Winter, at least in the snowbelt, is usually a vacation from leaky basements.
The ground around foundations freezes, which limits absorption of water and accompanying soil saturation and movement, and precipitation typically arrives in the form of snow. Then, however, comes spring and all bets are off.
Winters without water in the basement can lull homeowners into a false sense of security and they often forget about the basement waterproofing systems they already have in place. Of course, the heart of any basement waterproofing system and normally the only mechanical component is the sump pump. Just because it’s been sitting quietly in its basin all winter doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be ready to perform when the spring thaw (or spring rains) calls it into action.
A wise homeowner will check out his or her sump pump after periods of inactivity to avoid that “Oh @#$%^” reaction when the puddle, or the flood, appears on the basement floor.
How to Test Sump Pumps to Prevent Leaky Basements in the Spring
A sump pump appears to be a pretty simple gadget, which it is, but there are still a number of things that can go wrong with it:
Float Switch Problems – The float switch activates the pump when water rises in the basin to a certain pre-set level. Float switches can get stuck against the basin wall when the pump moves around from its own vibration. They can also get stuck in their cages or other mechanisms, switch arms can stick or freeze and hollow floats can crack and fill with water.
Electrical Problems – Most sump pumps these days are of the fully submersible variety and, even though they are well-sealed, will occasionally experience a short-circuit. Otherwise, cords can break, transformer boxes (on those so equipped) can malfunction and motors can burn out.
Pump Problems – The pump is actually the simplest part of the mechanism but is still subject to damage. Built-in filtration, whether slots, holes or screen, can clog and restrict water flow. Pump impellers can jam with debris if filtration is inadequate and, especially when made of plastic, can break when hard debris such as gravel gets caught in the fins.
So, what’s the best way to test for these problems?
It’s pretty easy to test a sump pump – it’s a few simple steps, no tools required and the only supplies are water and a bucket.
First, make sure the sump pump is plugged in. This seems elementary but many a leaky basement has happened because someone unplugged a sump pump. If, as recommended, the pump is plugged into a dedicated circuit, check the breaker panel (or fuse box) to make sure the circuit is “hot.” (Please take all safety precautions or consult an electrician.)
Next, make sure the float switch moves freely up and down and that the switch arm to which it is attached moves freely also. When the switch arm is raised to its highest position, the pump should start. If the float is contacting the basin wall, try moving the pump away, being careful not to damage the connection to the check valve.
Finally, fill that bucket with water and pour enough into the sump basin to raise the float switch all the way up and trigger the pump. The pump should empty the basin down to the level where the float switch bottoms out and then shut off. Observe the basin after the pumps stops to make sure water is not flowing back in through the pump, which would indicate a failed check valve that should be replaced.
If everything checks out, the sump pump is ready for another wet Chicago spring. If not, a leaky basement is in the forecast and the homeowner should consult a basement waterproofing contractor to repair or replace the sump pump.
At U.S. Waterproofing, we know sump pumps. We have installed and maintained thousands of them in our 57 years in the basement waterproofing business and we have chosen to install only the highest quality Zoeller pumps for our customers. If your sump pump failed the test, or if you need help in making sure it’s working properly, please ask for our free advice.