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basement sump pump

The last thing any homeowner wants is for their sump pump to fail in the middle of a torrential downpour. Sump pumps are an essential protection from flooded basements, extensive water damage, and astronomical repair costs. Fortunately, there are many warning signs that your pump is reaching the end of its lifespan. By vigilantly monitoring your sump pump’s performance, you will know when it's time to replace your pump before waking up to a basement of water.

How often do I need to replace my sump pump? 

On average, sump pumps need to be replaced every 7 to 10 years. Repairing a sump pump older than that would cost around the same price as a replacement, with much less of a return on your investment. The life of your sump pump will be influenced by the frequency of use, the runtime of its cycles, and the volume of water it’s required to displace. To extend your sump pump’s lifespan, regularly clean the pump and make sure it is not overextending itself by continuously running. If you are unsure of the age or condition of your sump pump, you should probably replace the pump, or at the very least have a plumber come to inspect, service, and clean the pump. 

Most sump pumps are only warrantied for one to three years, although some warranties do extend up to the five-year mark. If your warranty is approaching expiration, but your pump is still performing smoothly and you are in a drier season, the need to replace the pump is less urgent. Many sump pumps do outlast their warranties by several years. However, if your sump pump is still within warranty, but you know you are about to enter a particularly wet season, there is wisdom in replacing it preemptively. After all, it is far cheaper to replace your pump than deal with the devastating costs of a flooded basement. Just because a sump pump is capable of lasting a decade doesn’t mean you should wait until the pump is on the brink of failure before installing a new one. 

Learn more about how sump pumps work

Do I need a back-up sump pump?

A back-up pump will protect you from expensive repairs and costly damage in the event that your power goes out in the midst of a heavy storm. Back-up sump pumps sense when your primary sump pump has stopped working. The back-up pump then takes over, pushing out the incoming water. A back-up sump pump is an extremely wise addition to any home that uses a sump pump to prevent flooding. Even if your sump pump is brand new and in top working order, power outages can render them ineffective against surging waters. They are inexpensive insurance against the staggering loss that accompanies flooding.

Back-up sump pumps are usually battery operated. They are installed alongside your primary sump pump. Their battery-powered performance allows them to kick into action when a power outage has rendered your sump pump useless. The float switch of the back-up sump pump is set slightly above your primary pump’s float switch. This allows the back-up sump pump to detect if water has risen past the desired range and activate. Not only do back-up pumps protect your home from damage in the event of pump failure, but they also can assist in times of severe flooding. Your primary pump may become overwhelmed by the water volume during serious storms. If the water rises high enough to actuate the back-up pump, it can provide extra relief to the primary sump pump. 

You also have the option of wiring a back-up battery directly to your existing sump pump. A back-up battery can be mounted on your basement wall and wired directly into your primary sump pump. When the power in your home goes out, the pump will draw power from the battery, keeping the pump in action despite the power outage. If you opt to install the back-up battery directly to the pump, be sure you are regularly checking the battery's life and replacing it when needed. Some people also wire the sump pump directly to a power generator to keep their basement dry despite the loss of power. 

However, it is important to note that back-up sump pumps are intended for emergency use only. They should never be used as a substitute for your actual sump pump. A back-up sump pump can give you anywhere from 5-7 hours of continuous runtime. If the runtime is intermittent, you can get 24 hours or greater of usage out of the battery-operated back-up pump.

5 signs you need to replace your sump pump

The best way to know if it’s time to replace or your sump pump is to monitor the performance of the pump. While some problems can be addressed by maintenance or replacement parts, some problems are more serious and require a new sump pump system. By paying attention to the length and regularity of the pump’s cycles, the performance of the motor, and the amount of water in the sump pump’s basin, you can gauge when the sump pump is due for a replacement. 

1. The sump pump is running constantly

If your sump pump continues to run, regardless of weather conditions or water levels, this is a serious indicator that something is amiss with your pump. When a sump pump is running even after all the water is emptied from the basin, an excessive strain is placed on the motor of the pump. The water helps cool the pump down, so if the pump is running without any water, it can quickly overheat. If this problem persists, your pump will become overexerted to the point of premature failure. This is a fairly common problem, and there are a variety of factors that can lead to an overextended sump pump. One of the most frequent causes of an endlessly running pump is improper sump pump size. A pump that is too small for your basin will be unable to handle the volume of water and will struggle to displace the water. A pump that is too large for the basin will be forced to work harder, as the water will fill the basin faster and the pump can end up running dry.

Another common reason for occurs is because of a float switch that is stuck in the "on" position. Float switches are lightweight devices designed to float upwards as the water in the sump pit rises. When the float switch reaches a certain height, the switch triggers the pump to turn on, and when the water levels descend, the switch turns the pump off. When the float switch becomes jammed or entangled, the pump can continue to run. Debris, wires, or pipes can catch the switch and turn it to the on position. An improperly installed sump pump may shift in the basin, causing the switch to become pressed against the side of the pit and initiating a nonstop cycle. The switch can lose connection to the power source, break, or become caught on the sides of the basin. If the pump is running endlessly, the first thing to check is the float switch. 

Your sump pump moves water out of the basement and towards a drainage site through a discharge line running upwards out of the sump pump pit. This discharge line should be equipped with a check valve, a fitting that prevents water from flowing back down the pipe into the pit. If the check valve has failed, the water pumped out of the pit will cascade back down, and your pump will be trapped in a cycle of pumping the same water back up the line. If your pump is continuously active, inspect your check valve. 

If the check valve is working and the float switch is not jammed in an “on” position, there could be other factors influencing the perpetual cycle. A broken underground water pipe could be funneling water to your sump pump continually. Flooding beneath your home can destabilize your foundation and seriously damage your home. Additionally, if your home is built somewhere with a high water table or too far below the water table line, your sump pump could be experiencing constant flooding. There is little you can do to combat this, so if your home is built somewhere where it constant flooding is to be expected, call a plumber to assess your situation and come up with a customized drainage strategy. You may need to elevate the sump pit or install an additional pump to keep up with the incoming water. If your home is built below the water line, you will be replacing your pump with greater frequency. 

2. The sump pump is making loud noises 

A pump making loud gurgling, clanging, or rattling noises is a serious indicator that there is a problem with your sump pump. While it is normal for a pump to make noise as it pushes the water through up through the discharge pipe, your pump should never be roaring at you from your basement. Higher quality sump pumps tend to make minimal noise during operation. Older sump pumps, especially ones constructed from PVC or plastic, tend to be louder.

 A sump pump with an unusually loud motor indicates that the motor is reaching the end of its life. If you have an older, plastic pump, it’s time to get a new system altogether. Consider upgrading to a cast-iron, self-lubricating pump. These pumps are more reliable and require less intensive maintenance. Cast-iron pumps are also less likely to overheat, which will preserve the pump and extend its life. If you have a newer pump, you can replace the failing motor without having to replace the entire pump. Pedestal sump pumps have motors that sit about the basin, with tubing connecting them to the pump in the basin. These pumps tend to last longer, because they aren’t submerged, but are also much louder. They can generate noise that reverberates throughout your basement. A submersible sump pump sits in the water, and though they do not last as long, they are more effective at preventing basement flooding. Furthermore, they are quieter, and the basin can be covered with an airtight lid. This will contain the noise and muffle the sound of the working pump. 

A damaged impeller will rattle as the fan blades suck water out of the basin and into the pump. If the impeller has become clogged, you may hear grinding and screeching while the pump is in operation. Gurgling noises usually come from standard check valves. Replacing these with spring-loaded valves will reduce the amount of noise the water makes as it flows through the discharge pipe. Spring-loaded check valves don’t rely on gravity to actuate, so the flow of water through them is more controlled and evenly dispersed. 

An improperly installed pump can also make quite a bit of noise. The discharge line into the sump pump should be as straight as possible. If the water has to maneuver a lot of angles as it exits the pit, it’s far more likely to make loud, clanging noises. A plumber can reroute the pipes exiting your sump pit, eliminating joints and creating a smoother exit for the water. You can also dampen the noise the water makes by wrapping the pipes in insulation. 

3. The sump pump is clogging

An uncovered sump pump basin will almost inevitably accumulate grit over time. This can cause the impeller fan blades to jam. If the water is high in sediment and debris, the pump inlet and the discharge line can clog. When the discharge line is clogged, the flood water will rush back down the pipe and up into your basement. Any small gravel, loose silt, or dirt will be sucked up by the pump and impair performance. When the pump becomes clogged by debris, it will turn on but struggle to empty any water out of the basin. Debris can also jam the float switch, leaving it stuck in a perpetually on position which will exhaust the motor. 

The best way to protect your pump from clogging is to address the source of incoming debris. Securing the sump pump basin with an airtight lid or grate will prevent stray leaves, sticks, and small animals from falling down the pit. It will also protect the pump from anything in your basement rolling down into the pit and damaging the pump (like tennis balls, nails and screws, and tools). If water is delivered to the sump pump by a downspout, installing a screen to catch sediment and leaves will protect the pump from becoming plugged up. Bacterial iron, also known as iron ochre, is a gelatinous, slimy contaminant present in many wells and groundwater supplies. This thick orange sludge is the result of oxidized ferric iron and will clog up any number of household fixtures, including your sump pump. To get bacterial iron out of your water supply, you may need to shock chlorinate your well water. 

Learn more about how to remove bacterial iron from water

If the discharge line freezes or becomes obstructed by ice, even the most well-maintained sump pump will be unable to pump any water out of your basement. Frozen discharge pipes can be a nightmare for the pump’s motor. The pump will continue to try and push water through the blocked pipes, increasing its output and burning out the motor. This problem is common during cold winters for those with discharge lines that drain outside the home. While you probably can’t prevent your discharge pipe from freezing, specialty drain lines can be installed that will help move water out of your basement despite freezing temperatures. 

Cleaning your sump pump will help protect it against the damages caused by a clogged pump. Regularly rinsing off the pump and cleaning out the basin will prevent any debris or dirt from damaging the pump and blades over time. A clogged discharge pipe can be flushed out by using a plumber’s snake to extract the debris. If you notice your pump struggling to move water out of the basement, it’s wise to immediately check for any debris impeding the pump before the pump becomes completely clogged and floods your basement.  

4. The sump pump is cycling erratically

When a pump is cycling in sporadic bursts or taking too long to empty the water from the basin, it’s a good indicator that something is wrong with your pump. A pump with continual bursts of activity is often an indicator of a failed check valve. The water being displaced from the sump pit isn’t making it out of the discharge line, and the pump is being forced to pump the same water over and over again. Loose wiring can cause your pump to cut off for no apparent reason. If your pump cuts off for no visible reason, turn off the power to the pump and disconnect the pump. Inspect the wiring to make sure that there are no dangling wires and all the necessary connections have been made. A short-circuiting electrical system can also shut the pump off. 

If your pump is turning on and off frequently, your float valve may be too low. If the float valve is set to actuate with only inches of water in the basin, the pump will cycle on and off constantly. The frequency of these cycles will put undue stress on your pump and cause the motor to burn out prematurely. 

A pump that takes too long to empty out the basin indicates your pump does not have enough horsepower to fulfill its job. The volume of water your pump will be tasked with handling and the distance the pump needs to move the water will both inform the horsepower required from your pump. If your pump is unable to keep up with the water during normal water conditions, it is very likely to fail in the event of serious rainfall and flooding. Furthermore, the amount of stress placed on the motor by perpetual activity will exhaust the pump and greatly increase its risk of early failure. Even if you do not live far below the water table, your plumbing may require a high horsepower pump. If the water has to move a great distance through an entangled network of angled pipes, the pump will need higher horsepower to complete the task. 

5. The sump pump is old.

Though it may seem intuitive that an older sump pump is more likely to fail than a new one, many homeowners put off replacing their pumps until it’s too late. If the pump has historically worked satisfactorily, you may have forgotten how long the pump has been down there and put off routine maintenance. Regardless of performance, if your pump is approaching ten years, it is not worth risking a failure. A decade of wear and tear will reduce the efficiency of the pump, and the parts will start to degrade and inevitably fail. Replacing a pump is much cheaper and much easier than renovating a basement ravaged by water damage.

It’s also worth noting that many older sump pumps are less efficient and more prone to presenting problems. Most newer sump pumps come with screened top inlets to prevent debris from entering the pump and damaging the impeller. They are also made of durable stainless steel and are built to resist corrosion and withstand impact. If you have an older model coated in rust and prone to jamming and failures, it’s smart (and ultimately cheaper) to replace the pump altogether rather than service an outdated piece of technology. 

sump pump installation

Can I replace my own sump pump? 

Replacing a sump pump may seem like a daunting task, but it is a fairly straightforward undertaking that can be tackled by a homeowner. Before installing the new pump, make sure you are installing a sump pump that is the appropriate size for your sump basin and has enough horsepower to keep your basement dry. If you are replacing a pump that has performed reliably and satisfactorily for you, you should replace it with a newer version of the same model. However, if you are replacing a pump that failed because it was unable to handle the volume of water, you may want to talk to a plumber to see if you need to increase the size or horsepower of the unit. 

While replacing a sump pump is a fairly simple task, installing a sump pump for the first time is a more difficult endeavor. This requires a trench to be dug and pipes to be laid and fit. Installing a sump pump is heavy construction, and will require drilling a hole into your basement floor with a jackhammer, cutting a hole in the exterior wall of your basement to run a drain pipe, and electrical wiring. This is a task that should be taken on by a licensed professional or by homeowners with significant experience in home plumbing. An improperly installed sump pump could result in flooding and serious water damage.  

How to replace a sump pump: 

    1. Unplug the old sump pump. Shut off all electricity running to the old pump. Remove any cover over the basin and unplug the sump pump.
    2. Disconnect the sump pump from the discharge line. Examine the PVC pipe connecting the old sump pump to the discharge line. Choose a length of PVC pipe that will grant you some mobility while installing the new pump, and cut the discharge pipe with a hacksaw. You can now pull the old sump pump out of the pit.
    3. Measure a new length of PVC pipe to connect to the discharge line. Measure the length of PVC connected to the old pump. In most applications, 1 1/2 or 1 1/4 inch PVC pipe is used. Cut yourself a new length of PVC to attach to the new sump pump. Remember, you can always trim down pipe that’s too long. If you cut the pipe too short, you’ll have to dig up an array of adapters to connect the pipes. 
    4. Connect the pipe to the new sump pump. Locate the discharge outlet on the new sump pump. Attach the length of pipe you’ve just cut to the pump using a male adapter. To ensure the seal is watertight, use purple primer and PVC glue to bond the male adapter to the PVC. Allow it to dry. 
    5. Lower the new sump pump into the pit. Make sure the pump isn’t leaning against the walls of the basin, entangled in wiring, or too close to the back-up sump pump or its float switch.
    6. Make sure the pump is level. You don’t want your pump to be rocking about the bottom of the basin. Use a level to ensure the pump is flush against the concrete floor. If needed, place shims beneath the pump to keep it level. 
    7. Check the float switch. Make sure the float switch is unobstructed and is positioned at an appropriate height. If the switch is too low, the pump will run constantly. If the switch is too high, the pump will not actuate in time to keep up with the rising waters. 
    8. Connect the discharge line. Connect the new piece of discharge line to the existing pipe. If you removed the check valve while extracting your old pump, male sure to make the connection using a check valve. This will prevent the water from falling back down into the basement after its been pumped out. Otherwise, use a union connector to fuse the two pieces of pipe. 
    9. Test your new sump pump. Restore electricity to the new sump pump. Check to make sure the pump is capable of handling incoming water. Fill a bucket with five gallons of water and pour it into the pit. This would simulate the levels of water a storm would bring in. Ensure that the pump is displacing the water and the discharge line is carrying the water to the designated drainage location. 

How much does it cost to replace a sump pump? 

If you replace your own sump pump, you can finish the job for around $200-$300 dollars. Most residential submersible sump pumps cost around $150-$200, though some come as cheap as $75. The only additional costs are the new PVC pipe, the primer and glue, and any new fittings and adapters you use to connect the pump to the discharge pipe. Hiring a plumber will likely double the cost of installation. Since sump pump replacement is fairly straightforward, this is a home repair you can do yourself and save yourself a significant amount of money. However, be sure your seals are watertight and to test the pump an d back-up pump after you’ve completed installation. The last thing you want is a basement full of water because you rushed through the sump pump replacement. If you doubt your plumbing ability, it is always smarter to be safe and call a licensed plumber. 

To learn more about pumps, explore how booster pumps work. | Learn how on demand and delivery pumps work.

What is a sump pump water alarm? 

Sump pump water alarms alert you that the water level in your sump pit has risen too high. Water alarms are positioned in your sump pit like a float switch, and the minute the water levels rise to a dangerous threshold, they emit a loud alert. This gives you time to intervene before you lose your property to a flooded basement. Water alarms are a valuable added security measure. In the event of pump failure, a water alarm will alert you when your basement is on the verge of flooding before a disaster occurs.

You can also mount a basement water alarm on the rim of your sump pit. Similarly, these monitor the water levels in your sump pit. When as little as one millimeter of water reaches the alarm, a deafening alarm goes off. This ensures that no matter where you are in your home, you are warned of the impending crisis and given time to prevent it. Water alarms can also be used to monitor bathtubs, hot tubs, dishwashers, drain lines, or any water-using appliance prone to overflowing or flooding.


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