sump pumpWith all the rain we’ve gotten over the past week or so, we’re getting more and more calls from customers who have problems with their sump pump. So today we’re going to give you some basic information about how these units operate and when they are likely to fail.

Some of the most unglamorous parts of a home or business can be the most important. Sump pumps will never attract admirers, or customers, but a failing sump pump can make your home nearly unlivable, and drive away customers from your business. Three basic, unglamorous things you need to know about sump pumps are what sump pumps do, why they stop working, and how to spot signs of imminent failure.

What a Sump Pump Does

The typical sump pump sits in a sump pit, a hollow in a basement floor, and pumps excess water out into a drainage system. Whether your home or business is built on a subterranean spring, is adjacent to wetlands, or sits where the water table is unusually high, a sump pump can keep humidity down, prevent water from flooding your basement, and protect items in basement storage.

When Sump Pumps Go Wrong

Most of the decade-long life span of a sump pump is spent switching on and off in response to sensors that detect water levels. Usually the sump (that hollow pit in the basement) slowly fills with water, but after a hard rain or when snow melts, the sump could fill up quickly. The sump pump is triggered by the same sort of float valve most toilets use, so it is a mechanical connection that activates electrical current for the pump itself.

This means you have at least three areas where a sump pump can fail:

Water — The pump works best when relatively clean, uncontaminated water is pumped up by the impeller; if foreign objects, greywater or biologicals (algae, slimes, plant matter) get into the impeller, the pump could fail
Mechanism — The float activator arm can hang up, whether from corrosion or blockage, preventing the or submersible motor (pedestal pump motor) from either turning on or turning off; if it does not turn off, the motor will burn out; if it does not turn on, your basement will flood; the discharge pipe’s check valve could also fail mechanically, allowing water to return to the sump pit
Electrical — Whether using a float arm or a pressure sensor, the motor on the pump will only run if electricity is flowing; a tripped breaker, a corroded wire, or a loose connection could cause the pump to sit idle, allowing water to back up and flood your space.

Signs of Failure

Obviously the most compelling sign that a sump pump has failed is the presence of standing water in your basement. Other, less obvious signs can alert you far in advance of actual failure. Get to know these signs of failing sump pumps:

I Can’t Hear You — Good sump pumps are almost whisper quiet, so if you hear loud whining noises, screeching, or thumping sounds, your motor could have burned a bearing
On again, off again — A short-cycling sump pump could mean trouble with the float switch, too small a pit, or it is the wrong size, and was installed to “economize” by being too small for the job; having too big a sump pump is just as bad, however, so have a trusted expert plumber assess your installation
Age — Sump pumps typically last 10 years with conscientious maintenance; less with casual neglect
Pedestal design — This design is long outdated and has been replaced by efficient submersible designs; pedestal sump pumps can tip, twist and make a lot of noise

For expert advice on installation, servicing, repairs and replacement of sump pumps for your Cleveland-area home or business, contact us at The Plumbing Source. We have the trained professionals, proper tools, and years of experience to serve you.