Troubleshooting Guide – Why Your Sump Pump Isn’t Functioning Properly

If you’ve ever experienced a flooded basement or the aftermath of water damage, you know how important a sump pump can be. This device is designed to keep your basement dry by collecting excess water and pumping it outside your home. However, like any mechanical device, sump pumps can sometimes fail to function properly, leaving you vulnerable to potential water damage.

There can be numerous reasons why your sump pump is not working, and it’s crucial to identify the problem and address it promptly. One common issue is a power outage or a tripped circuit breaker, which can cause the pump to stop working. Checking the power source and ensuring it’s functioning correctly is the first step in troubleshooting the problem.

Another possible cause of sump pump failure is a stuck or jammed float switch. The float switch is responsible for activating the pump when the water level rises above a certain point. If the float switch gets stuck in the “off” position or becomes obstructed by debris, the pump won’t turn on, and water will continue to accumulate. Regular maintenance and cleaning of the float switch are essential to prevent this issue.

Additionally, a clogged or frozen discharge pipe can also hinder the operation of your sump pump. Over time, debris such as dirt, leaves, or small rocks can accumulate in the discharge pipe, impeding the flow of water. In colder climates, the pipe can freeze during winter, preventing the water from being expelled outside. Inspecting and clearing the discharge pipe regularly can help prevent this problem from occurring.

To ensure the effectiveness of your sump pump and protect your basement from potential water damage, it’s crucial to address any issues promptly. Identifying the cause of the problem, whether it’s a power issue, a malfunctioning float switch, or a clogged discharge pipe, is the first step in troubleshooting your sump pump. Regular maintenance and cleaning are also essential to prevent future failures and ensure the proper functioning of your sump pump.

Common Causes of Sump Pump Problems

There are several common causes of sump pump problems that homeowners may encounter. Understanding these causes can help in troubleshooting and preventing future issues.

1. Power failure: One of the most common reasons for a sump pump not working is a power outage. When there is no electricity, the pump cannot operate, leaving your basement vulnerable to flooding.

2. Float switch issues: The float switch is responsible for turning the sump pump on and off based on the water level in the pit. If the switch is stuck or damaged, the pump may not activate when needed or may not shut off properly, leading to potential damage.

3. Clogged or frozen discharge pipe: A clogged or frozen discharge pipe can prevent water from being pumped out of the sump pit effectively. This can cause the pump to work harder or fail completely, resulting in water backup and potential flooding.

4. Insufficient maintenance: Regular maintenance is crucial to keep your sump pump in good working condition. Neglecting maintenance tasks such as cleaning the pump and pit, testing the float switch, and checking for any debris or obstructions can lead to malfunctioning and reduced efficiency.

5. Incorrect installation or sizing: If the sump pump is not installed correctly or is not the right size for your specific needs, it may not be able to handle the amount of water or the depth of the pit. This can result in the pump working overtime or failing to adequately remove water, leading to issues.

6. Age and wear: Like any mechanical device, sump pumps have a lifespan. Over time, parts can wear out, leading to decreased performance and potential failure. It is important to replace older pumps before they fail and cause damage.

By being aware of these common causes of sump pump problems, you can take proactive measures to prevent issues and ensure that your sump pump functions properly when it is needed the most.

Power Outage

A power outage is a common reason why a sump pump may stop working. When there is a loss of electricity, the pump won’t be able to function. This can be especially problematic during heavy rains or floods when the sump pump is needed the most.

To address this issue, it is recommended to have a backup power source for your sump pump. A battery backup system can keep the pump running even when the electricity is out. It is crucial to regularly test the battery and ensure that it is fully charged so that it will be ready to kick in when needed.

In addition to a battery backup system, a generator can also be a reliable power source during an outage. However, it is important to note that generators should be installed and used according to manufacturer instructions to prevent electrical hazards.

During a power outage, it is essential to check the sump pump regularly and make sure it is functioning once power is restored. The lack of power could have caused damage to the pump, and it may need repairs or replacement.

What to do during a power outage:Tips to prevent sump pump failure:
  • Check the circuit breaker to ensure it hasn’t tripped.
  • Verify that the power outage is affecting other appliances as well.
  • Contact the power company to report the outage and get updates.
  • Consider using a battery backup or generator to power the sump pump.
  • Regularly test the battery backup system.
  • Keep the battery fully charged.
  • Have a generator installed as a backup power source.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for generator use.

By being prepared for power outages and having backup power sources, you can ensure that your sump pump will continue to work effectively and protect your basement from water damage.

Insufficient Maintenance

One of the most common reasons for a sump pump to stop working is a lack of regular maintenance. Sump pumps are designed to continuously pump out water, but over time, debris and sediment can build up in the pump and cause it to clog or malfunction. If the pump is not regularly cleaned and maintained, it may not be able to function properly when it is needed most.

To prevent insufficient maintenance from causing your sump pump to stop working, it is recommended to perform regular maintenance tasks. This can include cleaning the pump and the sump pit, checking the float switch for proper operation, and testing the pump to ensure it turns on and off correctly. It is also important to inspect the discharge pipe for any obstructions and ensure that it is properly connected and free of leaks.

In addition to regular maintenance, it is also important to have a backup sump pump system in place. This can provide an extra layer of protection in case the primary pump fails. A battery-powered backup pump or a water-powered backup pump can help keep your basement dry even in the event of a power outage or primary pump failure.

By regularly maintaining your sump pump and having a backup system in place, you can help prevent the inconvenience and potential damage caused by a sump pump that is not working properly due to insufficient maintenance.

Clogged Discharge Pipe

Another common reason for a sump pump not working is a clogged discharge pipe. The discharge pipe is responsible for redirecting water from the sump pump and carrying it away from your home. If the discharge pipe becomes clogged or obstructed, the water cannot flow properly and may cause the pump to malfunction.

There are several reasons why a discharge pipe may become clogged. Debris such as leaves, twigs, and sediment can enter the pipe and create a blockage. Additionally, if the pipe is not properly installed or is too narrow, it can easily become clogged and hinder the pump’s ability to function.

If you suspect that a clogged discharge pipe is the reason for your sump pump not working, there are a few things you can do. First, visually inspect the discharge pipe to see if there are any visible obstructions. If there are, carefully remove them to allow the water to flow freely.

If the blockage is not visible or easy to access, you may need to use a plumbing snake or auger to clear the clog. Insert the snake or auger into the pipe and rotate it clockwise to break up the obstruction. Once the blockage is cleared, test the sump pump to ensure it is working properly.

To prevent future clogs, it is important to regularly clean and maintain the discharge pipe. Remove any debris or sediment that may have accumulated in the pipe and check for any signs of damage or deterioration. Additionally, consider installing a mesh screen or cover on the discharge outlet to prevent debris from entering the pipe.

If you are unsure of how to clean or maintain the discharge pipe, it is recommended to consult a professional plumber for assistance. They can provide guidance and ensure that the pipe is clear and in proper working condition.

Broken or Stuck Float Switch

A sump pump is equipped with a float switch that activates the pump when the water level reaches a certain point. The float switch is responsible for ensuring that the pump functions properly and activates when it is needed. However, if the float switch is broken or stuck, it can prevent the pump from turning on or off, leading to a malfunction.

If the float switch is broken or stuck in the “on” position, it may cause the sump pump to run continuously, even when there is no water to pump. This can result in unnecessary wear and tear on the pump and increase the risk of overheating or burning out the motor.

On the other hand, if the float switch is stuck in the “off” position, the sump pump will not activate when the water level rises, leaving your basement vulnerable to flooding. This can lead to significant water damage and costly repairs.

To determine if the float switch is the cause of your sump pump not working, you can visually inspect it for any signs of damage or debris. Sometimes, the float arm can get stuck on something or become damaged, preventing it from moving freely. In such cases, you may need to manually adjust or replace the float switch to restore proper functionality to your sump pump.

If you’re unsure about how to inspect or fix the float switch, it is recommended to consult a professional plumber or sump pump technician. They can diagnose the issue accurately and provide the necessary repairs or replacement parts to get your sump pump working again.

Regular maintenance and inspection of the float switch can help prevent issues before they escalate. You should clean the switch regularly to remove any debris or build-up that may interfere with its movement. Additionally, testing the float switch periodically by pouring water into the sump pit can help ensure that it activates properly.

Remember, a broken or stuck float switch can lead to a nonfunctional sump pump, leaving your basement at risk of flooding. Taking the necessary steps to inspect and maintain your float switch can help prevent costly water damage and protect your home.

Pump Overload

If your sump pump is not working, it might be due to pump overload. This can happen when there is too much water entering the sump pump pit at once, causing the pump to work harder than it is designed to. As a result, the pump may overheat and shut down.

One way to prevent pump overload is to install a larger capacity sump pump that can handle a higher volume of water. Additionally, you can consider installing a backup sump pump system to help distribute the workload and ensure that your basement stays dry even during heavy rainfall.

It is also important to regularly maintain your sump pump by cleaning the intake screen and checking the float switch for proper operation. These simple steps can help prevent pump overload and extend the lifespan of your sump pump.

If you are experiencing pump overload despite taking these precautions, it may be a sign of a more serious issue with your drainage system. In this case, it is recommended to contact a professional plumber who can assess the problem and provide the necessary repairs or upgrades.

Malfunctioning Check Valve

A sump pump relies on a check valve to prevent the water it pumps out from flowing back into the sump pit. This check valve is designed to allow water to flow in only one direction, away from the sump pump and towards the discharge pipe that leads outside.

If your sump pump is not working properly, a malfunctioning check valve could be the culprit. Here are some signs that your check valve may be malfunctioning:

  • Noisy Operation: If you hear strange noises coming from your sump pump when it kicks on, it could be a sign that the check valve is not closing properly. This can cause water to flow back into the sump pit, leading to repeated cycling of the pump.
  • Reduced Pumping Capacity: A malfunctioning check valve can also reduce the pumping capacity of your sump pump. This means that it may not be able to remove water effectively from the sump pit, leading to water accumulation and potential flooding.
  • Continuous Running: If your sump pump seems to be running continuously without shutting off, it could be due to a malfunctioning check valve. When the check valve fails to close properly, water can flow back into the sump pit, causing the pump to run more frequently.

To troubleshoot a malfunctioning check valve, you can try the following steps:

  1. Inspect the check valve for any visible signs of damage or clogs. Obstructions or debris can prevent the valve from closing properly.
  2. If there are no visible issues, remove the check valve and clean it thoroughly. Use a pipe brush or similar tool to remove any buildup or sediment that may be affecting its operation.
  3. If cleaning the check valve does not resolve the issue, it may need to be replaced. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions or contact a professional plumber for assistance.

Regular maintenance and inspection of your sump pump and check valve can help prevent malfunctions and ensure proper functioning. Consider scheduling an annual check-up with a qualified professional to keep your sump pump system in good working order.


what is the problem?? ~ SUMP PUMP WILL NOT SHUT OFF ~ symptom and remedy

Fix – Sump pump running constantly

Photo of author

Ryan Pietrzak

Ryan Pietrzak, a licensed plumber with 12+ years of experience, is the trusted expert behind Plumbing.Academy. With a wealth of practical knowledge, Ryan guides you through plumbing challenges, making informed decisions easier. His reputable advice, rooted in real-world expertise, empowers both DIY enthusiasts and seasoned plumbers.