How to Fix a Drain Pump That Never Stops Working

A drain pump is an incredibly useful item for your basement: simple yet essential. Basically, it’s a motorized pump in a bucket hidden under the floor of your basement or underground ; when the groundwater seeps up, it collects in a bucket, the pump activates, throws it out, and your basement stays dry .

Drainage pumps are designed to run intermittently as needed, cycling only when there is enough water in the bucket. While they will run constantly if your basement is flooding, in non-flood conditions these “cycles” should be sustainable – if your sump cycles on and off every few minutes (or even every few seconds) for an extended period of time, especially when it seems that there is no reason for this, this is a problem known as “short cycle”. Short cycling wears out your pump and most likely indicates a problem with your sump system. Here’s what to do if your sump pump runs with short cycles or never stops working, even if there doesn’t seem to be a problem lifting water.

Check the water level

The first thing you should do is check the water level in the sump. Drainage pumps are designed to operate when the water level becomes dangerous. But the water table can change – for example, one of the reasons your septic tank starts cycling could be heavy rains that raised the water table. Since the water is higher under your house, more of it seeps into the bucket and your pump pumps it out properly.

If your septic tank is short, go down to the basement. If the pallet bucket is closed, open it. Unplug the pump from the power source (usually this includes unplugging it from the nearest outlet) and see what happens. If the water rises in the bucket and starts to overflow, plug the pump back in and let it do its job. But if the water rises to a certain level and then stops rising, you may be dealing with an above-normal water table, but not flooding. There may be several reasons for this:

  • Shower. If your area has had a lot of rain, the water table may just be high, leaving your sump busy .
  • Snow melts. If your area has had a lot of snow that is now melting, the soil may be soaked with water.
  • Construction or leakage. If there is a water leak in your area, the water level under your house may be raised temporarily or artificially.

If the water level is high but doesn’t seem to be rising and you haven’t had any major rainfall lately, call your local water authority and see if there’s a leak in your area. Ask your neighbors if they have the same short cycles or if they have water in their basements. The water company may send a team to investigate.

Note. You should probably leave the drain pump on, even if it runs for a short time. While short cycles wear down your pump over time, shortening its life, it’s better to deal with short cycles than risk a sudden rise in water levels, even if you think you know what’s causing it. A new pump will be much cheaper than a flooded house. As soon as the situation is resolved, the pump should return to normal operation.

If there is no external situation causing the pump to cycle short, you need to check the system itself.

Check float switch

Like a toilet, drain pumps have a “float” that starts the pump cycle. It’s exactly what it looks like: a plastic ball that floats on the surface of the water. When the water level in the bucket rises to a certain level, the float rises with it and actuates a switch that turns on the pump. When the float drops back while pumping water, the switch is turned off.

If your sump never stops working, check the float switch. If it gets tangled in the power cord or debris, this is the obvious solution to your problem. If it is stuck in the on or off position, try loosening it with WD40. If this does not help, you may need to replace the float switch. If you are not experienced with electronics and drain pumps, you may need to call a plumber to take care of this.

Check check valve

A check valve is plumbing magic that only allows water to flow in one direction. It can be found on the drain pipe leading up and away from the pump and simply prevents the water just pumped from the sump from flowing back into the sump after each cycle. If your check valve isn’t doing its job, your pump becomes Sisyphean, pumping the same water out of the bucket over and over again.

One clue you may find is to examine the sump liner while the pump is running. The liner should have several holes on the sides where groundwater seeps through. If you see water leaking out of these holes after every cycle, your check valve is probably not at fault. If the water seems to magically reappear, you should check the check valve. Replacing the check valve probably requires calling a plumber.

Check drain line

The tubing into which the pump is emptied may be clogged, frozen, or otherwise damaged. If the pump can’t pump water out of the house (down the drain or into a properly leveled backyard), it will spin constantly in a futile attempt to purify the water. If the temperature is very low, you may need to thaw the pump drain pipe. Otherwise, you may need to call a plumber to inspect and clean the drain pipe if necessary.

Consider Capacity

Finally, if your drain pump cycles endlessly in short cycles, you may have pump or liner over or under capacity. Drainage pumps come in different capacities and capacities, and your pit and liner are designed to pump a certain amount of water. If your pump is too powerful, it will have a short cycle because it pumps a small amount of water at once; if it is too small, it will work all the time because it cannot remove all the water present. And if your earbud doesn’t fit, you may experience similar problems.

If you’ve looked at everything else and your sump is still running short cycle, check with a plumber about your system’s capacity. If your sump system is outdated, the water and drainage conditions around your property may have changed, requiring a sump upgrade.


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