If a home sump pump fails, how urgent of an issue is it?

I’m sure the answer is “it depends”, here’s my situation:

I’m a first time homeowner, and I live a condo with a basement. There are actually two units per building, with only one having a sump pump, and it happens to be mine. I know the sump pump had been working over the winter, I had heard it going on when snow started to melt, but I hadn’t noticed it running at all recently. Yes, looking back on this I obviously should have done something sooner, but I really didn’t know if it was normal for it not to have to run for a while or if it might not run every time it rained. I didn’t notice any problems with water in the basement until tonight.

Tonight when I went down in the basement, about 1/3 to 1/2 of the floor was wet. Not a huge flood by any means, mainly just wet with more of a puddle in a few spots. Its been raining a lot the past few days, but the rain has stopped for now and we’re clear for the next few days. Obviously addressing the pump is a priority for me, and I intend to address it asap, but I’m wondering how urgent of an issue something like this would typically be.

Is this something that needs to be addressed “RIGHT NOW”, as in call someone in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, or is this something I can wait until after work or over the weekend to take care of? Is a sump pump failing an emergency? Like I said, the rain has stopped, and we should be dry the next few days, not sure if that matters. Also, my main concern is not my unit as much as it is my neighbor’s, since I really don’t want to cause a problem for them which would be my fault.

I’d make the call in the morning, but not pay extra for an emergency service call.

Here’s your “it depends” answer.

What is your basement (and your neighbor’s basement) made out of? If it’s just a cement floor with concrete block walls then you can wait until after work. If you (or your neighbor) have drywall walls you could end up with water damage which makes getting the sump pump fixed a lot more urgent. I’m assuming you don’t have carpet since you mentioned puddles, but if your neighbor has carpet in his/her basement then it’s also more urgent since getting the carpet wet will ruin it.

Worst case it’s a “first thing in the morning” call not a “middle of the night emergency” call.

I would compare your basement to a ship grounded on a sand bar at low tide with a breach in the hull. Everything’s OK now . . . until the tide comes in.

Ditto what Dereknocue67 said. Cleaning and drying out the basement is a lot more important than the sump pump. You won’t need any sump pump at all until the next rain. Maybe not even until the next heavy rain.

Thanks for the replies everyone, I appreciate the advice. I’m especially relieved to hear this wasn’t an urgent/drop everything emergency (especially because I didn’t call anyone last night).

To answer engineer_comp_geek’s question, yes my basement is just a bare cement floor and bare concrete block walls, with no carpet or drywall or anything like that. I’m almost certain my neighbor’s is the same, but I will check with them to make sure (and also to apologize in case they got some water too).

Also, in my basement a few things are on wood pallets a few inches off the ground, so it looks like this might not be the first time water got into the basement and that the previous owners had kinda been prepared for it. I’m hoping the neighbor’s might be the same, or that they might expect a bit of water from time to time.

When I checked this morning, it already seemed like some of the water had dried up, and things are definitely getting better and not worse. I’m hoping to have a buddy or two take a look after work to see if this is something we can fix ourselves, and to call a professional before the next rain if we can’t fix it.

One more quick question I have regarding the separate basements with a single sump pump, is it any more likely that I’d get water first before the neighbor’s without the pump? Would the water drain towards my unit or something like that? To be honest, I’m hoping so because that might mean the neighbor didn’t see any water at all.

Thanks again for the advice, much appreciated.

My thoughts, based on 5 years of being a woeful sump-pump owner - not a professional anything:

Supposedly, but not necessarily. One would hope that all of the weeping tiles in and around the unit are properly taking in water and properly sloped towards the sump crock. But that’s not a guarantee.

Where did the water come up in your basement? If it just came up from out of the sump crock then the water under your condo is probably all making it into the weeping tile and running into the crock and the crock got overwhelmed.

But, once the weeping tiles are full (they are not actually tiles but corrugated pipes with little holes in them to let water through), the water is just there under your house. It can’t go into the weeping tile because those pipes are full, because they aren’t being drained into the crock because the crock is full. So the water will just continue to rise under your foundation and will find its way through cracks in the floor.

So, if it’s coming up from cracks in your floor then I’d say the water table under the entire condo was fulled up and your neighbor has just as much chance as you do at getting water - unless he has no cracks in the floor and your floor cracks won out as the best escape route for water. If it’s just coming up from the sump crock then water was still able to drain into the weeping tiles and his floor should be dry.

Are you certain that the water that was on the floor came from the sump hole? i.e. because the sump is not working and the water overfilled.

Have you checked to see if the sump is working? Just pull the float up and see if it switches on.

Water on the floor may be coming through cracks in the foundation, via hydrostatic pressure, depending on how old the foundation is. If that’s the case, the sump pump is just keeping the water inflow into the basement from being too sever.

Good luck.

Thanks for the additional replies, and here’s the additional info:

No, I don’t think the water came from the sump crock, and that didn’t look like it was overflowing. If I had to guess, I think it was cracks in the floor, and it seemed like certain areas (not necessarily by the sump) got wet.

I am certain the pump isn’t working. The float is up, and it doesn’t run. The motor is hot though, and it does occasionally make a buzzing sound.

Thanks again.

some sump pump motors are quiet and you may not hear them loudly run if they aren’t pumping water. the motor running dry and the motor frozen may not sound much different. fill the sump high enough to switch on to test.

if you got water through cracks and your sump didn’t overflow then your sump drainage may not be working.

You should also talk to the Condo association about drainage / downspout placement.

Sump pumps (at least in my municipality) simply pump the water up to a drain on the outside of the house. From there the grade should direct the water away from the home. Most basement flooding is due to poor drainage or downspout placement. Often you will find a downspout that has detached and is simple dumping the water right against the foundation. A section of downspout should continue out from the house to direct the water away. Basements have a ‘waterproofing’ treatment on the exterior, but water will always find its way in.
The back fill around homes settles with time and landscaping is often required to correct the grade. The sump pump is really just an emergency measure.

I’ve got a few things to add here, so here goes. You don’t even have to have cracks in the concrete floor for the water to percolate through it if the water table has reached the level of the floor. It can and will find its way in pretty easily. There should be a check valve in the discharge line of the sump pump. If this valve fails, the backflow of water can cause the pump to not pump efficiently, or at all. This happened to me. The pump was running, and hot, but there was no flow out of the pit. Replaced the check valve and all was well. I now have replacement of the the check valve as a yearly maintenance task. I also added a water powered sump pump as a backup. Battery backups are also widely available and more easily homeowner installed.

This gets me to my last point. Both you and your neighbor are relying on your sump pump to keep the basements dry. This should be a shared cost, with your neighbor paying for half the cost of the sump pump upkeep, and/or backup costs. Now they may not use their basement, or have learned to live with the occasional wetness. Their willingness to pay may be minimal, and that’s their right, but they then can’t come bitching to you if little Billy’s precious baby pictures float away in the next deluge.