Sump pumps long have been part of the equation that helps to keep basements dry. And the old, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality has ruled the industry for years. From pedestal sump pumps to the switches that turn the pumps on, not much has changed in the sump pit. However, switch technology in submersible pumps that was introduced by Wayne Water Systems in 2006 could be a game-changer.
SWITCH OPENS. Traditionally, submersible sump pumps have two types of switches to activate the pump: tethered and vertical. Now a few models have switches that use an electronic sensor instead of moving parts. When water that’s in the sump pit touches the sensor, the sensor signals the sump pump to start working.
Pentair uses an electronic sensor switch in two models—the Flotec E100ELT and the Simer 3989. Glentronics makes two models that have an electronic sensor switch as an option that costs about $140. At press time, Glentronics plans to have a model that includes an electronic sensor as an option on retail shelves this fall. However, it didn’t disclose any prices. Craftsman tells Consumers Digest that it also was looking into electronic sensor technology for its sump pumps.
Most sump pumps fail because of a problem with the switch, Mike Betker of Pentair contends. When the motor that’s in a sump pump is triggered by a float and the float then gets caught on the side of the sump pit or is obstructed by debris, which can happen during a heavy rainfall, the sump pump will run until either the float is adjusted or the motor burns out. The electronic sensor eliminates that possibility, he says.
Electronic sensor technology also has the capability to connect with a homeowner’s security system to allow the sump pump to alert the owner if problems occur. Pentair’s electronic sensors will alert consumers to damaging high-water situations, but Glentronics’ Ultimate Sensor with Ultimate Controller, which costs around $140, can be added to any sump pump by any manufacturer. This combination has an alarm that also alerts you if the sump pump has run for more than 10 consecutive minutes, if the power has been out and if the sensor isn’t working. It also has adjustable run times to accommodate various sump-pit sizes and to avoid running the pump dry, which can harm the motor. And, it runs a weekly test to make sure that the sump pump is operating correctly.
But electronic sensors apparently aren’t perfect. Linda Kerdolff of Wayne, which has explored this technology, tells Consumers Digest that water has a high content of iron can cause a buildup of film on a sensor, which can “confuse” it into running a sump pump’s motor unnecessarily. This can be remedied if you wipe down the sensor a few times a year, but Kerdolff says her company believes that nobody wants to perform that amount of regular maintenance on a sump pump.
Kerdolff believes electronic sensor technology does have its place. She recommends it in portable utility pumps for crawl spaces, window wells and other problem areas where water might accumulate.
Glentronics and Pentair disagree. They say the sensors that they use on their sump pumps don’t have a problem with gunk buildup, citing their use of stainless steel on the probe of the sensor and other proprietary technology.
Perhaps more important, sump pumps that have electronic sensors are limited to premium models that typically cost around $250. Unfortunately, we don’t expect to see lower prices on electronic-sensor sump pumps until at least 2013.
KEEP ON RUNNING. Another technology that’s working its way into submersible sump pumps is the permanent-split capacitor (PSC) motor.
Sump pumps that have PSC motors use a design that delivers more starting torque to eject water faster and use less electricity than do the shaded-pole motors that are found in most conventional sump pumps, says Dean Kochalka, who is merchandising vice president of plumbing at Lowe’s. “The motor also creates less heat, adding to its life.”