Stay safe with proper setup, power source
If you have problems with a wet basement or crawl space, you need to take care of all that water before it has a chance to cause structural damage, mold or any number of other nasty problems. For most situations, the best solution is the installation of a sump pump.
A sump pump is a special type of automatic, float-activated submersible pump, designed for this specific purpose. They are relatively inexpensive and fairly easy for the do-it-yourselfer to install.
Pick the right location
The first consideration for the successful operation of a sump pump is selecting and preparing the right location. Since the purpose of the pump is to remove accumulated water, it makes sense that it should be located at the lowest level of the basement or crawlspace.
This is usually easy to determine, as it's the area where the water naturally accumulates. You can look for either puddles of water or water stains on the dirt, concrete floor or stem walls, or on wood framing members. If none are visible, you may need to lay a level on a long board to check for natural slope, or, in the case of a large basement, even use a tripod-mounted transit or laser level. Either of these instruments can be rented from local rental yards.
Once the low spot has been determined, you need to create a hole for the water to accumulate. This hole -- called, not surprisingly, a sump -- is where the pump will sit. It needs to be large enough and deep enough to accommodate the pump, usually at least 2 feet in diameter and 1 to 2 feet deep. A concrete block or a couple of bricks are typically positioned at the bottom of the hole, which will give the pump a stable surface to rest on.
Provide a power source
The sump pump comes with an attached, grounded cord, and you need to provide an electrical outlet nearby for power. The outlet should be as close to the pump's location as possible, but high enough that it will not be affected by the ground water. All components, including the outlet and any metal electrical boxes or covers, must be properly grounded.
If you intend to use an existing outlet that is farther away from the pump than can be accommodated by the cord, only use an extension cord that is grounded and rated for outdoor use, and make sure it's the proper wire size to handle the amperage of the pump.
Specific extension cord gauges and maximum lengths will be provided in the instructions that accompany the specific pump. Do not use any cord that is not approved by the pump's manufacturer.
If you have any questions or doubts about the how to wire a new outlet or whether an existing outlet is safe for this use, be sure to consult with a qualified electrician.
Discharge and automatic operation
Next, you will need to run a pipe from the pump to a location that's suitable for disposing of the water. Somewhere on the pump will be a threaded outlet, designed for attaching the pipe. PVC is commonly used for this application, since it's inexpensive and easy to work with. However, copper or galvanized pipe is fine as well.
The size of the pipe is governed by the capacity of the pump, as well as the distance the water has to travel to its disposal point. Again, refer to the instructions for specific details.
There are a number of things to evaluate and consider when deciding where to route the discharge from the pump. The disposal site has to be outside of the basement or crawl space, or it obviously defeats the purpose of the pump. It also needs to be far enough away from the wall of the foundation to prevent it from seeping back under the house.
On the other hand, it cannot be located in such a way that the discharge water is directed onto any adjoining property.
For most situations, the best solution is a drywell -- a fairly deep, gravel-filled hole in the ground that will accept the discharge water and filter it safely down into the ground. In some areas, you may also be able to direct the water into a sewer or septic system for disposal. However, before setting up any disposal site for the water coming from your sump pump, you need to check with your city or county building or environmental health department for suggestions and restrictions.
Once the pump is installed in the sump hole and plumbed to the disposal location, it's simply a matter of plugging it in. The float on the side of the pump automatically controls the operation from there. As water accumulates in the sump, the float will rise. When it reaches a pre-set level, it activates the pump motor, which in turn pumps the water out through the discharge pipe. As the water level drops in the sump, the float lowers until it shuts the pump off again.
Very little maintenance is required, but on the other hand, don't forget that the pump is down there. You need to periodically clean debris out of the sump to keep the pump from being clogged, and it's a good idea to fill the sump with water every once in a while and watch that the float turns the pump on and off at the proper water levels. Also, inspect the discharge pipe periodically to be sure that the discharged water is not draining back toward the house or onto an adjacent property.
By Paul Bianchina, Inman News April 2, 2010