Reuben Saltzman

Don’t let your basement flood, get a backup sump pump

If your home has an active sump pump, be warned: your sump pump will not last forever. I promise. It probably won’t give you any warning before it fails, either. It’ll be a silent event that happens in the middle of the night during a heavy rainstorm. You’ll know it failed when you awaken to a flooded basement. I recently made an internal training video for my company, and while demonstrating my own sump pump, I discovered it had failed!

I’ve had many neighbors with sump pump problems and I’ve heard from countless home inspection customers who have had problems in the past. Having a flooded basement due to a failed sump pump almost seems like a rite of passage for homeowners, but most would prefer to remain uninitiated. If you’re in that crowd, install a backup system. This is really important stuff, and it’s one of those things that most people don’t think about until it’s too late.

There are two common backup systems: battery and water-powered.

Battery-powered pump

Basement watchdogThe most common type of backup sump pump system is a battery-powered system. This consists of a big heavy battery that’s about the size and shape of a car battery, as well as a backup sump pump that sits in the sump basket a little bit higher than the primary pump. This system will save your basement from flooding if your sump pump fails or your power goes out.

The Basement Watchdog is a brand that makes backup batteries along with a warning system to tell you if the battery has a problem. This is a good feature to have because I find that many backup batteries are dead.

Lowes has a nice video showing the steps needed to install a backup sump pump, which I’ve embedded below. The process is pretty simple, but if you’re not comfortable with any of this stuff, hire a plumber.

Water-powered pump

Another backup option is to install a pump that is powered by the municipal water coming into your home.  The nice thing about hydraulic sump pumps is that you don’t have to worry about keeping a battery charged all the time, and if you have an extended power outage, you won’t have to worry about the pump failing.

The downside to using a hydraulic sump pump is that they use a lot of water and they’re slow. The Basepump and the SumpJet both use 1 gallon of city water to remove 2 gallons of sump basket water. The Burcam Sump Buddy, which I installed at my own house, seems to use a lot more than that. I can’t tell from their technical data exactly how much, however.

If the water at your home is supplied by a well, a hydraulic backup pump wouldn’t be a good choice. A power outage would disable your well pump, and without that these pumps are useless.

Water alarm

No matter what type of system you have installed, backup or not, it’s a good idea to have a high-level water alarm installed in your sump basket. These alarms will sound off if the water level in your sump basket gets too high, and they’re really loud and annoying. Amazon sells them for twelve bucks and they take about 30 seconds to install. If you don’t have a backup system in place, these alarms will at least tell you that you have a problem and you need to jump into action.

16 responses to “Don’t let your basement flood, get a backup sump pump”

  1. Matt
    May 23, 2017, 6:50 am

    I’m not a fan of battery backup pumps. Generally if your power goes out it is because of a storm, during a storm there is generally a lot of rain, so depending on your situation your sump pump could be working a lot right after a storm and the battery pumps might only make it a few hours. A few years ago we had power out for 4 days, the battery pump would have been worthless without a generator. I think the water pump is the way to go assuming you have municipal water supply, I have a Liberty pump:

  2. Reuben Saltzman
    May 23, 2017, 7:00 am

    Hi Matt,

    Thank you for your comments. I’ll add that to this post.

  3. karl
    May 23, 2017, 8:56 am

    Always have redundant backups and a water alarm. As for water powered or battery which might require a generator, pick what you want, but why don’t you already have a generator for backup power? I’ve experienced more power loss in the cities in the last 5 years then growing up out in the country. Friends were without power for over 2 weeks a couple years ago. For the cost of restocking your fridge/freezer you can buy a small generator to run the essentials and charge you phones.

  4. karl
    May 23, 2017, 8:58 am

    Back up generators would be an interesting blog topic! general sizing conversation, dedicated wiring for use or extension cords?

  5. Reuben Saltzman
    May 31, 2017, 1:15 pm

    Hi Karl,

    I don’t have many power outages in my area. The last one probably happened about 6 years ago. If I experienced more of them, I’d consider getting a backup generator.

  6. Matt
    June 1, 2017, 7:48 am

    The problem with just having a generator is if you’re not there when the power goes out. If I’m out of town and we lose power and my food spoils, oh well, but if I’m not there and there’s no one to startup the generator to keep the sump pump going well I have a much bigger problem (potentially). The backup sump pump is the safe bet.

  7. Jon
    May 23, 2017, 2:01 pm

    I suggest people buy a generator. Not too much more than a backup battery system and batteries wear out.

  8. Ric Hallquist
    May 24, 2017, 12:42 am

    The Battery back up will get you time to get your generater set up. It will give You time if you are at work. I hooked my my small generater at 2 am. I was very loud like a jet flying over my house. I have a battery back up with 2 batteries hooked up in series. Good for 24 hours. Ric H

  9. anthony zenzen
    May 31, 2017, 7:29 am


    What made you decide on the Burcam Sump Buddy instead of the other brands you mentioned? I’ve been looking at Basepump and felt like they were “the big man on campus” in water powered pumps. I’m looking for the best for my home in Plymouth and would like your insight. Thank you.


  10. Reuben Saltzman
    May 31, 2017, 1:08 pm

    Great question, very simple answer: Menards had this one in stock. That’s all there was to it. I wanted it done right away. If I were to do it again, I’d probably buy a better pump.

  11. George Benigno
    June 28, 2022, 8:26 am

    I would like your thoughts with the NEC requirement that sump pumps be GFCI protected. I believe if the GFCI receptacle trips how would one know. I do know they sell GFCI receptacles with an audio alarm. Great article but I have to agree with author most don’t know they have a problem until one presents itself.

  12. Reuben Saltzman
    June 28, 2022, 10:29 am

    Hi George,

    We just recorded a podcast this morning with electrical expert Mike Twitty, and I asked him about this specific topic. He said that nuisance tripping from incompatibility with GFCI devices is largely a thing of the past, and shouldn’t be a concern. That podcast will be published on 7/18/22.

  13. George Benigno
    June 28, 2022, 12:11 pm

    Mr Reuben,
    Thank You for the quick response. I agree that gfci trips are few and seldom but my concern is most people don’t ever check their sump pump at all unless. Just as important here in the Midwest most sump pumps are not on their own dedicated circuit. Most that J have seen in homes here in the KC area have the furnace blower fan and even the basement lighting all on a single 15 amp circuit. In fact having moved from Florida to here in 2018 my wife and I purchased a new home which had the unfinished basement just as stated including the one convenience gfci outlet all on a single 15 amp circuit. When I voiced me concern to the builder I was told when your lights go out in the basement you’ll known your sump pump is not working. Am I missing something here?

  14. Reuben Saltzman
    June 28, 2022, 12:55 pm

    Hi George, you’re right, there’s no requirement for a sump pump to have a dedicated circuit. I think this would be a good idea, but there’s currently no requirement for that.

  15. Dale Kopp
    June 29, 2022, 2:19 pm

    Hello Reuben. What are your thoughts on. Zoeller water pressure pump?

  16. Reuben Saltzman
    June 29, 2022, 3:39 pm

    Hi Dale,

    I’ve heard they’re good products, but I’ve never tested one.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Comments on posts over 90 days old are disabled, as of 1/7/14.