The Homeowner’s Guide to Sump Pump Maintenance: Keep Your Basement Dry

Your sump pump is the unsung hero of your basement, preventing water damage. However, like any hardworking appliance, it needs regular TLC to ensure it’s ready to spring into action when heavy rains or snowmelt arrive. This guide will walk you through the essentials of sump pump maintenance, including how to perform routine checks, troubleshoot common issues, and recognize when it’s time to call in a professional plumber.

What is a Sump Pump (And Why Do I Need One)?

A sump pump is a device installed in a pit (the sump basin) that sits at the lowest point of your basement or crawl space. Its job is to collect excess groundwater and pump it away from your home’s foundation, preventing flooding and water damage. If you live in an area with heavy rainfall, a high water table, or have experienced basement flooding previously, a sump pump is essential.

Sump Pump Maintenance: The Basics

Locate Your Sump Pump

The first step in sump pump maintenance is knowing where to find it! Your sump pump is typically located in the corner of your basement or crawl space. Take a moment to find yours and familiarize yourself with its key components: the sump basin (the pit where water collects), the sump pump itself, the float switch (which triggers the pump), and the discharge pipe (which carries water away).

Test Your Sump Pump Regularly

Don’t wait for a storm to discover your sump pump isn’t working. The best way to test it is to slowly pour a bucket of water into the sump basin. As the water level rises, the float switch should lift, turning on the pump. The water should then drain quickly. Make this test part of your routine maintenance at least every few months, and more frequently during wetter seasons.

Clean the Sump Basin

Over time, debris like leaves, dirt, gravel, or even stray objects can find their way into your sump basin. This buildup can hinder the pump’s efficiency or even damage it. Take some time to clear out any debris in the pit, ensuring your pump has a clear environment to work in.

Inspect the Float Switch

The float switch is the brains of the operation – it’s what tells your pump when to activate. Make sure the float switch isn’t stuck or obstructed by anything in the basin. It should be able to rise and fall freely as the water level changes. A malfunctioning float switch is a common reason for sump pump failures.

Check the Discharge Pipe

Your discharge pipe carries the water safely away from your home’s foundation. Inspect the pipe for any blockages – things like dirt, debris, or even ice during winter. The goal is to ensure water has a clear path away from your house. Ideally, the discharge pipe should extend at least 20 feet from your home’s foundation.

Troubleshooting Common Sump Pump Problems

A sump pump that isn’t working properly can leave you feeling stressed and vulnerable to water damage. Below, we’ll cover some of the most common issues homeowners encounter and simple troubleshooting steps you can take before calling a professional.

Sump Pump Won’t Turn On

First, rule out the basics. Ensure your sump pump is plugged in securely and that the circuit breaker in your electrical panel hasn’t tripped. If the power supply is fine, the issue likely lies with the float switch (it may be stuck or malfunctioning) or the pump motor itself might be failing.

Sump Pump Runs Constantly

A sump pump that never stops running is a sign something’s amiss. Check your float switch – it could be stuck in the “on” position. Another possibility is that the pump itself is sitting too low in the basin, causing it to start with even a small amount of water. Lastly, continuously heavy rain or an unusually high water table could be overwhelming your pump.

Noisy Operation

Rattling, grinding, or loud noises from your sump pump are never a good sign. Vibrations could indicate a worn-out motor that’s nearing the end of its life. Strange noises can also mean debris is stuck in the impeller (the part that moves the water). Investigate any unusual sounds promptly.

Frozen Discharge Pipe

If you live in a region with freezing temperatures, your discharge pipe is susceptible to ice blockages. Check the outside exit point of the pipe for ice buildup. To prevent this issue, consider insulating your discharge pipe or using heat tape to keep the water flowing during cold spells.

Important Note: If these troubleshooting steps don’t resolve the problem, or if you’re uncomfortable working on your sump pump, it’s always wisest to call a qualified plumber for assistance.

When to Call a Professional Plumber

While some basic sump pump maintenance is manageable for homeowners, certain situations require professional expertise:

  • Frequent Sump Pump Failures: If your pump keeps breaking down, there might be an underlying issue a plumber can diagnose and fix permanently.
  • Overwhelmed Pump: If your sump pump can’t keep up with the volume of water, you may need a larger or more powerful model.
  • New Sump Pump Installation: If you don’t have a sump pump but need one, a professional will assess your needs and ensure proper installation.
  • Major Repairs: Any problems involving electrical wiring or complex pump components should be handled by a qualified plumber.


A properly maintained sump pump is your first line of defense against a wet basement and the costly damages that come with it. By proactively testing your sump pump, keeping it clean, and knowing the signs of trouble, you can ensure your home stays dry all year round.

Remember, for complex issues or if you feel unsure at any point, don’t hesitate to reach out to a trusted plumber. Investing in professional maintenance or repairs can save you significant headaches (and money) in the long run.


Nyla from Nyla Home is a blogger who loves to write about home improvement. She started her blog in 2013, and she’s been writing about home improvement ever since.

Nyla has a passion for helping people improve their homes, and she loves sharing her knowledge with her readers. She believes that everyone deserves to live in a beautiful home, and she strives to help her readers achieve that goal.

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