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On sump pumps, flooding, and home insurance

With climate change, we have to prepare for unpredictable weather and the risks it brings to our homes.  In 2019, Statistics Canada used satellite imaging to view flooding areas across the country. They found about 17,500 dwellings either affected or at risk of flooding. Snowmelt and rain are the cause of most floods and the resulting turmoil. What steps can you take to mitigate the risk of flood damage to your home?

What is a sump pump?

Sumps are spaces designed to collect liquid; in houses, they are pits dug in the basement that will collect rain and flood water. A sump pump is a pump that prevents water from damaging your house by flood. Without a sump pump, the accumulation of water can lead to damage, mold, and mildew growth.

Sumps are generally 2 feet deep and 18 inches wide. They have a gravel base, and are dug into the deepest part of your basement. The pump itself is typically equipped with a check valve, which prevents back-flow of the water back into the pit causing the sump pump to work harder.


How does a sump pump work?

When the water in the sump reaches a certain level, a pressure sensor or float activator will trigger, in turn activating the pump, emptying the pit of water. Think of the water tank in your toilet, if you pop open the tank, you can watch it stop filling up once the float reaches the fill line. A sump pump operates in a similar way to your flushing again right after the float hits that fill line.

The motor of a sump pump is powered by electricity, so they need to be plugged into a standard outlet. For building code, it’s essential the pump has a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)  on the outlet. A GFCI helps prevent electrocution – water and electricity don’t mix. Additionally, most sump pumps come equipped with battery back up, essential if the flooding you’re experiencing has also taken the power out.  You wouldn’t want your sump pump to fail you when you need it the most!

A sump pump once activated will pump the water to the discharge pipe leading to the outside of your house. 

How do I know if I need a sump pump?

Unfortunately, one way to tell that you need a sump pump is by having your basement flood – the very thing you hope to avoid.  That said, there are indicators that you can keep an eye out for to tell if you should install a pump.

A simple test to determine if moisture is getting into your home is to tape a square piece of paper onto a surface in your basement where you suspect moisture might be entering.  Leave it in place for a few days, then examine it. If it’s wet, then understand there is moisture coming in.

If you live in an area that sees a lot of rainfall or snow accumulation, chances are pretty good you require a sump pump.  When groundwater accumulates, it has to go somewhere, and it can force its way into your residence’s basement. Keep in mind that water accumulates in low-lying areas. You may feel safe if you’re in a city, but if your home is at the bottom of a hill, in a valley, or near a ravine or any body of water, you’re at risk. So if you live in such a zone, you would be well served by installing a sump pump.

If any of the above apply to you, you should consider installing a sump pump. In high-risk areas, you might consider having two sump pumps to help reduce the risk of flooding. Be proactive in installing a pump – it’s not worth waiting for your basement to flood.

What size sump pump should I get?

Trying to assess the size of pump that you require isn’t as difficult as you might think. If you already have a sump pit, you could perform the following test to determine what capacity pump you require:

  1. When there’s a lot of rain coming down, if you already have a pump, run it until it reaches the shut off level, then turn the pump off.
  2. Wait for a minute, then measure how much the water level has risen in that minute.
  3. Multiply the amount the water level rose by 60 to determine how much it would rise in an hour.  Standard sumps are 18 inches in diameter, so every inch the water level rises is equal to about 3.78 litres (or one gallon).
  4. Multiply the total of how much water will fall in an hour by 1.5 to give yourself a safety margin.  The number you get will tell you the approximate pumping capacity you would require.

EXAMPLE: The water level rises 15 inches (15 gallons) in one minute. In 60 minutes, the water would equal 900 gallons.  Multiply this by a safety factor of 1.5, and you would need a pumping capacity of 1350 gallons per hour to ensure no water enters into your basement.

If you don’t have a sump already, and want to determine what your sump pump needs would be, speak to a sump pump installation company in your area to find out what the most common size is. It could also be beneficial to speak to your neighbours to find out what size pump they have to help determine your needs.

How long does it take to install a sump pump?

If you don’t have a sump pump, the process can be time consuming. The process involves a lot of measuring, digging, connecting, and finishing. Installing a sump in a concrete, or unfinished floor is faster. If you have a finished floor – tiling, carpet, or laminate, it will take longer due to not wanting to ruin the existing floor. On average, it takes about 8-10 hours (1 day) to install a new sump pump. Should the pump ever need replacing, it’s much less laborious or destructive and the whole process should take under three hours.

If you don’t have a weeping tile around your home gathering ground water, you’ll need a perimeter drain system which could be 1-2 weeks of digging around your home. The weeping tile collects and pours the water into the sump pump.  

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What is the cost of installing a sump pump?

A new sump pump varies in price, ranging from about $1100-3000, and labour costs can run you between $100-200 per hour.  While there are websites that provide you with DIY instructions on how to install a sump pump, we recommend to have the device installed by a professional. There are a lot of factors that come into play, and you wouldn’t want to find out too late that you installed the system incorrectly.

A weeping tile system will take even longer and cost even more. The digging and removal of soil from around the perimeter of your property is essential. With the soil out of the way, it’s a great idea to add some waterproofing to your foundation. 

The pipe is cheap. The waterproofing is cheap. It’s the labour of moving the earth that will be your biggest cost.  

Are you looking for the best home insurance rate?

In less than 5 minutes, you can compare multiple home insurance quotes from Canada's top providers for free. Comparing rates online could save you hundreds of dollars.

What rebates are available for installing a sump pump?

Because basement flooding is on the rise, many municipalities now offer rebates for the installation of a sump pump.  In Toronto, for instance, there is the Basement Flooding Protection Subsidy Program. This program offers a rebate of up to $3400 per property for the installation of a flood protection device. 

How do I maintain a sump pump?

While sump pumps are generally reliable, you’re still going to want to ensure it’s working properly.  Follow the following steps every few months to make sure yours is operating correctly:

  • Check the electric cord and power source of the pump to make sure all are functioning properly
  • Make sure the pump is standing upright
  • On a dry day, run a test by pouring a bucket of water into the sump and making sure the pump starts automatically
  • Clean the grate at the bottom of the sump – you don’t want gravel and dirt accumulating and blocking the drain
  • Check outlet piping to ensure they’re attached and an appropriate distance from your foundation
  • Make sure your discharge piping is clear of obstruction

If you have any questions or doubts, it could be worth your while to have your sump pump serviced by a technician.

How can a sump pump lower my home insurance?

Installing a sump pump helps protect your home against possible flooding, but it also reduces the risk of a claim. You should be aware that just because you have home insurance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re protected against flooding.  A typical home insurance policy will protect you against burst pipes in your home, but not from overland water or sewer backup. Overland flood insurance is often an add-on to insurance policies, a fact that many people don’t know.

Installing a sump pump demonstrates to insurance companies that you are taking proactive steps to mitigate potential flooding. If you’re looking to see how a sump pump can reduce your home insurance, compare rates offered by different home insurance companies, or contact your insurance broker today.