DO YOU HAVE A SUMP PUMP FAILURE?
Sump Pump Failure: Causes and How to Prevent Flooded Basements
Sometimes one may encounter a moment of envy when a neighbor parks a new expensive sports car in their driveway or puts in an underground pool. No one, however, envies the neighbor that has a flooded basement from a sump pump failure. But one may ask themselves, “is my basement safe from a failed sump pump?” The fact is sump pump failures occur regularly, leaving basements at the mercy of rising ground water. If it’s caught in time great, the impending flood damage can be avoided, if not, surprise!
A working sump pump is vital to the safe management of ground water around the base of a home or business. This is especially true for those living in areas prone to heavy rainfall, flooding and/or have a creek nearby. The sump pump is necessary in the role of preventing water damage, basement flooding, and maintaining a controlled ground water level. These pumps, however, like anything mechanical, are prone to failure from wear, malfunctions, and power outages. If sump pump failure occurs during heavy rains, your home’s basement will be left vulnerable to flooding.
In this post, we will explore several common causes of sump pump failures and provide valuable insights to prevent an emergency water damage disaster. While there are several common causes for basement flooding, the #1 reason is a failed sump pump.
Understanding a Sump Pumps Role in Preventing Basement Flooding
What is a Sump Pump?
Many Michigan basements rely on a functioning sump pump located at the lowest part in a basement or crawlspace. They are placed in a pit (called a sump pump pit) that will show how high the exterior ground water level is. Around any properties exterior foundation there is the presence of ground water, often at different heights. As this water table reaches higher levels through rain it needs to be controlled so it does not come in the home and causes water damage. The pit will fill up higher with water in direct proportion to the exterior ground water. Once it reaches a certain point the float of the sump pump will engage allowing for the water to be pumped away from the home’s foundation.
In some older communities of Macomb Township and Oakland Township there is no need for a sump pump, as the groundwater is directly into the sanitary. Cities like the Grosse Points, Huntington Woods, Warren, and others, were developed without the need for a sump pump so basement flooding for them is generally related to sewer drain issues.
Importance of Sump Pumps
Sump pumps are to a home what gutters are to a roof. Their absence will allow water free access to any vulnerable point in the home. Water from roofs if not controlled by gutters can come in through windows, door walls, and cracks in brick joints. Nonfunctioning sump pumps will allow water in through the sump pit, floor drains as well as the floor joint between the basements concrete slab and exterior concrete wall.
Sump pump failures are responsible for almost all basement flooding in Southeast Michigan and have caused more water damage to property than any other one cause. Plumbing issues, sink and toilet overflows, frozen pipes and even appliance malfunctions cannot compete for the top position, held by sump pump failure.
To be clear, sump pumps are great at preventing basement flooding, have a skilled design and a proven track record for success. They work behind the scenes, are seldom heard and they provide peace of mind to homeowners, knowing that excess water is promptly removed during heavy rain or snowmelt.
However, not all are created the same and all will age and fail at some point. When they do, it will wreak havoc in a finished basement and lead to devastating water damage. If not mitigated quickly and correctly the damages can include mold growth and structural damage.
Common Causes of Sump Pump Failures
Power Loss from Outages & Electrical Issues
One of the most common reasons for sump pump failures is a power outage, from down powerlines. These outages increase greatly in times of storm related damage from bad weather. Each year in Metro Detroit there are a string of outages that take place each year and some for multiple days. During these stressful hours many homeowners are sweeting it out as basements can flood quickly without a sump pump to control the ground water.
In 2022 many Shelby Township and Macomb Township homes experienced basement flooding until the power outages were resolved several days later. By then the damage was done. Carpets were ruined drywall saturated, valued contents water damaged and property left in dire need of restoration and cleanup.
We at Action Extraction Restoration were inundated with calls from frantic property owners needing help to restore their flooded basements and remediate mold issue that resulted from their failed sump pumps during the power outage.
Faulty & Incorrect Installation
Just because someone holds the title of “plumber” does not mean they have the experience and expertise to correctly install a sump pump. Each year Action Extraction receives calls from homeowners requesting restoration for their flooded basement because of a faulty or incorrect installation of a sump pump. We recommend using plumbers with experience, insurance, and one that has favorable reviews on social media platforms. Using a friend of a friend or a handyman with little to no skills can be a big mistake.
Careless installation can lead to various issues with your sump pump’s performance. If the pump is not correctly positioned in the sump pit, it may not be able to effectively remove water. For example, we have seen pumps run incessantly because the float was positioned wrong and burned the pump up, because it could not turn off. We have seen the absence of a check valve as well as one being installed backward. In either case, you will end up with a flooded basement and needless drama.
Recently a customer in Shelby Township called us at Action Extraction restoration professionals about a basement flood of monumental damage. Like many Michiganders, she too is a snowbird and upon coming home after 2 months away, she got the shock of a lifetime. She walked into her basement and found it completely underwater, mold everywhere and a restoration project requiring funds she was not prepared to shell out. All because the plumber she used to winterize her home unplugged the sump pump and forgot to plug it back in.
She thought he was a professional who would have insurance to cover the mistake, but to her utter dismay, found out he had none.
Cheaply Made Sump Pumps can Cost you a Flooded Basement
Using a cheap grade pump or the wrong pump size or type is another way to fall victim to faulty installation that may lead to sump pump failure and basement flood damage. A functioning sump pump when called upon is going to save your home from an inevitable flood, so pinching pennies is not an option. Don’t purchase lightweight, plastic no-name brands that are not proven and trusted. Most hardware stores will have an educated employee to educate you on the best option.
This will be a heavier pump made of stainless steel, cast iron or other heavy-duty material. It needs to be a minimum of 1/3rd horsepower and for deeper basements half or 1 horse to lift the water higher. The float system needs to be stationary type on a mechanism that keeps it in place allowing for smooth up and down motion. Tether type floats are known for their inability to be trusted and can easily maneuver themselves in a pinched or stuck position.
Overwhelmed Sump Pump
Sometimes it rains too heavily for some pumps to handle all the excess water. Extreme amounts of water from intense rainfall or even rapid snowmelt can overwhelm a sump pump to where more water comes in than goes out. There are some homes with even 2 sump pumps, where rare storms produced a faster influx of water than the pumps could handle. Either way, in each case ground water wins and comes in through floor drains and sump pits. Some older pumps lose efficiency and struggle to remove half the amount as when first purchased. In this case they will just fail to keep up with the rise of the water table allowing for an inevitable flooding issue.
Sump pumps like any other appliance in your home will someday need replacing. The question is often asked, “how long does a sump pump last?” The answer seems to range from 7 – 10 years depending on the source. Over time, the repeated wear and tear on the pump to remove water from the pit, will eventually wear it out. Bearings wear out, the motors burn up, floats fail, the impeller can clog or break, etc. These issues can hinder the pump’s ability to operate efficiently and result in a flooded basement. Mechanical issues are inevitable, even if your neighbor boasts he’s had the same pump for 25 years.
Signs of a Failing Sump Pump
Unusual or Suspicious Noises
When a sump pump is working correctly there should be a quiet and almost indistinguishable sound that doesn’t cause attention. If you begin to hear disrupting sounds, grinding, and rattling noises coming from the sump pump, there is an issue needing to be addressed. It may be something simple or it could mean it needs replacing.
New and loud sounds are best dealt with by replacement with a new pump. Sounds that are suddenly out of the ordinary and suspicious need to be attended to quickly to prevent sump pump failure and ultimately a flooded basement.
Frequent On/Off Cycling
Depending on where you live, how much it has rained and the season of the year, sump pumps should not be turning on and off frequently. This behavior may be an indication of any number of concerns needing to be addressed. The float could be pinched or broken, the pit may have had an object fall into it, hindering the complete emptying of the pit, etc. Always check on the proper functioning of the sump pump when it makes noises previously not heard.
When the area of the basement where the sump pump pit resides is noticeably smelling bad, this could be an indication of an impending sump pump failure. Pungent odors originating from the sump pit could be a sign of accumulated debris such as mineral deposits or stagnant water. If the pump is failing to fully remove the amount of water needed to keep moisture content down, mold may be developing. Mold smells from the sump pit could also mean the sump pump is engaging only sometimes leaving excessive water which is producing mold with its offensive odor.
Visible Rust, Corrosion or Mineral Deposit Growth
Over time rust and corrosion will begin to affect the appearance of the pump, which could also be an indication of an impending sump pump failure. Rust and corrosion buildup can cause mechanisms that need to be lose and functionable to freeze up. Rust or corrosion on the sump pump can indicate water damage or a compromised pump housing, which can lead to failure if not addressed.
In some communities the ground water is so replete with mineral deposits they will begin to grow on the sump pump. In one such case we at Action Extraction were called out to a home with a flooded basement due to the mineral deposits having gradually swallowed whole the sump pump making it look as though it were encased in what might be considered liquid rock.
Preventive Maintenance Tips for Sump Pumps
Periodic Inspections of Sump Pumps can yield invaluable information to keep you free of a failed sump pump and a flooded basement. Regularly check the tightness of the check valve clamps as the regular vibration when the pump is engaged, over time can loosen the clamp screws.
Also inspect for any fallen objects that can interfere with the smooth operation of the sump pump. Even a small item of fabric is enough to clog and destroy a pump and leave you vulnerable for basement flooding when the water table rises.
Look for any suspicious signs of damage, a detached float, a part hanging oddly off, debris that could clog the pump or interfere with its components. If you have a battery backup, inspect all electrical cables for secure attachment and see if the battery acid levels are where they need to be.
If you have a water alarm test it to see if it goes off and change the battery once each year. Make sure it is properly located just above the water at its highest point in the sump well before the float engages.
Regular Cleaning and Debris Removal from Sump Pit
Clean the sump pump and sump pit several times a year to prevent buildup of minerals and solids that can clog and burn up the pump. Remove any solid debris, dirt, or sediment that may hinder the pump’s performance. This can be done with either a shop vac or tool able to reach down to remove objects and solids.
Testing the Pump
Most homeowners have never tested their sump pumps efficiency, but periodic inspections can prevent a sump pump failure and spare you from a flood damaged basement. To make sure it activates correctly, pour water into the sump pit to check if the pump starts pumping the water out. One way is to use a 5-gallon bucket of water or a hose, and slowly pour the water into the well till the float lifts. The pump should easily engage, and the water should be quickly removed. If it initially struggles once turned on, the bearings could be worn out indicating it may be time for a replacement. If it turns on and quickly removes the water and shuts down once water is pumped out, the inspection passed.
Backup Power Solutions
Many property owners invest in either a battery backup or water powered backup sump pump in case the primary pump fails. While these systems can be useful, the unfortunate reality is they often fail to produce the results homeowners are hoping for. The expectation is the backup pump will take over once the primary pump fails keeping the basement from flooding.
Action Extraction restoration of Macomb has provided basement flood cleanup in Metro Detroit communities for over 3 decades. One thing we have learned is that 70% of all flooded basements we have serviced have an existing backup system that failed to work. The reasons are many, and we will cover them later when we discuss tips on prevention.
Another option is having access to a backup power source, such as a generator. This ensures that your sump pump will continue to receive electrical power, even when your home is enduring a power outage.
Addressing Sump Pump Failures – Proven Tips on Prevention
Troubleshooting Why the Pump Does not Work
If you discover water rising in the sump pit above the pump, it is not working, and you need to act quickly. Here is a checklist of troubleshooting steps to figure out why you have a sump pump failure.
- CHECK POWER SUPPLY. Try plugging in a night light into the sump pump electrical outlet to assure power exists. Check to see if you have a blown GFI or a blown circuit by inspecting your circuit breakers.
- SEE IF THE FLOAT IS POSITIONED CORRECTLY. Sometimes the float can be pinched or stuck leaving it incapable of rising with the water. Give the pipe that is attached to the submersible pump a little shake to see if the float rises and engages the pump. Tethered float are known for problems, so be sure to lift it as high as you can with some tool in hopes it engages.
- SEE IF THERE IN A BLOCKAGE IN DISCHARGE PIPE: Many homes have a discharge pipe that immediately goes underground and directly into a hidden storm drain. These pipes cannot easily be accessed for obstructions, but if you have one that is visual in your yard, inspect it for blockages. Sometimes the minerals will slowly build up and clog the discharge pipe.
- SHAKE THE PUMP TO ENGAGE PUMP. Over time some sump pumps will freeze up and need to be shaken to assist in engaging pump to function. If it starts up, allow it to drain the sump pit and replace it, as this freeze-up is sure to happen again.
- SPRAY WD-40 OR PENETRATING OILD ON INTERACTIVE PARTS. Sump wells are humid environments that can corrode interactive components that are required to freely move. Sometimes by spraying penetrating oil on the metal arm of the float and other obvious interactive parts can free them up and engage the sump pump.
When to Contact a Professional Plumber
While some sump pump maintenance tasks can be DIY, certain issues may require professional assistance. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable with any maintenance or repairs, it’s best to consult a professional. Plumbers can replace the sump pump with a plumber’s grade system and guarantee their installation.
- In the worst-case scenario of already having a flooded basement consider giving Action Extraction Restoration Professionals a call. Professional flood restoration service is better than doing it yourself, as we can safely restore your property keeping it safe from mold concerns and help with any insurance claim.
Avoiding Water Damage and Basement Flooding
To avoid water damage and basement flooding, it’s essential to have a reliable sump pump in good working condition. Regular maintenance and prompt attention to any issues can save you from costly repairs and extensive water damage. Sump pump failures can lead to disastrous consequences if they go on undetected.
If you have either small of significant water damage from a failed sump pump acting swiftly can minimize damage and assure you don’t get mold. Understanding the common causes of failures and implementing preventive measures will reduce the likelihood of experiencing a sump pump failure and a flooded basement. Remember to perform regular inspections, keep the pump and pit clean, and consider backup power options for added security.
Q: How often should I test my sump pump?
A: It’s recommended to test your sump pump intermittently over the course of the year, at least every three months.
Q: Can I install a sump pump by myself?
A: Resourceful individuals with the proper training and tools can absolutely replace the sump pump on their own. Whether DIY or professional, proper installation is crucial to ensure proper functioning of the pump system and avoiding issues.
Q: What should I do if my sump pump fails during a storm?
A: If your sump pump fails during a storm, go through our checklist to see if you can get it working. If not, look for optional power sources such as a generator or vehicle that has a 110 electrical outlet. In desperate situations attempting to remove water with buckets and/or a siphoning hose to a sink or toilet may help.
Q: My sump pump failed and now my carpet is wet. Can it be saved?
A: This depends on how long it has been wet and whether there is padding under the carpet. The padding must be removed and replaced, but the carpet may still be salvageable. Check out our post on: Should flood damaged carpet be restored?