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How to Test Your Sump Pump When it’s Not Working

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This article will take you through how to test your sump pump, both when it’s not working and when it is.

We’ll walk you through what are some of the common causes for it failing, and how you can make sure to avoid the possible consequences that it could have if it stopped working at the wrong time, because trust me, you don’t want to be experiencing those consequences. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will never again be experiencing problems caused by a sump pump that is not working.

What is a Sump Pump?

Let’s start with the very basics and take a closer look at what it is before we get started so that we have all bases covered in the process. The basin in your basement is a place where excess water is collected and accumulates. If not drained, the continuous accumulation of water could lead to flooding of the area, which in turn could cause serious water damage and associated costs.

As a consequence, in order to avoid flooding a sump pump is installed to pump out all the water from the basin. Perimeter drains can lead the water to this basin where the pump is installed and will drain the water. When the water table is above the foundation of the home, this pump also provides an important role in helping avoid excess dampness.

Since materials such as wood siding aren’t made to tolerate excess amount of water, the proper functioning of this pump is crucial for your home’s well-being. Gutters are installed very much with the same purpose of diverting water so as to avoid the potentially damaging effects to your property, but those are simply installed pretty high up instead of at the bottom of your basement.

They can discharge the water to different places, one being the sewer, but the main thing that is required is that the water is moved to a place where it is no longer a problem. However, since it puts additional strain on the municipal sewage system, this may no longer be where it has to go, and if you do actually engage in that behavior, you may end up getting fined as a consequence. You may even be in a situation where you don’t know that it is doing so and you could end up getting fined although you simply thought you were doing what you were allowed to do.

These machines are especially important in areas that are either low-lying or get a lot of rain. Whatever the cause of the potential flood, it’s better to be prepared and not have to go through the process of having your house flooded.

How Does it Work?

The entirety of the sump pump has 4 main components to it that are what are working when water enters your basement’s basin.

The ground water collection system is actually what will lead the water into the basin, and it’s buried next to the foundation and under the floor. The tank or basin where the water is collected is at the lowest point of the basement to allow easy water collection. When it rains or other water goes through the collection system, the float device will activate the pump and start pumping the water out through the discharge pipe. Once the water has been drained, you’re no longer at risk of flood and a potential problem has been avoided.

Instead of sending the water to the sewer system, it could also just be that it’s taken sufficiently far away from the house where it won’t cause any problems. Your local contractor who is installing the system will know the building codes and know where the water should be sent to be in accordance with the regulation there.

Causes of Sump Pump Failure – What is The Problem?

man looking at sump pump in frustration

If you have issues with your pump, that could very end up being what you look like.

There are some pretty common causes that can lead to failure of the sump pump and the main task is therefore to figure out what exactly it is that is causing the problem, In the section below, we’ll provide you with the 7 most common causes, and that way you will also know what you should be looking out for and be testing to find the problem.

If your pump has already stopped working, you’re now at the point where you need to deal with the situation, although it would be a lot better if you would just be able to actually prevent problems from arising in the first place.

Power Outage

Since most pumps rely on electricity to power them, their continuous working is dependent on exactly that. If they’re not getting what is powering them, they’re not going to actually work when you need them to. It’s possible to get a backup generator attached to it, which will be manually activated when that happens. If it’s not a power outage that is causing it to not work, then a generator will obviously do no good. When there’s a storm outside, you could be in a situation where you lose power, in addition to getting a lot of rain water and in that situation, it’s just important to make sure the water is being pumped out.

Getting a System That Has the Right Size is Crucial to Make it Last as Long as Possible

Wit HVAC units, sump pumps and any system in your house, it’s important to get the device that has the right amount of capacity. While it’s easy to say, and less so to do, the pump here is the same way. If you get a pump that is too small, it will need to work harder than intended and you will see it giving up earlier as a consequence.

Poor Installation Done by the Pro

We’re talking about a machine that is removing water from your property to avoid flooding. It’s one of the things that absolutely needs to be done correctly. While it’s easy to point out, these systems come with instructions on how they should be installed to make sure they do what they’re supposed to. You might be reading that a check valve needs to be installed and simply ignore it, because the pump will just pump the water out again if it back-flows, right? The issue is if the back-flow ends up unscrewing the motor shaft. You’re now in a situation where you’re hearing the sump pump running but no water is actually leaving the basin. Not good!

Some homeowners end up installing the pump in gravel or dirt, and while it may seem like an easier way of installing it, you’re now in a situation where you’re also trying to pump out whatever goodies is brought along with that too, and chances are the end result will not be good.

The Switch Isn’t Being Activated

The pump relies on the float to start the pump when there’s enough water in the basin, but if the pump moves, the floating device won’t move correctly and get the float arm activated that turns the system on, and then it will simply not turn on.

Improper Maintenance

We’ll have a specific section on what the due maintenance is, but if you don’t follow the recommendations provided by the manufacturer, you could be in for a nasty surprise once it starts raining.

A defect pump has been installed

It’s the reason why the pump needs to be tested when it’s installed. You don’t want to have something installed that immediately malfunctions. It’s not common, but it could be the case.

Problems with the Discharge Lines

There are a couple of possible scenarios that could mean that the rest of the system works, yet the water is not being pumped out, and that could be if the discharge lines are either clogged or frozen. At the end of the line where the water is being let out, you should make sure that things are unable to enter through. Sticks, rocks and other things can otherwise get stuck in there.

Types of Sump Pumps

The two main types of sump pumps that people will get installed either fall in the category of submersible or pedestal, and they will install and look a little bit different. They also work slightly differently, although their main purpose is obviously the same.

The pedestal pump has the motor actually sticking out of the basin, and as a consequence, any maintenance or repair work is significantly easier too, but you also get the disadvantage of having something stick up from the ground if that is something that bothers you.

The other type, the submersible pump, will entirely go into the basin where it’s pumping water out of, and you will just have the drains and power cords going in. Having all of it installed inside the basin also requires that the build is stronger and that no short circuits happen as a consequence. If you ask different people, you will get different answers as to which type is the better option for you to go with.

How Long Does a Sump Pump Last – Average Life Expectancy

The two different types of pumps will last significantly different amounts of time. The pedestal pump can last up to 30 years, but it does require that it is cleaned from possible debris that can otherwise clog it up. If not, you will likely not make it nearly as many years. It does require that you spend more time on home maintenance, making sure it’s free of debris, but given that it is also cheaper to install and significantly easier to also remove if it needs to be replaced, a lot of homeowners choose this option. It makes a lot of sense. The more maintenance you’re willing to do, the longer the average life expectancy of your appliances, and it is exactly the same as if you are to do the due HVAC maintenance.

If you want a machine where debris isn’t a concern you will be having, submersible pumps is the way to go. Their price tag is greater, they don’t clog up, and this sump pump will last somewhere between 5 and 15 years on average. With proper maintenance, getting 15 years of life out of your pump is not unreasonable.

How Long and Often Should a Sump Pump Run?

The answer to that question is that the pump should only run when there’s actual water that needs to be removed. Why would you run it otherwise if that wasn’t the case? Some people suggest that they shouldn’t run more than 5 hours per day, but different pumps and motors have different capabilities, so the specifics of the pump will be a better answer to the question.


While maintenance won’t fix everything, it will help minimize the amount of problems you will have with your sump pump. Mechanical equipment isn’t fail-safe, but doing your part will make it last longer. Some of these issues mentioned above could easily have been avoided with maintenance. Most of this stuff takes a couple of minutes 4 times a year, and that will keep your system running smoothly.

  • Use vinegar – vinegar is an amazing thing that can be used for a range of different cleaning purposes (hint: ). By running a vinegar solution through the system, you are able to avoid buildup of some of the stuff that could cause problems.
  • Make sure vents and air holes are cleaned regularly.
  • Test the floating system – the thing is it should be operating freely with no restrictions.

Basically what you need to make sure is that the problems we talked about earlier don’t end up happening.

The sump pump is running constantly with no rain

When the sump pump seems to keep running, although there’s no water, the first thing you should do is try to see if moving the float arm down stops it. If that’s the case, the float arm got stuck and it’s simply as if it kept getting activated.

It could also be a problem with the check valve that is not keeping water from returning into the basin. As it returns, it keeps switching the device back on and it simply seems like it won’t end.

Water leaks could also be causing the basin to be continuously be filled up, so make sure to check your irrigation system. If this isn’t treated, you could not only drive up a huge water bill but also cause damage to your home’s foundation.

How do Battery Backup Sump Pumps Work and Why do You Need One?

A failed sump pump may not be an issue as long as you have a spare one. These are typically battery-powered, which means they’ll be able to work no matter what. They come in especially handy when the power is out during a storm, or you end up getting more water than what your main pump is able to handle.

When you test your pump, you shouldn’t just test your main one, but also the backup. Whereas your main pump is going to be powered by electricity, the backup simply requires that the battery inside of it is working.

Needless to say, you should get both sump pumps repaired if either of them is not working, and we hope that this article was helpful in uncovering some of the problems you could be experiencing and how to deal with them.

Why You Should Test Your Sump Pump?

By now you should hopefully know the reasons to test your pump, however the best time to actually do it would be the times when you expect ti get a lot of water, which is likely in either spring or fall, depending on your local climate.

How Do You Test That it Works?

It’s really quite simply to test that your sump pump works. All you have to do is replicate the scenario where it would usually need to start working. All that involves is that you pour water into the basin. If it works, it should start pumping out the water. Grab a big bucket and fill it with water that you then dump into the hole. Do it gently so that you don’t accidentally end up spilling all over the place.


If the sump pump doesn’t start at that point, it’s time to troubleshoot and figure out which part of the system is causing trouble. When you see the water rising, the float device should start the system. If it isn’t able to move the float arm, calcium or lime buildup could have blocked it from moving, and you might try to help it move to see if it works at that point.

Checking the System For Blockage

Although doing it gently, you should ensure that no blockages exist in the pipe that is leading the water away, and if there is one, have the pipe cleared. It could be that something has gotten stuck and you’re unfortunately forced to change the pipe.

Make sure the Power is Working

It’s as easy as making sure there are no electrical problems keeping power from getting to your pump.

If the Sump Pump Won’t Shut off

When you’re testing the sump pump, it’s important that you stay there to make sure that there aren’t any problems with it not wanting to shut off.

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