sump pump not working

How to Tell if Your Sump Pump is Working (2 Super-Easy Tests!)

Is your sump pump not working? Do you know if it IS working? Hard to tell, right?

Don’t worry! It’s super easy to find out if your pump is working as it should with these two fool-proof tests. Read on to figure out which method works best for you.

Is Your Sump Pump Not Working?

As we said, there are two easy tests to determine if you have a working or malfunctioning sump pump. Each method is below with all the instructions you need.

Test 1: Lift the Float

In my opinion, this is the easiest method, but it can be a little intimidating if you know nothing about plumbing. But first, we need to know more about the float.

What’s a Sump Pump Float?

The float acts as the sump pump’s ON switch. It literally floats, which is how it got its name. When the water level gets high enough, the float tells the pump to kick on. It is easy to identify the float because it is usually attached to the side of the unit.


  • To turn the unit on, simply push the float as high up as you can.
  • If you see the unit kick on, you know it’s working.
  • However, if the unit does not kick on, then skip ahead to the troubleshooting section.
  • If you are not sure where your float is, there is no need to waste any more time. See the second method below for dumping water into the pit.
sump pump not working - diagram
This simple diagram of a sump pump labels the most important parts, including the float which is needed for Method 1. You’ll want to push the float up as high as possible. If your sump pump is working properly, this should activate the pump.

Test 2: Dump Water in the Sump Pit

Dumping water into your sump pump’s pit is a foolproof way to make sure it works. If you have no plumbing knowledge, identifying its float can be a little tricky.


  • Start by getting a 5-gallon bucket, trash can, cooler, or even 5-gallon jugs.
  • Dump the water into the pit.
  • If the pump kicks on, it works.
  • If the pump does not kick on, you will need to do a little troubleshooting. See next section on troubleshooting your sump pump.
sump pump not working - 2 pour water into sump pit
Pour about 5 gallons of water into your sump pump pit. Remove the lid if needed. This addition of water should lift the float (its “on” switch) and activate the sump pump. If it activates, it is working. If not, you have a problem. See the Troubleshooting Your Sump Pump section below.

Troubleshooting Your Sump Pump

When it comes to sump pumps, there is not much to them. This makes troubleshooting easy. Basically, if it has power but it’s not working, then it needs to be replaced.

1. Unplug It and Plug It Back In

When it comes to making sure that any electronic device is working, this is the gold standard. It’s the classic reboot, just like a computer. Funny how often this works.

Anyway, this step is self-explanatory. Just disconnect the plug and plug it back in. Then conduct one of the two tests above to see if it worked.

sump pump not working - plug into gfci switch diagram
Try unplugging and plugging back in the sump pump.

2. Make Sure The Outlet Has Power

By code, sump pumps must be connected to a GFCI outlet. A GFCI outlet contains its own switch and if there is any sort of problem, the outlet will turn off. Most GFCI outlets have a green light on them. The green light lets you know that it is on.

If your unit’s outlet does not have a green light on it, you may need to plug something else in to make sure it has power. Press the rest switch, and double-check the breaker, if your outlet does not have power. Contact an electrician if this doesn’t work.

sump pump not working - check gfci outlet
Example of a GFCI outlet with a green light. First, try resetting the switch if the green light is not on. Remember, to be up to code, your sump pump must be connected to a switch like this.

3. Replace Sump Pump

If your outlet has power and your unit is not working, it probably needs to be replaced. While almost any sump pump can be repaired, it is usually faster and less expensive to replace them. The good news is that you’ll have a brand new sump pump when the job is done.

The average life expectancy of a sump pump is approximately 10 years. However, depending on the brand and amount of use, it can last as few as 5 years or as much as 15 years. They just don’t last forever.

sump pump buyer guide - new sump pumps
Often, a sump pump is quicker and cheaper to replace than it is to repair. Thankfully, there are lots of good choices and a plumber can install them relatively quickly.

More Information about Sump Pumps

Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you need help testing an old sump pump or installing a new sump pump.

1-Tom-Plumber’s certified team of plumbers and drain technicians respond immediately to any emergency plumbing, drain cleaning, or water damage problem. We also handle the excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines. Our immediate-response team is available every day and night of the year, even on holidays.

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