A Primer on Sump Pumps

There is a term that is quickly gaining acceptance in the insurance industry: “water is the new fire”. What that means is that water-related claims are quickly outpacing fire losses in terms of both frequency and severity of loss. We’ve all read the sensational headlines about floods and other extreme weather events. Historically in this part of Ontario, water has only been an issue twice a year.

In the spring, as the winter snow melts off with warmer temperatures and higher rainfall amounts are experienced, it is common to see more water around residences and other buildings. Likewise, in fall, during seasonal rains, the ground becomes saturated again. It was at these times of year that most people dusted off their sump pump sitting on a shelf in the basement and put it into the nearby pit, plugged it in, and left it there for a month or so before removing it again and placing back on the shelf.

Water Is Becoming an Issue Year-round

However, as the result of climate change and urbanization, we’re seeing water becoming an issue throughout the year. Because of the intensification of residential building construction, many municipalities are requiring the installation of a sump pit and pump. In fact, the Ontario Building Code indicates that either sufficient fall be provided and landscaping designed to move water away from a dwelling or that a sump pit/pump is installed.


Most people give very little thought to that sump pump down in the basement. What is it exactly that a sump pump does? Drain pipes installed around the foundation of your home collect water and direct it to a pit, or sump, where a pump pushes the water away from the foundation through a discharge pipe. A float switch turns the sump pump on and off automatically.

Types of Sump Pumps

There are two primary types of sump pumps. The first is called a submersible pump, where the pump motor is down in the sump pit and can be completed submersed in water. The second type is called a column-style or pedestal pump, where the pump motor is above the pit and cannot be covered in water, but has a long sleeve or column which sits in the sump pit. In both cases, the water intake for the pump is at the bottom for maximum water suctioning ability.

Column-style pumps are generally less expensive but also are usually noisier when operating, overheat faster under prolonged use and wear out more quickly than those of the submersible variety. You do get what you pay for. Less expensive pumps generally have lower horsepower and plastic parts. The smaller the pump size, the harder it has to work under heavy load and therefore likely to wear out more quickly.

 Best Practices for Sump Pumps

 AT HTM, we’ve developed a number of best practices around sump pumps, centred on a regular inspection and maintenance routine. We encourage you to test the sump pump twice annually, in advance of the spring and fall seasons. The sump pump motor has bearings inside. These bearings are packed in grease. If those bearings do not move for prolonged periods, the grease can dry out and become hard packed, so that when the sump pump needs to run, it cannot.

There are rubber seals around the housing of the motor. When these seals do not see water, they can become dry/brittle, shrink and crack. Then when the pump attempts to displace water out of the pit after years of disuse, the water will spew out the motor casing and the pump will lose prime. It will be unable to do the job it was designed to do: move water out of your basement. Pouring a few litres of water down into the pit a couple times a year allows water to move through the pump to prevent these failures and also to ensure the pump is operating in good order.

  • Test pumps regularly
  • Keep the sump pit clean & clear
  • Replace the pump periodically
  • Discharge water well away from your home
  • Keep a pump in the pit at all times

If a sump pumps intake port clogs with silt or other debris, pumping action slows or stops. This allows the water level to rise while also stressing the pump motor. Cleaning out the pit and the pump itself once a year minimizes the risk of premature failure. To further help with this, install a cover on the pit so that obstructions cannot enter the pit and block the operation of the float.

The pump should be replaced every 10 years. No one enjoys throwing out a perfectly good pump just because it is of a certain age, so keep the old one as a spare and install a new pump in the pit. Make sure that your sump pump discharges water well away from your home. A good guideline would be 20 feet. If you live in a suburban setting, please be respectful to your neighbours and do not discharge it onto their yard, creating a problem for them while eliminating your own.

It is common to find a sump pump discharging into a septic bed or municipal sewer. In many areas, this is strictly not allowed and where allowed, not advisable. These critical components to the plumbing system in your home can become overwhelmed with the additional water that may render them inoperable. Discharge hose can be trenched and terminated above grade well away from the home.

Discharging Water 

There are two ways of discharging water available for your sump pump. The first is a corrugated, light-gauge plastic and the other is to plumb the pump with rigid ABS drain pipe. With the corrugated hose, there is a possibility of it collapsing under the pressure of the pump and bursting apart at the connections. When this happens, your pump will continue to run and discharge the water from the pump inside the home, making a huge mess. The fittings/connections are temperamental with this type of hose. Rigid ABS pipe is strong and the connections are glued, a preferred option.

sump pump discharge hose kinked

Sometimes the issue isn’t surface water around the foundation, but that the water table has become saturated. Hydraulic pressure under the house increases and the water takes the path of least resistance, which is the hole in your basement floor that extends down to the footings. We’ve often seen water rising under pressure into the sump pit and spilling over into the basement due to this pressure, even in homes that have good drainage and excellent fall away from the house.  

That is why we encourage you to have a pump permanently installed in the pit and under power at all times, on a dedicated plug/circuit. It can’t do its job sitting on a shelf nearby when the basement floods and no one is home to notice. A battery backup power unit, battery backup sump pump, second pump in the pit, water alarm, or a generator can also help to minimize the risk of water issues in your home.

There is no one strategy that can prevent the risk of water damage and the best approach is to be diligent with employing many of the tips provided here. Should you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Loss Prevention Manager, Bryce Clarke.