Hard-wiring extension cord to sump pump risky
Neighbor gives potentially deadly advice

Wednesday, May 25, 2021

By Bill & Kevin Burnett
Inman News

Q: I have two questions regarding sump pumps. I have a pump in action in the basement of a rental house but have been told that it should have a battery backup, particularly because it is in a rental property. Is this a good idea and how do I set up a backup?

Also, I am installing an automatic sump pump in my backyard and the pump instructions forbid using an extension cord. My neighbor has been using his pump with an extension cord for years and scoffs at the warning. Can I hard-wire a cord directly into the pump? Running a power source directly to the pump will be costly and time consuming.

A: Stop! Danger! Do not, under any circumstances, hard-wire an extension cord into your backyard sump pump.

If you do, and something goes wrong and water causes a short, the best thing that can happen is that the ground fault circuit interrupter is tripped and power is shut down to the pump and everything else that might be on that circuit. Most likely no one will get hurt and no damage will be done.

If you don't have a GFCI on that circuit, the parade of possible horribles is almost endless.

First, you might burn up the pump itself. No big deal, your neighbor says. Worth the risk. Maybe yes, maybe no.

Next, you might fry a wire in the middle of the circuit, shutting down the circuit and, more likely than not, requiring a new circuit to be run. Such a repair would be much more time consuming and costly than properly running power to the pump to begin with. Still worth the risk? We think not.

Last, if you or a family member happens to touch the electrified pump, you'll get one heck of a jolt. It probably won't be fatal, but there are no guarantees.

Properly running power to the pump is not that difficult, or expensive. You can do it yourself.

If you take on this project, our first piece of advice is to get a permit and to have your work inspected. Inspectors can be a wealth of information, and they can guide you through the proper way to do the job.

We've seen three ways to run power from a house to a location away from the house.

The first is overhead, which probably does not apply to your project. Briefly, weatherproof wires from the house electrical system are run through a weatherhead at the house to another weatherhead at the structure and then down into a subpanel.

The next two methods go underground. Probably the toughest thing about getting power from the house to the sump is digging the trench, the depth of which will be governed by your local electrical code.

Some electrical cable is manufactured to be directly buried in the ground. We'd avoid this option. Although it's easier to "direct bury" cable, this type of installation is also more susceptible to damage from garden tools.

The second method, and the one we prefer, is to encase electrical wire in conduit. In your application, the conduit will most likely be plastic pipe (gray PVC). It is available at home centers and is very inexpensive.

PVC conduit sections are tough and are manufactured with a bell-shaped union at one end, allowing sections to be glued together to form a watertight seal. Fittings allowing the pipe to change direction are available and are also glued.

Your sump pump either is equipped with a waterproof fitting for the power supply or the instructions will specify what type of fitting is required.

In any case, although your neighbor may say you are going to unnecessary trouble and expense, it's better to be safe than sorry.

As for your first question, we don't see any reason for a battery backup on the pump in your rental house, unless the home is plagued with regular power failures.


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Copyright 2005 Bill and Kevin Burnett


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