Frozen Sump Pump

As I mentioned a few days ago in twitter, the outflow pipe of our sump pump froze.

I had gone down stairs to get something from the utility room and found that the sump pump was running … and didn’t stop.   The pump sounded OK, but no water was draining from the pit.   I turned the power to the pump off and triggered the backup pump … which ran but didn’t remove any water.     This meant that the pumps themselves weren’t the problem.   I went outside and discovered that the outflow pipe was frozen solid.   Clearly not a good situation.

The problem here was the fact that we had a lot of snow, followed by a thaw, followed by a quick freeze.   This meant that the pump needed to run to get the water that was below the frost line out, but the pipe itself (which is well above the frost line) got stopped up by the frozen water.

The sump pump discharge on our house is probably not configured properly … the pipe leaves the house, goes out about 9 inches, turns 90 degrees, goes under ground, takes another 90 degree turn, goes out about 10 feet, and then has another 90 degree turn upwards to eject the water into the lawn.   I’m told that a better solution would be to have the pipe exit the house and output into a bigger pipe that lead to an underground drain tail … with an air gap, so no water remained in the output pipe to freeze.   The air gap idea seemed counter intuitive initially, because it seemed that would allow the water to freeze quicker, but it makes sense if it doesn’t allow water to stay in the pipe at all.

The current configuration works adequately when the weather is warm … but the fact that water can stay in the pipe after the pump is done pumping means that it can freeze in the pipe in the cold season.

My immediate solution was to just remove the 90 degree elbow that took the water underground and have the pump just shoot the water out over the lawn.   The next day I went to Lowes and picked up a 20 degree PVC angle pipe and some PVC cement.   I created an extension pipe that would take the water further from the house … the 20 degree angle allows the pipe to drain so no water would remain to freeze.

Of course yesterday we had that warm snap which made the pump work overtime … and Ginny was worried that the pipe was leaving the water too close to the house.   She tried to put a temporary patch in place by draining the angled pipe into some spare gutter downspout material, but that didn’t work long.   I remedied the attaching a 2 inch flexible tube that I purchased in the spring so the water went further into the lawn.

This spring we are definitely going to have the drainage situation in the back yard looked at (our back yard floods whenever we get a heavy rain).   This will involve having drain tiles installed in the back yard and attached to the city storm sewer system.   I’ll also see about getting the sump pump and some of the gutter down spouts attached to the same system.

I’ve already talked to the village engineer about it and was told that we could do this … I’m worried about the cost though … because the storm sewer is in the front of the house.   It will probably mean a lot of digging and replacing of a few sidewalk squares.   I got a few referrals for landscaping contractors who can do this kind of work, plus the company that does our lawn is apparently in the drainage business now too.   I’ll have to get a few quotes.

Ah, the joys of home ownership.

5 thoughts on “Frozen Sump Pump


    I’m sorry for all your sump and basement problems recently.

    Yeah this discharge line having a 90degree turn at the end of it totally doesn’t work. Bascially this makes the pump work harder to push it out the end. This also allows water to settle in the pipe and like you expericed..freeze.

    Best idea would be to install what is called an Ice Cop at the first instance of the discharge line outside. The rest of the discharge line can be pitched, all one direction (no turns) to a small dry well (basically crushed stone) which will allow water to seep into the ground.

    The icecop basically acts as a protection stop gap. If the line ever freezes or a snake dies in it or something, the water will bubble out of the drain in the icecop and allow for the water to flow out.

    I wish I was closer so i could help! Good luck.


    my sump pump is running but the water can’t get out. i checked outside and the pipe coming out of the house is frozen. nothing underground. i just bought the house in the summer. the hole side of the house is covered half way up with house. how do i fix this.

  3. david

    Lorraine: First I would suggest turning off the pump before it burns out.

    If you have easy access to the pipe, you might try putting some heat tape (note: This links to Canadian Home Depot, for Lorraine) on the pipe to melt the ice that’s there now and prevent ice from forming in the future.

    If you can’t access the pipe, call a plumber to get it addressed.

  4. Evelyn

    If your PVC pipe is alredy frozen leading from your sump pump would it help to put pipe insulation around it? or would it keep the ice
    from thawing out??


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