Sump Pumps & Sanitary Pumps

Electric Water Pump Solid State Home Inspections

In an ideal home pluming system, waste water should be able to flow with gravity safely to the sewer or septic system. However, when waste water in homes is below the level of the municipal or private sewer service, it becomes necessary to mechanically pump the water to higher levels. For home Inspectors, sump pumps and sanitary pumps are of critical importance in a home inspection as failure of these systems can lead to expensive and potentially toxic waste water hazards for the home occupants.

Why Do Homes Need Sump Pumps or Sanitary Pumps?

The obvious reason there are pumps is to help low lying waste water flow away from the home but there are two common circumstances that lead homes to need these water pumps:

  1. Older Homes - Running water has only been common in western homes for about the last 100 years and since its introduction, we have demanded more and more bathrooms and faucets for our water needs. Many older homes that were originally plumbed with running water were built with only one bathroom on the upstairs level and no automatic laundry machines. As home occupants wanted more bathrooms on all levels of the home and washers and dryers, basement bathrooms and laundry were often added later and these homes were not configured for basement drains to sewers. 
  2. Newer Homes - In newer homes built with basement baths and laundry, there are still times when the municipal sewer lines are very shallow in the neighbourhood. The means the sewer connection may be higher than the basement drains and the home needs to have pumps raise water to drain with gravity. 

What is the Difference Between Sump, Sanitary, and Laundry Pumps?

Sump, sanitary, and laundry pumps are designed to raise water to a higher level for safe disposition however there are different materials being pumped from each and different safety issues to consider:

Sump Pump in Basement Solid State Home Inspections

Basement sump pit and pump with piping directing water

  • Sump pumps are typically for 'clean' drain water only. They may collect ground water seepage, water directed from downspouts, water from outside window and door wells, or water from basement floor drains. Sump pumps can pump water to municipal storm sewers or discharge directly onto the property.
  • Sanitary pumps need to manage waste water from basement bathrooms including toilets. As such, they need to be able to handle human waste water. This human waste contains dangerous bacterias and can create sewer gasses which are potentially very dangerous. Sanitary pumps are always enclosed units that need to vent to the exterior of the home to keep gasses contained. Sanitary pumps cannot connect to storm drains, they always need to be connected to sewers.
  • Laundry pumps are less common than sump or sanitary drains as they only serve low lying laundry tubs and washing machines. Sump pumps are not suitable for laundry water as laundry water contains small amounts of lint which could plug a regular sump pump. Sanitary drains can be used but are overkill for just laundry waste water. Laundry pumps are a sort of combination pump which can handle the laundry waste water but are not rated for sanitary use.

Sealed Crocks versus Open Pits

Sump pumps can either be 'open' or 'closed' to the atmosphere while sanitary pumps always need to be closed. Open basement sump pits need to be covered to prevent accidental trip hazards and to reduce the amount of moisture that evaporates into the home. Open pits can also present an opportunity for stale water to grow bacteria and moulds which may impact occupant health. Closed pits present a more visually appealing, and safer system for home occupants.

Sump Pumps

Sump pumps sit in the sump pit and typically use a floater system to determine when water levels have risen high enough for the pump to need to operate. There are different grades of sump pumps available and a plumber can help home occupants determine the flow rate necessary for their home.

Sump pumps are susceptible to two very big concerns for home owners:

  • Sump Pump Failure - If the sump pump fails, water may build up in the sump pit and flood the lower levels of the home. This can cause extensive damages and introduce moulds and rot to the basement structure. Homes that are particularly susceptible to water damage may have spare sump pumps on hand in case of failure.
  • Power Outages - As sump pumps are powered by electricity, an outage in the electrical supply could prevent the pump from ejecting water resulting in a flood. As storms that can take out electricity often bring rain as well, this situation is a concern if the home requires the pumps operating during storms. Battery back up systems and emergency generators can be used to temporarily overcome power outages at sump pumps.

Final Thoughts

Home inspectors are concerned about the safety, adequacy of materials, and correct operation of basement pump systems in a home inspection. Home inspectors should also be advising potential home buyers about the responsibilities of owning a home with sump pumps and pits as there are increased flooding risks.

Sump alarms are available as stand alone devices or tied to monitored home alarm systems which can be an effective solution at helping home occupant monitor the performance of sump systems no matter if they are home or away helping keep the home safe and solid.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.