35 Reasons Sump Pumps Fail

April 10, 2019


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If you live in a home with a basement, chances are you have a sump pump. If you have a sump pump, chances are you have had, or will eventually have a problem with that sump pump that leads to water damage. The rainy season is approaching. Statistically, a homeowner experiencing water damage is a matter of “when” not “if.” Not only is restoring a home from water damage time-consuming, it can be extremely costly. It is important for homeowners to understand why sump pumps are important and the many reasons why they fail, especially as the rainy season rolls in. Lucky for you, we are experts on this subject. 

Many others have written on this topic before, but we are going to take a thorough dive into both the common and uncommon reasons sump pumps fail, some of which are rarely discussed. 

1. Power Failure 

Power failure is a leading cause of home basement flooding. It may seem obvious, but a sump pump is an electronic device that plugs in to an AC outlet and operates off of electricity. If electricity is lost during a thunderstorm or other instance, the sump pump will not be able to turn on and perform its function of pumping incoming water out of your sump pit. As a result, your sump pit will overflow and your basement will flood. 


2. No Battery Backup Pump 

If you don’t have some type of backup pump in place, you are increasing your chances of experiencing a home flood significantly. The most common type of backup pump is battery-powered. A battery-powered pump will kick on if power is lost or if your other pump stops working. 

3. Batteries Die on the Battery-Powered Backup Pump 

Battery-powered backup pumps are designed to last an extended period of time, but they will not pump forever. Eventually, batteries will need to be swapped out or recharged depending on the type of battery used.  If the battery dies and water continues to collect in your sump basin, you will experience a flood. The length of time the batteries will pump depends on how severe the rainfall or water problem you are experiencing is. For example, a backup battery-powered pump that only needs to turn on once every 5 minutes to pump water out of the sump basin will last longer than the same battery-powered pump that needs to turn on every 1 to 2 minutes to keep your basement dry. 

4. Insufficient Capacity on Battery-Powered Backup Pump 

Battery-powered backup pumps are highly necessary when there is a power outage. However, many battery-powered backup pumps are unable to pump at the same capacity as your primary pump. If the backup pump can’t keep up with pumping away water out of the pit, the potential for flooding is high.

5. Water-Powered Backup Pump Fails 

Some folks choose to install a water-powered backup pump over a battery-powered pump. Why? Because in theory, the water-powered pump will continue working when power is lost, just as the battery option, but without facing the problem of “running out of battery power.” It does, however, face the problem of not working due to inadequate water pressure because it relies on your city water pressure to perform its job. If the water pressure is weak or unreliable, the water-powered backup pump may not pump water out of your sump pit quick enough to prevent a flood. A water-powered backup pump may be a good choice in some instances, but if you can’t guarantee high pressure from your city at all times, a water-powered backup pump may not be worth the risk.  

6. Stuck or Tangled Float Switches 

Your float switch is an important component to your sump pump system. Think of it like a messenger. In standard sump pumps, the float switch is what signals the pump to turn off and on. It floats on the surface of the water in the basin and once it reaches a certain level, it triggers the pump. Float switches can get stuck if too much dirt and debris builds up in the basin. They can even get tangled on the pump. If the float switch can’t get its message to the pump, your pump will not turn on and your basin will overflow.

7. Ineffective Float Switch 

There are a few different types of float switches including vertical action float switches, tethered float switches, diaphragm float switches, and electronic float switches. There are pros and cons to the different types of float switches. Some are more prone to error than others. We have found that using a diaphragm switch, which is submersed in the pit and uses water pressure to detect water levels, is more accurate and encounters less issues than other types of float switches. 

8. Old Age 

Your sump pump will not last forever. All home needs and all sump pumps are different. Depending on the manufacturer of your pump and the pump’s level of usage, your sump pump’s lifespan could be different from your neighbor’s. In general, sump pumps can last upwards of 10 years. If you have an older sump pump, it is a good idea to do regular tests to make sure it is still working properly. When in doubt, replace it – it is a small price to pay up front instead of paying thousands of dollars in water damage restoration.

9. An Exhausted Pump 

If your pump needs to run constantly to keep up with a particularly heavy rainfall for back-to-back days, it could stop working. This typically does not happen for new pumps, but if your pump is in the middle of end of its lifespan, you’ll want to keep an extra close eye on it during heavy rain events. 

10. Pump Overheats 

A submersible pump is placed in water and is able to use the water to cool itself and prevent overheating. A pedestal pump, however, does not get placed in the water and can therefore be more prone to overheating if used for a prolonged period of time. If the pump overheats, it will stop working. If you give an overheated pump time to cool off, it should turn back on. However, the time it takes to cool might be valuable time you needed it to pump water out of your basement.  

11. No Sump Pump Maintenance 

While it seems simple, keeping up with regular sump pump maintenance could be your key to preventing serious damage to your home. Sump pump systems that are not regularly maintained are sure to fail in some way over time. When performing maintenance on your sump pump, a simple visual inspection and quick test by pouring some water in the basin could be the difference between having a flooded basement or not.

12. Poor Sump Pump Installation 

When installing something that is a barrier between flooding your home and not flooding your home, it is critical to install it properly. Sump pump installation is not always considered a DIY job for the “average” homeowner. Unless you are exceptionally handy, most homeowners today will hire a licensed plumber to perform the installation, especially if you are installing from scratch (not just replacing) in a basement without an existing sump pit. Sump pump installation can be costly, but the costs are nothing when compared to how much damage could be caused by a sump pump that is not properly installed. If you plan to install a sump pump yourself to save some money, we encourage you to do some thorough research first.

13. Clogged Discharge Pipe 

Your discharge pipe is what carries the water being pumped out of your sump pit away from your home. Because the water being carried out of your pit could be mixed with some sediment or debris, it could collect and cause the discharge pipe to clog over time. If the discharge pipe clogs and you don’t have a backup discharge line in place, the water filling your basin has nowhere to go and will overflow onto your basement floor.

14. Frozen Discharge Line 

Because your discharge line is carries the water out of your basement and away from your home, you have a serious problem if it freezes. Once frozen, it could take a long time for the pipe to thaw - time you may not have. Some things that could help this scenario from happening to you is having proper sized discharge line. The line should be large, making it more difficult for ice to build up. It should also be installed at a slope so gravity pulls water through, keeping it from sitting stagnant and freezing.

15. Crushed Discharge Line 

Depending on where and how well your discharge pipe is buried, there are circumstances under which it can be crushed and thus not be able to carry the water being pumped out of your sump pit basin. If you have a yard with mature trees, it is possible for roots to grow over time and crush the pipe. While a crushed pipe is not as common as a frozen or clogged pipe, it does happen!

16. Discharge Pipe Does Not Have a Grated Opening ?

Having a grated opening on your discharge pipe is important. It can keep small animals from going inside the drain as well as keep debris from collecting and causing a blockage.

17. No Check Valve on the Discharge Line ?

A check valve can be thought of as a one-way road. The check valve allows water to be pumped away from the basin and out through the discharge line, but does not allow water to reverse its path and enter back into the basin. The check valve becomes especially important if there is ever an issue with a clog in the discharge line. 

18. No Vent Hole Installed ?

A vent hole is a small horizontal hole that reduces pressure caused by trapped air between your pump and check valve. As a pump sucks water out of the basin, there is a possibility that it could also suck up air. If the air remains in the system with nowhere to be expelled, it could cause the pump to stop working. 

19. Product Defect 

Things can happen in product manufacturing and assembling that could end up costing the end-user. If you purchased a sump pump from a company without high standards of quality control, you may find that you are not pleased with the results. When purchasing any product, especially something as important as a sump pump, it is essential to do your research and ask about a product warranty.

20. Damage Upon Installation  

Let’s say you or your plumber are about to install the pump, but accidentally drop it. Upon examination, everything looks okay - no dents and no parts fell out. However, the working parts inside the pump that you can’t see might have been affected. For the most part, sump pumps are highly durable, but there are opportunities for accidental damage so be extra cautious when handling the system during installation.

21. No Overflow Outlet 

An overflow outlet keeps water from flowing back into your basin in the event that your discharge pipe becomes clogged, crushed, or frozen. An overflow outlet is typically installed at the base of the home and allows water being pumped from the basin to still expel out of the basement and preventing a flood. If you don’t have an overflow outlet installed and your discharge line becomes blocked, your basement will flood. 

22. No Type of Pump Health Monitoring 

The sad reality is that most people only replace their sump pump if it fails. In other words, sump pumps are treated like lightbulbs. That’s okay for a lightbulb because a burnt out lightbulb can’t cause thousands of dollars in damage. 

A quick and shameless plug: The DriBot Home Flood Prevention Appliance is the only sump pump system on the market that provides pump health monitoring. Using custom algorithms that take into account things like the pump manufacturer specs, GPM, inflow, outflow, and more, DriBot is able to more accurately predict the life expectancy of your pump and notifies you when it is time to replace. It does this before the pump fails, saving you thousands of dollars in damage.

23. Cheap Pump 

The cheapest pump on the market may feel like a good decision to your wallet now, but you may realize it wasn’t a good decision for your wallet later when it fails. Just because you can get an $11 submersible sump pump online doesn’t mean you should. One of the best sources for comparing sump pump systems is Sump Pumps Direct. A sump pump can range from $75 to $3000 depending on type, materials, and what features are included. It is important to understand the needs of your home and the level of protection you value. It ultimately comes down to how much risk you want to take. If you want little to no risk of home flooding, you should be willing to pay more for a sump pump system ($3000 now to prevent $25,000 later is probably worth it).

24. Poorly Designed Pump 

Sometimes the problem with your sump pump could be as simple as its design. If cheap materials were used or it was not properly assembled and inspected for quality, you may not have a pump that will perform well. A cheap pump can sometimes be an indicator of poor design or company that cuts corners. Always check reviews for the pump company and model of pump you are planning to purchase (if available), before investing in a pump. 

25. Home Needs a Second Sump Pit 

If you live in an area that is particularly prone to flooding, you may need more than one sump pit. While this is not always the case, it can be a good idea for some homes to have two separate pits that can hold the large amount of water coming in. Alternatively, a larger sump pit basin may be used. 

26. Pump is Not Properly Linked to Drainage System 

If installed correctly, the drainage system should collect water and then divert it to the sump pit at an incline, allowing gravity to pull it into the basin. If there is a problem with the drainage system or the drainage system is non-existent, there will be no way to prevent your basement from flooding. 

27. Clogged Sump Pump Inlet 

If you notice your sump pump is not pumping as much water out of your basin as it should, it is possible that the pump is clogged. Because the water it is pumping often contains dirt and debris, this can collect and cause your sump pump inlet to clog. Many sump pump inlets have what looks like a strainer to try and keep as much of the large pieces of debris from being sucked up into the pump. 

28. Sump Pump Won’t Turn Off 

If you have a sump pump that is constantly running, its lifespan could be dramatically reduced. There could be several reasons for it being in the ON position. It could be that your float switch is stuck in the “ON” position or the check valve is not working, causing the pump to be pumping the same water out over and over again. Regardless, if your sump pump won’t turn off, you shouldn’t ignore it. It could easily get burnt out, causing it to fail when you actually need it. 

29. Improper Sized Sump Pit Basin Installed

Sump pit basins come in several sizes. If your home is in an area that experiences lots of flooding, it is a good idea to install a basin that is wider and/or deeper so that it can hold more water. In some cases, it might even be a good idea to install two sump pits.

30. Not Regularly Cleaning / Clearing Your Pit 

There are lots of problems that can be caused by sediment and debris building up in a sump pit that has been carried in with the groundwater. From a stuck float switch to a mechanical issue inside the pump, it is a good idea to keep up with regular cleanings of your sump pit so you don’t have a system malfunction that causes a flood. Not sure how to clean your pit?, check out this article for some important tips and tricks.

Not interested in putting forth the effort of cleaning your pit? Let DriBot do it for you. Our DriBot Home Flood Prevention Appliance is the only sump pump system on the market that performs automatic monthly self-cleanings. 

31. No High-Level Water Alarm Installed 

A lot of homeowners believe that if you simply install a sump pump, you are protected against flooding and don’t have to think about it again. This is a serious misconception. Without an alarm of some type, you will not know if there is an issue unless you are sitting in your basement staring at the water rising and falling in your sump pit 24/7. The most common choice for monitoring your sump pit is a high-level water alarm. It uses sensors that you set in your sump pit at a level that would be considered problematic if your basin ever filled that high. If water reaches that level, it will sound an audible alarm and, in some cases, send you a text or push notification alerting you to the high water level. Some sump pumps even come with their own alarm system, like the DriBot Home Flood Prevention Appliance. 

32. Sump Pump Not Running on a Dedicated Circuit

Depending on how your basement or mechanical room is set up, it may be tempting to run both your washer/dryer units or other appliances on the same circuit as your sump pump. This is not recommended. In fact, all major appliances that you would not want to stop working should be on a dedicated circuit. Doing this could prevent a tripped breaker or blown fuse. It is one thing to have your fridge turn off while you are away on vacation. Sure, you will have to replenish your condiments and the melted ice-cream in your freezer for a couple hundred dollars max, but if your sump pump stops working while you are away on vacation and there is a rain event where your sump pump is needed, you could experience several thousand dollars in damage. Both of these scenarios are preventable by making sure any appliance you value is on a dedicated circuit.  

33. Sump Pump is Plugged in to a GFCI Protected Outlet

A GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet is designed to turn off electricity when it detects an imbalance in incoming or outgoing electrical current. This type of outlet was designed for safety reasons and is intended to protect against electrical shock. You will often find this type of outlet at places in your home near water, such as sinks. Your sump pump is near water, so you may be thinking a GFCI outlet is appropriate for plugging in your pump. This is not true. If water trips the GFCI circuit and turns off the outlet powering your sump pump when you need it the most, you will not be happy with the damage that results. 

34. Extension Cord is Being Used to Plug in Sump Pump

As previously mentioned, your sump pump should be running on a dedicated circuit. Similarly, if you plug in your sump pump using an extension cord that is powering multiple systems, you risk blowing a fuse. 

35. Unplugged Pump

If a sump pump is not plugged in and you do not have a backup battery option in place, your basement could flood. Homeowners may forget to plug in the sump pump after performing regular maintenance which requires unplugging the pump for safety reasons. We’re all human – it happens, but here is a cautionary tale so it hopefully doesn’t happen to you!

A failed sump pump is something that is not often considered until it affects you. The moral of the story is that a sump pump is a much more critical component to homeownership than what one might think. Your chances of experiencing home water damage are high. Part of that is because there is a lack of education on simple things you can do to prevent your basement from flooding and the lack of awareness of many new products, like ours, that are available to homeowners.  

So here comes the sales pitch – you can buy an ordinary, standard sump pump system and keep your fingers crossed that none of the items on list above happen to you. Or, you could invest in a system that does nearly all of the work in protecting against the 35 items listed above for you. If you see a checkmark next to the item on our list above, that means DriBot is designed to prevent that problem from occurring. The DriBot Home Flood Prevention system is the most comprehensive system on the market designed to protect you against flooding. 

We hope you found this resource to be useful. If you have any questions about your sump pump or are interested in learning more about DriBot and the problems it prevents, we are happy to assist you!