Common Sump Pump Failure Causes & How You Can Keep Your Home Dry

By:    |   Published July 31, 2020
A sump pump being replaced following sump pump failure in a sump pit

Heavy rains can pour millions to billions of gallons of water in your area. All that water has to go somewhere, and it’s almost assuredly going to include your property. When water starts to reach your home, your sump pump kicks into action – pushing water out of the pit and away from your property. Sump pump failure happens often, and it leaves your home vulnerable to rapid intakes of water.

5 Frequent Causes of Sump Pump Failure

It’s an unfortunate fact that sump pumps can fail for several reasons, some of which are easier to avoid than others. Here are the five most common causes of sump pump failure:

Extreme Water Intake

Not all sump pumps are made the same. Like many purchases, you often get what you pay for! Cheaper and smaller pumps can lack the power to handle extreme storms or flash floods when the water hits your home. During these extreme weather events, a basic sump pump is going to be easily overwhelmed, allowing the excessive water to rise and fill your home.

There are two potential ways that homeowners can help avoid their sump pump being pushed past its limits. The first is to invest in a higher-quality sump pump. When making a purchase, look at the gallons per hour rating (often referred to as GPH.) These can be broken down by depth – with GPH being lower the deeper the sump pump is installed.

A high-capacity pump is going to provide your home more protection if the weather turns nasty. Even though these pumps come at a higher cost, they’re a fraction of the costs associated with restoring a home lost to water damage!

The second solution is to have more than one pump. To do this, you don’t want to have both pumps at the same depth – this would lead them to both activate at the same time, which is usually unnecessary. Every time a pump cycles on and off, it burns through a bit of its lifespan.

Instead, you want to stack them, one higher than the other. This allows the primary (lower) sump pump to activate during normal circumstances; when water levels are rising too fast for the primary pump to handle them, the secondary pump will kick in and double your home’s ability to discharge water.

In most cases, simply investing in a better sump pump is all you need – but for DIY experts, setting up a system to have two pumps can be an effective way to protect your home.

Sump Pump Loses Power

When a storm hits, your sump pump is a major part of your home’s defense. But the same storm that should give your sump pump a time to prove its worth can simultaneously lead to it shutting down. Sump pump failure due to lost power is a reality – and it happens more often than you may think!

A sump pump that’s powered only by your home’s direct power source is a flood just waiting to happen. It’s common for storms with heavy winds to take out power across whole regions. Depending on your local area, you may lose power during every storm or only during the most extreme ones. Either way, if your sump pump can’t run on its own, it can’t be relied upon to protect your home.

Battery backups for sump pumps aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity. An hour without your sump pump working could allow upwards of 1,000 gallons of water into your home in one hour. Once moisture reaches your dry wall and interior, it can leave your home with thousands of dollars’ worth of damage in just minutes.

Debris & Dirt Clogs

The pit for a sump pump is far from the cleanest place in your home. Like anywhere else in your home, it accumulates dirt and debris over time – except it likely never gets thoroughly cleaned if at all. This can be a major problem, and one of the biggest contributing factors to sump pump failure.

Exposed sump pump pits are eventually going to fill with enough debris and buildup that they become clogged. The bigger the clog, the harder it is for your pump to discharge water when it’s necessary. Not only will this increase your chances of overwhelming the pump, it also means the pump has to work harder and longer – which means it’s bound to hit its limit much more quickly.

Debris clogging the pit itself isn’t the only issue, either. Here are some other potential clog issues:

Mechanical Clogs – Sump pumps are like any other mechanical device, anything that gets inside will worsen the ability for moving parts to do their jobs.

Float Switch Clogs – The float switch is what lets your sump pump know when it’s time to activate. If this switch gets loaded with debris and ceases to function properly, your pump may not turn on when it should.

Exit Clog – Sump pumps need to send the water somewhere. If the exit point for the discharged moisture gets clogged or blocked with dirt or rocks, it will reduce the total flow and reduce the rate that water can be removed.

Frozen Discharge Lines

Winter can be a particularly harsh time for homes. Between frost heave, snow melt and ice dams on your gutters, it’s a season of unique threats that can cause major moisture issues for your home. Your sump pump is another potential victim of the freezing cold!

While it’s unlikely that the water close to your pump will freeze, the farther down the discharge line you go, the higher the chances of a freeze. It only takes a small frozen spot at the end of the line to completely prevent your sump pump from getting the water out. This causes two major issues:

#1. The sump pump won’t be able to effectively remove excessive water. Fortunately, your risk of a flood isn’t too high. If the end of the discharge line is frozen, especially if it’s properly placed below the frost line, it means moisture outside is likely frozen or still snow. Of course, rapid melting on the surface may not reach the discharge line fast enough and you could start to take on snow melt before your pump is capable of pushing out the water!

#2. The sump pump will run continuously. It’s important to remember that no sump pump is designed to last forever. The more it runs, the faster it will burnout and cease to function. If water is in the pit, but the discharge line is frozen, the pump will constantly try to push the water out unsuccessfully. It can run for hours or days on end, which will quickly burn through its expected lifespan.

If your sump pump discharge line isn’t dug low enough in the ground, it’s worth having a professional rerun the line to reduce the likelihood of it freezing. A few inches below the frost line is all it takes to substantially decrease the risk!

When freezes happen, you can also treat the discharge line in the same way you might any other frozen pipe. A portable heater can raise the ambient temperature and eventually melt away the blockage. Just make sure you don’t go overboard – blow torches and extreme direct heat can damage the line and lead to other problems you don’t want to deal with!

Past Its Lifetime

Under normal circumstances, a sump pump can be expected to function for about 10 years at the maximum. For areas with frequent rainfall or snow melt, it’s likely that they may need replacing in half the time.

It’s typical for homeowners, especially if they’re recently purchased a home, not to have any idea how old a sump pump is. Even if previous homeowners insist that your sump pump is on the newer end, it’s not something worth taking at face value. Professional inspections from experienced basement waterproofers can give you insight into the current state of your sump pump.

Frequent inspections are necessary, even if you know the pump is new. There are a lot of reasons that sump pump failure could happen faster than the expected timeline, and a surprise pump failure is rarely a minor incident.

If it’s been a while since you’ve checked out your sump pump, or if had a professional do it, give us a call or send us an e-mail so we can help make sure your home isn’t vulnerable to a sudden intake of water!

Schedule Your FREE Annual Foundation Inspection  

The best way to protect your home from poor air quality is with professional  waterproofing. EverDry Toledo can help with a FREE 20-point basement inspection! We’ll help you find out if your home is at risk for water damage and which solutions will best serve you. Contact us online to schedule an appointment or give us a call at (419) 469-5833 and schedule your inspection today!  

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