How to use a Sump Pump

Though they may be perfect in every other aspect, one area in which even best sump pumps fail is in delineating a clear standard operating procedure. Indeed, many people assume that the user would do little more than complete the power connections and leave the rest to the experienced plumber. While of course plumbing professionals can be consulted, the aim of our guides is to provide you with a complete education regarding sump pumps. As can be expected, such an education would be incomplete without a study of how to use a sump pump. For purposes of convenience, we have divided the guide into two parts according to the two types of sump pumps – primary and secondary.

How to use a Sump Pump

How To Use A Primary Sump Pump

Those who have followed our how to install a sump pump guide would know that the ideal positioning of a sump pump is such that it sits at the lowest part of the basement and at the same time, is not too far from a power source. We say power source because while backup sump pumps come with the battery or water-powered mechanisms, primary sump pumps almost always rely on a stable source of electricity.

Once this – and the ability of the sump pump to function properly in the sump –have been checked, it is time to apply the sump pump to actual water drainage. Sump pumps can only work if the water is flowing into the sump. Normally, a trickling and then gurgling sound from the sump is sufficient indication of the sump filling up with water.

As the sump fills up, use a flashlight to peer through the transparent sump cover (if you have a transparent one) to see if rocks and pebbles are floating around in the sump. If there are large pieces of debris floating around, the discharge of the sump pump may find itself jammed, leading to the breakdown of the sump pump and waterlogging.

While it is not advisable to remove the sealed sump cover, in extreme cases you may have to remove the cover and remove some debris from the sump to ensure smooth functioning of the sump pump. Once the influx water levels out you may want to inspect the inlet to avoid the recurrence of such debris flux.

As the water rises, it triggers the float (or alternative water level measurement tool), thereby triggering the sump pump. Most modern sump pumps have a mechanism through which they can modify their pumping speed depending on the speed at which the sump fills up. Hence, while the sump may continue filling up initially, the water level should not rise once the sump pump is functioning properly. If the water level continues to rise, however, the sump pump may be encountering some hindrance (or may be malfunctioning) and you should start the backup sump pump if you have one.

As the sump pump pumps water, note whether it is moving smoothly through the pipes and out of the house. In case it is not (or there is any leakage), you should stop the sump pump for a few minutes by disconnecting the electric power supply. Adjust the pipes and valves. One of the common sump pump issues and solutions revolves around debris getting stuck at the bends of the pipe. Apart from regular checking, this issue can be avoided by adding water to the sump pump such that it pumps water faster and pushes the debris out of the blockade. In a few cases, the PVC pipe may have to be taken apart to remove the debris.

Once the sump, the pump, and the pipes are working well, it is time to observe the rate at which water falls. Note that this rate is proportional to the rate of precipitation, and the power of the sump pump and so will vary from season to season.

Further, as the level falls, it may go beyond the minimal float-activating level and cause the sump pump to shut down for a short while before starting up again. In such circumstances, one must not panic and try to launch the pump artificially by adding additional water or making electrical changes. Once the water level has stopped rising to the float level, the sump pump will shut down and remain dormant thereon.

How To Use A Secondary Sump Pump

Among the worst nightmares for anyone is being stranded in a thunderstorm without electricity. Even if you know how to use a sump pump well, you’ll be left at sea in such situations because no power is available for the pump to run on. Many users, therefore, prefer to install a second, smaller sump pump that uses water or batteries to power itself. This is no place to discuss the primary vs. backup sump pump debate; it should be noted that while water-powered sump pumps often run alongside the primary ones and are activated by water flow like primary sump pumps, battery powered sump pumps are somewhat different.

1. Battery powered sump pumps require that before functioning, the batteries of the backup pump be well charged. If you find yourself in a situation where the batteries of the sump pump are malfunctioning or are not fully charged, you can replace them with other similar charged batteries.

2. Most modern battery powered sump pumps have automatic switches, but unlike other types, these can be controlled to a far greater extent. Indeed, if you so desire, some sump pumps will let you switch off the sump pump without disconnecting the power supply to the batteries. You should stop such functioning if:

  • There are large amounts of debris in the sump.
  • The sump pump speed is erratic.
  • The primary sump pump resumes working, and the two interfere with each other’s work.
  • The sump pump is not discharging water properly
  • The sump pump battery indicators have turned red, and the sump pump is spluttering/odd noises are being heard.

3. Resume the working of the backup sump pump when issues have been satisfactorily solved and the sump pump is working normally again. Sometimes hasty modification can cause the switch float mechanism to suffer, so make sure before resuming pumping that the float is free and is not hindered by any debris.

4. If the backup sump pump has to run for a long time, ensure that there are charged, or semi-charged alternatives around as running on a nearly empty battery can cause the lifespan of the implement to suffer. Change the batteries as soon as the existing one nears the end of its charge cycle.

5. While learning how to use a sump pump, some users tend to leave the battery backup sump pumps on all day. In exceptional circumstances this may be justified, but if say there is a small trickle of water and the sump pump is forced to go through endless on/off cycles to handle it through the night, its viability will be compromised given that a sump pump can only go through a finite number of start/stop cycles.

Further, repeated changes in functional status put greater pressure on the battery, which will heat up and in extreme cases, can be severely damaged as well. Hence, unless necessary, do not use backup sump pumps more than is necessary, while you can keep the primary “on” for its entire lifespan.


As the above study on how to use a sump pump shows, one of the main differences which divide sump pumps from other household appliances is the mostly automatic functioning. However, unless you wish to find yourself doing repeated rounds of the service centers, you may want to learn how to use a sump pump in detail, especially in conditions when one or more factors are causing the sump pump to slow down or not function at all. These tips we suggest here will surely help you obtain maximum value from your sump pump, and also reduce the chances of your or your home circuitry suffering damage due to poor functioning of the sump pumps.

Click to check out our Battery Backup Sump Pump Reviews.



Bill is a DIY plumber, handyman, and homeowner with more than a decade of experience. He has replaced and repaired sump pumps, backup pumps, float switches, check valves, and many other things around his family home. An engineer and tinkerer at heart, he is always looking to see how things work and taking on new home projects that help him grow his skillsets. He is a husband and father of two boys, has a bachelors degree in Computer Engineer and minor in Mathematics and likes to make homebrew beer in his free time.

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