Even if your basement or cellar is properly tanked with basement waterproofing (lined with a waterproof membrane) there is still a risk of water ingress unless there is a significant slope running down away from your property. If you already have a sump pump or are thinking of installing one as a precaution then there are a number of sump pump problems you need to be prepared for. If you have a problem and water starts to accumulate then the chance is that lots of people in your locality will be having similar problems and the maintenance people will be very busy and not available to do a quick repair.

sump pump

A Sump Pump (Credit: HomeJobsByMom.com)

Typically the sump pump sits in small pit or basin under the lowest part of the basement floor and may connect with any field drains that surround the foundation slab of your house. You don’t need to be a diy genius but there are a few key points to consider as regular maintenance, or for troubleshooting, sump pump problems:

Power supply

Make sure your Sump Pump is permanently connected to mains electricity, many people have had problems because they forgot to keep the power switched on. Another precaution is to have a backup battery-powered sump pump installed. Often in bad weather, especially where we live in the countryside, there is often a main power outage. A battery-powered backup takes over so we can avoid this sump pump problem.

Outflow drainage

Many people forget that the surplus water that is pumped out has to go somewhere. The waste water pipe needs to be able to empty into a drain or gully that runs away from the house. Also it needs to be insulated and sited in such a way that it does not freeze up in winter. Blocked or frozen outflow drainage is a common problem that is easily remedied. Drains need to be inspected and cleaned on a regular basis.


Make sure you have outflow drainage! (source)

Damaged or broken check valve

The check valve is designed to prevent flow back down the drain tube. Without a check valve most pumps will be noisy, work harder and be prone to failure because the pump will continuously have to work against the reverse gravity feed backflow from the drain. Installing and checking the operation of the check valve on a periodic basis can avoid many problems. Some systems include one but some do not. Check, if you have one and make sure it works, if you don’t, I recommend you have one fitted.

Float switch problems

This relates to the float switch that turns the pump on or off as the level of the water in the pit or basin rises or falls. Sometimes over a period of time, due to vibration or poor installation the pump will work loose and the float switch arm mechanism will jam in one position or not operate properly. If the switch jams the pump may overheat,  cut out, burn out or alternatively not switch on at all.

Pump blockages

Pump blockages can cause damage to the pump. All sump pumps have a limit to the particulate matter (sediment or grit) that they can handle. Over time the sump pit or basin and the pump can get blocked. Consequently, it is necessary to clean out the sump pit or basin and wash out the filter mesh in the pump inlet pipe to avoid this issue. Also make sure you have a tightly fitting cover sealing the sump pit because this will help to stop dirt getting into it in the first place.

Pit Odour

Pit odour is also often an issue. This usually happens for one of two reasons. Firstly, if one of your sewerage waste pipes is leaking into the ground around your house and then into the water seeping into your basement.  A more usual problem is if the sump pump does not switch on very often so a small amount of stagnant water is left in the sump pit or basin for extended periods. Usually this sump pump problem can be solved by tipping a few buckets of clean water into the sump pit and letting the sump pump simply pump it away every month or so.

This is intended both as a troubleshooting guide to the most common sump pump problems and as a brief note of what you can do easily as preventative maintenance. It is not an exhaustive list but some regular preventative maintenance can save trouble and a lot of mess and damage. Naturally if you have a serious problem with the electrical supply in your basement, consult a qualified electrician. Water and electricity is a dangerous combination so be very careful.

Sump pump in photographer's well

Mixing Water and Electricity can be very dangerous (source)