When should I replace my sump pump?

What is a sump pump?

A sump pump is an essential part of your home’s drainage system. It is a pump installed in the lowest part of the basement, used to pump out water that has collected in a basin. The sump basin is set up to collect any accumulating water that enters from drains that are part of the basement’s waterproofing system. The water that might come from rain, damaged plumbing or ground water, funnels to the basin and then is safely pumped out of your home before it can cause damage.

Your sump pump is likely hidden away in the sump pit, out of sight beneath your flooring. There will be an access panel in the floor, so technicians can get at it for repairs or to replace it. Sometimes the sump pump is visibly located in the utility room. Because water damage caused by flooding can be disastrous to your home, you want to make sure your sump pump is in good working order and well-maintained. Otherwise, you could end up with some very expensive damage should flooding occur.

Sump pumps used to be used only in climates or areas where heavy rain and regular flooding is a problem, but nowadays, they’re typically included in new home builds across the country. They can help remove dampness downstairs, sending water away. Sump pumps must be installed in compliance with any plumbing code or local bylaws in your specific municipality.

How do sump pumps work?

Sump pumps are in the lowest part of the basement in a pit. Drainage tiles will move access moisture and water via gravity into the pit. When the sump pit fills with water, it activates the pump to turn on. The pump moves the water through pipes that go away from your house, usually to a spot that water can easily drain away from the foundation. Sump pumps will have a one-way valve so the water will not flow back into the sump pit.

Automatic pressure or float sensors are used.

They have a pressure sensor or a float sensor in the pit that automatically activates the pump. With the pressure sensor, it will sense that water pressure is building and start the pump. With the float activator, it will act like the one in your toilet. The ball floats on top of the water and manually moves the arm as the water comes up.

Manually operated sump pumps exist and can be turned on when a problem occurs. These aren’t the best idea because you aren’t always closely monitoring what’s happening in the basement. An automatic sump pump will clear damaging water conveniently and quickly without you having to check regularly.

Centrifugal pumps are common.

Most sump pumps use a centrifugal pump. This type of pump is run by a motor that causes an impeller to spin. This creates a centrifugal force, spinning the water along the sides of the pipe with a low-pressure are in the middle. Water from the sump pit will naturally rush to fill that centre void, pushing through the pipe and away from your home.

They need electricity.

Your sump pump is powered by your home’s electrical system. All they need is a ground outlet, so if you want to install one you don’t have to have special wiring installed. A GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet is essential for powering your sump pump. Since they are near water, you don’t want to take your chances with a regular outlet as electrocution risk will be a factor. What is a GFCI outlet?

Submersible vs pedestal pump?

There are two common types of sump pumps in today’s homes: submersible and pedestal. Submersible sump pumps have a waterproof housing as they sit in the water. Sometimes this housing can look like a big bucket. A grate covers the bottom of the pump to protect it from debris and the outlet pipe is installed near the top of the pump. Water is sucked through the grate and then into the outlet pipe.

With a pedestal pump, the pedestal holds the pump out of the sump pit. It typically doesn’t touch the water, even with a full pit. There is a pipe that goes into the water to draw the water out. Because these pumps are out of the pit and water, they make more noise than submersible pumps.

When choosing a sump pump replacement or a new one entirely, consult with a professional plumbing company in your city for advice. In some municipalities, you do not need sump pump to be compliant with building code. However, you might choose to install one anyways as a safety precaution. Even if you live in a dry climate, you could still have a flood caused by a plumbing issue inside the home. If your basement is musty and damp feeling, a sump pump will make it healthier and protect it from costly water damage.

How much does a sump pump cost?

There are several factors that can determine how much a new sump pump will cost. According to HomeAdvisor, a new sump pump installed by a professional plumbing company will cost between $400 and $540. This includes digging the sump pump pit and installing the drainage lines in the basement and then out of the home.

Things that will help determine the cost include the size of the pump, brand, type of pump and its quality.  A low-end pump might cost $100-$200 but cheaper pumps come with more problems and tend to fail prematurely.

If you want a sump pump that has a battery power back-up, the cost will be higher. Because major weather events can cause both a flood and power outage, it is a smart idea to invest in a more expensive pump that has a power backup. Some homeowners choose to have a main pump that runs from the electrical system, and then a secondary back-up pump that runs on batteries in case the power goes out. If you want either of these back up options, expect to pay $500 to $1000 more for your pump and installation.

New steel sump pump with automatic shut-off float.

How much does it cost to repair a sump pump?

HomeAdvisor suggests that sump pump repair can range between $290 and $690 depending on the type of pump, drainage system and the problem. If you have to overhaul your entire drainage system, it might mean taking out the flooring in the basement, and this would obviously make the repair more expensive.

To avoid major repair or the need of replacement, make sure you have your sump pump and system checked annually by a professional plumber. Like any mechanical system, preventative maintenance is key to peak performance and extended lifespan. Sump pump maintenance usually includes an inspection of all mechanical parts, cleaning of the pump, clearing and then testing the system.

What can cause my sump pump to fail?

Just like anything mechanical, sump pumps can break down and fail. Preventative maintenance is key. The older they get the more worn the get and the more likely they are to break down.

Even new sump pumps can fail sometimes. Cheap, poorly designed pumps will never last as long as a high-quality sump pump. Proper vs. faulty installation can also play a factor in your sump pumps lifespan. Also, consider the fact that they are run by electricity. If you lose power in a storm and your basement is flooding, the pump cannot run without power.

Here are more reasons why a sump pump might let you down:

The water capacity is too great.

If your basement is victim to a massive flood, sometimes a single sump pump is not adequate to pump out the mass volume of water. If it’s a cheaper pump, it might burn out faster than a high-quality model. Make sure you have your pump checked and upgraded to a quality pump that offers both power and reliability.

You lose power.

You can lose electricity to your home, especially during a major weather event. If this happens, your pump will stop working. To avoid this, ask your plumber for a battery backup sump pump as mentioned above. Then if the power is out, you can still operate the pump and get the water out of the basement. Some battery back-up pumps also have an alarm, so you’ll be alerted that the power is out and that the battery power has been activated.

Bad drainage to the pit.

If your pump works fine, it won’t do much to protect the basement from water if the water isn’t draining properly into the pit. If there is no water in the sump pit, it means the pump and drainage system wasn’t installed properly. There should be a drain tile installed along the perimeter of the basement. The drainage system should collect water and have appropriate pitch to use gravity to lead it to the sump pit so it can be pumped out. If they system doesn’t have the right pitch, is clogged or non-existent, your pump will never have the water to discharge out.

The sump pump is clogged.

Dirt and debris accumulates over time so if your sump pump doesn’t have a lid, this debris will get in and clog it. A clog can slow it down or stop it entirely. Sometimes the pit can fill with debris or silt and cause issues. Sometimes the float switch can clog or in the case of low-quality models, switches can even get jammed or stuck on the on or off position.

If you suspect a clog or jam, you should call in a local plumber to have it inspected. They can recommend a repair or replacement. You want to make sure the next pump has an airtight sealed lid so that no dirt or gunk gets in the pump. If you have a dirty sump pump pit, a pedestal pump will do the job as it keeps the pump off the bottom of the dirty pit.

Your lines are frozen.

We live in Canada and therefore frozen plumbing is a problem we must look out for! When it comes to sump pump systems, the most vulnerable plumbing line is the drainage pipe. The drainage lines must be able to discharge water away from your home without freezing or becoming clogged. Some plumbing companies offer a special ice-guard attachment that allows water to flow even if parts of the line are frozen.

The pump doesn’t turn off.

If your sump pump is constantly running, even when it’s not raining and there is no water in the pit, it means something is wrong. You want to call in a plumber immediately. The more it runs, the quicker it will burn out.

What causes a sump pump to run continuously? Stuck switches in cheaper models can jam in the on-position. Sometimes a vibrating pump can start to lean on the edge of the sump pump pit, disabling the switch. If the pit is too small and fills up to quickly, it will trigger your sump pump to run too often.

If the one-way check valve is malfunctioning, it will let the water back in via the drainage line. That means your pump will be working overtime trying to get the water out, as most of it continues to flow right back in. If this is happening, call a plumber right away. Don’t wait until it’s pouring rain and your basement is in danger of flooding.

Dirty, rusted and clogged sump pump that needs replacing.

Tell-tale signs you need a sump pump repair or replacement:

The sump pump failures listed above can give warning signs.

It make a lot of noise. If your sump pump is noisier than usual, it might mean it has a broken part, clog or that the impeller has been damaged from sucking in debris. If an impeller is not balanced, it will make a lot of noise. This can lead to more damage if left too long.

It is constantly pumping. As mentioned above, a pump that is constantly working, regardless of the weather, is a tell-tale sign something is wrong.

The pump doesn’t work at all. If you’ve noticed your pump isn’t activated when the pit is filling with water it could mean there is a sensor problem, you’re not getting power, the pump is clogged or burned out entirely.

The pump is on but not emptying the sump pump pit. Obviously, if the pump seems to be running but no water is being discharged, there is a problem.

Your basement feels damp all the time. If you’ve noticed more moisture in the basement, or even mildew or mould in the corners or on furniture, it likely means your sump pump isn’t doing its job. This can lead to health hazards, so call a plumber right away.

If you notice these signs. Call a plumbing company for a repair or replacement as soon as possible. You don’t want to wait for bad weather to hit.

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