Need time-sensitive sump pump help.
January 12, 2018 6:04 AM   Subscribe

My sump pump seems to be broken, (it's constantly running), no plumbers available until Monday and my area faces rapidly melting snow and rain in the next 48 hours. I have a plan but maybe you can poke holes in it or provide an alternative solution?

So the deal is, my sump pump is constantly running, even when there's no water for it to clear. It's not the float switch, I suspect it's a problem with the pump itself, it's about 6 years old and gets heavy use.

We're about to get a *lot* of water due to rain and melting snow, so I'm pretty concerned for the state of my basement which is (very) prone to flooding. Here are my options as far as I can see:

- Call a plumber. Yep, and due to the recent brutal cold, plumbers in the Boston area are fixing pipes for the next 3 days. No-one is able to get here until Monday.

- Just keep the thing running. This is the easiest plan, but my concern is that it will result in the motor eventually burning out, which is quite possible because when it clears, the pump is no longer submerged in water.

- Manually unplug the pump, then wait an hour and then plug it back in. This is my current MO, but not really sustainable over the next 48 hours.

So my last thought was I could get a timer at the hardware store, this will cut off the power, switch it back on periodically and basically substitute as the float switch. The question I have here is do timers even exist that can switch off an on every 60 minutes (or even less) and is there anything else I'm not thinking of?
posted by jeremias to Home & Garden (12 answers total)
I'd suggest taking a look at it and see if you can clean out the float switch - often these get jammed by small debris, so they get wedged open. If so, it should be pretty straightforward to fix / replace. There's a bunch of videos on youtube.

If not, can you find a submersible utility pump at your local hardware store? They cost about $30 - $50 and pump water through a garden hose- that way, if your pump does die, you can avoid flooding your basement- just drop it in the hole and run the hose to an appropriate spot.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:18 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]

It depends on how your sump is set up, but what I would just go buy a second sump pump--a pedestal variety, if that's not what you already have. You'll also need some 1.5" PVC and a couple of fittings. I find the Home Depot guys to be pretty good in helping you find the parts you need. Save the receipts--you can return anything you don't need (including the pump).

With that in hand, just jury rig something together on a DIY basis. The pump goes in the sump pit, with the PVC pipe coming out of the water. If you have a sink in the basement, connect the PVC pipe to a flexible pipe to the sink (like your washing machine waste water). You'd generally need a threaded fitting for the PVC pipe and a threaded fitting for the flexi pipe.

Dumping sump water into the sanitary sewer is not code, and should not be done long term. This is just an expediency in the emergency situation that your existing pump fails.

Alternatively, if you have a window, you can send the flexi pipe out the window away from your foundation. I've done this in the past.

Sump pumps themselves are very easy to deal with. The only thing that may be difficult here is trying to connect your new pump to any piping into which the existing pump is discharging.

But again, just go to HD, buy a lot of stuff, and return what you don't need. It's no-lose!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:23 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]

Have you considered replacing the sump pump yourself?

There are lots of Youtube videos that describe the process, and your local hardware or big box store likely have somebody who would be able to make sure you get the correct parts.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:26 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

This has happened to me twice, and in both cases it was the check valve (the thing that keeps water from dropping back down the pipe once your sump sends it up). So basically the pump is just looping the same water around and around and around, and it will eventually burn out.

If you are (relatively) handy, you could unplug the pump and replace it yourself. A new check valve should cost you less than $20.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:39 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the pump is running while the sump is empty? In which case that sounds like a classic float switch failure. What makes you think the switch isn't at fault?

At any rate if plugging/unplugging is "working" then using a plug in piggyback switch, available at the home improvement borg nearest you, would accomplish the same thing automatically. It installs with a couple zip ties and just plugs in.
posted by Mitheral at 6:54 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

My sump pump once stuck running by a piece of crud near the float switch. Maybe try working the switch and the float manually to see if something loosens up.

On the bright side, at least it got stuck in the run position!
posted by bricksNmortar at 6:54 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the responses so far, so we do have a manual backup system in place, but that requires constant monitoring as well. When my basement floods it happens FAST.

I am *not* particularly handy at these things and my worry is that if I try to replace, I end up with nothing working. Also it's a race against time right now, the water is already coming in and I am working today, leaving me little time to tinker.

In terms of the float switch, my only troubleshooting has been to jiggle it up and down, replacing it might be an option, but time pressures are the same here.

The piggyback switch sounds promising, I will go investigate now.
posted by jeremias at 7:02 AM on January 12

My sump pump did the same thing last year. I added this piggyback float switch to it (as Mitheral suggests above).

It was very easy to do, and was about the half the price of replacing the entire pump.
posted by The Deej at 7:03 AM on January 12

Your timer switch idea seems reasonable to me as a temporary fix. The worst that's happening now is your pump might burn itself out trying to pump air. You're probably about to replace the pump anyway, so you just need to keep it running for a couple of days. If it were me I'd use a WeMo Smart Plug; you can control it from your smartphone and set up a schedule to turn it off and on.

Seconding the suggestions you try cleaning the pump. My pool cover pump is a similar concept and it has this stupid little weep hole in it that is a PITA to clean. Seriously, tiny like 3mm hole and if it gets clogged with something the whole pump stops working. But 10 minutes taking it apart and putting it back together fixes it. See if your pump has maintenance instructions online.
posted by Nelson at 7:09 AM on January 12

There are definite timer plugs that you can have turn on and off at minimum 15 minute intervals. You want something like this. You def don't need to go all the way to a smart plug unless you want to control it remotely.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:13 AM on January 12

OK, so all you folks who encouraged me to go and re-check my float switch get the gold star. I thought I had done a thorough job troubleshooting it, but I went back and although the switch itself was fine, what had happened was the entire pump had shifted just enough so that the float was getting stuck against one of the tubes coming in from our French drain, keeping it in the on position. Rube Goldberg situation avoided.

Thanks Mefi, I will sleep easier this weekend!
posted by jeremias at 7:24 AM on January 12 [12 favorites]

I keep one of these float switches on hand just in case. Since your sump pump seems so critical, you might consider keeping a spare pump on hand (I do that too).
posted by H21 at 8:58 AM on January 12

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