Articles and Buying Guides

How to Test Your Sump Pump: Methods and Tips

An overhead view of a sump pump in a concrete basement floor. The pump features a grey power unit, white PVC pipe running from one side, and a blue hose coming from the other.

Your home's sump pump is one of those items that you rarely think about until it stops working during a storm. Unfortunately, if your sump pump goes out, you might have a costly problem (a basement full of water)!

Fortunately, testing this essential piece of plumping equipment is an easy task. Here's how to test your sump pump to ensure it works long before it's needed.

What is a Sump Pump?

Black Sump Pump

What is a sump pump anyway, and how do you tell if your sump pump is working? Sump pumps are a crucial piece of plumbing equipment with a funny name. Sump means "pit," and the sump pump is a pump that resides in the lowest part of your basement.

These small machines do an outsized job. Sump pumps are essential for protecting your home against water damage during heavy rains and severe storms. When the ground around the foundation of your home fills up with water, it can seep through your basement's concrete. Sump pumps detect the ground water and start pumping the water away from your basement, crawlspace, and around your foundation. The water goes down a pipe to transport it away from your home.

Why Test Your Sump Pump?

Plumber installing sump pump

It's essential to test your sump pump a few times per year—ideally, before the spring thaw and fall weather seasons hit, so you avoid flooding. Testing your sump pump lets you know that it's ready when you need it.

Luckily, testing a sump pump is an easy DIY task that only takes homeowners a few minutes. Like testing your smoke alarms or any other safety device in your home, it's better to ensure that it's working long before you need it.

Depending on your region and the weather, your sump pump may work hard every month or may only need to pump water a few times per year. Because most sump pumps run on electricity, you may need to reset your sump pump after a power outage. It’s also important to note that some pumps have battery backup, and some can even run on water power, allowing them to continue to protect your basement even if the power goes out.

The Dangers of a Failing Sump Pump

Flooded floor

If your sump pump goes out, you will likely notice water accumulate near the pump housing, which is typically the lowest part of the basement. If you don’t notice that the water is starting to pool, you could face basement flooding.

Should your sump pump go out during a storm, the best step is to grab a mop and a bucket and try to soak up the excess water (pouring it out somewhere away from your home’s foundation). A wet/dry vacuum is helpful for cleaning up the water after the storm, but you may need to move water manually during a power outage. Don't allow the water to sit in the basement, or you can cause permanent damage, mold, and mildew.

Of course, the best way to prevent a sump pump failure is to test your sump pump regularly and ensure there's a sufficient backup power source, such as a battery-powered backup system for your pump. Not only will regular testing prevent a disaster, but it will give you peace of mind during the next storm.

How to Test Your Sump Pump

A black bucket is next to a sump pump on a concrete basement floor. The sump pump has a black cover and features two white PVC pipes running out of the top of the cover. Cords are running from the pump to the wall of the basement.

When you spring clean or start your fall prep, it's a great time to test your sump pump. By testing your pump a few times per year, you'll keep your basement free of water during bad weather. To test your sump pump, do the following:

Step 1: Free Your Exterior Drainpipe of Any Debris

Sump pump drain pipe

One common reason that sump pumps fail is that the water has nowhere to go. Ensure that the drainpipe connected to your pump is free and clear of debris, like dirt, plants, or leaves. The drainage pipes should direct water away from your foundation.

When you check the outside drainpipe, it’s a good idea to also check the area around your sump pump in your basement or crawlspace. Remove any debris around the pipe (don't store items near the sump pump), and make sure there's nothing near the pump that could interfere with performance.

Step 2: Check the Pump’s Power

Work light shining on sump pump

As you inspect your basement sump pump, you’ll want to locate the electrical cords running to the outlet from your pump. Most pumps feature two cords—one cord is the pump cord, and the other is the float cord. The pump cord will be plugged into the back of the float cord. Unplug both cords. Then plug in the pump cord only. The pump should turn on, and you'll hear the motor running.

If the sump pump appears to be working well, re-connect the cords and plug them back in.

Step 3: Pour Water into the Pump Pit

Bucket of water

If your sump pump features only one cord, you can test the pump by slowly pouring a 5-gallon bucket of water into the sump pump pit. The float of the pump should rise, and the pump should turn on. Once the water is pumped, watch and listen to ensure that the pump turns itself off.

What to Do if Your Sump Pump Isn’t Working

A man in a plaid shirt wearing protective glasses is working on the panel of his water heater. The water heater is light grey, and a copper pipe is running in the background.

If you test your sump pump and it doesn't work properly, it may be time to install a new sump pump. How long do sump pumps last? The average life expectancy of a sump pump is around ten years, but if your pump runs often, you may need to replace it every 5-7 years.

There are a few ways to troubleshoot a sump pump if it isn't working well.

Simple method: Unplug and Reset Your Sump Pump

Outlet and plug

If you notice that your sump pump has stopped working, the first step is to reset your sump pump. This method involves unplugging both cables for the pump. Leave the cords unplugged for a few minutes. After waiting, plug in only the cable going to the pump. If the pump still doesn't run, it likely needs to be replaced.

Alternative Method: Check the Float

Sump pump float in water

The other method for testing your sump pump is to pour water slowly into the pump, as outlined above in step 3. Next, watch to see if the float inside the sump pump rises. If the float doesn’t rise and activate or the motor doesn't turn on and off automatically, it can indicate a problem with the unit. This failure to detect the float could also be due to debris obstructing the sensors.

 We have replacement parts and sump pump repair kits at Do It Best to help you fix your pump before it fails during a storm. We also offer sump pump backups and submersible sump pumps. One thing is for sure—a failing sump pump is nothing to ignore! Fix your sump pump now rather than waiting for a storm to hit!

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.