Simple Sump Pump Repairs and Maintenance for Beginners

Simple Sump Pump Repairs and Maintenance for Beginners
You don’t need a plumber to review 90% of what can go wrong with a sump pump. Here’s what you need to know to keep yours running.

If you’ve already bought and installed a sump pump (both a primary and a backup), you’re ahead of the game when it comes to flood prevention. Even if you don’t have a backup, simply maintaining your primary sump pump can go a long way toward ensuring it’s ready to keep your basement dry when the rains start pouring and the water starts rising.

However, many homeowners, business owners, and landlords shy away from sump pump repairs and maintenance out of a lack of knowledge and fear of making things worse. Fortunately, you don’t have to join a trade union to learn some basic plumbing. Today we’ll cover some of the more common areas to look over and how to fix them if something goes awry in your sump pump setup.

Make sure the float is in good working order

Simple Sump Pump Repairs and Maintenance for Beginners
The Zoeller M267 is our favorite AC-powered sump pump due to its buy-it-for-life reliability.

One of the most important parts of any sump pump is its float. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the parts most prone to failure. A float is, as its name suggests, a piece of your pump that floats, or rises, in your sump pit whenever water levels rise. When it reaches a certain level, your sump pump motor activates and begins to pump water out of the sump basin and out of your home via a discharge pipe.

Conversely, when enough water has been pumped out or when the water level has naturally dropped, so does the float, and the pump is triggered to turn off. It’s the same technology that starts and stops a toilet tank from filling with water. If it doesn’t work, however, your pump won’t start pumping when it needs to, and you’ll have a flooded basement on your hands. This is why testing it on a regular basis (we suggest every three months or so) is a good idea.

You can check it easily by running a garden hose into your sump pit or by slowly pouring water inside it via  a bucket. You should see your float rise with water levels, resulting in the activation of your pump, the removal of water, the lowering of the float, and the turning off of your pump. A pump that doesn’t shut off due to a stuck or malfunctioning float is almost as bad as a pump that doesn’t start for the same reason: the pump will eventually burn out, leaving you with nothing to defend your basement unless you have a backup sump pump.

It’s worth noting that a water-based sump pump doesn’t use a float switch, meaning you can ignore the information above and rest easy if you have one. However, if you use both an electricity- and water-based pump in the same pit, you’ll still need to check the float for the electric pump.

Clean out your sump basin (the sump pit)

Just as you wouldn’t throw garbage in your sink and wonder why your drains stopped working, your sump pit needs to be clean if you want your sump pump to do its job. To put it simply, you need to keep your sump pit as free of debris as possible to keep your float free to rise and fall with water levels.

Even the best AC pump on the market (e.g., the Zoeller M267) won’t be able to keep up with water levels if the float gets stuck. Keep your pit clear and check it every few months to make sure it stays that way. You don’t need any special tools besides some gloves, a plastic bag, and a willingness to get a little dirty; the most you’re likely to find there is dirt, mud, gravel, stones, and leaves.

Make sure the check valve isn’t faulty

Simple Sump Pump Repairs and Maintenance for Beginners
Even a high-quality sump pump like the Liberty Pumps 287 will fail to work if the check valve breaks.

The check valve serves the same function as the little flap in our throats that closes when we drink so water doesn’t enter our lungs; it makes sure fluids go one way and not the other. In this case, it keeps water moving up and out of the pit via the discharge pipe. If it fails, your pump will run whenever the float switch tells it to, but it’s never going to remove water from your sump pit, because it’s just going to rush back down the gravity tube and re-enter the pit through your intake pipe.

You can test this by the garden hose and bucket methods above. If your pump is running but water isn’t leaving, it’s probably the check valve that’s giving you trouble, and it will need replacement.

If there’s an impeller, clean it

Simple Sump Pump Repairs and Maintenance for Beginners
Every motor-driven sump pump, including the Wayne CDU1000, includes an impeller that can be clogged.

If you’re dealing with an electricity-powered sump pump, it’s going to have an impeller to pump water from the intake pipe to the discharge pipe and out of your home. The impeller will be located inside the pump and typically behind some kind of screen that helps keep debris out–the debris you’re ideally cleaning frequently from your sump pit. However, if enough debris gets past or through the screen, your impeller can jam. If it jams, your pump won’t pump a thing until the impeller is unjammed.

To check if this is an issue, do the garden hose or bucket test. if your pump isn’t running and is connected to a working power source, you’ll want to unplug it, detach the intake and discharge pipes, and pull the pump from your sump basin. You’ll need to open up the pump to get past the screen and clear debris from the impeller, and then close everything back up and reconnect the pump. This is a procedure many homeowners won’t be comfortable with, so you might want to call for help from a plumber here if you don’t want to tackle it on your own. However, if you can do so on your own, you can save a lot of money and fix what’s essentially a very simple problem.

Once again, this is a problem unique to electricity-powered pumps. If you’re using a water-based pump, none of this applies to you.

Verify your electrical connections

Finally, if you’re using a motor-driven pump, you’ll want to make sure everything is plugged in if the pump doesn’t seem to be working. That means checking the pump-to-cord connection, the plug at the outlet, and your circuit breaker. If you have a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GCFI, make sure that hasn’t been tripped, as sump pumps are notorious for activating them. You’ll be back on your way once you press the reset button. However, if your electrical supply is connected and in good working condition (use a plug-in phone charger or similar small device to test your outlets), the pump itself is likely in need of repair.

Invest in a reliable AC, backup, or water-powered sump pump

Simple Sump Pump Repairs and Maintenance for Beginners
To rid yourself of electricity, motor, and float vulnerabilities, consider a water-based pump like the Basepump HB1000-PRO.

By now, we’ve hopefully established that having a quality sump pump is the first part of the maintenance chain; just as with cars, every vehicle looks nice when it rolls off the lot, but the engineering at the factory will determine whether you’re desperate to sell it at 100,000 miles or if you’re simply getting ready for another 100,000 on the odometer. It’s worth starting out with a machine that costs a bit more but lasts a lot longer than trying to save a bit now only to pay a lot more later.

If you’re going to buy an AC pump, make it a Zoeller M267, which we’ve reviewed here and sung the praises of for years. If you want a DC backup, get the Wayne WSM3300, which we’ve reviewed here, and rest easy. For a combination AC/DC pump, buy the Wayne WSSM40V, which we’ve reviewed here and continue to be impressed by. And if you’re tired of depending on electricity, forget everything above and invest in a water-based sump pump like the Basepump HB1000-PRO, which we’ve reviewed here, and would trust to keep any home of ours dry.

If you find our work at PumpThatSump helpful, you can put our relentless reviewing of every pump and fixture on the market to the test by shopping via our links above for whatever you need to make your house a home. Despite being self-employed, we promise not to spend it all on health insurance.

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A Sump Pump Maintenance Schedule – Annual, Seasonal, Monthly

A Sump Pump Maintenance Schedule - Annual, Seasonal, Monthly
The last thing you want to do is find your sump pump doesn’t work when you need it most. Here are simple ways to check its functioning on a regular basis.

If you have home insurance, car insurance, or (most importantly) health insurance, you know it’s sometimes worth paying for things you hope you never have to use. We look at sump pumps the same way; a good sump pump is an insurance policy that you’re going to want to work 100% of the time you need it, even though, ideally, it’ll sit unused the vast majority of the time. However, once it starts raining heavily, you’ll be glad you installed one. Today we’re going to review what sump pumps do and simple maintenance you can perform to keep yours running in tip top condition when you need it.

What are sump pumps and why are they important?

A Sump Pump Maintenance Schedule - Annual, Seasonal, Monthly
The Zoeller M267 is a great example of a reliable AC sump pump.

Sump pumps are essentially automatic pumps that remove water from sump pits, which are small holes in basements and foundations, to remove water from the lowest levels of a home. The need for one will depend in large degree on the height of the local water table, the degree to which soil adjacent to the house drains vs. retains water, and the amount of heavy rains received in the area. Similarly, if you have foundation draining issues or weaknesses in your basement walling, you’re more likely to need a sump pump to get rid of water that would otherwise flood your basement.

There are also many homeowners and business owners (e.g., landlords and managers of rental properties) who install sump pumps as insurance against random flooding situations, whether from heavy rainfalls or burst piping throughout the home.

What kinds of sump pumps exist?

A Sump Pump Maintenance Schedule - Annual, Seasonal, Monthly
The Liberty Pumps SJ10 is an affordable water-based backup or primary sump pump.

You can buy sump pumps in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they basically come in four configurations: AC-powered, DC-powered, AC/DC powered, and water-powered. They all work the same way; they discharge water out into your yard. Unlike sewage pumps, sump pumps don’t drain to your sanitary sewer system. Since they conduct water out of your home, they don’t discharge into any other water fixture in your home (e.g., a drain, toilet, or bath tub).

Because sump pumps can often sit unused for weeks to months at a time, following a basic maintenance schedule is a good idea to keep your pumps from developing problems without your knowledge.

What kinds of maintenance should I perform on my sump pump every 3 months?

A Sump Pump Maintenance Schedule - Annual, Seasonal, Monthly
The Wayne WSSM40V is a combination AC/DC sump pump with “smart” technology.

Every three to four months, you’ll want to clean the inlet screen on your pump; this keeps debris like stones, leaves, and gravel from clogging your pump and keeping it from being able to take in water.

If you have a pump that runs on electricity (e.g., an AC pump, an AC/DC combination pump, or a DC backup pump), you’ll want to review the power cord and ensure it is still connected to a power source. This is important even for DC pumps and AC/DC pumps because both rely on AC power to keep the battery charged so it will be ready to work in the event of a power outage. If you have a water-powered sump pump like the Liberty Pumps SJ10 or Basepump HB1000-PRO, you can skip this step, as these kinds of pumps will work indefinitely without electricity.

Every few months, you’ll also want to empty a bucket of water into your sump pit. This is a quick and easy way of testing your pump’s float to make sure it kicks in and turns on the pump. If you want a more realistic simulation, you can feed water into the sump pit through a garden hose, as the more gradual filling will be a better representation of how water levels rise with flooding or rainwater. You can even take the extra step of unplugging your AC sump pump if you’re testing your backup; this will let you know if the battery is strong enough to drive the DC pump when it needs to.

What upkeep is important for sump pumps on an annual basis?

Every year, it’s a good idea to pull your sump pump from the sump pit in order to both clean and inspect it; this will help you spot any obvious cracks, leaks, or defects before they lead to pump failure.

At least once a year, clean the sump pit itself; they tend to fill with debris such as dirt, rocks, gravel, leaves, and other contaminants from groundwater. If these accumulate past a certain point, they will begin to interfere with your pump, making it less effective in the best case scenario and rendering it useless in the worst.

Flip through your owner’s manual if you installed the pump or had it installed since moving into your home; check for any requirements or maintenance schedules for the pump itself. You might need to grease certain bearings or add oil. If you don’t have a manual at hand, all is not lost; just use the Internet to find it as a PDF from the manufacturer. You’ll need the model number of the pump, which you can find from inspecting the pump as suggested earlier.

Once again, test the pump itself by running a water line into the pit and filling it to simulate flooding. This is perhaps the single most important bit of upkeep you can perform with a sump pump.

Which AC, backup, and water-powered sump pumps do you recommend?

A Sump Pump Maintenance Schedule - Annual, Seasonal, Monthly
The Basepump HB1000-PRO is a high-end water-powered sump pump we often recommend.

Our top recommendation for an AC pump is the Zoeller M267, which we’ve reviewed here and found to be the most reliable AC-powered sump pump on the market. For a DC backup, the best on the market is the Wayne WSM3300, which we’ve reviewed here. For an AC/DC combination sump pump, we recommend the Wayne WSSM40V, which we’ve reviewed here. And for a water-based sump pump, we’re fans of the Basepump HB1000-PRO, which we’ve reviewed here.

If you find our work at PumpThatSump helpful, you can put our relentless reviewing of every pump and fixture on the market to the test by shopping via our links above for whatever you need to make your house a home. Despite being self-employed, we promise not to spend it all on health insurance.

Related Pumps, Guides, and Reviews

We share best practices in pump and fixture selection, installation, and maintenance for families and small business owners who want water (or worse) gone for good.