What Causes a Sump Pump to Fail | Causes of a Sump Pump Failure
Water Damage

What Causes a Sump Pump to Fail: The Causes of a Sump Pump Failure and What To Do

For many homeowners, a sump pump is an added layer of protection against a flooded basement or crawlspace. Drainage channels feed a basin in your home and a pump removes water through a discharge pipe. Unfortunately, a sump pump failure can result in extensive flooding or water damage. We look at what causes a sump to fail as well as what to do to prevent these issues.

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What Causes a Sump Pump to Fail

These are the most common causes of a sump pump failure. Regardless of the cause, if your pump fails, your basement will likely flood.

  1. Power Failure –  In most cases, a loss of power will cause your sump pump to fail.
  2. Switch Problems – Issues with the switch that turns the pump on and off can result in it not pushing enough water out or for it to run constantly, even without any water in the basin.
  3. Overworked Pump – Either as a result of a switch issue or during excessive rain or water drainage, your pump may run constantly and eventually burn out.
  4. Clogged Pump – If dirt or debris enters the pump, it may create a clog that reduces the level of suction or even clogs the pump completely.
  5. Clogged or Frozen Discharge Pipe – Like the pump itself, a clog in the discharge pipe can cause the pump to work harder than necessary. In rare cases, the discharge pipe may even freeze and prevent the flow of water.
  6. Improper Maintenance – You should clean and service your sump pump every 6 months to ensure the pump is in proper working order and to maximize its life span.
  7. Old Age – Even with regular maintenance, your sump pump will not last forever. Most units are rated for 6 to 12 years.
  8. Improper Installation – Although uncommon, the incorrect installation of your pump can cause switch problems, clogs, and even result in your pump working harder than necessary.
  9. Defective Product – In extremely rare cases, your pump may have a manufacturer’s defect. This may result in either immediate or premature failure.

How a Sump Pump Works

Sump pumps are often the last line of defense against a basement or crawlspace flood. When your sump pump is first installed, drains are placed around your foundation. They drain to a basin set within the floor, where excess water collects. A pump is placed in the basin and is connected to a discharge pipe that removes it from your home.

The pump has either a pressure switch or a float activator that measures the amount of water inside the basin. Once the water rises above a certain level, the pump activates to remove the water. The turns on a fan-like impeller that creates suction. Water float into the pump and then out the discharge pipe. Your discharge pipe will also have a check valve that prevents water from flowing backward into the basin.

9 Causes of a Sump Pump Failure

Power Failure

A power failure is the single most common reason for your sump pump failure. Severe storms not only bring heavy rains, but also high winds and lightning strikes. Unless you have a battery backup or another type of backup pump, a power failure can easily lead to flooding.

How to Prevent Flooding Due to Power Loss

The easiest way to prevent a flood if your sump pump loses power is to install a backup. Battery backups are essentially very large batteries that will keep your pump working even if your home loses power. While backup batteries are effective, they are expensive and have a shorter life span.

Other options include a manually operated pump and water-powered backup pumps. The manual suction pump uses your own effort to manually pump water down a regular household drain. A water-powered pump uses running water to create suction to operate the pump and empty the sump basin.

Switch Problems

Pumps with float switches are more likely to fail than pressure switch models. For pumps with floats, the vibrations of the pump operation can cause the pump to move within the basin. As a result, the float can get pressed against the basin wall which prevents it from working properly. A build-up of dirt and debris on the float can also weigh it down and cause your pump to run more than necessary. Pressure switch pumps can also have issues, usually related to debris and dirt covering or clogging the switch.

How to Prevent Problems with Your Sump Pump Switch

To keep your sump pump working properly, make sure you perform regular maintenance at least twice a year. After turning off the power, remove and clean the pump. Then drain the sump basin and clean it. In between cleanings, pour a bucket of water down the drain at least once a month to ensure it’s working properly.

Overworked Pump

Most sump pumps are designed to run for less than a minute at a time. If there is an issue with the switch or the volume of water is excessively high, your pump may run for an extended period of time. Not only does this wear out the pump faster, but it also generates more heat. The added heat can weaken parts within the pump, increasing the chances of failure.

How to Keep Your Sump Pump From Being Overworked

If you live in an area prone to regular storms or you notice your sump pump runs very frequently, you may consider installing a secondary pump. A secondary pump works with your primary pump to empty your sump basin faster during periods of heavy water or rain.

Clogs are the other main cause of an overworked sump pump. Make sure you clean your sump pump every 6 months to prevent clogs within the pump and the drain line. Remove as much debris from the basin as possible. If your sump pump doesn’t have a solid lid, consider installing on to prevent things from falling into the basin.

Clogged Pump

The drainage lines that feed into your sump pump basin may carry a small amount of dirt and debris. Over time, the dirt can build up and clog the pump inlet. If the inlet is clogged, the pump will turn on but not function properly. Additionally, dirt, dust, and other items can fall into sump basins and lead to clogs as well.

How to Prevent a Clogged Sump Pump

The best way to prevent a sump pump clog is to clean it at least twice a year. Unplug the pump, then remove and clean it. Drain the basin with a bucket, then use a wet/dry vacuum to remove remaining water and dirt at the bottom. Then reassemble the pump and test the pump with a few buckets of water.

Another thing to consider is to install a solid cover to your sump pump basin if you don’t already have one. The lid prevents solid items from falling inside the basin. As an added benefit, this will also reduce the noise of the pump and help prevent drain flies and other bugs.

How to buy a sump pump

Clogged or Frozen Discharge Pipe

Although less common than a clogged pump, the discharge pipe can also get clogged. The clog can result from either dirt in the discharge water or from debris backflowing into the line. Although sump pumps are less like to run during freezing temperatures, an ice blockage in the drainage line during cold weather can prevent water from flowing properly. This will overwork the pump and cause it to burn out.

How to Prevent a Clogged Sump Pump Discharge Pipe

Unfortunately, diagnosing a clogged drain pipe isn’t always easy. If your pump works longer or more frequently than normal, look for other possible issues. If you’ve exhausted all the other options, consider having your drain lines inspected.

To prevent a backup during winter months, check your pump regularly if there is rain or a rapid thaw. If your sump pump runs regularly during the winter, consider purchasing a manual pump in case you need to drain the basin if the discharge pipe is frozen.

Improper Maintenance

Understandably, most of us don’t want to clean our sump pumps. They are dirty and may have a musty odor. However, if you don’t clean your sump pump regularly, you are likely to wear it out faster.

How to Maintain Your Sump Pump

You should test your sump pump at least once a month by pouring in a bucket of water. Remove the lid and watch the pump operate, making note of any issues. This will alert you to any developing issues and help you diagnose problems before you have a sump pump failure.

At least once every 6 months, unplug and remove the pump from the basin. Clean the outside of the pump, paying special attention to the float or pressure switch. Then drain the sump pump basin and remove any dirt or debris. If your basin has a grate at the bottom, remove and clean at as well. Once you reassemble your sump pump, pour in several buckets of water to ensure it works correctly.

Old Age

Depending on how frequently your sump pump runs and how often you clean and maintain it, your sump pump should last anywhere from 6 to 12 or more years. PVC discharge pipes will last 25 to 40 years, while cast iron pipes will last at least 80 years. If you are uncertain about the age of your pump or pipes, have the system inspected by a professional.

How to Prevent a Sump Pump Failure Due to Old Age

The best way to keep your sump pump working and to prevent flooding is to replace it before it fails. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

If your sump pump is older than 6 years or you do not know the age of the system, make sure you perform regular maintenance. Consider increasing your maintenance schedule from every 6 months to every 3 or 4 months. Inspect the pump, the backflow valve, and all of the connections and fittings for rust or other signs of wear.

Also, test your pump more often. Instead of every month, test it with a bucket or two of water every 2 weeks. If you notice any change in operation, it’s better to replace the pump as soon as possible to prevent a flood or backup.

Improper Installation

Although all sump pumps come with installation instructions for that specific unit, not everyone follows them. Some common ways to improperly install a sump pump include securing the pump to the basin floor, failing to install a backflow valve, or placing gravel, sand, or other materials at the bottom of the basin.

How to Check If Your Sump Pump is Properly Installed

When installing a sump pump yourself, follow all manufacturers instructions. If you cannot install the unit properly yourself, hire a professional to do so to prevent damage or failure in the future.

If you don’t know who installed your sump pump, you should be able to locate a copy of the manual from the manufacturer. Review the installation instructions when you perform the next regular maintenance. When necessary, take necessary action to ensure the unit is properly installed and works correctly. Alternatively, have the unit serviced by a licensed professional.

Defective Product

In very rare cases, a manufacturers defect can cause your sump pump to fail prematurely. Some defective units may not work out of the box, but others will fail within the first few months or a year of installation.

How to Deal with a Defective Sump Pump

If the sump pump is defective out of the box, contact the store about their return policy. For sump pumps that fail within the first year or two of service, contact the manufacturer about the issue. Warranties will vary by manufacturer, time, and the cause of the failure.

Get Water Damage Restoration After a Sump Pump Failure

If your sump pump failure results in water damage or a flood, get help from a certified restoration company in your area now. As the largest network of restoration companies, we have listings for water damage companies near you. Choose from local water damage contractors now, include independent companies and the most popular chains like AdvantaClean, PuroClean, and Rainbow International. In an emergency, call 1-888-443-3110 now to speak with our on-call contractor in your area. They offer 24-hour emergency service, a 60-minute response, and a free estimate on all services.

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