Excessive Flooding and Sump Pump Failures

sump pump water damage

Flooding and Water Damage

With all the flooding in the DC area recently, ServiceMaster teams have been busy responding to water damage emergencies.

One of the most common questions we are asked is about the most common source of water damage that we respond toSump pump failures of one kind or another are responsible for more damage than any other cause, which is ironic because they are the easiest to prevent.  Although far from the minds of most homeowners, the lowly sump pump is often the only thing keeping your basement dry even when it is not raining.  Sump pumps take water from gravel drains under the foundation and from drain tile inside the foundation walls and eject it from the basement.

Common Sump Pump Issues and What To Do

Sump Pump safetyFollowing are a list of common sump pump issues and the best solution for each one.  Remember that whatever the cost to upgrade your sump pump, it is almost certainly less than your insurance deductible and nothing compared to having your basement turned upside down and made unusable by a flood.

Power failure:  Sump pumps should operate on an independent circuit and therefore are not usually subject to tripped breakers.  When storms cause power outages, however, they cannot operate and will allow your basement to flood.  This is by far the most common cause of sump pump related damage.  A generator or battery backup can be used to prevent this.  A backup generator for the house is expensive initially, but will turn on automatically when the power goes off even if no one is home.  They usually run on diesel, propane or natural gas and will keep the pump running, the freezer cold, and the lights on in the house.  This is the best solution, but at $5000+, it is also the most expensive.  The most common solution is to install a battery backup to run when the power is off.  These are simple to install and can be linked to multiple batteries for longer running power.  They should be tested every month to ensure proper operation.  Several popular systems monitor themselves, are fully automatic and will let you know if the battery is getting low.

Sump overwhelmed Pumps that run constantly are indicative of an area that may become flood-prone when bad weather hits, so it is best to be prepared.  In hurricane season and heavy downpours, water may come into the sump well faster than the pump can remove it.  In these locations it is best to install dual pumps, with one located just above the other in the well.  This way the secondary pump is not worked at all unless the primary pump wears out or is unable to cope with the volume of water entering the well.

Sump Pump safety

Sump discharge location:  If water is discharged next to the foundation it will percolate down into the drains and go back into the sump well.  The discharge should be located outside of the house, down slope and at least ten feet from the foundation.  Much like downspout drains the water should be diverted to a runoff area or storm drain if possible.  An ice guard should be used to prevent water from freezing in the pipe during winter.  Never allow your sump pump to be discharged into the septic or sewer system.  A check valve should also be installed on the discharge pipe just up from the pump

Maintenance Issues:   The final cause of water losses relating to sump pumps are small items that are not regularly maintained.

  • The float on the pump should be tested on a regular basis to ensure that it does not fill with water, corrode, or hang up on the pump cord inside the well.
  • Make sure that the outside drains by your doors are kept free of debris and flow freely. Protective mesh guards are available to keep leaves from settling on top of the drain.
  • Be certain that no other appliances are plugged into the sump circuit. It should be completely independent to prevent overloading.  I will always remember the basement that flooded because the homeowner’s son plugged his electric guitar amp into the pump circuit and tripped the breaker, causing the pump to remain off during the next big thunderstorm.  His mother was not happy, and it may be years before his music career advances enough to cover the damages.
  • Test your battery backup system monthly or before big storms. The battery will need to be replaced every few years just like the one in your car, and the battery-operated pump will also need to be checked for proper float operation.
  • Consider purchasing a simple water alarm, which is placed on the floor near the well and will beep like a fire alarm when water contacts it. This is your final warning that there is an issue with the pump and gives you a few minutes to get things working again.
  • Finally, make sure that the sump well has a tight-fitting cover. Small children can fall in and drown, items in the utility room can be knocked into the well and hold the float down, and insects will tend to congregate and breed in this damp, dark area.  A good cover will also help keep radon gas out.

Water Damage Restoration

If sump pump failure or flooding has caused water damage in your home or building, contact ServiceMaster NCR for our water and flood damage restoration services in the Washington, D.C. metro area.  We can be reached online or by phone at (855) 957-6627.

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