One of the most often cited issues in my home inspection reports when inspecting homes in Colorado Springs is the sump pump, and the sump pump well. Given the rain we've had this year it's been particularly important to educate home owners on the purpose and functionality of their sump pumps.
What is a sump pump?
A sump pump is a water pump that is usually installed in the basement of a home. It's usually tucked into a utility closet, in a well several feet below the floor of the basement. It's often accessible by a plastic cover that is easily removed. The tell tale sign that you've found your sump pump well? A long PVC pipe being routed up above ground level.
What is the purpose of a sump pump?
The foundation of your home has a series of drains around the perimeter that facilitate drainage around the outside of your house. These drains help bring the water from the surface of your home down below the foundation, ultimately routed into the sump pit or well. As the water goes into this well, the sump pump has a water level detector that kicks on and pumps the water out of the well, into the pipe, and routes it outside (usually in your side yard or backyard) far away from your foundation.
Why should I check my sump pump?
The last few inspections I've done have had issues with the sump pump system. In one case, the check valve on the pipe leading out from the sump pump was missing entirely - likely never installed. The reason this is an issue is because without the check valve, the pump may kick on, pump gallons of water up the pipes, but then when the pump turns off (having reduce the well water level to the acceptable level), all of the water still in the pipe system will run right back down into the well, starting a vicious cycle that results in your pump running continuously.
When this happens, the pump becomes much more likely to fail. When that happens, look out - before you know it, you're going to be looking at a flooded basement during the next big rainstorm.
What is a check valve?
A check valve is one of the most important, if simplest, parts of the whole system. It prevents water that has been partially pumped up from running right back down into the sump pump well, thereby causing a vicious cycle of the pump always running. It's really easy to check if it's there. And if it is, you just need to verify that the arrows are pointing in the right direction.
What do I do if I think my sump pump is broken?
If you have reason to believe your pump is broken (flooded basement, full pump well, constantly running, etc.), you can call your local plumber or handyman for a fix. The symptoms of the problem should resolve themselves fairly quickly if the fix was performed properly. And if you're buying a home, be sure that your home inspection report includes your sump pump!