6 Common Sump Pump Problems and What to Do About Them

May 9th, 2011

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

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

Sump pumps are mechanical devices, 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

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.<

At Basement Systems we only recommend and install high capacity, cast iron, Zoeller brand pumps as the primary pumps for all our systems. We’ve tested many other pumps and they were proven to be the most reliable and powerful in the industry.

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 back up system, installed in different corners of the basement.

2- Pump works but there is no water coming into the sump pit..

This is a classic sign of 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 only works properly 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, inexistent, 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 Switches

sump pump in  sealed containesSump 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.

These 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 clog or jam as well.

If these switches clog, become jammed, or (in the case of cheap sump pump models) become tangled in the rest of the system, the sump pump switch will either stop working entirely or be stuck in the “on” position, meaning that it will run nonstop.

Our sump pump systems include a sump container with an air tight sealed lid that will not only prevent debris from falling in it; it will also keep small children and pets safe and the water from the pit from evaporating back into your basement. The system also includes a pedestal that keeps the sump from coming in contact with the bottom of the container, which is where the silt accumulates.

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, like the Basement Systems’ LawnScape Outlet. This product keeps debris and small animals from getting into the discharge line.

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

5 – Power Lost to the Sump Pump

TripleSafe sump pump systems

TripleSafe has not one, but two backup pumps, and one of them is battery operated

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

There are of course, the 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 the power lines.

At Basement Systems 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 reason.

Our sump pump systems, often include an alarm to let you know when a backup pump kicks in. For the ultimate protection, consider installing a TripleSafe System, which has not one, but two backup sump pumps, one of which is battery operated. The TripleSafe reduced the odds of a basement flood to statistical insignificance.

6 – Sump Pump Running Non-Stop.

Sump pumps that run continuously, 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’s the most common causes:

  • Stuck sump pump switches.
    The float switch becomes clogged, jammed, or (in cheap sump models) the switch becomes tangled in the system. In some cases, the vibrations of the sump pump as it runs can cause it to begin to lean on the edge of the sump pit or liner, disabling the sump pump switch.
  • The Sump Pump Liner and/or the Liner is Too small or Too Big.
    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 so small, and fills up so quickly that it triggers the sump pump to work more often than it should. In the industry we call it a short cycling sump pump.
  • The check valve is missing or broken.
    Because the sump pump is installed below grade, the discharge line go 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 in 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 on 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.

If your sump pump is not running properly or needs and upgrade, contact us for a free Sump Pump evaluation.

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