December 20, 2016

Why Our Sump Pumps Recently Failed

Sump pumps sometimes fail, and there are a number of reasons why it happens: old units that simply give out, power outages, and one reason that recently took me by surprise…months of dry weather can actually leave parts of your sump pump’s mechanisms stuck and not properly functioning.

During the deluge that soaked our area for nearly 48 hours a few weeks ago many water management systems failed or were overloaded, ours included.

We have French drains around the perimeter of our basement and three sump pump basins in key positions. Each basin contains a standard electrical-powered sump pump and two of the basins have back-up pumps, as well — one battery-powered and the other powered by water pressure.

And I thought because of all of this infrastructure, which was installed only two years ago, we were covered…especially because it’s worked so well since installation. Well, it turns out we weren’t covered, and it was another reminder that successful homeownership depends on regular maintenance and care.

Because of the recent dry summer and fall, our primary, electric-powered sump pumps’ float switches were stuck in down positions. This down position indicates low water levels when they are operating properly. The problem was, even as the water level rose inside the sump pump basins, the flow mechanisms were still in their downward position and not signaling to the system to expel water.

I was really grateful that our battery-powered backup pump has a noisy alarm that sounds when it’s in operation. It woke me at 1:30 am when the rain was still pouring down, and water levels were about 6 inches from the top of the basins. Our backup pumps saved our basement from flooding and I was able to call our plumber the next morning to diagnose the problem over the phone. First, we verified the outlets supplying the pumps had power — they did. Then he mentioned the likelihood was the floats were probably stuck in a downward position, and it turned out that all of them were, and the problem was easy to resolve, actually. Removing the basins’ covers was enough to jiggle the mechanisms loose.

So, the next time our area experiences significant rain after a period of extended, dry weather, I will certainly monitor our three electric-powered sump pumps to ensure this same failure doesn’t occur again. And I encourage you to do the same…

Periodically observe your sump pumps in action during rainy periods, and during dry ones, as well — and don’t assume (like I did) that because your system is newer and has recently performed at peak that you’re exempt from periodic checks and care.

Related Post: Waterproofing: French Drains