What Should You Know When Buying a House with a Sump Pump?

Buying a house is a significant investment. It’s important to understand potential warning signs and the story they tell. One such warning sign is the presence of a sump pump in the home’s basement or crawlspace. It’s not uncommon to see a sump pump in a home and the presence of one is not necessarily a reason to turn tail and run. However, a sump pump can tell a deeper story about the potential waterproofing issues the home faces, how they can be solved, and the financial investment it will take to make it happen.

In this article we’ll dive into what a sump pump is, how to evaluate the condition of a sump pump, and give you a list of questions that you can use to dig deeper into the current state of a home’s waterproofing. Furthermore, we’ll offer some tips and tricks to take care of your home’s sump pump to keep it in perfect running condition when you need it most.   

What is a Sump Pump? A Brief Overview

To understand what a sump pump is it’s important to understand the three major components that allow a sump pump to run efficiently.

The Sump Pump:

The sump pump is the workhorse of any basement waterproofing system. It’s a device made up of the housing, the motor, the impeller, the float switch, and the check valve. These components work together to pump water out of a sump pit and away from a home.

The Sump Pit:

The sump pit is an excavated pit or reservoir located in the lowest part of your basement or crawlspace. The pit is designed to collect excess groundwater until the level rises high enough for the sump pump to be triggered.

The Discharge Line:  

An often overlooked component of your sump pump system is the discharge line and as the name suggests it’s the line that discharges the water out of a home.

What does it mean if the house you’re buying has a sump pump in the basement?

First and foremost, the presence of a sump pump is an indication that the previous owner or builder had at least considered the possibility of water in the basement or crawlspace. There are some common reasons why a homeowner or builder may install a sump pump:

1. Basement Flooding Prevention:

One of the primary reasons homeowners install sump pumps is to prevent basement flooding. If the property is located in an area prone to heavy rains, has a high water table, or experiences groundwater seepage, a sump pump can effectively remove excess water from the basement or crawl space, reducing the risk of flooding and water damage.

2. Water Damage Mitigation:

Even if the property has not experienced flooding in the past, homeowners may opt to install a sump pump as a proactive measure against potential water damage. By collecting and pumping out water that accumulates in the sump pit, the sump pump helps keep the basement or crawl space dry, minimizing the risk of structural damage, mold growth, and other moisture-related issues.

3. Groundwater Control:

Some areas have a naturally high water table, which means the level of groundwater is close to or above the basement floor. In such cases, homeowners may install a sump pump to manage the constant presence of groundwater and prevent it from seeping into the basement. The sump pump effectively lowers the water level, keeping the basement dry and maintaining a stable environment.

4. Home Renovations:

When homeowners plan to finish or remodel their basement, they often install a sump pump as part of the renovation process. This ensures a dry and moisture-free environment for the new living space. Adding a sump pump during renovations allows homeowners to proactively address potential water issues and safeguard their investment.

5. Natural Drainage Issues:

In certain properties, natural drainage patterns may direct water towards the foundation, leading to basement water infiltration. Installing a sump pump helps intercept and redirect this water away from the property, preventing water damage and maintaining a dry basement.

6. Local Building Code Requirements:

In some regions, local building codes or regulations may mandate the installation of a sump pump in certain types of properties or areas with known water-related risks. Compliance with these regulations becomes a primary reason for homeowners to install a sump pump.

Signs of Water Damage and Other Considerations:

If flooding or other water intrusion issues were to blame for the sump pump installation, then it’s important to look for signs of water damage and the possibility of other waterproofing solutions used in the home. By understanding these indicators and considering additional waterproofing measures, you can make an informed decision about the property’s water management capabilities. Here are some key points to consider:

Signs of Water Damage:
  1. Stains or Discoloration: Look for water stains, discoloration, or signs of moisture on walls, floors, or ceilings. These can indicate past or ongoing water intrusion issues.
  2. Musty Odors: Persistent musty smells in the basement may suggest the presence of mold or mildew caused by excessive moisture.
  3. Cracks in Foundation or Walls: Inspect the foundation and walls for cracks or fissures, as these can be pathways for water to enter the basement. Note that not all cracks are related to water damage, but they should be evaluated by professionals.
  4. Efflorescence: Efflorescence appears as a white, powdery substance on surfaces and is caused by salt deposits left behind by evaporating water. It can indicate water seepage through the walls.
  5. Warped or Buckling Materials: Check for any warping, buckling, or damage to materials such as wood, laminate flooring, or drywall. These can be signs of water damage caused by prolonged exposure to moisture.

Additional Waterproofing Systems:
  1. Interior Drainage Systems: In addition to a sump pump, check if the house has an interior drainage system, such as a French drain or perimeter drain. These systems collect and redirect water away from the basement, complementing the sump pump’s functionality.
  2. Backup Sump Pump: Assess if the property has a backup sump pump or battery backup system. These serve as safeguards during power outages or if the primary sump pump malfunctions.
  3. Exterior Drainage Systems: Evaluate the property’s exterior drainage systems, including gutters, downspouts, and grading. Properly functioning gutters and downspouts should direct rainwater away from the foundation, while appropriate grading ensures water flows away from the house.
  4. Drywells: Examine if there is a drywell system incorporated into the property’s water management infrastructure. Drywells serve as underground reservoirs, effectively collecting and dispersing water away from the house, thus providing an additional layer of protection against potential water damage.
  5. Moisture Barriers: Look for the presence of moisture barriers or vapor barriers on walls or floors, which help prevent water vapor from permeating into the basement.

Evaluating the sump pump system:

This step is best left to the professionals, however, there are some easy indicators of a bad pump.

1. Visual inspection of the sump pit and discharge line

The first thing would be to look at the sump pump and discharge line for the following:

  • The sump pump is in a legitimate sump basin container (we often see sump pumps installed in buckets or in a hole in the ground)
  • There’s no gaps between the sump pit and the slab
  • There’s a cover on the sump pit
  • The discharge line is in good condition and takes the shortest path possible to the exterior of the home
  • Once outside, the discharge line leads away from the foundation and is daylighted to prevent blockage
  • The discharge is cored through the home’s foundation (coring through the siding can lead to excessive noise issues and pipe pitch problems) 
  • The discharge line is adequately sized (residential discharge lines are typically 1.5” to 2” in diameter)
  • The sump pump is plugged into a dedicated outlet

2. Check that the pump is still operational

For this step it’s easiest to pour water into the sump pit until the float switch rises high enough to be activated. The pump should turn on and move the water out of the home. If the pump doesn’t turn on or water churns in the pit then that can indicate a multitude of issues. It’s best to call a professional to assess the situation.

3. Check for the presence of iron ochre

Iron ochre is a reddish-brown substance that forms when certain bacteria interact with iron and oxygen in water. This can cause serious damage to your sump pump system over time. Simply look in the sump pit to see if the water has a reddish-brown hue or an iron-colored sludge buildup. If you find that iron ochre is present, special attention should be paid to making sure the pump is running properly. A system that is plagued by iron ochre will also require more frequent maintenance of the system.

Seeking Professional Waterproofing Inspection and Advice

When making a substantial investment such as buying a home it’s important to consult a professional if you feel there is a larger waterproofing issue at hand. Basement waterproofing projects can become costly depending on the scope of the work. Understanding the costs associated in the immediate and in the future can help you make a more informed decision.

When seeking professional waterproofing inspection services there are a few things to look for:

  1. Do they have extensive experience with comprehensive waterproofing inspections?
  2. What do their reviews look like?
  3. Are they offering a free on-site assessment or are they charging?
  4. Do they offer a full inspection or just an assessment of the issue at hand?
  5. How is the turn around time on quotes?

If you’re located in Eastern Massachusetts or Rhode Island Drycrete Waterproofing can help. With decades of experience, we’ve seen everything basement waterproofing has to offer. We offer free on site assessments from seasoned technicians. Get in contact today!

Questions to Ask the Seller or Real Estate Agent when buying a house with a sump pump

When considering a home with a sump pump, it’s essential to gather relevant information from the seller or real estate agent. Here are some key questions to ask:

  1. Age and Maintenance History: Inquire about the sump pump’s age and its maintenance history. Ask if the pump has been regularly inspected, serviced, or if any repairs or replacements have been made.
  2. Previous Water Incidents: Ask if the property has experienced any water-related issues or basement flooding in the past. Inquire about the severity and frequency of such incidents, as well as how the sump pump performed during those times.
  3. Sump Pump Capacity: Determine the sump pump’s capacity in terms of gallons per minute (GPM) or its ability to handle water volume. Ask if the pump is appropriately sized for the property’s needs and if it can adequately manage the potential water influx.
  4. Backup Systems: Inquire about any backup systems or emergency measures in place to ensure the sump pump’s operation during power outages or pump failures. Ask if there is a battery backup, generator, or alternative pump system available to provide redundancy and maintain functionality during critical times.
  5. Warranty and Documentation: Check if there is a warranty available for the sump pump and its components. Inquire about any documentation, manuals, or service records associated with the sump pump, as these can provide valuable insights into its maintenance and upkeep.
  6. Service Provider Contact Information: Ask for contact information or recommendations for any service providers or professionals who have previously inspected or serviced the sump pump.
  7. Additional Water Management Measures: Inquire if there are any other water management measures in place, such as exterior drainage systems, interior drainage systems (French drain), or waterproofing techniques applied to the foundation walls.

DIY Maintenance Tips for Sump Pumps

While professional inspection and maintenance are essential, there are also some steps you can take to maintain your sump pump system. Here are a few do-it-yourself maintenance tips:

  1. Regular Cleaning: Clean the sump pit by removing any debris or sediment that may accumulate. This prevents clogs and ensures smooth pump operation.
  2. Check the Float Switch: Periodically test the float switch to ensure it moves freely and triggers the pump when the water level rises. This helps verify that the pump is functioning properly.
  3. Test the Pump: Conduct routine tests of the sump pump by pouring water into the pit to check if the pump activates and effectively removes the water. This helps confirm that the pump is in good working order.
  4. Backup Power Source: Consider installing a battery backup system or a generator to ensure the sump pump operates during power outages. This provides an extra layer of protection against flooding.

In Conclusion: Buying a House with a Sump Pump

If you’re buying a home and find that there is a sump pump in the basement or crawlspace don’t panic. Its presence is only an indicator that further inquiry is required. With this guide you are well prepared to assess the situation, ask the right questions, and hire the right professionals. If you’re located in Eastern Massachusetts or Rhode Island give Drycrete Waterproofing a call! We offer free on site assessments and waterproofing inspections.