6 Common Sump Pump Problems

A good sump pump, tied to a properly installed, working foundation drainage system, is a homeowner’s first line of defence against basement flood.

Sump pump failure, on the other hand, is the cause of many basement floods.

Sump pumps are mechanical devices and are therefore prone to malfunction, and they need a source of power to work.

They can also be improperly installed, which can interfere with the way they function, and since there are so many types, brands, models and capacities, it is hard for a homeowner without the proper knowledge to pick the right pump for the job.

Below are the most common types of sump pump failure and what you need to do to prevent them.

1. Overwhelmed Sump Pump

Sump Pump Problems

Sometimes a single sump pump just isn’t enough to handle the job. Sometimes the pump is simply not powerful or reliable enough.

Plastic, cheap sump pumps, for example, often can’t keep up with the high volume of water that pours in, especially during heavy rains. It will burn out or fail to pump water as quickly as needed.

Upgrading your sump pump and adding a battery backup sump pump to the system usually solves this problem. In some rare cases, you might need more than one sump pump and backup system installed in different corners of the basement.

2. Pump Works but There Is No Water Coming into the Pit

This is a classic sign of an improperly installed sump pump. Many contractors install a sump pump in the basement but do not link it to a drainage system.

A sump pump works properly only if there is a drain tile installed externally or internally, along the internal perimeter of the basement. The drain tile collects all the ground water from around the foundation and relies on gravity to channel and discharge it into the sump pump. If the drain tile is clogged, collapsed, nonexistent, or just not installed with the proper pitch, it won’t divert the water to the pit, and the best sump pump in the world will not keep your basement dry.

3. Clogged Sump Pumps and Jammed Switches

Sump Pump Problems

Sump pits that do not have a lid can easily fill with dirt and debris, which can cause a sump pump to clog. Likewise, if you have a sump pump that sits straight against the bottom of a dirty sump pit, its mechanical parts are liable to clog with dirt and debris. If this interferes with the pump’s operation, the system will slow or stop.

This same debris can cause the “float switch,” which causes the pump to turn on and off as the water level in the pit changes, to jam as well.

If this switch becomes jammed, it will stop working entirely or will be stuck in the “on” position, meaning that the sump pump will run non-stop.

4. Frozen or Clogged Discharge Lines

If the discharge lines are frozen or clogged, the system can’t get rid of the water being pumped.

The discharge line needs to be kept clear, and it is a good idea to protect the end of the discharge line with a cover in order to keep debris and small animals from getting into the discharge line.

To deal with frozen discharge lines, an attachment called an IceGuard can be installed at the beginning of the line as it exits the basement. This will keep the water flowing out of the pipe if the line is frozen.

5. Power Lost to the Sump Pump

Sump Pump Power

If the pump stops working, it is a good idea to check if it has power. The sump might be working properly but may have no electricity to power it on. Often the sump is unplugged – accidentally or someone forgot to plug it back in. Check the circuit breaker, which might have been tripped and need to be reset.

There are, of course, cases in which the pump is down because of a power outage. The storms and torrential downpours that have the potential to flood a basement are often the same ones that knock down power lines.

We highly recommend that you have a high-capacity battery operated backup sump pump to keep your basement protected when power is lost for any of the above reasons.

6. Sump Pump Running Non-stop

Sump pumps that run non-stop or way too often, regardless of the weather conditions or season, may be a sign of different problems, all of which need to be addressed immediately, before the overworked pump burns out. Here are the most common causes:

  • Stuck sump pump switch.
    The float switch becomes jammed or, in some cases, the vibrations of the sump pump as it runs cause the switch to lean on the edge of the sump pit or liner, disabling the switch.
  • The sump pump or the sump pit is too small.
    In some cases, the sump pump is just not big enough to handle the job, so it runs continuously to keep up. In other instances, the pump may be powerful enough, but the sump pit is too small and fills up so quickly that it triggers the sump pump to work more often than it should.
  • The check valve is missing or broken.
    Because the sump pump is installed below grade, the discharge line goes upwards until it can exit the basement at some point above grade, when the pipe is then pitched downhill, relying on gravity to discharge the water. The check valve, installed in the discharge line, prevents the water from coming back into the pit before it reaches the point at which it begins to roll downhill. A broken or missing check valve will cause 1/3 to 2/3 of that water to flow right back into the pit, overworking the pump.
  • Continually flooding sump pit.
    In very rare cases, there is just a continuous flow of water into the sump pit due to a high water table or an underground spring. If the water table is too high, raising the sump pit a bit might help. Upgrading the system or adding an extra sump pump in another corner of the basement might help.

If the sump pump is running non-stop under normal conditions, there is a chance that it will fail when you need it most: during a heavy rain. Get a technician to look at it before bad weather strikes because that is when the technicians will most likely be extremely busy, and you might not be able to schedule service until it is too late.

* Adapted from http://www.basementsystems.com

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