Anybody who lives in Chicago and has a basement knows how important it is to have a sump pump. Sump pumps divert ground water away from the home so that it can drain safely without flooding the basement. So here are some important things to know about sump pumps.

It starts with the drain tile and basin

Drain tile is piping that is installed just outside the foundation of the house, below the level of the basement floor. The drain tile pipe is perforated so it can pick up ground water that would otherwise enter the basement. The drain tile empties this water into the sump basin. When the water level in the sump basin rises high enough, it will trigger the water level control switch and turn on the sump pump, removing most of the water from the pump basin. The pump will not completely empty the basin so it is normal to always have some water in the basin.

Primary sump pumps

Primary sump pumps are electrically-operated pumps that are turned on and off by a water level control switch. When the sump pump is activated, it pumps the water from the basin out through a discharge pipe which expels the water either directly or indirectly to the city storm sewer or it splashes the discharge water onto the ground outside the house.

There are a few things you need to remember. First, do not plug a sump pump into an extension cord. And only plug the pump into an outlet with a dedicated circuit. This will minimize the chance of a circuit overload which would kill the power to the pump, resulting in a flooded basement. You can test the operation of the pump by pouring water into the pump basin.

Sump pumps should last between five to seven years.

Back-up pumps

A battery back-up pump system is a must. A back-up pump system consists of a separate sump pump, charger and battery and it shares the pump basin with the primary sump pump. The back-up pump will operate in one of three ways: 1. A loss of power to the house or to the circuit powering the sump pump; 2. A failure of the primary sump pump; 3. Water is entering the pump basin faster than can be removed by the primary pump so the back-up will turn on and also pump.

Just like fire trucks and ambulances, a battery back-up pump system requires preventative maintenance to ensure it will operate when it is needed the most. This maintenance should be performed by a trained professional with the proper equipment to test the draw and load of the battery, power output of the charger and pumping capacity of the pump. Maintenance also requires that the battery be replaced every three or four years depending on the system and type of battery.

Most battery back-up systems have an alarm to alert you of a problem. If the alarm goes off, do not just shut it off and ignore it. It may be annoying, but it means you could have a problem.

Battery back-up systems typically last about 10 years assuming proper battery maintenance.

Water sensors

For the ultimate in safety, you can have a water sensor installed. This water sensor will automatically generate an emergency call to your plumber in case both the primary and battery back-up pumps both fail, and the water in the pit rises beyond a certain level.