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How to check if a sump pump is working

Spring means snowmelt and rain, a combination that can lead to basement flooding if your sump pump doesn’t work. That’s why it’s essential to ensure your sump pump is working before the water arrives. Here’s a guide to testing your sump pump, plus some troubleshooting tips.

sump pump basement

How to test a sump pump

There are two simple methods to test a sump pump:

1. Lift the float

Your sump pump operates using a device called a float, which literally floats on the surface of the sump pit water. When the water reaches a certain level, the float activates the pump motor. Where does the sump pump water go? The water is pushed through a discharge pipe to either the storm sewer or a safe area of your property away from the house’s foundation. The float is usually a white or black plastic ball attached to the unit by a metal rod.

To test your sump pump using the float, grasp the float and lift it as high as you can. If the pump motor starts, you know the system is working. If it doesn’t, you need to troubleshoot using the guide below.

2. Pour water into the sump pit

You can always duplicate a real-life scenario by dumping water into the pit to see if it works. Fill a large bucket or trash can with water and pour it into the sump pit. If the pump motor starts, you know it works. If it doesn’t start, it’s time to troubleshoot.

If you see some water already in the pit, you may be wondering, “Should there be water in the sump pump pit?” The answer is yes, it’s perfectly normal for a sump pump pit to have water in it all the time.

Sump pump troubleshooting

If you’ve tried the first two tests and the motor isn’t working, here are a few things to check before you call a plumber for a repair or replacement:

  • Reboot your pump. The first thing you should do if your sump pump isn’t working is unplug it from its power source and plug it back in. This works like a reboot and will often bring your pump back to life after months of sitting idle during the winter.

  • Check the power source. Your sump pump is powered by electricity and should be plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. These outlets have special circuit breakers as a safeguard in case they get wet. Ensure the outlet is working by pressing the reset switch. Additionally, check the breaker box and ensure that the sump pump’s breaker hasn’t tripped. Consider installing a battery-powered backup sump pump to ensure your sump pump works in a power outage.

  • Check for blockages. If your sump pump is running but not pumping, it may be due to blockages in the discharge pipes or a buildup of sediment at the bottom of your sump pit. Clean your pit and pipes yourself or with the help of a certified professional.

  • Replace the sump pump. Sump pumps have an average lifespan of about 10 years, so if you have an old sump pump pit with aging equipment, it may be time to get your pump replaced with the help of a certified plumber.

testing a new sump pump

External sump pump uses

Sump pumps aren’t just for basements. An external sump pump diverts pooling rainwater and snowmelt away from the foundation of your house. The water around the sump pump can get pumped into a storm sewer or a safe area of your property.

Backflow prevention and testing

Besides sump pumps, some homeowners need to be concerned about backflow, when the normal flow of water is reversed from its intended direction in the plumbing system. Backflow can be a health hazard if water contaminated with chemicals or sewage flows back into the drinking water system.

In residential homes, backflow can happen through irrigation systems, fire sprinkler systems, boilers, swimming pools and pond equipment. These systems require a backflow prevention device that stops dirty water from entering the drinking water pipes. Like sump pumps, these devices must be professionally tested to ensure they operate correctly. At Aire One Heating & Cooling, our plumbers are certified to inspect your backflow devices and your sump pump.

Plumbing services in Kitchener, Stratford and Woodstock

Aire One Heating & Cooling is more than an HVAC company. We also provide quality, dependable residential plumbing services. Our licensed, insured and certified plumbers are available for any plumbing need, whether it’s boilers, water heater systems or dehumidifiers. Contact us today for fast, dependable installations, repairs and plumbing services in Kitchener, Stratford and Woodstock.


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