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Sump Pump Not Working: Understanding Sump Pump Failures and Solutions

7 min read • February 2nd, 2024

Heil Plumbing

Sump pump not working? Sump pumps serve as the unsung heroes of home maintenance, quietly protecting your basement from unwanted water and the potential havoc it can wreak. Yet, when a sump pump fails to operate, it can lead to a sense of helplessness and frustration, especially when it’s pouring down rain, and your basement or crawl space is taking on water. It’s normal to wonder where you should even start. Should you search YouTube for a DIY on “How to check a sump pump?” Or are your sump pump issues signaling a deeper problem requiring professional attention?

Watch the video below and keep reading to learn sump pump basics:

  • Whether you need a sump pump
  • How sump pumps work
  • Signs your sump pump isn’t working
  • Basic sump pump troubleshooting steps
  • How to test a sump pump
  • The importance of battery backup sump pumps
  • Choosing the right sump pump for your home
  • When to call in the experts

Sump Pump Basics (0:09-1:08)

So what is a sump pump anyway? Understanding sump pump basics is the first step toward effective troubleshooting and maintenance. A sump pump is typically installed in the lowest part of your basement or crawlspace, resting inside a specially constructed pit. Water that makes its way through your foundation flows into this sump pump pit. The sump pump’s primary role is to pump this water out of the pit and away from your home, thus preventing flooding and maintaining the foundation’s structural integrity. So, how do you know if your sump pump is working properly?

Identifying Common Sump Pump Issues (1:11-3:03)

Several common issues can hinder your sump pump’s performance, ranging from continuous operation to complete failure. Here are a few signs that your sump pump is not working as it should:

  • Sump pump keeps running: A sump pump running incessantly might seem like it’s doing its job well, but it could indicate a problem. Continuous operation can wear out the pump prematurely and may suggest an overwhelming influx of water or that your sump pump float is stuck.
  • Why is my sump pump not turning on? This could be due to electrical issues, such as a tripped circuit breaker, a faulty float switch, or even a burned-out pump motor.
  • Inadequate Water Removal: Sometimes, the sump pump might run but fail to remove water effectively, leading to a rising water level in the sump pit. This issue can stem from a clogged intake screen, a blocked discharge pipe, or a pump that is too small for the volume of water it needs to handle.

So, how do you troubleshoot your particular sump pump issue?

Sump Pump Troubleshooting Guide (3:05-6:00)

When your sump pump isn’t working as it should, effective troubleshooting can often resolve the issue without the need for professional intervention. Here’s how to diagnose and fix the most common sump pump problems:

Addressing Frequent Cycling

If your sump pump turns on and off more frequently than normal, it might be due to a short cycling issue. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

Sump Pump Float Stuck / Adjustable Float Issue:

The float switch signals the pump to start and stop. If your pump runs continuously or fails to activate, the float switch might be stuck or malfunctioning. Inspect the float to ensure it’s moving freely and isn’t obstructed. Some float switches allow for adjustment. Reducing the sensitivity or adjusting the on-off range can help prevent short cycling. Finally, contact a professional if adjustments don’t solve the problem, as replacing the float switch may be necessary.

Sump pump not working? Inspect the float switch, testing it manually by flipping it.  A sump pump float stuck can cause the pump to run continuously.
Incorrect Sump Pump Pit Size:

Ensure that the sump pit is deep and wide enough to allow the pump to operate efficiently. A pit that is too-small can cause the pump to cycle too rapidly.

Sump Pump Not Turning On? Restore Power Supply

A sump pump that won’t start might be experiencing power issues. First, ensure that the pump’s plug is secure and hasn’t been accidentally unplugged. Next, check the outlet where the pump is plugged in by testing it with another device (like a lamp). If the outlet is not working, check your home’s circuit breaker or fuse box. A tripped breaker or blown fuse could be the culprit. If electrical issues persist, consulting with a licensed electrician can help prevent potential hazards and ensure the pump receives a stable power supply.

Evaluating Sump Pump Size

If your sump pump fails to keep up with incoming water, it may be undersized for your needs. Review the pump’s specifications against the volume of water it needs to handle, especially during peak conditions. Upgrading to a pump with a higher capacity might be necessary.

What Do You Do After Troubleshooting?

If you can’t solve your sump pump issues after walking through this blog (and we would add, watching the above video), it’s time to call a trusted local plumber. If you are able to get it working, you will want to check your sump pump to confirm that it’s actually operating properly. So, how does testing a sump pump work?

How to Test a Sump Pump

  • Fill the sump pit with water until the float rises and triggers the pump.
  • Listen for the pump to activate.
  • Watch to see if the water is removed from the pit, and listen to ensure that the pump turns off without any issues.
Need to know how to check a sump pump? Fill the sump pump pit with water and listen for the pump to activate, clear the pit, and turn off again.

After ensuring your sump pump operates correctly through testing, it’s vital to transition into routine care to maintain its efficiency. Regular maintenance and evaluation of your sump pump system are essential steps to prevent future issues and extend its lifespan.

Regular Sump Pump Maintenance and Evaluation

  • Listen for Operation: During wet conditions, periodically check the pump by listening to hear if it activates and deactivates at regular intervals. Continuous operation or silence can indicate a problem.
  • Visual Inspections: Regularly inspect your sump pump and the sump pit for any signs of debris or obstruction that could impede the pump’s operation. Ensure the intake grate is clear of obstructions.
  • Cleaning: At least once a year, remove the pump from the pit and clean the screen or inlet opening. This is also a good time to inspect the pump for any wear and tear.
  • Check Valve: Ensure the check valve functions correctly to prevent water from flowing back into the pit after the pump turns off. If the check valve is allowing water back into the pit (backflow), you will need to replace your sump pump check valve.
  • Test the Battery Backup (if you have one): Many households equip their sump pumps with a battery backup system as a secondary power source. It’s crucial to test the battery’s ability to hold a charge periodically. Numerous local auto parts stores offer battery testing services, providing a convenient way to ensure your sump pump’s reliability when you need it most.

While regular upkeep can ensure the mechanical integrity of your pump, integrating a battery backup system addresses the reliability of your sump pump when power failures are most likely. So, how exactly does a battery backup sump pump work?

Plumber Ike answers "how does a battery backup sump pump work"

How Does a Battery Backup Sump Pump Work, and Is It Worth It

  • Battery Backup Functionality: A battery backup sump pump operates independently of your home’s electrical system, providing an additional layer of protection during power outages. This ensures your basement remains dry, even when the primary pump cannot operate.
  • Cost vs. Benefit: While the initial investment in a battery backup system may seem significant, the protection it offers against potential flood damage can make it a worthwhile addition. Evaluate your home’s flooding risk and previous history of power outages to determine if a battery backup sump pump suits your needs.

Sump Pump Not Working – Quick FAQ

What does a broken sump pump sound like?

Distinct sounds like grinding, humming, or gurgling from a sump pump indicate issues ranging from motor problems to check valve malfunctions. Promptly addressing these signs with professional repair can prevent extensive damage and reduce the risk of flooding.

Is it easy to fix a sump pump or should I call a professional?

Basic sump pump troubleshooting can be a DIY task because not all sump pump issues are complex. That said, professional assistance can be important for complex electrical issues, repeated pump failures, system upgrades or replacement, or during emergencies.

Why is my sump pump tripping the breaker?

If your sump pump is tripping the circuit breaker, it could be due to electrical issues within the pump or your home’s electrical system. It might indicate that the pump is drawing too much power, possibly because of a fault in the motor or wiring. Consulting with a professional is recommended to diagnose and address electrical issues safely.

Do sump pumps need to be cleaned?

Yes, sump pumps require regular cleaning to maintain their efficiency and extend their lifespan. Debris, sediment, and other materials can accumulate in the sump pit and on the pump itself, leading to clogs or wear.

What size sump pump do I need for my home?

The size of the sump pump you need depends on your basement’s size, the volume of water to be managed, and the height the water needs to be lifted to exit your home. A professional can help you calculate the correct pump size for your needs.

How long do sump pumps last?

On average, a sump pump can last anywhere from 7 to 10 years. The lifespan of a sump pump depends on various factors, including the frequency of use, the volume of water it handles, and how well it is maintained. Monitoring your sump pump’s performance and replacing it before it fails completely is crucial to avoid basement flooding.

Need a Reliable Sump Pump Solution in the Baltimore or D.C. Area?

Addressing common sump pump issues effectively requires a combination of regular maintenance, proper installation, and timely troubleshooting. When DIY sump pump fixes fall short, it’s crucial to seek a professional plumber’s expertise. Our Howard County plumbing team is equipped to handle your sump pump needs. Need our plumbers in Anne Arundel County? We’re ready to assist you! Live in Baltimore County? Our expert plumbers in Baltimore are here for top-notch assistance. Closer to Washington, D.C.? Our Montgomery County plumbers have you covered. Our team of plumbers is ready to handle all your plumbing needs. From online DIY advice about the type of toilet wax ring to choose to unmatched professional services like sewer line replacement, we handle it all for the Baltimore-D.C. metropolitan area.


Heil Plumbing Team

8177 Mission Rd Jessup, MD, 20794, United States

(410) 799-7727

Schedule Service


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