Why Do You Even Have a Sump Pump?

A sump pump only comes into play when water is coming into your basement, possibly because of heavy rainfall or if the cellar is below the water table level. If you haven’t experienced such an intrusion lately or ever, you may not have given the pump a passing thought.

But a sump pump has an essential role in protecting your home. By moving water away from the house to somewhere it will do no harm, a municipal storm drain, for example, it ensures the basement doesn’t flood, a misfortune that can potentially produce thousands of dollars in damage, destroy irreplaceable heirlooms and mementos, and foster the growth of toxic and allergenic mold.

Sump pumps are so important that many include a backup system. Some also incorporate a failure alarm system that will text and/or email you if the equipment isn’t working as it should.

Why Do Sump Pumps Fail?

Unfortunately, sump pumps can indeed fail for a variety of reasons. These include the following:

  • The power failed. A backup generator is one way to keep this problem from becoming a homeowner’s nightmare
  • A switch got stuck. This can often be addressed by cleaning the pump, debris removal, and/or adjusting the sump pump position inside the basin.
  • Clogged or frozen discharge pipe. The pump can’t operate properly if there’s nowhere for the water to go.
  • The sump pump is overwhelmed. You need a sump pump big enough to handle the volume of water you’re expecting it to handle (although if it’s too big, it will work harder than it needs to and won’t last as long.)
  • The sump pump was installed improperly. If it wasn’t put in right, it won’t work right. The pump may have been placed in dirt or gravel, or it may lack an air relief hole or check valve in the discharge line.
  • Product defect. It’s relatively unlikely but possible that you had the bad luck to get a defective pump from the manufacturer.
  • Lack of maintenance. To keep a sump pump working properly, run a vinegar solution through it, clean the vents, and make sure the float is unrestricted every few months.
  • Old age. Like any machine, a sump pump eventually wears out. They generally last 7-10 years, and if yours is older than 10 years, it’s time to retire it and get a replacement.

No matter why your pump fails, given its importance, you should address the problem promptly. But before you pick up the phone to request a service call, try the following:

What to Do If Your Sump Pump Fails (Before You Call the Repairman)

  • Always cut off the power to the sump pump before you touch it. Electricity and water can combine to give you a nasty electric shock.
  • Check to see if the sump pump’s plug is working. A defective plug can be all it takes to keep the sump pump from operating as it should.
  • Check to see if the float switch works. If it doesn’t move freely, is something blocking it?
  • See if the pump is vibrating. If so, it’s getting power. If it’s getting electricity but not moving any water or not moving enough, maybe the pipes are blocked. Check them for debris.

This inspection won’t necessarily save you the expense of a service call, but it may at least let you identify the nature of the problem. Then you can better communicate with the repairman, and the work will proceed more efficiently.