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Sump Pump Problems

A sump pump is an investment for anyone who has a basement or a house that collects water in the crawl space. If your sump pump fails, you are faced with a basement full of water and extensive water damage. It only takes about an inch of standing water to cause damage and a potential mold issue. Do not wait until a problem appears to learn more about sump pumps and the problems you can face.

How a sump pump works

When the pump is installed, a hole is dug, and a sump basin is lowered, followed by the sump pump. The pump will have a pressure sensor or float activator that starts when water has reached a certain level in the basin. Water is pulled from the basin and carried out through pipes to a drainage area outdoors. A check valve is used to prevent water from coming back into the basement or crawl space.

The sump pump is wired with the same wire as your home and is usually installed by an electrician. The risk of electrocution is always a possibility when water and electricity are nearby, so a circuit interrupter should be used.

Pump failure causes

A sump pump can prevent damage to your home and keep it dry during a storm of a plumbing leak. However, if the sump pump fails to work correctly, it can make a bad problem worse. There are seven common reasons for sump pump failure.

Power failure - The most common cause of failure is a power outage. A manually activated backup generator is an expensive purchase, but it will pay for itself in the long run. If your sump pump fails, the generator will be useless. If your power goes out in a storm, the generator will help prevent a potentially flooded basement as well as supply your home with electricity.

The sump pump is the wrong size - Having the correct size sump pump will reduce the risk of future problems and will lengthen the lifespan of your pump. If you have a large basement or crawl space, a small sump pump may not remove water efficiently. If you use a large pump in a small basement, the pump will work harder, resulting in a shorter lifespan.

Improper installation - When installing a sump pump, you need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid water damage later. Most sump pump manufacturers recommend a check valve on the discharge line to prevent backflow. If backflow occurs, the pump impeller will begin spinning backward and come off the shaft. While you will hear the pump running, it will not be pumping water.

Some manufacturers recommend that you drill a hole between the check valve and the pump to avoid excessive air pressure in the exit pipe. The exit or discharge pipe must be the correct size for the sump pump. Keep the sump pump off the ground to avoid debris that could potentially affect the ON and OFF switch or float arm.

Switch problems - This is the biggest mechanical cause for sump pump failure. When a sump pump is not secured in place, it can shift causing the float to fail. The float is needed for the ON and OFF switch to run effectively.

Lack of maintenance - Your owner’s manual will tell you when to run the sump pump. Some manufacturers recommend running the pump before the rainy season every year, while other manufacturers recommend once every three months.

Frozen or clogged discharge lines - Check the discharge pipe for rocks, sticks, dirt, and other debris. If the pipe is plugged up, the water cannot exit. Woven wire over the discharge pipe will keep debris and animals from burrowing and lessen the load on your sump pump.

Snow and ice packing in the discharge line cannot be prevented with woven wire. You can install a grated discharge line on your current line to allow water to flow out if the end of the pipe is blocked.

Product defect - This issue is not as common as the other failure causes, but product defects can happen. When you install the pump, check for proper operation. If there is a problem with the sump pump, you can return it to the manufacturer.

Sump pump maintenance

Not every problem can be solved by maintenance, but if you take a few minutes every three months, you can avoid future issues and lengthen your sump pump’s lifespan.

Step one - Clean any air holes and vents to ensure maximum air flow.

Step two - Check the float switch to ensure free motion. If the float is restricted, the automatic on and off switch will fail.

Step three - Flush the sump pump with a vinegar and water solution to remove any sediment and other particles. Pour the solution in the basin, and the pump will turn on, drawing the solution in and expelling it into the discharge pipe.

Difference between a sump pump and a grinder pump

A sump pump is used to remove water from your basement or crawl space under your home. A grinder pump is used to soften sewage to a liquid state and pump it to your main sewer line. Both pumps can be found in the basement but are used for different purposes.

Choosing pump size

When purchasing a sump pump, horsepower (HP) is more important than size. To determine the horsepower your home will require, you should first know

  • The depth of your basement
  • Depth of groundwater
  • Area of drainage connected to the pump

A standard 1/3HP sump pump is used in most homes.

Should a sump pump if a basement has flooded twice in 15 years

The homeowner should consider the cost of the pump and installation compared to the possible damage and headache of a flooded basement. If you have spent money to have a finished basement or use it for storage, a sump pump is a wise investment. In the event of power outages, a battery backup should be installed next to the pump.

Your sump pump is a seldom used necessity like your fire extinguisher and first aid kit. You may never need to use it, but it is nice to have. You test your fire extinguisher and update your first aid kit, and you should know how to care and troubleshoot your sump pump. Failing to understand sump pump problems may result in a flooded basement with thousands of dollars in damage. 

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