Mother Earth News Blogs > Green Homes

Green Homes

Building for the future, today – combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.

Is Your Basement Sump Pump Ready for the Next Storm?

In the Northeast, where I live, many houses have basements and rely on sump pumps to keep the basement dry. The basement sump pump’s job is to pump ground water from a sump pit that extends below the floor. When water reaches a certain level in the sump pit, a float-activated switch turns the sump pump on, and the water is pumped to the exterior.  

I grew up in a house with a basement sump pump and soon learned to appreciate its strengths and limitations as a means of keeping the basement dry. Under normal conditions, the sump pump worked fine and the water stayed below the basement slab floor. But we learned the hard way that sediment and debris could collect in the open sump pit and cause the pump’s intake to clog. So the water level would continue to rise, eventually flooding the basement. Sometimes the pump would burn out from running continuously, adding expense to the aggravation of cleaning up the mess. The other problem we had was an obvious one: A bad storm would knock out our electrical power at the same time it was dumping loads of rain. The sump pump couldn’t operate, so once again the basement would flood.

These memories came back to me recently because of what happened to many houses during Hurricane Sandy. Power lines came down, the water level went up, and plenty of basements flooded. In fact, Sandy identified another problem that can occur with sump pumps. Even in houses that had backup power from generators, quite a few basements flooded because the sump pump got overwhelmed by the volume of water that had to be pumped.

One homeowner I talked to summed up his frustration with a simple statement: “There’s gotta be a better way.”

Basement Systems sump pumpFortunately, there is. To find out more about sump pumps, I turned to a Connecticut-based company (Basement Systems) that has been installing sump pump systems for over 25 years. The owner of the company, Larry Janesky, had encountered all the problems mentioned above, plus a few more. His solution was to design not just a better sump pump, but the best sump pump system that looks and works a lot differently than the standard sump pumps I’m accustomed to seeing.

Not your father’s sump pump. The sump pump systems that are installed by Basement Systems include a perforated plastic sump liner equipped with an airtight lid. Instead of the open sump that’s an eyesore as well as a safety hazard, you get a clean, airtight installation that won’t develop problems with silt or debris. Inside the liner of Janesky’s “TripleSafe” sump pump are not one but three pumps. The primary pump is a heavy-duty, all-purpose pump that can handle moderate to heavy pumping volume. The second pump in the system is more powerful than pump #1. It will come on automatically if pump #1 can’t keep up with the incoming water flow, or if pump #1 shuts down for any reason. Each of these pumps has its own discharge pipe, enabling the system to pump up to 6,200 gallons per hour. That’s enough capacity to handle the high water volume that comes with a severe storm.

The third pump runs on direct current (DC) that’s supplied by one or more backup batteries. Pump #3 will come on automatically if pumping is required during a power outage, moving at least 11,000 gallons of water before the battery needs recharging.

Janesky had more details to share about his TripleSafe system, but you can get those at the Basement Systems website. What I will say is that I heard from homeowners in a beach-side community who ended up with the only dry basement in their neighborhood following Hurricane Sandy. It’s no coincidence that they had two TripleSafe sump pumps in their basement. I sure wish we'd had one of these units in my basement when I was growing up.