After the torrential rains we had the other night, our phones were ringing off the hook with people telling us their back-up sump pumps were beeping.  So we thought this would be a good time to talk about back-up sump pumps, because we have a feeling it will rain again.

Back-up pumps go off for three reasons:

  1. The primary pump has failed.  You can tell if the primary pump is running by holding onto the discharge pipe connected to the primary pump.  If the pipe is vibrating, it is running.  If it isn’t, it is not, you will need to have the primary pump replaced.  But because you have a back-up, it isn’t an emergency and you can wait until regular business hours.
  2. Loss of power.  If the home’s power goes out, the primary pump won’t run and the back-up takes over.  Most back-up pumps will run continuously for about seven hours but the more likely scenario is that the back-up will run about a third of the time (30 seconds to pump down and another minute to fill back up).  Under these conditions a battery will power the pump for around 20 to 24 hours.
  3. Water is coming into the pump basin faster than the primary pump can remove it.  In this situation the battery back-up pump kicks in to help.  Once the rain has slowed or stopped and the pumps have had a chance to catch up, the back-up will shut off.  If it doesn’t, you will need a service call to find out what is going on.  But again, you can wait until normal business hours.

Some additional notes on back-up pumps:

  1. They require annual preventative maintenance to ensure the system will operate properly.
  2. Batteries need to be replaced every three to five years depending on the type and quality of the battery.
  3. When purchasing a battery back-up, you must match the type of battery to the type of charger.  If you match up the wrong battery and charger, you can damage the battery, charger or both.  Car and marine batteries are not designed for back-up pumps.  Batteries made for back-up pump systems are more expensive than standard car and boat batteries.  But you do not want to skimp on the battery and risk flooding your basement.
  4. There are many different types of back-up pump systems.  While a whole list of features is nice, pumping capacity is the most important.  If the pump only has half the capacity of your regular sump pump, instead of having 12” of water in the basement you may only end up with 6”.  The object, though, is to have NO water in the basement.  The best systems will install for $2,000 to $3,000.  While that may seem like a lot of money, it is nothing compared to the expense you will incur if your basement floods.