Just like the rubber hoses on your washing machine, sump pumps are obviously programmed to fail when you are on vacation.
A home that needs a sump pump can suffer a lot of damage if the sump pump fails to operate when needed.
When do sump pumps fail?
Typically they fail when you need them the most. It will fail (not function) when the power goes out for example. And when does the power go out? When the weather is delivering the conditions that make the sump pump necessary to begin with. Of course seasonal ground water levels can bring the sump pump into action as well.
I finally came across a great example of a good solution to the problem of what to do with sump pump systems when the power goes out or the pump just up and dies—short of installing an automatic generator system.
The back-up system is water-supply driven. How this works is that there is a secondary pump that is powered by the house water supply. While this uses a lot of city water to drive the pump, it will keep your basement from becoming a swimming pool until the power comes back on. This all assumes an adequate supply of water.
The system just sits there doing nothing as long as the electric sump pump is functioning. The float that activates the back-up system is set higher in the sump than the float for the primary sump pump. Water reaching the higher float would be interpreted as failure of the primary pump by the back-up system.
The picture shows what the apparatus looks like. One can see where the water supply goes through the back-flow prevention device and down to the back-up pump. The back-flow device is required to prevent water in the sump from being sucked back into the house and/or city water supply under negative pressure.
Relative to the cost of damage that can be caused by failed sump pumps, the cost of these systems is quite reasonable. You can expect to pay around $150.00 for the water powered sump pump, $100.00 for the back-flow valve, plus the labor and other materials necessary to complete the job.
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle
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WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board