Is Your Sump Pump Putting Your Home at Risk?
5 tell-tale signs your sump pump may need an inspection.
In the world of home appliances, gadgets, and fixtures, there are those that are “cool” or “exciting” to think about…and then there are things like your sump pump. Totally unglamorous, often overlooked, and in some cases hidden away in some forgotten closet in the basement, this hard-working hidden gem doesn’t always get the respect it deserves when it comes to home maintenance.
In fact, most homeowners probably don’t think about their sump pump until it kicks on and saves the day after a turbulent storm has rolled through. However, the condition of your sump pump can move from the last thing on your mind to the first in a flash (flood) if it doesn’t step up to the challenge during a time of need.
Commonly found in homes in areas where flooding is likely, the water table is high, or where rapidly melting snow or sudden heavy rainstorms are common, sump pumps are designed to prevent water from collecting in a home. Aside from handling the water buildup from excess rain/snowmelt/flooding, a sump pump also expels natural groundwater from the basement of a home.
How sump pumps work
Sump pumps are typically one of two types: submersible and pedestal. Submersible pumps are put underwater in the sump pump basin (or pit); the pedestal version sits with the pump motor out of the water, above the basin. Most pumps (of either type), use a float switch (like the one in your toilet tank) that rises and falls with the water level. When the float reaches a certain height, it trips the switch and turns on the pump, and which pulls in the water and expels it from your home. A check valve on the sump pump keeps the expelled water from re-entering your home.
When good pumps go bad
If the pump fails to remove all of the water that collects in the sump basin, it won’t be long before dangerous and costly issues such as mold and other forms of decay could cause expensive and extensive damage.
If you can’t remember the last time you checked on your sump pump, it might be time to give it a once over, keeping an eye out for the following five red flags.
Is your sump pump:
The average submersible sump pump is expected to last for about 10 years; a pedestal about twice that (the motor is not submerged).1 However, factors such as the frequency of rainfall and distance it carries runoff away from your home can alter that time frame. Testing your equipment every three months can help you to ensure that your sump pump is young enough to continue to operate successfully. If you’re not sure if the test is performing properly or whether or not the last sump-pump replacement was recent enough, we recommend that you call up a qualified plumber to have it professionally inspected.
Noticing strange noises isn’t only suspicious in scary movies. If your sump pump is making alarmingly loud, irregular, or unusual noises, there may be an issue with its functionality. (However, keep in mind that SOME noise is normal. Also, pedestal pumps are louder, in general, than the submersibles as the motor is not under the water—which tends to muffle the sound.) Go ahead and get a professional inspection done to get the situation diagnosed if you’re concerned about odd noises coming from your sump pump.
Choosing to put up with a sump pump that has a mild or intermittent performance issue is asking for trouble. If the functionality of your sump pump has worsened over a time, this may be an indicator that it’s failing. The best course of action is to have your pump inspected to be certain that is not simply a matter of a component needing to be cleaned or repaired. If its performance is consistently weak after maintenance steps are taken, consider replacing the pump before it’s too late.
A pump that runs for an excessive period of time or runs too often—heedless of the weather—indicates a potential problem. Pumps that run longer than necessary have an increased chance of burning out the motor. So, the quicker the issue is addressed, the drier your basement is likely to be. Common causes of sump-pump overdrive include:
If your sump pump does not turn on, you’ve likely found that water is filling your basement. This is the absolute worst-case scenario, but it is also the surest sign that you should look into replacement options.
To keep from being at the mercy of the moisture, it’s always a good idea to have a plan B. You can prepare for a (literal) rainy day by keeping a secondary, battery-powered pump installed as an extra precaution (this helps for power outages, as well). In the photo on the right, a new submersible pump with battery backup is getting ready for installation--the old pumphas been removed, and is sitting to the right of the basin.
You can also stay prepared by testing your current sump pump every three months or so. To test it, regularly pour water into the sump basin and observe how quickly the pump removes the water. Make sure that the basin is clear of gravel, dirt, and other debris regularly and before tests.