Q: Since the heavy rains, I have had water in my crawlspace. I can't get rid of it. Do I need a sump pump? Is this something I can do myself...

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Q: Since the heavy rains, I have had water in my crawlspace. I can’t get rid of it. Do I need a sump pump? Is this something I can do myself?

A: A sump pump is not necessarily the solution when it comes to water in a basement or crawlspace. Your question about doing it yourself isn’t answered easily, either; I’ll let you be the judge of your own comfort level with installing the pump.

Before running out and buying a sump pump, ask yourself whether the water is a one-time thing or chronic, and check for the following:

• Make sure your drains and downspouts are clear of debris. The downspouts should drain away from the foundation. The slope of the ground also should direct runoff away from the foundation.

• Check for foundation leaks and water-table issues (water entry and stains above or below the plastic). Look for easy-to-patch holes in the foundation, such as where utilities come into the home. It could be that water is coming in through the hole.

If your crawlspace has water coming in due to any of those conditions, a sump pump may not be appropriate. You may need to just pump the area dry one time and eliminate the cause.

A sump pump should be a last resort — when good maintenance, common sense waterproofing methods and gravity drains won’t work. It should not be seen as an inexpensive shortcut. Why? Because a sump pump may give your home a slight stigma when it comes time to sell. Plus, it’s a maintenance item, and it sure won’t work when the power is out and the rain is coming down in sheets. If a sump pump is your sole solution and it fails, a minor inconvenience can turn into a major problem.

If you do decide to go with a sump pump, here’s what you need:

• A grounded electrical outlet close by. You may need to have an electrician add one. The pump should be in the lowest area of the crawlspace, so water can drain from all areas to it. In order to get water to it, you may need to pull the plastic back and dig small trenches, depending on the relative heights. Ideally, the trenches should be filled with round drain rock.

• A bin to set it in, which also has rock around it. The bin will somewhat resemble a plastic 30-gallon garbage can with numerous small holes in the side to allow water to seep in (water enters from the sides, not over the top). Once the bin is set and the rock in place, you can install the pump in the bottom.

• To keep out the grit and grime that will inevitably collect in the bottom of the bin. Some pumps have a built-in shelf, but others will need a concrete block or other item to raise it up off the bottom.

• Adjust the float controlling the motor so that it moves freely and doesn’t bind. An incorrect float height can result in visible water in the crawlspace before the pump activates, or it can cause the pump to quickly burn out. Ideally, a check valve should be installed on the outflow side of the pump to prevent water from running back into the bin after the motor shuts off.

• The water coming out of the pump will need to be piped to an area where it cannot return to the crawlspace. In more than one case, I have seen sump pumps dump into leaking drainage systems right outside the house, so the water was right back inside the crawlspace. Keep the pipes securely fastened as they rise from the pump. Each time the pump kicks on, it will move the pipes quite a bit, tweaking the pump and floats out of kilter.

• After the pump installation is done, you will need to cap the bin to prevent people or animals from crawling or falling in.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. Send home maintenance questions to dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.