How old is your sump pump? How long will your sump pump last? What quality of pump do you have?

If you are not sure, you may want to go down in the basement and spend some time getting to know your pump. It is one of those things that people often don’t think about until it stops working. It may be working fine now, but is it ready to handle a “100 year storm” (which we get every 3-4 years)?

You may think, “My plumber (or builder) installed it. They know what they are doing. It should be fine.” Well, “Trust, but verify” is always a good rule of thumb.

Here are some things to look for, and “best quality” recommendations if you are looking to replace it.

Turn on your pump’s switch and let it pump down the water so you can see it.

What kind of housing is the pump made of?

The model on the left (with the float switch removed for demonstration) is made entirely of cast iron, the recommended material. The heat is dissipated to the water and the motor doesn’t overheat (which leads to failure).

The model on the right is made of steel and plastic. If you go to the store and pick up each one, the cast iron is significantly heavier.

What about the switch? You can have the best model in the world, but if it doesn’t turn on you have water in the basement. The two most common types are the tethered float switch and the vertical, mechanical float switch (recommended).

This model has a tethered switch. It floats out to the side as the water level rises. It requires more space to travel and can get hung up on the basin wall. It can also leak and fill with water, preventing it from floating up.


This model has the preferred design: a vertical mechanical float switch. As the water level rises the white float rises and turns on the switch. Make sure the float is solid (not hollow), so it doesn’t leak, and that the arm it is attached to is made of metal.

If it has a screen, is it clogged with mud or pebbles? Look for a model without a screen to avoid having this issue.

As far as the inner workings, it is hard to tell just by looking at it what level of quality it is. Basically, I would recommend a Zoeller pump. Here is a link to two very good videos from a waterproofing company that chooses to use Zoeller pumps. Here is a link to another waterproofing company that has some very good videos on the subject as well.

You should also test your pump if it hasn’t run in a while:

  • Check that the plug is secure in the outlet.
  • Remove the lid and use a flashlight to check for debris or mud (remove).
  • Fill the sump basin with water and let it cycle a few times.
  • Watch the switch to make sure it is moving freely. Listen for quiet operation.
  • Check the outlet pipe to make sure it is clear and directing water away from your home.

Finally, pumps don’t last forever—5-10 years. They can fail suddenly. So if your pump is older—or you have no idea how old it is—it’s a good time to replace it. Let your plumber know what specifications you would like. Or if you do it yourself, take some time to read the fine print. The Gallons Per Minute (or Hour) ratings are for different “head” heights. That is, 10 feet of head means the pump is pushing the water up 10 feet in height , which is common for most basements. But manufacturers will put the GPM at 0 head on the box to make it look better than the competitors. Look for a chart on the side of the box and check the rate for 10 ft of head. This will give an apples to apples comparison.

If your home is in Walworth County, you have to be prepared for severe storms. Make sure your sump pump is ready for the test—before it comes.

Next Time: Sump Pump Backup Systems—Are you prepared, or lucky? And if you have one, are you really protected? Many are not. Find out why.