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How Do You Winterize a Sump Pump?

Tech - by Bryan Veldboom - updated on 1/21/2022

Overhead view of a sump pump

A sump pump protects your basement from flooding by pumping excess water outside of your home. In order to do this reliably, your sump pump requires regular upkeep. Since a sump pump is really only used in emergencies, it’s easy to fall behind on maintaining it. This can be costly, especially during the winter months where it’s possible for your pump’s discharge hose to freeze. Here are some maintenance tips to help keep your sump pump in good working order and ready for whatever winter throws at it.

How Do You Manually Test a Sump Pump?

It’s important to regularly test your sump pump to make sure it’s working properly. Otherwise, it could fail you just when you need it most. Experts recommend testing it every three to four months using the method below.

  1. Check the discharge hose to make sure that it isn’t clogged - Clean out any dirt or debris, then go outside and make sure that the hose is directed away from your house’s foundation.
  2. Gather five gallons of water in a bucket. Remove the sump pump cover and slowly pour the water into the sump pump pit. This will cause the float switch to rise. As you do this, the sump pump should kick in and start pumping out the extra water. When it is through, be sure that the sump pump switches back off again.
  3. If for some reason you can’t pour water into the pump pit, you can manually lift the float and check to make sure that the pump turns on.

How Often Does a Sump Pump Need to Be Cleaned?

In order to keep your sump pump working properly you need to occasionally clean it. Experts recommend cleaning your sump pump at least once a year, although, you may need to do this even more often depending on your needs. Before you begin, you’ll want to have the following supplies on hand:

  • Tarp or plastic sheeting
  • Bucket
  • Garden hose
  • Wet/dry vacuum
  • Putty knife or some other tool for scraping off debris
  • Plastic gloves

How Do You Clean a Sump Pump?

Once you have all of your supplies ready, follow these steps to clean your sump pump.

  1. Disconnect the Sump Pump from All Power - Unplug the sump pump. It’s also a good idea to turn off power from the circuit panel to be absolutely certain that it’s cut off from all power. Do not attempt to clean or remove the sump pump while it is still connected to a power source as this is extremely dangerous.
  2. Disconnect the Sump Pump from the Discharge Hose
  3. Remove the Sump Pump and Take It Outside - Use gloves when removing the pump. Once it is free of the pit, place it on the tarp or plastic sheeting before transporting it outside.
  4. Clean the Pump - Spray the pump with a garden hose, then use the putty knife to scrape off any remaining debris.
  5. Clear the Sump Pump Pit - Use the bucket to scoop out any sludge, debris or other sediment lining the inside of the pit. Do not to use any chemicals to clean your sump pit.
  6. Drain the Check Valve - The check valve prevents water in the discharge hose from traveling back into the pit. If your check valve can be disassembled, do so, allowing any water to drain out of it into the pit. After it has drained, reassemble the check valve.
  7. Remove Any Standing Water from the Pit - Use a wet/dry vacuum to remove any remaining water from the sump pump pit.
  8. Reinstall the Sump Pump & Reconnect It to the Discharge Pipe
  9. Reconnect the Pump to Power - Plug the sump pump back in and turn on the power from the circuit panel.
  10. Test the Sump Pump - After removing and cleaning the pump it’s a good idea to test the sump pump to make sure you’ve reinstalled everything properly.

How Do You Keep a Sump Pump Discharge From Freezing?

One of the biggest problems sump pumps face during winter is a frozen discharge hose. An obstructed discharge hose prevents water from leaving your house, rendering your sump pump useless. The easiest way to avoid this is to remove your discharge hose any time the temperature dips below freezing. If the hose does become clogged with ice, you should unplug the sump pump to prevent it from working while you wait for the hose to thaw. Just be sure to plug the sump pump back again when the obstruction is removed from the hose. You can also pick up a second discharge hose to swap out if the first one becomes frozen.

How Far Out from the House Should the Sump Pump Discharge Be?

You’ll also want to pay attention to where you are placing the end of the sump pump discharge hose that sits outside your home. It’s important to have it positioned far away from your house. Otherwise, any water that’s pumped out can flow right back into your basement. Experts recommend placing it between five and ten feet away from your home’s foundation.

You’ll also want to be sure that the discharge hose isn’t pumping water onto sidewalks or other walkways. This is especially important during the winter months where any water that’s pumped out is likely to freeze, creating slick surfaces that are dangerous for pedestrians and a potential liability for you.

How Do You Maintain a Sump Pump Backup Battery?

Sump pumps run off of your home’s electrical grid, meaning if the power goes out, the sump pump can’t operate. For this reason, many people have a battery-powered backup pump in place. If you have a backup pump, you’ll want to be sure that your batteries are in good working order.

Backup sump pumps typically rely on two different types of batteries, wet cell and AGM batteries. If you use a wet cell battery, you need to periodically top them off with distilled or deionized water. Some backup pumps come with their own fluid sensor that will alert you when the batteries require more water. Regardless of whether your pump alerts you, it’s a good idea to check your battery levels every four to six months to see if they need additional water. If you use an AGM battery for your backup sump pump, you don’t have to worry about this, since AGM batteries don’t need to be topped off.

How Many Years Do Sump Pump Batteries Last?

You also want to keep tabs on your battery to make sure that it’s still functional. A well-maintained battery will typically last between four and five years, although they can die much sooner. Some backup sump pumps have their own monitoring systems, which will sound an alert when it’s time to replace the battery.

If your backup pump doesn’t tell you when it’s time to switch the battery, be sure to test your backup sump pump regularly using the same methods used to test your primary pump. When you do, keep track of how many gallons per minute the backup can usually pump out of your home. Over time, if you notice this number goes down, it’s probably due to a dying battery. If your backup pump hasn’t been used in more than a year, you’ll want to test it as soon as possible to make sure that the battery is still working.

Shop Batteries Plus for Sump Pumps & Batteries

Looking for more information on sump pumps? Find out "Everything You Need to Know About Sump Pumps" in our blog. Then, shop our selection of backup and combination sump pumps from Basement Watchdog. Need a new battery for your backup pump? We carry both wet cell and AGM sump pump batteries.