Common Causes of Sump Pump Failure

A sump pump, the small pump installed in the basement of many homes, helps to prevent flooding and water damage by removing water that enters the home. In Minnesota, we rejoice around this time of year when the weather starts to tease us with the first glimpses of spring, but those first 50-degree days should also serve as a warning to check in with your sump pump. Sudden snowmelt spurs your sump pump into action and if it’s unable to do its job, you may find yourself with a flood on your hands. Here are some of the most common causes of sump pump failure.

1. Power outage

The most common reason for sump pump failure is a power outage. That can be a recipe for disaster if the outage is caused by a severe thunderstorm, since your sump pump will be out of commission the exact moment it’s needed most. To prevent this from occurring, install a backup generator that you can activate manually in the event of a power outage. If anything is mechanically wrong with the pump itself, this solution won’t help. But if the power outage is caused by a storm, a backup generator can be a lifesaver.

2. Improper installation

Sump pumps should always be installed by a professional. You risk severe water damage if you don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. Small mistakes or oversights can result in the pump appearing to run but not actually pumping any water, allowing build-up that can cause serious water damage.

3. Wrong size

Sump pumps are victims of the Goldilocks conundrum: too small and they may not be able to effectively pump out water; too big and they have to work harder to do the same work, reducing their lifespan. Ideally, you’ll install the smallest pump that’s capable of keeping your home dry.

4. Float and switch problem

Sump pumps have a float inside the bottom that gauges the height of the water level. If that water level reaches a certain point, the float triggers a switch that turns the pump on. If something happens to that float—such as the pump shifting within its basin—it won’t be able to trigger the on/off switch, rendering the pump useless. Both the float and switch need to be functioning for the pump to operate correctly.

5. Lack of maintenance

Some manufacturers suggest running your pump every few months even if there hasn’t been any heavy rainfall, just to ensure that it’s in working condition. At the least, it’s a good idea to perform an inspection and test run once a year before spring comes to make sure your pump is prepared to handle the season of snowmelt and rainstorms.

6. Blocked discharge line

The discharge line is the exit channel for water pumped out by your sump pump. If the line is frozen or clogged, water will not be able to exit your home and will begin to back up, potentially causing flooding and water damage. It’s important to ensure that the line is protected from freezing and remains clear of debris such as rocks, dirt, or leaves. After a cold spell, check the pipe to make sure it hasn’t frozen over. If it has, take measures to thaw the frozen section.

If your sump pump fails and you’re not sure what the cause of the problem is, call a trusted plumber immediately. The faster you act, the more you can control the extent of the water damage.

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