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Sump Pump Failure: What Homeowners Need To Know

Sump pump failure
Sump pump failure

Looking for information about sump pump failure? If so, you’ve landed on the right page. In this article, we’re going to go over how sump pumps work, the main reasons for sump pump failure, other ways you can keep water away from your home’s foundation, and more.

What Is A Sump Pump And How Does It Work?

A sump pump is part of a drain tile waterproofing system.

A sump pump is part of a drain tile waterproofing system. A sump pump’s job is to take water collected in a sump pit and expel it away from the foundation.

How Drain Tile Systems Work With Sump Pumps

A drain tile system is a foundation waterproofing gold standard. Instead of merely putting up a barrier to keep water out, it actually prevents excess moisture from building up in the soil around the foundation.

There are two types of drain tile systems: exterior and interior. Both are easy to install in a home during construction but can also be installed in existing homes. Here’s how they work with sump pumps:

How An Exterior Drain Tile System Works

Excess moisture in the soil now flows into the pipe and toward the sump pit.

An exterior drain tile system goes around the outside perimeter of the house at the footing level. The general installation procedure is as follows:

  • The contractor installing the drain tile system will excavate the soil around the home down to the footer.
  • A shallow trench is dug around the home’s outside perimeter and lined with gravel.
  • A special perforated drainage pipe is placed on top of the gravel and then covered with more gravel.
  • Finally, the excavated soil is put back.

Any excess moisture in the ground will find its way into the drainage pipe and flow toward a sump pit. As soon as the water in the sump pit reaches a certain level, the sump pump will turn on and eject the water a safe distance from the foundation.

How An Interior Drain Tile System Works

Excess moisture in the soil now flows into the pipe and toward the sump pit.

An interior drain tile system goes around the inside perimeter of your home’s basement or crawl space. (Installing an interior drain tile system in a basement means the basement floor will need to be broken up to dig a trench around the inside perimeter of the basement.) The general installation process is as follows:

  • The contractor digs a trench around the inside perimeter of the basement or crawl space and then lines it with gravel.
  • A perforated drainage pipe is placed into the trench and covered with more gravel.
  • If the homeowner plans on finishing the basement, the basement floor will be replaced. Some homeowners leave the trench open because they’re not planning to finish the basement.

Any excess soil moisture will flow into the drainage pipe and toward the sump pit. Once the sump pit fills with water, the sump pump will kick in and release the water away from the foundation.

For more information, see The Importance Of Proper Foundation Drainage Around Your Home.

Why You Don’t Want Sump Pump Failure

Sump pump failure can cause your home’s basement or crawl space to flood and cause serious damage that will cost a lot of money to fix. However, there are other ways sump pump failure could cost you money. As we’ve just noted, a sump pump works together with a drain tile system to keep the soil around your home’s foundation dry. If the sump pump fails, excess moisture in the soil around the foundation could cause hydrostatic pressure to build up.

Hydrostatic Pressure Is Bad News For Foundations

Water in the soil around a foundation that can’t drain off will eventually cause hydrostatic pressure to build up and start pushing against the foundation walls. The foundation walls could bow inward and even crack if the pressure isn’t relieved. This is serious structural damage that will necessitate a costly repair. Therefore, you want to make sure your sump pump is working correctly.

Causes Of Sump Pump Failure

Sump pumps fail for various reasons, including the following:

  • There’s a problem with the check valve – The check valve prevents the water being pumped away from the foundation from flowing backward into the sump pit. If it stops working, the sump pump won’t be able to pump out water fast enough because some of it is flowing backward. This causes the sump pump to turn on more often, leading to early failure.
  • The switch is stuck in the ON or OFF position – If this happens, the pump will either run all the time or not at all.
  • The float is stuck – The correct operation of the ON/OFF switch depends on the float. Look inside to see what’s going on. Is something preventing the float from moving normally?
  • Power failure – Did the circuit breaker trip? Was there a power outage? Did the pump become unplugged? This is why it’s good to have a backup sump pump that runs on a battery.
  • The motor has failed – If the sump pump’s motor isn’t powerful enough, it will need to work harder to get the job done. It might not even turn off. If this happens, the motor will burn out and fail. The solution is to get a more powerful motor.
  • There’s a problem with the discharge line – The discharge line carries water away from the foundation. If it’s cracked, broken, clogged, or not big enough, things aren’t going to work correctly.
  • The intake line is clogged – If the intake line gets clogged, the pump won’t be able to get water from the sump pit.
  • The discharge line is frozen – This can happen if the weather gets cold enough.
  • The sump pump has reached the end of its expected lifespan – Sump pumps usually last around 7-10 years. If it’s been this long since you bought the sump pump, it might be time for a new one.

Read more about – Sump pump alternatives.

Regular Maintenance Will Prolong The Life Of Your Sump Pump

Regular maintenance is easy to do and will prolong the life of your sump pump. Here are a few things every sump pump owner should do:

  • If you have a backup sump pump, make sure it works. Unplug the primary sump pump and see if the backup kicks in.
  • Go outside to make sure it’s actually ejecting the water away from the foundation.
  • Make sure the float is in working order and isn’t being restricted.
  • Make sure the sump pump isn’t making any weird noises.
  • Note what the manufacturer of your sump pump recommends for maintenance and follow that.

All homeowners should be familiar with the common signs of foundation problems.

How To Keep Water Away From Your Foundation

Since excess groundwater causes most foundation problems, you can go a long way toward preventing foundation issues simply by controlling groundwater around the foundation. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Regrade the yard around the house so it slopes away from the foundation. This will prevent water in the ground from draining toward the house and soaking the soil around the foundation.
  • Ensure that your gutters don’t contain dead leaves or other debris. This could cause water to flow over the side of your home and soak the ground around the foundation.
  • Use downspout extensions to carry water at least 4 feet from the foundation before releasing it.
  • An underground downspout and pop-up emitter is another way to carry runoff away from your foundation. Water from the gutters flows into the underground downspout and toward the pop-up emitter several feet from your foundation. Once the emitter fills with water, it pops up and releases it away from the foundation.
  • Keep water-hungry flowers, shrubs, trees, etc., away from the foundation.
  • Install a drain tile system. For more information, see How Does A Drain Tile System Work?

If you’re concerned about sump pump failure, contact us today. We serve areas in four states: Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri.


Dave Epp

Dave is the President at Epp Foundation Repair with over 27 years of experience in the industry. Dave has worked on thousands of foundation, basement, concrete, and crawl space repair projects since 1993. Dave is involved in several civic and church organizations and enjoys coaching youth sports, mainly football, golfing, and elk hunting.



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