Replacing a broken sump pump
If you’re anything like me, you don’t like the idea of your basement flooding. If you’re nothing like me, you do like the idea of your basement flooding. I don’t know why you would like to have a flooded basement. Maybe you’re an eternal optimist, and you just can’t help but look on the bright side. If this is you, you will probably hate this article because a working sump pump would mean losing your free basement swimming pool at the very height of the summer heat. If you are currently loving your life — floating past your washer and dryer on an inflatable pool raft, drinking a mojito, and catching up on the latest Stephen King thriller — please disregard the following information, which will not be helpful at all for you. But if you are a boring asshole who just wants a dry basement, and has a broken sump pump, please read on.
DISCLAIMER: This information on this site is for entertainment purposes only. The authors and owners of this site accept no responsibility or liability for any actions taken by readers. If you are not comfortable attempting repairs, please hire a licensed professional. Thank you!
Sump pump stopped working
So, your sump pump is broken. Great. Now what? You replace it, stupid. You think it’s going to fix itself? I mean, I guess it’s possible it will start working again. No joke, a few weeks ago my bathroom fan stopped working for like two and a half weeks, and then one day, bam! Started working again. It was amazing. But assuming you don’t have a self-repairing sump pump, you’re probably going to need to replace it.
Oh, but that reminds me. Before you go to all this trouble, you should go ahead and check the circuit breaker to make sure it isn’t tripped. That would be maddening, to go to all the trouble to replace your sump pump only to find that the old one worked fine and the circuit breaker just needed to be flipped. So, double check it! And obviously, make sure the sump pump is plugged in.
Order a replacement submersible sump pump
Up until my sump pump stopped working, I didn’t know anything about sump pump replacement. I was just living my life, blissfully unaware that at any moment, tragedy could strike and leave me with a basement full of water. Because of my irrigation background, I know a little about working with PVC pipe, but nothing beyond that. Where to begin? Well, I knew I needed a new sump pump, so I figured I’d need to order a replacement sump pump. I was catching quickly.
As a very lazy human person, I decided that I would like to put in the least amount of work possible. Therefore, I decided to order the exact same sump pump brand and model that I currently had. That way, I ensured that I wouldn’t need to to do any stupid nonsense like having to custom cut anything. Replacing the pump with the exact same model means I can just reuse all the old connections from the broken sump pump.
So, I took to the internet to find my one true replacement sump pump. The old broke-ass sump pump had a helpful tag on the power cable with a model number. I googled the model number and found my model on Ebay. I ordered it, sat back, and anxiously awaited the delivery of my prized package. Tom Petty was right, though. The waiting was indeed the hardest part.
You certainly don’t need to order the exact same model that you currently have. In fact, in some cases, this is a very bad idea. For instance, if your old sump pump was crappy and didn’t last very long and burned out right away, you should definitely think about changing things up.
In my case, I was fortunate that my old pump had lasted well over a decade, and never caused me any problems. So, rather than fall down the rabbit hole of endless options (Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon, Ebay, etc…) I just followed the age-old KISS advice: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Both because I enjoy simplicity, and also because if you can’t trust an acronym, who can you trust?
Tools you will need:
- Screwdriver (If your sump pump is submerged inside of an enclosure with a lid that is screwed down closed). In my case, a phillips head screwdriver. Your enclosure lid may be held down with something different. Flat-head screws, lug nuts, lug bolts, scotch tape and Elmer’s glue?!? Whatever. Be prepared.
- Disposable latex gloves. Any kind of plumbing work is gross. Stagnant water that sits and festers for years gets nasty and sludgy over time. Keep that nasty shit off your clean hands by wearing disposable latex gloves while replacing your submersible sump pump.
- Work gloves. Multiple pairs of gloves?! Wtf. Isn’t that overkill? Nah tho. The latex gloves are for keeping your pinky finger sludge-free, so you can finish the job and immediately head to the Ritz to sip tea with the Queen. The work gloves are to keep your hands safe and minimize the pain/damage when you inevitably crunch a finger under the weight of a heavy ass sump pump. Or slip with the wrench and clamp your lovely sludge-free pinky finger. Wait, injuries. Is that possible?!?! Yes, dummy. We’re dealing with tools and heavy pumps. Shit can go wrong. Keep your hands as safe as possible.
- Channel locks. These are adjustable, tongue-and-groove pliers that are so incredibly useful, I own multiple different-sized pairs and use them often. They are amazing and you should own them. Not necessarily any particular brand. Just get whatever. You’ll want to have two, though. Or, you may be able to use one pair of Channel locks and another kind of adjustable wrench.
- Buckets. Just like the disposable latex gloves will keep your fingers clean, the bucket will help keep your floors clean when transferring the broke-ass sump pump out of your house. Also, you’ll need it to transport many buckets full of water to test the new sump pump, once it has been replaced.
- Duct tape. Why would you not have duct tape ready when attempting any kind of repair?!? It is never not helpful to have a roll of duct tape around.
- Submersible hand pump. I realize that not everyone has one of these laying around. Again, with a background in irrigation, I do. If you don’t have one, you will be spending a LOT of time bailing water with a cup/bucket. That sounds terrible and time consuming. It may be worth it to get one of these things. They are pretty great.
- Shop towels. Again, this is nasty work. Just like the 2007 PTA film said, ‘there will be sludge.’ Or was it blood? Either way, best to be prepared.
- Tarpaulin (or ‘tarp’ if you are a Philistine). This is for keeping your lovely floors lovely. A bonus here is that you get to say the word ‘Tarpaulin’, which is not as fun to say as ‘smock,’ but is still plenty fun.
- Bluetooth speakers or earbuds. I’m not going to lie to you. Sump pump replacement, while rewarding in its own way, is not the most riveting and exciting way to spend a lovely day. We’re doing this to save money and feel like a badass, not because it’s an especially fun time. I’m sure you’d rather be playing video games or learning how to do a backflip, or training an army of stray cats to do your bidding. But instead you’re stuck in your smelly, scary basement fixing a sludged-out pump. So, to keep your sanity, you’ll want to have a podcast or audiobook or some “fresh” and/or “hot” jams on in the background to distract yourself from this fairly boring chore.
While I awaited the delivery of my gloriously shiny new sump pump, I decided to make myself useful by removing the old broke-ass pump. So, get your gloves on and let’s get to work.
Remove the old broke-ass sump pump
First things first. Don’t electrocute yourself. Always good advice. Unplug the old broke-ass sump pump from the receptacle/wall outlet.
If your sump pump basin (the dank, gross little cave hole where your sump pump lives) has a handy-dandy plastic cover, get that shit out of there. Mine was screwed closed. I forgot to take photos of me removing the screws, but if you’re attempting this repair, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you know how to use a standard phillips head screwdriver. If not…maybe now is the right time to call this whole thing off and hire someone to replace your sump pump for you. No judgement! Everyone’s home repair skills are at a different level. If you don’t know how to use a screwdriver though, you might not be up for the sump pump challenge quite yet.
Now where were we? Oh right, using your standard phillips head screwdriver, unscrew each of the screws holding down the lid. Once they’re all removed, congratulate yourself, pat yourself on the back, take a bow, wait for the applause to die down, and then remove the lid to the sump basin.
Then fish the sump pump’s power cable through the sump basin lid to avoid getting everything all tangled up.
If your sump basin is full of water, you will need to evict the water like it’s your old roommate who could never come up with rent money, but somehow always drove a nicer car than you. For this task, I turn to my old, faithful utility hand pump.
Note: As you can tell from the photos, my basement is very unfinished and pretty gross/scary, so I wasn’t too worried about cleaning a few drops of sludge water off the floor. But if you’re the high-maintenance type and your basement is finished or lacks dead bugs and rust on the floor, I’d recommend taking the time to lay a tarp down before pulling out the old, sump pump.
Place your trusty bucket on your tarp. Submerge the lower end of your utility hand pump into the sump basin and carefully place the hand pump’s flexible discharge line into your trusty bucket.
WARNING, you’ll need to either have a sump pump buddy to hold the utility hand pump’s discharge line securely in the bucket, or you’ll need to rig something up with duct tape and something heavy to make sure the hand pump’s discharge line doesn’t come free when you start pumping, and paint your basement walls with sludge water.
This was a pretty frustrating part of the process for me. With my hand pump, unless I pumped very slowly, sludge water would spill out from several locations. So, I would either need to pump painfully slowly, or risk getting sludgified. And yes, ‘sludgified’ is definitely a real word. No need to look it up. Just take my word for it.
You won’t need to pump out all of the water. If a few inches remain, that should not be a problem. You will just need to pump out enough so that you can see what you’re doing when you reconnect the new sump pump. Also, you want to keep the new pump and the pipe as clean as possible, before hooking everything back up. Fight the good fight against sludge!
Now that the sump basin lid has been removed and the water has been pumped out, it’s time to disconnect the sump pump from the sump pump’s discharge line. If your connection is like mine, the sump pump discharge line is connected to the sump pump with a PVC union. The union will need to be unthreaded and loosened, carefully.
You can try to unscrew the PVC union by hand, but it will likely be too tight for your weak little baby hands to unscrew. So, grab your Channel locks (adjustable, tongue-and-groove pliers) and gently unscrew the union.
Which way do we turn the PVC union? Class, repeat after me in unison: “Righty tighty! Lefty Loosey!” So, loosey lefty it is.
Once the Channel Locks have loosened the connection to the PVC union, you can go back to unscrewing the union by hand.
Depending on whether or not you have a check valve on your discharge line, some water may start to leak from the connection opening at this point. Fear not, for you are simply seeing Sir Isaac Newton’s law of universal gravitation in action. How exciting for you!
In other words, much like Sir Newton’s apocryphal apple, the water that is higher up in the pipe is now falling back down to earth’s gravitational pull. It’s kind of like your children, whom you diligently raised and sent off to college. You thought you were free of both the water and your progeny, but like your son who can’t seem to find a decent job or afford rent, the water your sump pump tried to drain is right back in your basement sleeping past noon and eating the Pad Thai leftovers you’ve been looking forward to all day.
When the union is fully loose, you can grab the thin metal handle on the top of your sump pump and shift the sump pump back and forth gently to dislodge the pump from the union. Again, you want to be gentle to ensure that you don’t snap the pipe. Depending on how old the pipe is, the PVC can be brittle. So, be gentle.
And be sure that you don’t misplace the PVC union’s gasket. You don’t want to have to go fishing around in sludge water. Or I don’t know, maybe you do. Maybe you’re Gollum and you somehow survived your fall into Mordor’s fiery Crack of Doom and made your way to the suburbs and purchased a California ranch and your sump pump failed. And now you’re reading this. But if you’re not Gollum, don’t lose the gasket.
Okay, you were gentle and you didn’t crack the pipe or the union, and you didn’t lose the gasket, and you’ve disconnected the PVC union from your broke-ass sump pump. It is now high time to get that sump pump the hell out of the sump basin.
Depending on how long the sump pump has been down there, it may be pretty damn nasty. Mine sure was. So, let’s not be like Donny Rumsfeld and Dickey Cheney. Let’s have an exit strategy. Especially if your basement is finished, you don’t want sump pump sludge dripping onto your lovely hardwoods or your fancy-ass carpet (Also, why did you put fancy-ass carpet down in your basement? Didn’t you know basements are where sludge water lives?!?).
Make sure your tarpaulin from earlier is still down on your floor and set one of your trusty buckets on top of the tarpaulin. Now, grab the handle on top of the sump pump and lift it out over the tarp, and into your trusty bucket.
Now, get that old broke-ass pump the hell out of your house without trailing a line of sludge water. If I were you, I’d relocate outside for this next part. Or maybe to your garage, if you have one? Basically, somewhere you don’t mind getting all sludgy. In fact, my old broke-ass sump pump was so sludgy that I had to hose off layers of sludge to expose the PVC connections underneath.
I also put some duct tape over the open pipe, to keep monsters and ghosts from shrinking themselves down and travelling through the discharge pipe and into my basement. Because everyone knows that duct tape is the best monster and ghost repellent that exists. I can deal with some dead bugs. I can deal with a little sludge water on the floor. But ghosts and monsters? No, thank you.
Transfer the old PVC connection from the old broke-ass sump pump to the new one
Once you have cleaned the sludge off of the old broke-ass sump pump PVC connection, you will want to remove it. Make sure you have your two pairs of Channel locks, or Channel locks and an adjustable wrench. Or hell, a monkey wrench, pipe wrench, or plumber’s wrench. No wrench-judgement here. Whatever will give you the leverage you need to disconnect the old PVC connections will work. Wrench-shaming is not allowed here.
Gently grab the PVC male adapter with your wrench. And then grab the sump pump with your second wrench. Remember our lesson from earlier and again, repeat after me: “Righty tighty. Lefty loosey!” So, you’ll want the PVC male adapter to turn counter-clockwise.
Apply counter force to the PVC male adapter and the sump pump and loosen that shit up! Once loose, you can finish turning the male adapter with your weak little hands until the connection is free.
When the connection has been freed, you will want to clean it off to make sure there’s no sludge on the threading. It is a bad idea to try to make any kind of plumbing connection when the adapter is dirty. You want it to be totally clean so that nothing prevents the connection from threading in smoothly.
Next, we’ll connect the PVC male adapter to the new sump pump.
But first, I added some teflon tape to the male adapter threading. This is probably an unnecessary step that a legit plumber would mock me for taking, since the connection is going to be sitting in water anyway; but old habits die hard, and remember, I’m Mister Irrigation, not Mister Sump Pump. And in the world of irrigation, you don’t want any water leaking from pipe connections.
So, I wrapped the male adapter with a bit of teflon tape (just a couple wraps) before transferring the PVC connection to the new sump pump. Again, you can probably skip this step if you don’t have any teflon tape. But that shit is cheap, so go ahead if you’d like.
Now, take the old PVC connection and screw the PVC male adapter into the new sump pump. You can start out by hand-tightening it (remember to screw it in clockwise).
Once your weak little hands have played their part, get the wrenches back out and start wrenching. Gently, though! If you over-tighten it, the PVC can and will crack. Then you will need to take several additional steps, and woe unto thee. For in thy haste, thou hast created more work for thyself. And the cardinal rule is, don’t make extra work for yourself! We are trying to finish this up as quickly and carefully as possible.
Install the new sump pump
Once the old PVC connection is snugly affixed to the new sump pump, it’s time to do the damn thing and hook it all back up. Now is a good time to make sure that you still have the gasket for the PVC union.
If any more water has accumulated in the sump basin, get your damn hand pump out and pump it up, just like Elvis Costello and Joe Budden told you to.
Before we put the sump pump back into the sump basin, go ahead and fish the plug back through the sump basin lid, so that it will be all ready to plug in when the sump pump is back in its home.
Now let’s grab the new sump pump by the metal handle on the top and gently place it back into the sump basin. This is where it comes in handy that you have already pumped out the excess water.
You may be able to keep the gasket and PVC union intact and just slide the discharge pipe in and tighten it. But I had to put the gasket in the PVC connection on the sump pump.
If you have to do this, you can probably hold it in place with one hand while positioning the sump pump with your other hand. But if that is too precarious, you can always use a small piece or two of duct tape to hold it in place on the pipe until you’re ready for it.
Then slide the PVC connection piece that is now attached to your sump pump onto the discharge pipe. Then hook up the PVC union and thread it into place.
Once it is all connected, now is the time to tighten up the union and make sure that everything is secure. Just like when we tightened the PVC male adapter into the new sump pump, we will start out by hand tightening.
And again, you want to be gentle. If you start to encounter too much resistance, make sure that both pieces are clean. The reason we cleaned off the PVC connection is that if there are small bits of sand or debris, they can block the path of the threading and prevent it from turning. Then, if you apply too much torque, SNAP! There goes your PVC connection. So, proceed cautiously. With a strong and noble heart.
Once you have carefully hand-threaded it on, switch back to the Channel locks to gently finish tightening up the connection. This step may be unnecessary. I was able to just hand-tighten the union, and did not need to use my wrench.
Test the new sump pump
Once it has been tightened and the connection is secure, we’ll test it out. This is the moment that you have been waiting for. Try to remain calm. Maybe take a moment to do some deep breathing exercises? Or say a prayer or present a sacrifice of some kind to the sump pump gods. Maybe something sludgy?
Before we plug in the new sump pump, there is one last step. Go grab your trusty bucket and fill it with water.
Once the bucket is full, start pouring bucket after trusty bucket full of water into the sump basin.
Make sure you have plenty of water in the sump basin. The sump pump has a sensor that needs to be submerged to become active. Obviously, if there isn’t enough water present, it take the opportunity to relax and won’t kick on and start pumping water.
Plenty of water in the basin? Okay, here it comes. Now is the time to plug your new sump pump back into the power outlet. Why are you just standing there?!? Plug it in!
Boy oh boy, when you hear that pump kick on and see it start sucking down water, it is a truly great feeling. What a glorious feeling to know that your basement is safe from the conquering water hoards who are constantly plotting against your home’s foundation — looking for any possible opportunity to mount a sneak attack. Now you may sleep safe, knowing that you have a small, robotic watchman. Guarding you from those pesky little hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
If you don’t get that sweet relief and your pump doesn’t work, I don’t know what to tell you. It is entirely possible/likely that you are very stupid and you didn’t follow the instructions properly. Take some time for some deep self-reflection and try very hard to do better next time.
But before you give up, try checking a few things. Did you remember to plug in the new sump pump? If so, check the circuit breaker to make sure the circuit wasn’t tripped somehow during the replacement process. Is there enough water in the sump basin to trigger the sump pump?
If you strike out with everything else, it might be time to get the owner’s manual and your reading glasses out. Or, try to contact the manufacturer of your pump. You may have a faulty unit that could be covered under your warranty? Or if not, maybe the manufacturer’s tech support can help you solve the problem?
If your new sump pump is doing its job, then it is time to put the sump basin cover back on and screw down the lid.
Done? Bravo! You are a superhero. You literally just saved the world. Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly, but how great does it feel to fix something yourself? Pretty great. Pretty, pretty great.
Hopefully, your joy is two-fold. Not only do you feel great for having solved a problem that you didn’t know that you were capable of solving, BUT you also saved yourself hundreds and hundreds of dollars. And as we all know, the only thing better than saving ca$h money, is feeling like a boss while saving ca$h money.
Now you can take your newfound financial windfall and you can go out and buy yourself something nice. Maybe a panini-grill. Who doesn’t love hot sandwiches? Or a new pair of moon boots, with a matching jumpsuit. Look, I don’t know. Buy whatever you want. I’m just trying to help you replace your sump pump. How you choose to spend your money is your business.
Thanks for reading my sump pump replacement manifesto. Until next time, au revoir chumps!
- Unplug the burned out sump pump.
- Fish power cord through the sump basin lid.
- Remove the plastic lid for the sump basin.
- Loosen the union connection on the pipe that connects the drain pipe to the sump pump.
- Pull out the burned out sump pump
- If you do not yet have a replacement unit, measure the existing sump pump to ensure that your replacement will fit properly.
- Order or purchase a new unit (if you haven’t yet).
- Remove the PVC fitting that connects from the sump pump outlet to the drain pipe. We will be re-using this piece.
- Wrap the PVC union pipe connection threads with teflon tape. A few times around should be good. You do not want to overdo it since too much teflon tape can prevent the fittings from threading properly. A couple wraps should be plenty. Also, this step is not totally necessary since the pump will be submerged anyway, so you do not need to worry much about water leaking.
- Screw the PVC union pipe connection into the sump pump outlet. Do not over-tighten. Hand tight or just past hand tight should be good.
- Pour water back into the sump basin.
- Fish the power cable back through the sump basin lid.
- Plug in the new sump pump
- Rejoice! For you now have a working sump pump!