Fixing a Sump Pump

sump pump

My sump pump hard at work

I’ve learned a lot about sump pumps in the last few years.

Prior to moving into my current home four years ago, I never lived anywhere that had a sump pump. Not sure if that’s the norm for most of the U.S., I just know that very few, if any, homes in Detroit and the older suburbs have sump pumps.  However, sump pumps are being installed in the newer suburbs around Detroit. Because I’ve always lived in older homes (meaning built before 1950 – I realize some of you think a house built in 1999 is old), I’ve never had a sump pump. My current home is the newest home I’ve ever lived in and it was built in 1967.

So anyway, I’ve had one for the past four years. The darn thing has broken/caused me problems three times now. And when I say caused me problems, I mean the kind of problems where water is all over your finished basement floor. Those kinds of problems.

That being said, let’s review what I’ve learned about sump pumps:

  1. When it gets cold, the drainage pipes can freeze (trust me on this one).
  2. Your sump pump can just stop working (trust me on this one).
  3. Your sump well overflows if your pump has no power (this hasn’t happened to me yet but I’ve heard stories).

Sump Pump Drainage Pipe Freezes

I don’t know what the problem is. The drain pipe attached to my sump pump has frozen twice. Guess what happens when the pipe freezes? That’s right, the water can’t go anywhere. Guess what happens when the water can’t go anywhere? That’s right, it backs up. Guess what happens when water in your sump well backs up? That’s right, your basement floods. The only good news about this is that it’s rain water, not sewage, so at least the water is pretty clean. My situation is a little more serious than most for the fact that I have well water. My water softener dumps into the sump well when it’s refreshing, so several dozen gallons of water are added to the sump well on a regular basis. Not a good thing when the pump isn’t working.

And I have to tell the truth. I do know what the problem is. I just said that earlier because I liked how it looked on paper. I asked a plumber recently why my pipe keeps freezing and he told me the installer was lazy. To avoid freezing at the end of the pipe, there should be a nice hole dug (at least a foot deep) all around the end of the drainage pipe. That hole is then filled to the top with a fine gravel. This will allow water to move through the ground without freezing. Right now my pipe simply ends near a drain, and, when it gets too cold, the water turns into ice and my basement freezes. I then have my first spring project ahead of me.  Another thing about frozen sump pump line issues – eventually the drain will thaw. That’s a given. So the problem can’t last forever. That’s nice.

Sump Pump Stops Working

This has happened to me, too. I think it was partially because the sump pump burned itself out when it kept trying to push water out of my frozen drainage pipe. Or because the sump pump was very old. Anyhow, it died and when it did, you guessed it, my basement flooded. It’s a pretty simple concept, the well can’t be pumped out and it overflows. And the solution is simple. Put a new sump pump in.

That’s actually pretty easy. If you’ve never done it and think you need a plumber to install a sump pump, think again. It’s literally as simple as removing your old sump pump, buying a new one (I bought a brand new one at Lowes for about $170 and it has worked fine for over two years now), and then installing it. To remove/install, all you have to do disconnect/connect the sump pump from the drainage pipe (using a pipe wrench if it’s too hard to do by hand) and plug it in. It’s that simple. See the pic.

Sump Pump Loses Electricity

This one is pretty simple. Hasn’t happened to me yet. If your sump pump loses electricity, it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, your sump well fills up. If your sump well fills up and overflows, your basement floods. So, the trick is to never let your sump pump lose power. I ensure my sump pump never loses power by having a portable outdoor generator handy. My house is wired so that if I lose power, I can hook my house up to a generator and run most things pretty well (frige, freezer, well pump, sump pump, TVs, lights, etc.). It can’t run air conditioning in the summer time, but I can live with that. My co-worker, Amanda, has one of those fancy natural gas-powered generators that turn on automatically when your power goes out. Mine isn’t that fancy which means I’m out of luck if the power goes out when I’m out of town. If that happens, guess what? My basement floods.

To avoid that, what I should do is install a backup power source for my sump pump. They seem to be pretty inexpensive and from what I’ve read, and can last many hours during a power outage. They are battery powered. The backup sump pump charges from your AC power during normal power. When the power goes out, the backup pump will kick on and operate until the battery loses power. There are also backup sump pumps that operate from water pressure.

Whichever you choose, it’s probably a good idea to have one. Like I said, I don’t. But I should. Add this to the all the things in life I should do.

sump pump clay

My beautiful clay-orange sump pump. The area near the bottom can clog. That’s not beautiful.

Sump Pumps Can Clog

Another thing that can affect your sump pump is its intake screen that can get clogged. My sump well is very cloudy with clay. The bottom of the pump is orange from that clay. That clay gets clogged in the intake area. I’ve already had to clean it out and my pump is only about two years old. I’ve decided I’ll clean it every few months just to be safe.

I advise you to do the same, friends. The last thing you want is a clogged pump that can’t get water properly out of the well. Then the pump runs constantly. The well overflows. The pump breaks or burns up. Your basement floods. You have to clean it. You have to buy a new pump. You get yelled at for not cleaning your filter. Clean the filter. Just do it.

Tips for Fixing a Sump Pump

So there you have it. Some tips for fixing a sump pump, whether it freezes, clogs, loses electricity or just plain-old stops working. Trust me, take these tips to heart.

The last thing you need is a flooded basement and a significant other who’s yelling at you. Doesn’t make for good time. Trust Clay C. on that.

That’s all. Bye.

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One Response to Fixing a Sump Pump

  1. Todd - Water Well Repair July 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I’ve actually read something involving sump pumps running off water. They require a certain PSI to work but they’ll work until that PSI is too low or the power returns. I haven’t done much research into it but that’s a crazy concept. As long as there’s enough water, the pump works! I think that’d help you a bit if you ever did go out of town and lost power, this would still work! Anyways, great article, thanks for the read!

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