5 Sump Pump Problems That Could Ruin Your Vacation

Sump-PumpWith the recent snowstorm activity across the country and warmer temps right around the corner, we’ll soon be in the middle of a major snow meltdown. Sump pumps will become a pivotal piece of equipment in your home. This got me thinking about my own experience with my sump pump.

It started on a rainy Friday in December. My family, including my mother-in-law, was leaving for vacation to see Mickey and Minnie later that evening. The entire family was excited, looking forward to the trip and some warm weather.

I left for work early that morning while my wife finished packing for vacation. Two hours later I received a frantic call from my wife: our basement was full of 6 to 8 inches of water. The sump pump had malfunctioned and water was continuing to flow into the basement. I was two hours away so I tried to calm her down. Then she asked two very important questions. First, did we have insurance coverage for this water incident? As someone who works in the insurance industry, I quickly and proudly answered, yes we do! However, the second question was not as easy to answer. Why didn’t you replace the sump pump after you told me it was wearing down and making noises? Let’s just say I really did not have a good answer for that one.

As I pulled into the driveway, I saw that Servpro was at the house cleaning up the mess. At the very same time I see my mother-in-law pulling in the driveway with four police cars behind her. I quickly rush out and speak with the officers who tell me that she hit a car at a red light and never stopped. The car that she hit called 911 and the police chase ensued for four miles, finally ending at my driveway.

So here I am with a wife who is ready to kill me, a mother-in-law who is ready to be arrested, Servpro and the insurance adjuster wanting my attention, and three kids asking me when we are leaving to see Mickey and Minnie! I said to myself, “How could I have avoided this mess?”

To save you from the same predicament, here are some of the most common sump pump problems and what you can do to avoid a basement flood (# 5 says it all for me).

  1. Power failure. Your primary sump pump is no different from any other electric appliance in your house – without power it is completely worthless. As a safeguard, invest in a high quality backup sump pump.
  2. Switch was stuck. There are several different types of sump float switches. Plumbers prefer vertical floats because tethered floats are notorious for getting stuck on the side walls of the sump pit which can result in a flooded basement.
  3. Pump was overwhelmed. Not all pumps are created equal. In life, you always get what you pay for. Minimally, you need a 1/3 horsepower sump pump capable of pumping 35 gallons of water per minute. If your house sits in a higher water table like my house, I’d advise upgrading to a 1/2 horsepower pump (which can typically pump about 60 gallons per minute). And to be completely safe, buy a battery backup pump!
  4. Sump discharge pipe froze. This is a very common occurrence especially with the most recent Northeast winters. If the pipe isn’t pitched properly, water will collect and eventually freeze, causing a blockage. Because what goes up must come down, the water falls right back into your sump pit. When the pit continues to fill up, the water has no place to go but all over your basement floor.
  5. Old age. “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” is bad practice when it comes to sump pumps as you could wind up with a basement full of water. Sump pumps should be replaced every five to seven years to be reasonably safe. In my case my pump was five years old.

I now replace our sump pump every three years no matter what, and have a battery backup. If you are wondering if we all made if to Disney, we did and have been back many times since. But before going on vacation, we always check the sump pump to be sure all is well and the backup system is in perfect working order!

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