A sump pump is one of the most useful pieces of basement plumbing equipment. It ensures that any accumulated water in your home and around its foundation is promptly pumped out to a storm sewer or containment pond, so it does not weaken the foundation, damage your possessions or allow your basement to flood. At least, that's what it should do - if the sump pump is not regularly and properly tested, then you cannot guarantee that it will come through in a pinch.
The good news is that there is a straightforward protocol for testing a sump pump. Here is what you can do:
Start by listening. If there is excessive groundwater around the foundation, the pump should turn itself on, pump out the water and turn itself off again. Next, remove the cover and look inside the sump pit (or crock). If the water level is low, chances are good the pump is working properly. Examine the sump pump for any signs of external damage, as well as any obstructions (like debris) in the surrounding pit. You will also want to see if the outlet pipe that carries water from the pump to outside your home is free of blockage. And the check valve is working properly. This helpful video will show you how to inspect and test a sump pump.
The sump pump should be plugged into a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. This protects it from a potential short while it is submerged. You can also try unplugging it and plugging it back in to see if it turns on immediately. Finally, consider a battery-based backup pump for your sump pump that will operate if your primary sump pump fails, for instance when the electricity goes out.
Fill a five-gallon bucket with water and pour it slowly around the sump pump. The pump should kick on once the water level reaches a predetermined level below the basement floor. If the pump doesn’t turn on, it may be either clogged or damaged, and you should consider calling a licensed plumber for help.
You should inspect and test your sump pump at least once a year. During this process, check to see if there's any mud trapped in it, which could impede water flow. The pump may need to be replaced if it is 10 or more years old, which is the typical lifespan for one of these devices. If your sump pump runs often, consider replacing it every 5-7 years. To learn more about sump pumps, refer to this helpful sump pump infographic.
Sump pumps are typically pretty simple and user-friendly. They are essential in any area with a high water table and will prevent your basement from flooding. All the same, be sure you contact a professional plumber that can help if you run into any trouble. Your local Roto-Rooter plumber has lots of experience with sump pumps and can replace your old pump and even install a battery backup system if needed.