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Sump Pump Failure:

Don’t Wait for a Failure During a Rainstorm to Find Out Your Sump Pump Doesn’t Work

If your sump pump fails during a rainstorm, hundreds of gallons of water can flood your basement in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t take much water to cause thousands of dollars in damage. Play it safe and check your sump pump regularly to ensure it’s working properly.

What is a sump pump?

Sitting down in the basement or crawlspace, out of sight and out of mind, we don’t often think about our sump pump. In reality though it’s one of the hardest working pieces of equipment in your house. Sump pumps are available in two basic models: upright (commonly called a pedestal) and submersible. With pedestal types, the motor is located above the floor near the sump pit. Submersible types will be bound at the bottom of the sump pit.

Understanding how a sump pump works can help you identify any issues that may arise in the future. The sump is a pit where the pump sits. A sump pump removes the water that drains into the sump. It has a floating switch activation system where the switch is normally off and in a lowered position. When rising water levels push the floatation device on the switch upward, it sends a signal for the pump to activate. The pump then drains the water, which in turn lowers the floatation device on the switch until it reaches its initial position, thereby turning off the pump.

Backup systems

Sump pumps are mechanical and will eventually fail. The most common reason for failure is the sump pump switch. Protect your home and make sure to have a battery backup sump pump. When you have a power failure, the backup will automatically kick in should your primary water pump fail. Often home insurance policies will cover water damage to a home if the pump suffers a mechanical failure, but won’t cover damage if an electrically powered pump stops working because of a power failure. The backup needs to be plugged into a charger to make sure the battery is fully charged. It’s also important that the backup system have the capacity to pump out the same amount of gallons as your standard pump.

Testing your sump pump

Testing your sump pump regularly can help protect your home against water damage. There are simple steps a homeowner can perform to see if their sump pump is working as it should be. One way is to lift the float arm on the side of the pump. If you hear the pump running, it’s working. If the pump doesn’t run, it’s not working. Even backup pumps can be tested this way.

Another easy way to test your sump pump is to pour water in! Take a five-gallon bucket of water and slowly (about the rate rain water might enter) pour the water in until the float triggers your pump to activate. Hopefully you are watching the water level drop and the pump successfully shut back off when your float drops back below the shutoff level. You should also remove the lid (if it has one) and use a flashlight to check if the sump is clean and the pump inlet screens are not plugged.

Sump pumps generally last about five to seven years before needing replaced. Homeowners should test their pump’s operation every month or two. Then, if you feel the pump is not operating as it should, you can contact a licensed plumber, to check it out and replace the sump pump it if necessary.

Be careful not to make these sump pump mistakes!

  • Lost Power: sump pumps run on electricity. Lightning and wind during a storm can knock out power, thus your pump stops working. Make sure to have a battery backup pump so it can kick on when your primary source of power is killed. As silly as it sounds, also check to make sure the pump is plugged in. Someone may have unplugged it to use the power outlet and forgot to plug it back in; check it!
  • Bad Discharge Pipe: Inspect your discharge pipe (the outside pipe that catches the water as it drains from the pump) while testing your sump pump. It should be located on the side of the house. Make sure it’s not frozen shut or clogged with debris. It should be directing water away from the house and emptying onto a downslope so water doesn’t flow back toward the house.
  • Backup Battery Not Charged: Make sure the backup battery is always fully charged. Also, don’t install the battery on the floor. It would be bad if the power goes out and the battery isn’t charged … or sitting on the floor for water to ruin!
  • Not Testing the Pump Regularly: This is a mistake that can easily be avoided. Follow the steps listed above to make sure your pump is always working correctly. If you find any issues with your main sump pump or your backup, call a local licensed plumber to take a look at the situation.
Kelson Carter

Article reviewed by:

Kelson Carter, aka, The Prince of Plumbing

Kelson is a 3rd generation Plumbing Contractor. His family business is located in Greenwood, Indiana, and provides Residential Plumbing Service to the Indianapolis Metro market.

Kelson grew up watching his grandfather and father do plumbing. After graduating high school, Kelson went to Trade School and became a Licensed Master Plumber and Licensed Plumbing Contractor. He is also Certified in Backflow Prevention. He currently owns and operates Carter's My Plumber with his parents.


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