Prevent Sump Pump Failure

Updated 01/06/2011

Many of us take for granted that we have a sump pump and that it works effectively. Some of us don't even know what a sump pump looks like, but when a water problem arises in our home, we soon realize its importance. Although sump pumps have an average lifespan of 10 years, they may fail unexpectedly for various reasons.

Common causes of sump pump failure:
  • Age of Pump -The U.S. Department of Housing and Development estimates the life expectancy of sump pumps at 10 years. The pump's life expectancy will vary due to how much the pump has run in its lifetime. Write down the pump installation date on something on or near they pump so it is easier to keep tabs on the age of the pump. As the pump approaches the anticipated life expectancy, consider replacing it. During the life of the pump, some service may be necessary. Certain parts like the impeller, o-rings, and switch wear out. The average life on an automatic pump is four to seven years. Consider having the pump serviced every few years at a minimum.
  • Electrical Power Outage - It is not uncommon to have the electrical power go out during a storm. This is not good when a home is prone to water in the basement during rainstorms. Back-up pumps that do not need house power or an emergency battery back-up are the answers to overcome power outages.
  • Incorrectly Sized Pump - Selecting the right size pump is very important. Bigger is not necessarily better. If a pump is too large, the pump will cycle on and off more than it needs to, which can result in a shorter pump life. If the pump is too small, it may not be able to pump the water out or it will run too long and too hot, shortening the pump life. Underground water hydrology does change, so what may have been the right size pump the first time, may not be now.
  • Lack of Maintenance - Some pump manufacturers recommend the pump be run every two to three months. Some recommend a yearly program completed just before the rainy season hits. Follow the pump manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Lightning or Power Surge Damage - Some components of the pump may be vulnerable to damage from power surges. To help prevent this, protect the entire electrical system from power surges with a whole house surge protection device.
  • Switch Problems - Perhaps the leading mechanical cause of sump pump failure is a switch problem. This occurs when the pump shifts from its position inside the basin, rendering the float ineffective. This is a serious problem because the float is responsible for the smooth operation of the on/off switch. Your sump pump relies on both the switch and the float arm mechanisms to operate effectively. Attentive care should be taken to ensure that they are in good working order.