump installation.

If you’re being proactive and the sump pump replacement is being done on a sunny day then read ahead. For this job you’ll need a bucket, some disposable gloves, a 5/16th nut driver, a pair of long-handled pliers or pipe wrench, a plastic PVC saw, Teflon tape a drop cloth and some rags.

    1. Unplug the electrical cord.
    2. With your 5/16th nut driver loosen the band around the bottom of the check valve.
    3. Wiggle the sump pump discharge pipe out of the rubber boot.
    4. Pull the failed sump pump out of the pit. Let it drain into the sump pump pit before setting it on the floor in front of you.
    5. Using your pliers or pipe wrench unscrew the pipe from the damaged sump pump.
    6. Set aside the discharge pipe and put the new sump pump next to the failed sump pump.
    7. Measure from the ground up to the threads of the sump pump discharge connection on both pumps. You want to determine whether some of the discharge pipe needs to be trimmed to fit the new pump. Otherwise, when you reinstall the new sump pump the discharge pipe will be too long to fit back under the check valve.
    8. Cut the plastic discharge pipe with your PVC saw if needed.
    9. Wrap the discharge pipe male adapter threads with Teflon tap three times.
    10. Thread the discharge pipe into your new sump pump.
    11. Inspect the pit for debris. See the section regarding sump pump pit maintenance if it’s required.
    12. Set your new sump pump back into the sump pit.
    13. Gently reinstall the plastic discharge pipe into the rubber coupling of the check valve and tighten the band clamp.
    14. Take the slack out of the electrical cord and wrap it a few times around the discharge pipe. This will keep the cord from tangling with the check valve.
    15. Plug in your new sump pump and check for leaks.
    16. Inspect the installation. Be sure the sump pump float isn’t too close to the sides of the sump pit. Be sure all band clamps are tight. Check for any discharge pipe leaks.
    17. Reinstall the lid. Set the old pump in your bucket. Wipe up around your work space with your towels.
    18. Inspect the exterior discharge. Be sure no pipes have come apart and that the discharge water is flowing away from your house. Any pooling or flowing back toward the house will need to be addressed.

DIY sump pump repairs

If your finished basement is flooding because your sump pump is not working call us. This isn’t
the time to risk thousands of dollars in flood damage to save a few bucks. But if you’re being proactive with your sump pump repairs and service then please read on. In this section of our sump pump DIY page you’ll find some of the most common sump pump repairs.

Sump pump won’t come on

If you’re sump pump won’t come on the first thing to do is check inside the pit and see if there is anything stopping the float from activating. Often the sump pump electrical cord will fall on top of the float or the sump pump will vibrate over to the sump pit edge and jam the float against the side. Sometimes just giving the discharge a little wiggle will bring a failing sump pump switch back to life. But this just buys you time. The switch will fail again.

You then will need to check that you have power at the electrical outlet. We tell our customers to plug a lamp or hairdryer into the sump pump electrical outlet to test it. If there’s no power check the electrical breaker.

All sump pumps are supposed to have a dedicated electrical circuit. That means they have a breaker that serves the sump pump electrical outlet only. The outlet or the breaker may have a gfi button that just needs to be rest. If this didn’t fix it, get an extension cord and plug the sump pump into an electrical outlet you know works. This will tell you for sure if the sump pump is the issue or not.

If none of the above helps then call us as quickly as possible. While waiting for your sump pump
service plumber I’d recommend taking the extra step of removing the floor drain cover and the floor drain clean out plug. This will give the water somewhere to go. You may even get a wet vac and do your best to keep up with the flow while you wait for us to arrive.

Sump pump vapor lock

Vapor lock in a sump pump is more common that most people realize. Any pump needs to prime itself. That means it needs to draw water into itself to start the pump-action. If you have an inline check valve like most people you should also have a 3/16th hole drilled into the discharge pipe just below the check valve. This allows trapped air to escape when the pump begins to push water. If the air is trapped it can act like a cushion preventing water to rise.
This is vapor lock. Sump pumps normally come with built-in weep holes for priming. But they often get clogged. For this reason, the sump pump manufacturers recommend the sump pump installers install the additional weep hole.

Sump pump discharge failure

Do you see water just swirling around in the sump pump pit? If so, you’ll need to unplug the
sump pump and run your hand along the discharge pipe. It may have simply come apart at a rubber connection under water. Slip the discharge pipe back into the rubber boot and tighten the band clamp with a screwdriver. Otherwise, you may have a failed check valve or broken discharge pipe.

Jammed sump pump impeller

On occasion a rock or clay can get into the bottom of the sump pump and jam the impeller. This
will cause the sump pump to just hum when activated. If left unchecked it should overheat and shut itself off. To fix this you’ll need to unplug the sump pump and pull out the sump pump debris. Confirm the plastic impeller turns freely and plug it back in.

Frozen sump pump discharge

A sump pump discharge pipe should never be able to freeze. All the discharge on the outside of your home should be empty at all times.

If the portion inside the house is freezing you may need to consider heat tape and insulation
for the plastic discharge pipe. If it’s buried in your yard you may consider installing an air gap before it goes underground between the 1-1/2″ pipe and the 3″ inch pipe. And keep the end of the discharge free of debris.

Battery back up sump pump system battery replacement

Before replacing the battery on your battery back up sump pump system you should test it. You can usually take it to an auto parts store and they’ll test it for free. The batteries normally last between three and five years. Most home stores sell them. Be sure to match up your battery with a similar size and power trickle charge battery.

If you choose the maintenance free sump pump battery then replacement is simple. It involves removing the wing nuts on the terminals and installing the new battery with the corresponding connectors. However, the less expensive standard battery needs an acid pack. This gives the battery an instant charge. You’ll need to purchase that separately. Wearing disposable rubber gloves you snip off the end of the acid pack spout and pour enough in each battery cell to cover the lead. If there’s any left over evenly disperse it between the cells. Be sure that positive and negative match up. But usually the manufacturers make the battery terminals different sizes so you can’t make that mistake. The standard batteries also have a sensor probe sticking inside one of the battery caps. Be sure this is reinserted and coming in contact with the battery acid.

DIY or a professional sump pump repair & installation

Sump pumps look simple. For the most part they are. Because of this it’s simple to ruin your sump pump system and flood your basement. There just isn’t a lot of room for error when performing a sump pump repair or sump pump replacement. Even a simple service or maintenance can cause a sump pump failure. Call Advocate Master Plumbing to get it done right the first time.