Spring is here in Chicagoland and as our thoughts turn to sunshine and baseball we also know that the rains will come, heavy rains, basement flooding rains. And nothing can kill those good Spring vibrations quicker than a flooded basement. And if your basement is finished and converted to a rec room or an office or a bedroom then a flooded basement is more than an inconvenience.
If your house was built after 1950 you probably have a sump pump that take the excess water from the rain storm and pumps it out of the sump pit and away from the house. But if that sump motor stops working during a heavy rain then the water will overflow the sump pit and flood the basement. As a home owner you should consider doing an annual inspection of the sump pit and motor.
The modern sump motor is more resistant to rust and corrosion and is now made mostly of plastic and stainless steel. The sump motor is like any other motor, whether it's a lawn mower, a leaf blower, or an automobile, the older it is the more likely it is to breakdown. The estimated lifespan of a sump motor is much debated, ranging from 5 to 15 years, if it is over 10 years have a plumber evaluate it and replace if necessary.
Lou Manfredi, of Mr. Fix-it fame recommends a plumber does an annual check-up on the sump motor. However, you can give it your own spring check-up and the only tools you'll need are a flashlight and a bucket and about 10 minutes. A sump pump is a pretty simple operation. Most sump pumps have a float switch, when the water rises the float activates a switch, the motor turns on, and the pump pulls the water out of the pit and sends it up through the PVC piping.
To inspect the pump:
First, unplug the sump pump (modern electric code calls for a GFCI outlet) from the outlet.
Next remove the sump cover (if your home has a radon mitigation system the sump cover needs to be removed by a professional).
Look into the sump pit. Look to see if there is a little oil slick on the water in the pit. If so the pump is releasing coolant and should be replaced.
Look to see if there is any debris in the pit and if so remove it. Find the water intake on the pump (a round hole with a screen) and remove any debris with your hand. Next examine the float switch and make sure no debris is interfering with the float going up and down.
Plug the sump motor back in, get a bucket of water and slowly poor it in the sump pit. Watch the float rise and the motor activate. The motor should run smoothly, in rhythm, and shouldn't be noisy, or race, or sputter, if so you probably need a replacement. The motor should stop when the water is removed.
Finally, you should have a battery back-up in case of an electrical outage. The batteries come in a variety of strengths and are priced according to the protection they provide. Many people now have a 2nd or back-up pump inserted in the sump pit and if the motor on the 1st quits, the 2nd will kick on saving the basement from flooding.