For heating & cooling, plumbing, & electrical needs

Find your location


What are the Most Common Sump Pump Problems?

Let’s face it – as homeowners, we don’t spend too much time pondering our sump pumps until they actually act up. Despite being one of the hardest working appliances in soggy climates, these wet basement sentries tend to get taken for granted. That is, until you find yourself ankle-deep in a flooded lower level!

If you’ve ever had to deal with a sump pump malfunction, you know just how quickly water can take over when it’s not properly evacuated from your home’s foundation. What starts as a small seep or trickle rapidly turns into a torrential mess that damages floors, walls, and valuables in its saturated wake. That’s why it’s so important to stay ahead of potential sump pump pitfalls before they leave you swimming in issues.

While sump pumps may seem fairly simple, there are plenty of potential points of failure that should be on every homeowner’s radar. From burnouts and backups to outdoor discharge problems, these hard-working systems can develop all sorts of woes over time that require your attention.

Sump Pump

To help you better understand what to watch out for, we’re diving into the most common sump pump problems. The more you know about what causes pumps to prematurely fail or underperform, the easier it becomes to catch small issues before they snowball into bigger emergencies. We’ll cover how to diagnose these problems yourself and when it’s time to call in professional help. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to avoiding wet basement disasters!

Power Failure

Let’s start with one of the most frequent sump pump saboteurs – power loss. These hardworking units need a constant flow of electricity to keep chugging along. Even short outages or interruptions mean your pump takes a break from evacuating water. As we all know, water waits for no one! A flooded basement can happen alarmingly fast if that sump pit keeps filling up with nowhere for the water to go.

Start your power problem diagnosis by ensuring the pump is plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet that’s receiving live power. Don’t just trust the outlet – actually test it. While you’re at it, give that power cord a thorough once-over too. Frays, crimps, or pinches anywhere along the line could be choking off the electrical supply. Oh, and don’t forget to check if the pump’s circuit breaker has tripped and needs a reset.

Attempting Fixes

If you’ve confirmed power is flowing properly to the pump but it still won’t run, you may need to look into a battery backup system. These handy units provide temporary power during outages to keep that sump chugging. For really outdated power-hungrier models, it might be time to upgrade to a newer, more efficient pump that runs on less amperage. As a last resort, you can have an electrician install a dedicated circuit just for your sump to avoid overload trips.

When to Call the Pros

When do you wave the white flag and call in a pro? If your home’s electrical service or wiring isn’t up to snuff for handling a proper sump pump power supply, you’ll likely need an electrician’s assistance. The same goes for permanent backup power solutions like generators or specialized pump backup batteries – those are best left to experienced hands. If the motor itself is burnt out, you’ll probably need a plumber to replace the entire pump unit.

Float Switch Problems

Here’s another common sump pump conundrum – when the automatic float switch that controls the unit’s on/off cycles gets finicky. This hard-working little component does a big job, monitoring the pit’s water levels and telling the pump when to activate or power down based on those levels. But when a float switch fails or gets stuck in the wrong position, it can completely prevent the pump from kicking on or shutting off properly.

Start by pouring some water into the sump pit and keeping a close eye on the float’s movement as it rises. Does the pump turn on like it should? Give the float a gentle tug too – it should be able to travel its full range without any obstructions stopping it short. If the float moves freely but doesn’t seem to trigger the pump, bust out a multimeter to test for continuous electrical flow through the float switch wiring as you raise and lower it.

Attempting Fixes

Solving float issues can sometimes be as easy as repositioning the switch arm itself or adjusting the pump’s installation height so it syncs up with the switch properly. Take a good look around the pit too – any debris that’s fallen in can impede that smooth float motion. If you’re pretty handy with electrical work, you may be able to replace the entire float switch mechanism yourself.

When to Call the Pros

For those of us who’d rather leave the electrical work to the pros, go ahead and make that call if rewiring a new float switch is required. Same goes if the pump flat-out won’t respond to the float at all – that likely indicates a failed sensor or control component in need of diagnostic skills. If the sump pit itself seems poorly designed for proper float activation no matter what, it may require professional modifications too.

Clogged Inlet or Discharge Pipe

Sump pumps have to be able to intake water from the pit and discharge it back outside without any blockages. But over time, those intake and discharge pipes can get clogged up with all sorts of nasty gunk. Whether it’s dirt and debris, hardened sludge buildup, or even rodent nests, obstructions in those lines drastically reduce your pump’s ability to move water efficiently.

The first signs of a clogged pipe are usually audible – you may hear some angry sounding gurgling, slurping noises coming from the sump pit as the pump struggles against the blockage. Reduced water flow out the discharge line is another giveaway that something’s clogging up the works.

Pop off those intake and discharge pipes to visually inspect for any visible obstructions. You can also try running a simple test – after disconnecting the pipes, have a helper pour water into the pump while you watch the intake side. Slow or no intake indicates a nasty clog. On the discharge end, place a garden hose over the outlet up to the pump and turn on the water full blast to attempt flushing out any debris.

Attempting Fixes

For minor obstructions, you may be able to dislodge the clog by snaking out the pipes with a plumber’s auger or using a high-pressure flush of water. Chemical drain cleaners may help dissolve sludgy buildups too. But if those DIY methods don’t make a dent, it’s likely time for more serious snaking equipment or jetting to thoroughly clear the lines.

When to Call the Pros

When clogs are severe, deeply entrenched in the pipes, or you simply can’t seem to make a dent, it’s smart to call in professional assistance. Plumbers have specialized tools like powered augers and high-pressure water jetters to make short work of even the most stubborn clogs. Severely corroded pipes may need to be replaced entirely as well.

Frozen or Disconnected Discharge Line

Alright, time for another common sump pump show-stopper – when the all-important discharge line that pumps water away from your foundation gets frozen up or completely separated. A telltale sign? You’ll probably notice your sump pump seems to be running constantly, struggling to expel water that just keeps recycling back into the pit.

For frozen discharge lines, your first step is to carefully trace the pipe’s path outside as best you can, keeping an eye out for any areas where ice buildup may be present and obstructing flow. You may even find the culprit immediately where the discharge line first exits the home – these transitional areas are extremely susceptible to freezing up.

If you can’t visually identify any frozen spots but the discharge line seems completely blocked, it’s possible the pipe became disconnected or severed somewhere. Try following the pipe to look for any separation gaps or cracks that could allow discharged water to spray or spill out undetected.

Attempting Fixes

When you’ve located a frozen section of the discharge line, you may be able to carefully apply safe heat sources like a portable heater or hot air gun to gradually thaw things out (keyword: gradually and carefully – you don’t want to crack the pipes!). Be ready to catch any initial gushes of water when the freeze finally releases.

For disconnected sections, you may get lucky simply reconnecting the separated pipe joints if they’re accessible. But broken sections will likely require splicing in a new segment to repair.

When to Call the Pros

If you’ve got frozen discharge issues but cannot safely access or unfreeze the entire pipe length yourself, it’s best to call in a professional plumber with specialized equipment like pipe thruster machines. The same goes for severed or cracked discharge lines – while you can attempt simple uncomplicated repairs, anything major like rerouting or replacing long sections of pipe calls for expert help.

Pump Motor Issues

At the core of every hard-working sump pump is its hard-working motor. This is the power plant that spins the impeller to actually move all that water out. But like any motor, sump pump motors can burn out, seize up, or just gradually lose their oomph over years of constant use.

The most obvious sign of motor troubles is your sump pump just…stops. It refuses to turn on at all, even with plentiful power and no obstructions. You may be able to hear the motor straining or making abnormal grinding noises when it tries to run. Another red flag? If the motor itself feels quite hot to the touch after minimal usage.

Don’t just assume it’s a goner at the first sign of motor malfunction though. If it’s an older unit near the end of its expected lifespan, that motor may simply be worn out. But for premature motor failures, there could be an underlying mechanical or electrical problem at play worth investigating further.

Attempting Fixes

Dust off that owner’s manual – some motor resets or overload trips are resolvable through simple steps. You may even find a motor shaft that’s gotten misaligned and just needs repositioning to spin freely again. Replacing worn out motor bushings or bearings represents an affordable repair if you’re up for the disassembly work.

When to Call the Pros

Let’s face it, most of us aren’t comfortable going elbow-deep into pump motor repairs. Anytime you suspect a burned out motor winding, faulty capacitor, or other internal electrical issues, it’s best to call in a pro. The same goes for mitigating circumstances like continual motor overheating or signs of serious motor bearing damage. Replacing the entire pump unit is sometimes more cost-effective than chasing motor fixes.

Lack of Maintenance

Like any hardworking appliance, sump pumps require some routine maintenance love to keep operating in peak condition. Often homeowners don’t even realize their sump pump exists until it’s already too late and problems arise. A lack of preventative care opens the door to all sorts of nasty issues.

While sump pumps are pretty simple systems, allowing them to stew in their own… sump juices for years on end can take its toll. Buildup from dirt, debris, even hardened sludge impairs that all-important intake flow. Left unchecked, these accumulations will eventually clog intake screens and pipes. Pump housings can even become corroded over time.

Beyond just the muck, lack of lubrication can turn rotating components from smooth operators into squeaky hindrances. Meanwhile, unseen areas like discharge pipes and venting go unmonitored, allowing potential obstructions to crop up undetected. Before you know it, your once hard-working pump becomes a hapless bystander as water levels rise.

Attempting Fixes

If your sump pump just needs a light refreshing, giving the system a thorough cleaning and degunking may be all it takes to restore proper operation. Replace any easily accessible filters or screens. Lubricate any fittings, bearings and rotational components according to the pump manual.

For discharge line amnesia, use a trusty plumber’s auger to help dislodge mild obstructions. Flush out stagnant water from the pit and replace it if the water appears thick and sludgy. While not the ultimate fix, these simple steps can buy you some time.

When to Call the Pros

Once serious corrosion or calcification sets in, your sump pump may be past the point of easy fixes. That’s when it’s smart to have a professional inspect the entire system, from the hidden discharge piping to the pump housing itself.

Plumbers have specialized tools like water jetters and electric augers to power through the most caked-on residues and clogs. They can also thoroughly assess any components for abnormal wear and tear – catching parts in need of replacement before they fail entirely. Routine professional maintenance synchronizes all aspects of the system to restore efficiency and extend service life.

Your sump pump works hard in damp, dirty conditions year after year. The least you can do is return the favor with some basic upkeep! Proper preventative maintenance will keep that hard worker, well, working hard to avoid unexpected water build-ups.

Sump Pit Size

They say bigger is better, but when it comes to sump pits, that’s not always the case. An improperly sized pit can seriously hamper your pump’s ability to keep up during heavy water flows. Too small and the sump overflows before the pump can react. Too large and the pump may struggle to evacuate enough water from that vast pool.

If you find yourself with a sump pump cycling maniacally every few minutes only to cut off once water levels lower slightly, your pit may be on the petite side. Conversely, a sump that allows water levels to rise dangerously high before activating could indicate an overly large pit.

Take a look at the pump’s specifications – there should be recommended minimum and maximum sump pit dimensions and capacities listed. Armed with a tape measure, you can assess whether your home’s existing pit design falls within those parameters.

Attempting Fixes 

Unfortunately, pit sizing represents one of those sump pump issues without an easy homeowner fix. Attempting to modify the existing pit, whether enlarging or downsizing, risks compromising its structure and waterproofing.

When to Call the Pros

The best solution for an improperly sized sump pit is having a professional install a new, properly-dimensioned pit altogether. Depending on access and construction, this could involve jackhammering out the old pit entirely or relocating the new pit to a more suitable spot. Established plumbers have the equipment and know-how to size things right.

Age and Wear

Like any household appliance, sump pumps suffer from long-term age and wear over years of dedicated service. Their motors and pumping assemblies simply aren’t designed to run non-stop forever. Even with diligent maintenance, that persistent exposure to moisture and grime eventually takes its toll.

The first signs manifest in declining performance. You may notice your aging pump straining to move water at the rate it once could. Or maybe it develops some quirky behaviors like only activating intermittently even with steady water flow. Strange grinding or clanking noises from within can signal significant bearing wear too.

But don’t just assume It’s ready for retirement at the first hiccup! Take a look at the manufacture date – most sump pumps last a healthy 7-10 years with proper care. Anything hitting the 15-year mark has impressively outlived expectations.

Attempting Fixes

If you’ve got an aging-but-able pump seemingly with a bit more life left, you may be able to replace specific worn components to extend its service. Swapping out failing motors, bushings, or impellers represents an affordable repair compared to full replacement costs.

When to Call the Pros

Once that sump pump passes its teenage years, plastic housings become increasingly prone to cracks and seals start leaking. When reliability issues persist no matter what parts you replace, it’s probably time to bid farewell to your old workhorse. Plumbers can evaluate whether retrofitting an entire new pump system makes more sense than endless Whac-a-Mole repairs.

Incorrect Installation

They say the shoemaker’s children go barefoot, but the same could sadly apply to the number of improperly installed sump pumps out there. Whether from amateur handyman efforts or deferred maintenance, an improper installation sets up pumps for all sorts of frustrating problems down the road.

Improper pit depth or positioning can allow water to drain back towards the foundation, essentially recycling sump water right back where it started. A pump that’s too tall, too short, or off-kilter likely has its float switch out of sync. And sump pits that are unvented can actually create an airlock preventing proper drainage.

Poor inlet, outlet, and discharge pipe placements add unnecessary bends and kinks that disrupt water flow and increase chances for clogs. Not to mention issues like hazardous wiring, loose connections, and lack of crucial safety mechanisms.

Attempting Fixes

Unless you’re exceptionally handy yourself, most incorrect installations are tricky for DIYers to properly remedy on their own. At best, you may be able to reposition a misaligned pump. But any meddling with drainage, venting, or electrical systems risks causing bigger headaches.

When to Cal the Pros

When it comes to verifying proper sump pit positioning and construction, securing appropriate drainage, and ensuring all pumping components are installed to code, it’s best to call in an experienced professional. They can comprehensively assess the entire system design and make whatever corrections are needed, from adjustments to complete overhauls.

Power Surges and Voltage Fluctuations

In our electric-powered world, power supply inconsistencies like surges, spikes and brownouts are an unfortunate reality. And while they may not seem like a big deal, those voltage fluctuations can actually wreak havoc on electrically-driven sump pumps over time.

Even minor spikes have the potential to fry sensitive pump motor windings or circuit boards. Repeated exposure accelerates wear on electrical components. Brownouts or under-voltage issues cause pumps to labor harder, overheat, and struggle to start up at all in some cases.

You may not see any symptoms immediately, but once damage accumulates from many small power anomalies over months or years, pump failures are inevitable. The first signs? Erratic cycling behavior where a pump keeps switching on and off, unexpected overheating, or complete motor/system burnouts.

Attempting Fixes

While not an outright fix, you can equip sump pumps with basic protective measures like GFCI outlets that break circuits during serious power surges. Some units even come with built-in brownout monitoring to shut down during under-voltage events.

When to Call the Pros

But for more comprehensive power protection, it’s wise to invest in a professional whole-home surge suppression system to clamp down on inconsistent power delivery. Electricians can also inspect service panels and wiring to identify any potential home-based causes contributing to power quality issues. Add-on battery backup systems help ride out dips and outages as well.

Don’t let power supply problems put your trusty sump pump down for the count! Taking basic preventative steps – or calling in the professionals – ensures those electric hiccups don’t turn into flooding headaches.

Avoid Sump Pump Flooding Disasters – Know When to Call the Pros

While sump pumps may seem like simple systems, as you can see, there’s no shortage of potential pitfalls to be aware of as a homeowner. From installation blunders and lack of maintenance to electrical inconsistencies and age-related wear, it doesn’t take much for these hard workers to get sidelined.

The good news? Avoiding nasty basement floods is just a matter of periodically checking in on your pump’s condition and watching for any red flags. Scheduling routine inspections is wise too. With a little preventative care, most sump pump issues can be caught and resolved before water levels have a chance to rise.

But when problems inevitably develop that are beyond your own repair skills, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals. The certified plumbers at Bassett Services have decades of experience diagnosing and resolving all manner of sump pump woes. We know the tell-tale signs of trouble and have the specialized tools to properly tackle any repair or maintenance needs.

Don’t let sump pump problems turn into flooded basement nightmares. Keep your home’s sentry in peak operating condition – contact Bassett Services at (317) 360-0054 today!

Our Promises