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Think carefully about sump pump options

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By James and Morris Carey
Syndicated Columnist
Basements were once dark, dirt-floored places where canned goods were stored. Today, basements are being completely finished and converted into living space.
The challenge with most basements is keeping them dry. No matter what you call the space, if it is below ground it can flood. Watching TV under water is no fun. The solution to keep water from backing up and flooding a basement is to install a sump pump.
Sump pumps run on home power, gas power and battery power.
Electrically powered sump pumps are quiet and efficient and can be backed up with batteries (deep cycle marine batteries), a secondary pump and/or a gas generator. Although a gas generator can be noisy, when a storm is depositing its brew, it simply doesn't matter when you can be confident that your home will not flood.
Question is, do you install a single electric pump or choose a sophisticated system with several backups?
There is an alternative system that we haven't discussed. The water-powered sump pump. Manufactures of water-powered sump pumps say that when the power goes out, or when a float sticks, an electric sump pump could fail.
Yes, we said "water-powered." With a water-powered sump pump, city water is used to create suction in the system that pulls sump water up through a discharge pipe. Both the dirty pumped water and the clean city water (used to operate the pump) are discharged into your yard or street.
A water-powered sump pump system uses city water for power. No electricity, no backup batteries and no gas power.
One would think that a water-powered sump pump is the absolute drainage fix-all. A closer look at the system tells us that a water pump sump uses our drinking water at an interesting rate.
The average water-powered system uses about 1 gallon of tap water -- water you pay for -- for every 3 gallons of dirty sump water pumped.
You're right, there is no perfect solution to any challenge. If water pressure in your home drops, as it often does during a serious emergency, a water-powered pump may not be able to keep up.
A drop in water pressure could also allow dirty water to siphon back into the clean water supply. Some of these back-up pumps do have a built-in check valve that prevents this siphoning from happening.
If you purchase such a system be sure to install a check valve if one isn't supplied with the system.
By the way, if there is a water softener in the home, we suggest running the water-powered sump pump from the hard-water side of the softener. Finally, most water-powered sump pump manufacturers do not recommend using their pumps with a well system.
The choice is yours of course, but we feel that electric power and a deep-cell marine battery backup system is still the No. 1 way to manage basement water.
Keep in mind that dry-cell batteries should not be placed on concrete. Doing so will cause them to discharge. Be sure to place the batteries on a wooden platform or a thick, hard rubber mat.
Every six months or so, turn the fuse off to the system, fill the sump with water and make sure the backup batteries are hot and ready.
For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.
Story tags » Home Improvement

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