Sump Pump Backup

Can you count on your sump pump?

A sump pump is one of the most important (and most ignored) disaster prevention devices in a home. When this simple system fails, the results can be catastrophic, leading to thousands of dollars in damage, daily disruptions caused by major repair work and higher insurance premiums for years to come. So spending some time and money on avoiding failure makes a lot of sense.
Some homeowners keep a replacement pump on hand in case their pump dies. That's a good idea (home centers often sell out of pumps during storms or floods). But having a replacement handy won't help you if you're on vacation during a power outage or if your pump dies while you're slumbering through a stormy night. That's the beauty of sump pump backup systems: No matter what the reason for the pump failure, a backup system will save the day. In this article we'll show you the options.

What causes primary pumps to fail?

The most common reason for pump failure is a power outage, not some problem with the pump itself. Common events besides power outages can also cut off the supply of electricity. For example, lightning can trip GFCI outlets, or someone can unplug the pump and forget to plug it back in.
Assuming the power stays on, sometimes the pump itself fails. Many inexpensive sump pumps are simply too small to handle the flow from a major downpour or rapid snowmelt. And because inexpensive pumps are built with less durable materials, they lose pumping efficiency. So the pump runs more often and burns out early. Or the motor runs but the pump doesn't eject water.
Float switches are also a frequent cause of pump failure. “Wide angle” tethered float switches, the kind that free-float around the sump basket, are the biggest troublemakers. They swirl around the sump basket, making them far more likely to get trapped against the pump, discharge pipe or power cord. Once trapped, they can't switch on the pump. Inexpensive switches can also simply wear out or cause motor burnout.

Battery backup systems

Manufacturers of battery backup systems usually sell three models: good, better and best, with “best” costing three times as much as “good”. The “best” units come with a larger battery and a more sophisticated battery charger. The larger battery gives you a longer run-time, and the better charger prolongs the life of the battery.
So how long will a battery backup system keep your basement dry? That depends on how much water is entering your sump basket (which determines how often the pump will run). Here's an example: one manufacturer's system comes with a 40-amp/hour battery that's projected to last up to 53 hours (pumping at the rate of 2,300 GPH once every five minutes). But, if you have serious water problems such that the pump runs once a minute, that same battery will last only 12 hours. That's hardly enough battery capacity to get you through an extended power outage. In that case, buy a system with a larger battery, or a system with a charger large enough to keep two batteries fully charged.
If you have minor seepage and rarely experience power outages, you're probably safe buying a less expensive battery backup system. Then again, that savings could cost you big-time if just one 100-year storm knocks out your power and turns a sump trickle into a flood.
    Advantages of battery backup systems
  • Simple installation—connect to existing discharge pipe or run a separate pipe
  • Unlike water-powered systems, battery backup systems work when there's no water supply
  • Disadvantages
  • Battery may run down before power comes back on
  • Battery water levels must be checked every few months
  • Battery terminals must be cleaned twice a year
  • Battery must be replaced every five years (and costs about $100).

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