Important Pump Accessories

Everything you need to know about pump accessories and how to choose the right ones

What is a float switch? Do I really need a check valve? Why can't I use an extension cord with my pump? - are all common questions that people have when purchasing new pumps or trying to solve problems with their old pump. Many times the term "accessories" makes us think that these items are optional, and this is often the case, but in some circumstances "accessories" are an important factor in making sure your pump is operating at optimum performance. While we are not plumbers or electricians and cannot say with 100% certainty what accessories are appropriate for your situation, we are happy to offer some guidance as to what these items are, how they function, and what you need to consider before purchasing them.

Float Switches & Electronic Pump Controllers

Pumps are generally classified as either automatic or non-automatic. An automatic pump has a built in float switch that will turn on the pump automatically at a fixed water level. After the water is pumped out to a certain water level, the pump will turn itself off. A non-automatic pump has no integral switch, and so would turn on when plugged in, and off when unplugged. Most sump, sewage, and effluent pump applications will require a float switch to ensure that the pump activates when water levels reach a certain height, thus protecting your home from water damage or sewage backup.

A non-automatic pump must be plugged in to operate. Typically, a utility pump, water heater drain pump, or similar style will be non-automatic. However, some sump, sewage, and effluent pumps are sold as non-automatic pumps so that the consumer can choose the type of float switch needed.

There are a few different kinds of float switches - tethered or variable level, vertical or snap-action, and diaphragm pressure activated float switches. Tethered and variable level float switches are usually attached to the top of the pump with small brackets, allowing you to adjust the length of the switch cord and adjust on/off levels as needed. Alternatively, you may also attach them to your discharge pipe. These switches generally take up more space and so are more appropriate for larger diameter, deeper sump pits. Because they aren't locked in place the way a vertical float switch is, they allow the pump to be off longer between cycles. The pump has more time to cool completely, which can sometimes reduce your overall power usage and lengthen the life of your pump.

In contrast, vertical float switches are somewhat locked into place on the side of the pump and diaphragm pressure activated float switches are locked in place on the pump or on the pipe depending on how they are mounted . This makes these types of switches very useful for a narrow or shallow sump pit. Using a diaphragm pressure activated float switch or a vertical, snap-action type switch usually means your pump may run more often, but water levels will remain consistently lower in your sump pit.

Pump float switch installation example

To use a variable level float switch (VLFS), you just attach the float switch to a non-automatic pump and the pump will behave like an automatic pump. However, the VLFS allows you to specify the water level (generally between 6" and 36") that will turn on/off your pump. This is different than the normal automatic pumps that have a preset water level that turns them on and off. Since the VLFS is detachable, the pump can also still be used as a non-automatic pump. Many variable level float switches include a piggyback type plug that makes it very easy for the installer to just plug the pump into the switch and the switch then operates the pump automatically.

Note also, that there are many electronic switch options available. Many homeowners choose electronic switches as they offer an added layer of flood protection, they fit into narrow, limited space sumps, and have no mechanical parts to wear out. Most electronic controllers will turn the pump on and off based on a specific water level that you set, just like a manual float switch, only the sensor hangs or is strapped to a pipe in the sump. However, if the pump malfunctions or something goes wrong, electronic controllers will turn the pump off and sound an alarm to alert you to the problem. When choosing a float switch or electronic pump controller, decide what features you'd like first, then purchase one that will offer you your best solution.

Whatever kind of switch you choose, it must be able to accommodate the electrical voltage and amperage of the pump you want it to operate. Most float switches and electronic switches operate at either 110-120V or 220-240V, and between 10-15 amps. Make sure the voltage and the electrical draw (amperage) of your pump falls within the stated range of the switch you're interested in purchasing.


Check Valves & Backflow Preventers

Check valves are used in many different plumbing applications, but for our purposes here, we're talking about one-way valves that are installed on your pump discharge pipe. As the pump runs, the water goes through the valve and into the discharge pipe that eventually carries it away to wherever it is you're pumping your wastewater. Because a check valve is a one-way valve, it won't allow any excess water in the discharge pipe to fall back into the pump when the pump turns off. This can help extend the life of your pump since it doesn't have to do double-duty by pumping out water it has already pumped out. This is especially true if it keeps the pump from cycling on and off continually, without allowing the pump to rest and cool in between pumping cycles. Most municipalities require check valves for all sump, sewage, and effluent pumps. Combination ball and check valves are definitely a good idea to install so you can isolate the sump pump should you need to replace the pump or examine the sump pit.

Sometimes if you have other systems installed with your pump, like a water-powered backup sump, contamination of potable water is possible and strict health codes require a double check valve or reduced pressure backflow device be installed on your main water supply. These double check valves and reduced pressure backflow devices operate in much the same way as a check valve but with extra added protection to keep any sump water backing into your drinking water. We strongly recommend checking with your local plumbing authorities regarding permits and backflow laws in your area prior to installing or replacing any pump.


Cord Length

One thing to consider that might not seem all that important is cord length. However, using an extension cord with any pump is strongly discouraged - there is simply too much that could go wrong and cause serious or fatal injury to yourself or your loved ones, not to mention diminishing your pump's performance, by using an extension cord. Make sure you're choosing a pump with a cord long enough to reach for your application without either too much or too little slack. Note also that some manufacturers will customize your pump with a different cord length than what the pump normally comes with if this is specially requested prior to ordering. If you see a pump you like on our site, but need a longer cord, please contact us and we will do our best to find you what you need.

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