When protecting your home from water damage, a sump pump is a silent guardian that stands watch in your basement or crawlspace. But like any piece of equipment, it’s not immune to problems.
Understanding common sump pump problems and how to troubleshoot them is crucial for any homeowner who wants to keep their home dry and their peace of mind intact.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll dive into the most frequent problems and provide practical sump pump troubleshooting tips to ensure it operates smoothly. Whether you’re facing the mystery of continuous operation or the simple need for preventive maintenance, we’ve got you covered.
So, let’s explore the depths of sump pump troubleshooting and arm you with the knowledge to keep the waters at bay.
What Is a Sump Pump?
A sump pump is a submersible device installed in the lowest part of a basement or crawlspace. Its primary role is to keep the area under the building dry and prevent it from flooding. The sump pump is located within a sump pit — a hole with a gravel base, about two feet deep and 18 inches wide, carved into the floor.
When the ground around the home’s foundation becomes saturated with water, this water can start to pool in the sump pit. Sump pumps are triggered by a float switch, which is set off when the water reaches a certain level.
Once activated, the pump’s motor starts, and it pumps the excess water away from the home’s foundation through a discharge pipe to a place where it drains harmlessly, such as a storm drain or a dry well.
Sump pumps are common in areas that experience high rainfall or snowmelt or where the groundwater level is high.
Common Sump Pump Problems
Now that you know what a sump pump is, let’s look at the most common problems you’ll encounter with yours.
There are two primary types of sump pumps — pedestal and submersible. A pedestal pump has the motor mounted above the sump. This setup helps the pump stay dry and makes it easier to service the device. In contrast, a submersible pump is entirely inside the sump and is sealed off to prevent short circuits.
Electrical outages, tripped circuit breakers, failed sub-pumps, and defective float switches are the most common causes of power failure.
Troubleshooting Tip #1:
Preventative measures are your best defense against sump pump power failure. Ideas include installing a backup system, regularly testing the pump, and ensuring the electrical components are in good working order.
An overwhelmed sump pump can’t keep up with the water inflow, leading to potential flooding and water damage. Several factors cause a sump pump to become overloaded.
Heavy Rainfall or Rapid Snowmelt
Extreme weather conditions might cause water to accumulate around the foundation and exceed the pump’s capacity.
Troubleshooting Tip #2:
To safeguard against this, ensure your pump’s capacity is appropriate for the weather patterns in your area. You might need a larger capacity pump or a secondary pump to manage higher volumes of water.
Incorrect Sump Pump Size
A sump pump that’s too small for the area it serves will struggle to remove water effectively.
Troubleshooting Tip #3:
Install a sump pump with appropriate horsepower for your home’s needs. Consult a professional if you aren’t sure what the correct size is for your home.
If the pump’s intake gets blocked with debris, it can’t move water efficiently.
Troubleshooting Tip #4:
Regularly clean the pump and its intake screen to prevent clogs. Installing a cover will help keep out debris, too.
Malfunctioning Check Valve
If the check valve on the discharge line fails, the water that the pump expels will flow back into the pit, causing the pump to handle the same water multiple times.
Troubleshooting Tip #5:
Regularly inspect and test the check valve. If it’s not functioning correctly, replace it.
A pump that turns on and off too frequently (short cycling) might not have enough time to evacuate water effectively, leading to an overwhelmed situation.
Troubleshooting Tip #6:
Adjust the float switch so the pump runs longer with each cycle, allowing more water to be pumped out of the pit.
Insufficient Discharge Rate
If the discharge rate is inadequate due to a narrow discharge pipe or long discharge distance, the pump may be unable to expel water as quickly as needed.
Troubleshooting Tip #7:
Ensure the discharge pipe is the correct diameter for your pump and that it’s as straight and short as possible to maximize the flow rate.
Wear and tear on the pump or a mechanical failure reduces its efficiency.
Troubleshooting Tip #8:
Regular maintenance and inspection will catch issues before they lead to failure. Have a professional service the pump if you notice any operational issues.
Single Pump Dependency
Relying on a single pump is risky, especially if it fails or is inadequate for significant weather events.
Troubleshooting Tip #9:
Consider installing a backup pump, especially if your basement is finished or if water problems have occurred in the past. A battery or water-powered backup pump will take over if the primary pump fails or is overwhelmed.
Clogged Sump Pits or Discharge Pipes
Clogging in sump pits is a relatively common issue that severely affects the performance of a sump pump. Debris, sediment, or iron bacteria are the most likely causes of sump pit backup.
Troubleshooting Tip #10:
For your sump pit, cleaning and pit maintenance are your best line of defense against clogs.
Frozen or Clogged Discharge Lines
Frozen water, obstructions, and malfunctioning check valves are the most common causes of clogs in discharge lines.
Troubleshooting Tip #11:
You’ll want to regularly inspect and clean your discharge lines. It’s also a good idea to install a heat trace cable next to or inside the discharge pipe. The heat from the cable will prevent the water from freezing.
Proper slope and insulation matter, too. Ensure your discharge line has a proper slope away from your home to prevent water from settling and freezing. Insulate any exposed pipes to protect them from the cold.
Finally, we recommend installing a discharge line guard to prevent larger debris from entering the discharge line where it exits your home.
Pump Runs Continuously
A sump pump that runs continuously is inefficient and at risk of premature wear and potential failure. There are several reasons why a sump pump might run non-stop, along with ways to prevent this from happening:
The float switch, which turns the pump on and off, sometimes gets stuck in the “on” position due to obstructions or a misalignment.
Troubleshooting Tip #12:
Regularly inspect the sump pump, pit, and float switch for any debris or obstructions that could cause the switch to stick.
Continuous Water Inflow
A high water table or constant water intrusion might cause the pump to work overtime. Other reasons could be heavy rains, melting snow, or a nearby water source.
Troubleshooting Tip #13:
Adjust the float switch according to the instructions to ensure it turns off at the appropriate water level.
Incorrectly Adjusted Float Switch
If the float is not properly adjusted, it might cause the pump to run continuously because the switch doesn’t reach the off position.
Troubleshooting Tip #14:
Ensure that the sump pump and the float switch are installed correctly according to manufacturer specifications.
Check Valve Issues
If the check valve on the discharge line is malfunctioning or absent, water may flow back into the pit after the pump turns off, causing the pump to run repeatedly.
Troubleshooting Tip #15:
Install a check valve if you don’t already have one, and routinely inspect it to ensure it is functioning properly and preventing backflow.
Overpowered or Underpowered Pump
If the sump pump is too powerful for your needs, it might quickly clear the water and then continue to run even when there’s no water. Conversely, an underpowered pump might run continuously as it struggles to keep up with the inflow.
Troubleshooting Tip #16:
Select a sump pump with the capacity and horsepower appropriate for the size of your space and the typical water volume.
Leaking or Damaged Discharge Lines
Any leak or damage to the discharge line can cause the pump to run more frequently as water fails to be moved away effectively from the foundation.
Troubleshooting Tip #17:
Regularly inspect the discharge lines for any signs of damage or leaks and repair them promptly.
Call Quick Quality Plumbing Today
When the waters rise and the rains pour, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your sump pump can handle the pressure.
Whether you need an urgent fix, a routine check-up, or a complete system installation, Quick Quality Plumbing is your go-to expert for all your needs, including sump pump troubleshooting. Our team of skilled professionals is ready to provide you with the swift, reliable service you deserve.
Don’t let sump pump problems sink your spirits — contact Quick Quality Plumbing today, and let’s ensure your home stays dry, comfortable, and flood-free, rain or shine!