will a bilge pump run without water

Will A Bilge Pump Run Without Water: 4 Risks Explained

Last Updated on July 16, 2023

If you have a bilge pump in your basement and there’s little or no water in the sump pit, you may wonder if it’s safe to run the pump without any water.

But, running a bilge pump dry can cause serious damage to the pump and shorten its lifespan. The pump generates friction, which, in turn, produces heat. Without water to cool it down, a pump’s motor and internal components can overheat and cause damage to the impeller and other critical parts. 

Some types of bilge pumps, such as diaphragm pumps, may be able to operate briefly without water, but they can still sustain damage if left to run for extended periods. 

In contrast, other types of bilge pumps, particularly centrifugal pumps, are not designed to operate without water and can seize up, leading to costly repairs.

So, never let your basement bilge pump run without water, regardless of the type of pump. Keep reading to learn why you shouldn’t run your bilge pump dry and what to do to avoid it.

Don’t Run the Bilge Pump Without Water in the Basement Sump Pit: 4 Reasons for Concern

electric bilge

If you’re considering running a bilge pump in your basement’s sump pit, think twice. Here are some sound reasons why it may not be the best of ideas. 

1. Overheating

It is imperative to avoid powering a bilge pump without water in a home basement sump pit setting due to the significant risk of overheating. 

The pump’s motor and internal components require water as a coolant to maintain optimal operating temperatures. When water is not present to cool the pump, the generated friction produces heat that can cause damage to its vital components and lead to potential failure.

The overheating caused by running the bilge pump dry can lead to warping and distortion of internal parts, affecting their ability to function as designed. 

This damage can lead to costly repairs or pump replacement, far outweighing the initial cost savings of not keeping the sump pit filled with water.

2. Damage to the Internal Components

Leaving a bilge pump running dry can also cause damage to its internal components, impacting the pump’s performance and lifespan. The impeller, designed to work optimally underwater, undergoes significant wear and tear when running the pump dry

This damage can lead to decreased pump performance and render the bilge pump inoperable in some cases, leading to costly replacements.

Rubber shaft seals require water for lubrication and cooling. Without the necessary fluid, seals can dry out and become damaged, leading to leaks and decreased pump efficiency. Such leaks can cause significant damage and result in high repair costs.

So, you should never run a bilge pump without water to prevent damage to its internal components and ensure its longevity.

3. Shorter Lifespan

When a bilge pump is run without water, it significantly reduces its lifespan, leading to costly replacements. Overheating and damage to the pump’s internal components cause wear and tear that accelerates aging, ultimately decreasing the pump’s overall performance. 

Since the original cost of acquiring and installing the pump is significant, it is cost-effective to ensure the sump pit continually contains adequate water levels to prevent a shorter lifespan.

4. Seized Pump

Centrifugal bilge pumps are among the bilge pumps that cannot be operated without water. Using such submersible pumps without water, especially for an extended period, causes them to become seized, resulting in costly repairs or replacement. 

Therefore, ensuring that the sump pit is filled with sufficient water maintains the water-to-pump ratio, ensuring the proper functioning of such a centrifugal pump.

What Should You Do to Ensure Your Basement Bilge Pump Doesn’t Run Dry?

float switches

Don’t allow your basement bilge pump to run dry. Follow these quick tips to ensure you stay safe and avoid a shocking surprise.

1. Install an Automatic Bilge Pump

Installing a self-contained bilge pump equipped with an automatic switch is a reliable way to ensure that your pump only operates when necessary. 

Automatic bilge pumps are advantageous because they save you from manually turning them on during heavy rainfall when your sump pit could rapidly fill up with water.

The float switch is an essential component of the automatic bilge pump because it activates the pump when the water level rises above a particular level. 

Conversely, the float switch turns off the pump if the water falls below a specified level. This feature enables your pump to run efficiently and conserves energy.

2. Test the Float Switch Regularly

Testing your bilge pump’s float switch is crucial to ensure it functions correctly. It is essential to perform these tests regularly to ensure that your pump will respond appropriately when it’s needed. 

Conducting a test of your bilge pump float switch is simple. Begin by pouring water into the sump pit until it rises above the switch, and check if the pump turns on.

3. Check the Water Level Before You Turn on the Pump

Checking the water level in your sump pit is important before you turn on your bilge pump, especially if you do not have an automatic pump with a float switch. 

When there is not enough water in the sump pit, turning on the manual bilge pump can cause it to run dry and damage the pump. To avoid this, you should always check the sump pit’s water level before initiating the pump. 

The best way to check the water level is by using a flashlight to look into the pit, or you can also use a dipstick. Simply insert the stick into the pit until it hits the bottom, and then check the water level by observing how far up the stick is wet. 

If the water level is too low, you should wait until more water accumulates before turning on the manual pump.

How long can a bilge pump run dry if I accidentally switch it on?

manual bilge pumps

If a bilge pump is accidentally switched on, it can run dry for a certain period before incurring damage. The amount of time that a bilge pump can run dry operating without water varies depending on the pump’s design and construction.

Generally, if a submersible bilge pump runs dry for less than 45-60 seconds, it should not experience any significant damage. But, if the pump runs dry for an extended period, it can result in several problems.

If you accidentally switch on your bilge pump and notice it is running dry, the best action is to turn it off immediately to prevent further damage. 

Once you’ve turned the pump off, you should check it for any visible signs of damage before switching it on again.

How do I know if my bilge pump is running dry?

To know if your bilge pump is running dry in your basement sump pit, you should pay attention to any loud, high-pitched whining noises that it may emit. 

This sound is caused by the impeller spinning at high speeds without water to lubricate it, hence indicating that your pump is running dry and may be damaged.

Also, you can check the motor for signs of overheating. If the motor is hot to the touch or emits a burning smell, then your pump is most likely running dry, and the motor is overheating due to the lack of water.

Checking the water level in the sump pit is an easy way to determine whether the bilge pump is running dry. If you notice that the water level is below the pump’s intake port, the pump is not receiving enough water and is running dry.

Will a bilge pump consume more power if it runs without water?

A bilge pump can consume more power when it is not running with water. The motor has to work harder to move the water through the system.  This extra work can lead to overheating and potential burnout if the pump isn’t designed to handle running in these conditions.

Keep Your Bilge Pump and Basement Safe with Preventative Measures

Running a bilge pump without water is never recommended. The heat generated by the pump can cause damage to its components, which can ultimately lead to shortened pump life and the need for expensive repairs. 

It is important to take preventative measures such as installing an automatic bilge pump with a float switch to prevent this. 

If your electric bilge pump isn’t automatic, ensure it’s always submerged in water when running. Utilizing these strategies ensures your basement stays dry while your bilge pump functions flawlessly for the long haul.

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