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How to Identify and Fix a Sump Pump Not Working

Image of sump pump.

The sump pump is one of the most vital pieces of equipment in a basement. If you have a sump pump, it means that your basement should not be flooded when there is too much rain or during a hurricane or other natural disaster.

No sump pump, and the basement will flood within seconds.

This happens to homeowners all over America every few years because sump pumps just stop working sometimes!

Sump pump systems provide valuable protection against basement flooding. These simple devices stand ready around the clock to remove excess water from your home before damage can occur.

However, even sump pumps require maintenance and repair from time to time—the key to protecting your home is catching your sump pump before it fails to prevent the flooding that could ensue if your sump pump isn’t working properly.

If you spot any strange behaviors while your sump pump runs that cause concern, your best option is to call in your local plumber for prompt sump pump repair, even if your sump pump is still working.

How Do Sump Pumps Work?

A sump pump works by sitting at the lowest point in your home. When water levels rise, water goes into the sump pump pit, or sometimes referred to as a sump basin. Once the level reaches a float switch, the sump pump system start pumping out water from your basement or crawlspace.

A sump pump gets its power from a cord plugged into an outlet on a wall somewhere else in your house. A sump pump can run by cord or battery, but most are electric are powered by a pump motor.

It is the sump pump's job to keep your basement from flooding during a power outage, so that you don't have to fight water coming into your home when there is too much rain. Power outages happen on average of 4 times each year for each household in America. Water damage from flooding is often enough to cause mold and mildew problems plus structural damage to your foundation walls and floors.

What Makes Sump Pumps Stop Working? (And Solutions for Fixing it)

A sump pump stops working for many reasons, and they can range anywhere from kind of serious (a flooded basement) to totally unimportant (the sump pit cover is missing). Here we'll take a look at some of the sump pump problems you might come across, and how to fix them...

Power Failure

A sump pump is only part of what gives you protection against basement flooding. The sump pump is connected (by an electrical cord) to an outlet in your house by another wall. If you lose power, the sump pump will not work because it cannot get power from its cord or battery backup.

Some sump pumps have a low battery indicator light so that you know when the batteries are going dead and need changed out. But if there is no power anywhere, even with brand new batteries the sump pump still won't work!

In this case, one solution would be to install a backup generator in your home that can power sump pumps when there is a power failure. Another option is to install a second sump pump as a backup system. These are typically battery powered and come with an alarm system to notify you when it has been activated.

Wrong Size for Your Basement

You might have noticed that sump pump sizes are measured in "pumps per hour". This refers to how many gallons of water the sump pump can push up and out of your home in one hour.

So if you buy a sump pump rated at 2000 gallons per hour, it means that the sump pump in question can get rid of 2000 gallons in 60 minutes or less. That's about 38 minutes before the sump pit fills up with just the rainwater that fell on 20 x 25 foot area during an inch of rainfall! You would have about inches of water sitting around in your sump pit in less than 60 minutes during an inch of rainfall.

If you have a sump pump that is much too small for your basement, then it will eventually stop working because the sump pit will fill up with water and overflow into your basement. And that's not good!

Incorrect Installation

A sump pump only works if the check valve and discharge pipe (the pipe which allows water to leave the sump pit) points downhill toward the street or yard where the water can drain away from your home.

Improper installation is when it's installed uphill, or pointing at any other wall besides down, then it won't work right when you need it most (during heavy rain). The sump pump might be able to push out some water here and there out the discharge pipes, but not enough to keep your basement from flooding.

If sump pump discharge points UPSTREAM to a window or another wall in your house, then this causes a backflow to happen inside the sump pit whenever the sump pump goes off. This means that water flows BACKWARDS down into your sump pit and fills it back up again! In this case you need to cut the discharge line coming out of sump pump so that it can drain properly away from your home (downhill).

Switch Problems

A sump pump has an On/Off switch that allows you to turn it on or off at will (by flipping the switch). It's possible for the sump pump On/Off switch to fail and keep the sump pump from working properly. If it's a manual switch, then it can't be turned on or off by itself. You have to physically turn it on every time you want the sump pump to work.

The sump pump will not be able to function properly if this happens, because after turning the sump pump on again...you will have to remember to turn it off manually when you don't need it anymore.

If your sump pump has an automatic On/Off switch that stays on all the time (continuously), then this isn't good either because there is always water running through the sump pump instead of just being pumped out when needed! When your sump pump is left stuck in "ON" mode all the time, then this causes sump pump failure over time because it's constantly running without stopping.

Lack of Routine Maintenance

Most sump pumps are submersible sump pumps that are intended to be fully submersed in your sump pit under water at all times. This way they can activate when water levels rise inside the sump pit and start spraying out whatever is left from heavy rains.

But you have to periodically check on your sump pump every year or so, after a heavy rainfall has happened, to make sure that there aren't any clogs in the discharge line where it leaves your sump pit. If a sump pump is only doing 50% of job, then there will not be enough water pressure to pump everything out of your sump pit.

Frozen or Clogged Discharge Lines

Some sump pumps have discharge lines that are not covered with insulation, and these sump pumps can easily get frozen over in the winter time. This of course is more common in homes where temperatures fall during the winter.

Or the sump pump discharge line might be clogged up and backed up with leaves and other debris (leaving only a small trickle coming out). This causes sump pump failure because there's too much restriction in the pipes where the sump pump is located...which means it won't work properly when you need it most. The sump pump becomes weaker and weaker until it finally fails completely (because nothing comes through at all).

Product Defects

Every year sump pump companies come out with new sump pumps and sell them to unsuspecting homeowners who don't know any better. But sump pumps do fail...and some sump pumps fail very, very easily.

If your sump pump is only a few months old then it's probably not defective on its own (although that's possible). Instead you should suspect the sump pit installation around the sump pump as the main cause of failure because this has been done incorrectly by an unqualified plumber or contractor.

How to Fix a Sump Pump Not Working?

Don't leave sump pump system issues unaddressed if troubleshooting fails! For quick sump pump repair by our trained licensed plumbers, call ARS/Rescue Rooter for basement protection. Our team can tackle everything from regular maintenance to prevent sump pump failure, to new sump pump installation services.

To book an appointment, find your nearest ARS/Rescue Rooter location or schedule service online for service today.

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