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What to Do If Your Sump Pump Fails

Friday, March 12th, 2021
sump pump failure

There’s never a convenient time for sump pump failure. Sump pumps spend most of the time on standby, only actuating when they’re really needed as ground water rises up in the sump basin or indoor or outdoor flooding threatens the basement. If you live in your house long enough, a sump pump failure may occur. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development states that the average service life of a residential sump pump is 10 years.

Here are some common causes of sump pump failure and what to do if it happens:

  • Power outage. A severe storm threatens to flood your basement and—just when you need it most—the storm also knocks out grid power to the sump pump that protects your basement from flooding.
  • Float switch or pressure switch failure. The presence of water in the basin is detected by the float switch or pressure switch that activates the pump. A defective switch is another common cause of sump pump failure.
  • Clogged pump strainer. The intake strainer on the bottom of the pump may become clogged with debris that prevents water from entering the pump.
  • Obstructed discharge pipe. Blockage in the pump discharge pipe prevents water from flowing to the outdoors. Instead, obstructed water flows backwards into the sump basin, causing the pump to reactivate continuously, eventually leading to sump pump failure.

What To Do Next

  • A wet or flooded basement due to sump pump failure is very dangerous if electricity is still present in the space. Make sure electrical power is shut off at the main circuit breaker before entering the basement.
  • If you have a wet/dry vacuum to remove shallow standing water—and/or mops—dry the basement as much as possible. If the basement has hinged ventilation windows, open them up and run fans to circulate air. 
  • If basement flooding is more than minor, you’ll need professional water damage recovery services to remove the water safely and prevent subsequent mold contamination.
  • If a power outage was the cause of sump pump failure, consider installing a new pump with a battery backup option.

What Causes Sump Pump Failure?

Thursday, May 28th, 2020
sump pump failure

If a sump pump failure occurs, will you find out the hard way? Installed inside a covered basin in the basement floor, sump pumps tend not to get much attention—until they fail, that is. When the basin overflows with infiltrating groundwater that didn’t get properly pumped out, or a water pipe ruptures and the pump doesn’t actuate to prevent major basement flooding, the situation suddenly becomes obvious.

Here are a few likely causes of sump pump failure:

  • Clogged inlet screen. A screen on the inlet located at the bottom of the pump filters out debris that might clog the pump mechanism. If the pump screen and the basin aren’t cleaned at least once a year, debris accumulating on the screen may block the intake of water and the pump will fail to function when it’s needed.
  • Faulty float switch. As the level in the pump basin rises, a float switch actuates the pump to remove water. A stuck or defective switch means the pump doesn’t turn on and the basin rapidly overflows, causing basement water damage before it’s noticed.  
  • Burned out motor. While pump motors may fail simply from age, another cause is a defective float switch. In this case, the switch may actuate the pump correctly but fail to turn the pump off. The pump runs continuously and overheats, eventually failing completely. Because it’s installed in a basin down in the basement, a continuously running sump pump is often not obvious to residents upstairs.   
  • Defective backflow valve. As the pump empties the basin and turns off, a backflow valve located in the discharge line prevents water from flowing backward into the basin. If this valve is faulty, backflow into the basin will quickly trigger the pump to actuate again. The pump empties the basin, turns off, then activates again immediately due to backflow entering the basin. This continuous on-off-on operation will cause the pump to fail prematurely.

Annual sump pump maintenance is a good practice to ensure that when the pump’s needed most, it will do the job. Sump pump maintenance is typically provided by a qualified local plumber.

What to Do When Your Sump Pump Fails

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

If your sump pump fails, you’ll probably only become aware of it after water begins entering your basement. It’s difficult to tell if a sump pump’s defective until it fails to actuate at a crucial time. Most of the time, you’ll have to begin by removing some water from the basement. If water is limited to minor pooling around the sump basin you may be able to handle clean-up yourself. If flooding is widespread across the basement floor, call professional water damage recovery services.

Caution: Water flooding the basement floor poses an electrocution hazard. Avoid all contact with water until electricity has been shut off at the main electrical panel. If you cannot safely access the main panel without contacting water, call an electrician to turn power off at the meter.

  • After the area is safe to enter, remove minor pooling by mopping or using a wet/dry vacuum.
  • Bail out the sump basin with a bucket and look for any debris or other objects that may be obstructing the pump inlet screen. Unplug the pump, remove the pump and clean the inlet screen.
  • Reinstall the pump. Pour five gallons of water into the sump basin to determine if the pump automatically actuates. If you don’t hear the pump motor run, the motor or float switch is probably defective. You’ll need a professional plumber for further troubleshooting and/or replacement of the unit.
  • If you hear the pump motor actuate, go outside where the end of the discharge pipe releases water—usually somewhere in the backyard. Check to see if water is flowing out of the pipe. If not, check for any obstructions at the end of the pipe. If no obstructions, the pump impeller or some other internal part is likely faulty. You’ll probably need a new pump.
  • If the pump empties the basin and shuts off, but water rapidly flows back into the basin from the discharge pipe and actuates the pump again, the check valve to prevent backflow through the discharge pipe is probably defective. A plumber can replace that component.

Extending the Life of your Sump Pump

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

sump pump maintenanceIf your sump pump fails, you probably won’t know it until the worst possible time: after your basement incurs water damage due to flooding, a plumbing rupture or ground water infiltration. Because sump pumps are concealed inside a covered basin in the basement floor, a defective pump may not be obvious until that critical moment when it’s needed most.

The average service life of a residential sump pump is seven to ten years. To maximize your sump pump’s lifespan and avoid unexpected damage due to premature pump failure, here are some tips to follow:


Run it. Because sump pumps often go extended periods without activating, some manufacturers recommend routinely test-running the pump every three or four months to confirm proper function as well as keep moving parts operating freely.

  • Fill a 5-gallon bucket of water and pour it into the basin.
  • Confirm that the float switch activates the pump.
  • Make sure the pump empties the basin, and the float switch turns it off promptly.
  • Also verify that water doesn’t flow back into the basin after the pump stops, reactivating the pump. This is a sign of a defective check valve in the discharge pipe which can shorten pump service life.

Once a Year

Clean the sump basin. Pull the pump up out of the basin and clear out any debris. Also clean the pump inlet screen to ensure that water flows into the pump chamber.

Check the GFCI outlet. Most sump pumps are plugged into GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt) outlets. GFCI outlets may switch off due to transient power surges taking place without your knowledge. Verify that the outlet has not switched off and that power is still going to the pump.

Observe pump discharge. Go to the outdoor termination point of the discharge pipe and make sure it’s not obstructed by dirt or other debris. Confirm that water flows freely out of the pipe.

Check the battery backup. If the pump has a battery backup feature, unplug the AC power cord and confirm that the pump activates on battery power when water is poured into the basin.

Sump Pump Failure… Dealing With the Aftermath

Friday, June 29th, 2018

wet basementA sump pump spends most of its time on standby, waiting for water. Should it fail to activate at a crucial time when water enters the sump basin, a flooded basement and associated water damage are the usual consequence. If your sump pump lets you down just when you need it most, here are some suggestions to deal with the aftermath.

  • First, be safe. A flooded basement is hazardous. Never enter a wet or flooded basement until the electricity to that area has been shut off at the main panel or the meter.
  • Stop the source. If the water originates from a ruptured plumbing pipe, turn off water to the house at the main shutoff valve.
  • Determine type of water. Flooding from a broken supply pipe is generally safe if less than 48 hours has elapsed and gloves, boots, waders and other protection are worn. Outdoor ground water seeping through basement walls is questionable and may contain bacteria or other toxins. Sewage backup into the basement is classified as a toxic biohazard and requires intervention by qualified water damage recovery services.
  • Remove what you can. If clean water is limited to shallow pooling, use mops or wet/dry vacuum to remove it, open any basement windows leading to the outdoors and run fans to circulate air.
  • Don’t attempt to pump it out yourself. Get professional advice first. If deep water is pumped from a flooded basement too rapidly, external pressure exerted by over-saturated soil pressing against basement walls may cause major structural failure.
  • Take preventive measures against mold. Mold growth in a basement following water damage should be considered inevitable unless proper remediation steps are taken within 48 hours. Contact qualified mold remediation services.
  • Avoid future sump pump failures with annual maintenance including clearing the sump basin of debris that could clog the pump inlet, as well as testing function of float switches by pouring five gallons of water into the basin and observing proper activation. If your sump pump failed because of a utility power outage, consider upgrading to a pump with battery backup feature.


3 Things To Look For When Choosing A Sump Pump

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

sump pump installationBy the time you realize a sump pump failure has occurred, water damage is often already a done deal. A flooded basement, weakened structure, ruined possessions, mold contamination—the list of possible consequences is long. Because a sump pump typically spends most of its time on standby, silent malfunctions often don’t become obvious until water intrusion happens and the pump fails to respond. The risk of a sump pump failure just when it’s needed most can be reduced by making informed buying choices. Here are three things to look for when selecting a sump pump:

Battery Backup
A sump pump that relies solely on household AC electrical power is a risky bet. The fact is, many scenarios that require the protection provided by a sump pump—such as severe storms and flooding—also tend to be common causes of utility power failures, as well. This means that an AC-powered pump could fail to function just when it’s needed most. Sump pumps that also incorporate a DC battery backup option will actuate to pump water out of the basement even if the power grid goes down. This adds a vital extra layer of protection.

The Right Size
The “size” of a sump pump means its pumping strength expressed in horsepower. For an average residential basement with only intermittent water intrusion, pick a pump with at least 1/3 horsepower rating. If your basement has ongoing water issues—such as a high natural water table beneath the foundation—or if the basement extends unusually deep below ground level, you may want a 1/2 horsepower unit.

Pedestal vs. Submersible
Pedestal sump pumps are mounted on the floor above the sump basin. An inlet pipe extends down into the basin to suck out water. However, submersible pumps installed inside the basin are now considered more efficient and reliable. Because the entire pump unit is directly submersed as water enters the basin, suction is more positive and effective. Submersed pumps also run cooler, which means longer service life and fewer potential malfunctions.


Spotting the Signs of Sump Pump Failure

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

sump pumpThe certain knowledge that you have a sump pump failure may become clear only at the worst possible time: after expensive water damage occurs because the sump pump didn’t actuate or function correctly. Installed in a basin in the basement floor, sump pumps are on guard 24/7 to protect your basement from hazards like seeping intrusion of ground water, a ruptured indoor pipe or outdoor flooding. A sump pump senses the presence of water entering the basin and automatically actuates, pumping water out through a discharge line that usually leads to the backyard. After the basin empties, the sump pump turns off.

Sump pumps spend most of the time on silent standby, waiting for water intrusion. Therefore, any malfunctions that develop may not be immediately apparent. Here are some signs to be aware of that may indicate a sump pump failure.

Pump Actuates but Doesn’t Empty Basin

This often means the pump inlet screen is clogged by debris. A plumber will need to drain the basin, remove the pump and clean the inlet screen.

Basin Filling, Pump Doesn’t Actuate

Usually, five gallons of water or less in the sump basin is enough to actuate the pump. If the sump basin appears to contain more than five gallons of standing water, some sort of malfunction is likely preventing actuation — a binding float switch, a defective pump motor, etc.

Basin Empty, Pump Running

If the pump continues to run after it has emptied the sump basin, a stuck or defective float switch is likely. You’re lucky to discover it in time — sump pumps tend to burn out if they run dry for an extended period of time. Unplug the pump and call a plumber.

Basin Refills Rapidly and Pump Turns on Again

A check valve in the discharge line is supposed to prevent backflow of water into the basin after the pump shuts off. If the check valve fails, discharged water will quickly flow back into the basin and re-activate the pump, repeatedly turning it on and off.

For more about the water damage consequences of sump pump failure, contact Rytech, Inc.