When It Rains It Pours
By Steve Vacha
My father was fond of saying that. He usually wasn’t talking about the weather.
Our recent weather does fit this saying. Who can remember rain like we have been having? Homes that have never taken in water have had water in their lower levels this summer.
Basements take in water or even flood due to numerous reasons. A water line can burst, usually it’s a supply line to the washing machine. With normal homeowners insurance, damage from this kind of leak is covered. But, more often it is caused by surface water coming in through the walls, windows or from a malfunctioning sump pit. For insurance companies this is considered flood damage and is not covered. Many unhappy homeowners find this out at an inopportune time.
The humble sump pump is a very important part of a home’s defense against water. The sump pump is located in the sump pit and has a float that activates the pump when the water reaches a certain level in the pit. Water that makes its way to drain tile laid under the basement floor drains into this pit. The pump should be tested periodically to verify it is working.
The electrical code has recently changed and some newer homes are built with GFCI protected outlets for the sump pump motors. I have spoken to two homeowners that had flooded basements this summer, due to GFCI outlets tripping off.
Several weeks ago a homeowner called me about this very situation with his 6 month old house. After this last recent heavy rain storm he found his finished basement carpet soaked with water. When he went to check his sump pit, he found the GFCI has tripped off during the storm and the pump had stopped working. He called his builder and was told the problem was not due to the house, rather the nonfunctioning sump pump, so there was nothing he could do for the homeowner.
The soil around his house became saturated with water, even the soil below his footings. The water then started to percolate up through the small cracks in this basement floor, instead of draining into the drain tile and sump pit. The drain tile was saturated with water and not draining properly because the sump pump was not working. Water will always take the path of least resistance and when the soil is saturated that path is usually into our homes.
As mentioned above, his home insurance did not cover this damage because it is considered flood water. What is a home owner to do?
A simple suggestion is to add a water alarm to the sump pit. If the pump does not operate properly, the alarm will sound to alert the homeowner of the problem.
Another investment I suggest, especially if water actively or often drains to the sump pit, is to add a back-up system. These systems usually include an additional pump in the pit and have backup batteries. This system will keep the pump running even if the power goes off to the house.
Finally, consider speaking with insurance companies about a “sump pump failure policy”, which they have started writing for this very concern. These policies are not that expensive compared to the large investment many people put into their lower levels.
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