Design & DIY

Simple sump pump maintenance that could save your cottage

Sump pump

This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine

Matthew Ackerman, a technician for Pump-Tech Plumbing and Pump Repair in Lockport, Manitoba, prefers submersible pumps over the older pedestal or column style, which has its motor mounted on a shaft. “Basement moisture can get in a pedestal pump’s motor,” he says. Submersibles have a sealed motor, they’re quiet, and the pit can be tightly covered, keeping radon and other soil gases out of the basement. Since sumps are also easy to ignore, add “pump maintenance” to your spring and fall cottage checklists.

A sump pump is “out of sight, out of mind—until it quits,” says Brian Kelly of Kelly’s Pumps in North Bay, Ontario. You can avoid a lot of cursing and cleanup bills by giving your pump a little TLC a couple of times a year.

Start outside at the pump’s discharge. It should direct water at least two metres from the cottage, away from paths that could become slippery and neighbouring structures.

Next, unplug the pump (checking the cord for the gnaw marks of hungry rodents). Whether it’s a pedestal or submersible model, withdraw the pump and inspect the ports or screens where water enters. Brush off debris and flush the ports with clean water. Kelly says it’s not always easy to inspect the impeller, especially on low-end units. But if you can, rinse the area around the impeller. Check that it turns smoothly and isn’t broken or jammed by gravel or debris. On some pumps, the key components—the impeller and the float switch—can be replaced, but cheaper pumps tend to be throwaway.

While the pump is out, grab a wet/dry vac or pail and sponge, and suck or bail any muck from the pit. (And never route laundry wash water into the sump. Detergent and lint will damage the pump—and the lake.)

Finally, reinstall the pump and check its couplings. If there’s no check valve on the discharge pipe, install one—otherwise, water runs back when the pump cycles off, causing premature wear. Ensure the vent hole between the pump outlet and the check valve is clear. If it’s plugged, the resulting airlock will hamper the pump.

With the pump back in its home, dump a pail of water in—it should run smoothly and quietly. Dump another pail, and scamper outside to ensure the water is flowing from the discharge. If you have a battery backup pump (a good idea for cottagers), give it the same once-over, plus a battery test.

A routine checkup may only take 20 minutes, twice a year, but a happy sump pump means a dry basement—and happy cottagers.

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