Mysterious sump pump related failure


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Old 07-06-22, 11:43 AM
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Mysterious sump pump related failure

In my basement I have a Kenmore washing machine which drains to a large sink, which then outflows water to a Little Giant 6-CIA-ML sump pump contained within a WRSC- 5 or 6 housing. After completing a medium load of laundry I came upon a wet floor. I noticed that the washing machine cycle was complete with some water still remaining in the tub. The sink was almost full of water to where the washing machine outlet pipe ends. The sump pump was not running with water dripping out slowly from the cord grommet at the top of the housing containing the sump pump. In short, a dreadful sight, see attached pic. My son and I drained the water from the sink manually via a bucket and mopped up the water on the floor. Since not all the water was pumped out of the washing machine, I wrung the clothes by hand and put them into the dryer. Now the dryer wouldn't run. Immediately, I looked at the GFCI, which I noticed was tripped. The GFCI controls outlets to the washer, dryer and sump pump. I reset the GFCI and the dryer started working. Also, the sump pump went into action and pumped away the residual water.

At that point I put the clothes back into the washing machine to rerun the spin cycle, because manual wringing doesn't wring out all the residual water from the clothes. The machine operated normally. Even in the spin cycle, it draws water into the machine and pumps it out. The sump pump successfully disposed off this water like nothing had happened before.

However, now I'm left with the question as to what sequence of events took place, what caused the GFCI to trip and why was water still left in the washing machine even though the washing cycle was complete. As to the last point, is it possible that the machine indeed pump all the water out but the rising water level in the pump caused a backflow enabling water to be drawn back to the machine? However, if the sump pump was not running due to the GFCI trip, why would the washing machine run and still complete the wash cycle? Or is it that the washing machine was close to the end of the cycle but had not actually completed it yet? I don't know. Could it be that the sump pump caused the GFCI to trip? I should mention that I replaced the sump pump switch 3 months ago and it had been operating normally since then.

I'm afraid that if I don't get to the bottom of this, disaster can strike again and I'll be left with another mess and aggravation. Any insights that this forum can provide and my next course of action, will be appreciated.


 

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07-06-22, 12:37 PM
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The GFCI controls outlets to the washer, dryer and sump pump.
I'd venture to guess all three items were running at the same time. Pumps have a high initial current draw and is why they are typ on their own circuit.
 
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Old 07-06-22, 12:37 PM
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The GFCI controls outlets to the washer, dryer and sump pump.
I'd venture to guess all three items were running at the same time. Pumps have a high initial current draw and is why they are typ on their own circuit.
 
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Old 07-06-22, 03:39 PM
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A dryer operates from 240 vac and a washing machine from 120 vac so not sure of the GFCI type you have. Where is this GFCI located? If the washing machine has a timed versus level drain function, it is possible the washing machine pump was pumping slower than normal, due to the drain hose being submerged in the overflowing sink, and the drain time expired with water still in the machine.
 
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Old 07-06-22, 07:58 PM
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Marq1, all 3 items were not running at the same time. I had only one load of wash to do, there was nothing else drying at the same time. Regardless, on several previous occasions all 3 have run successfully at the same time.

beelzebob, this is a gas dryer and therefore operates on 110 vac. See the first attached pic for the electrical outlets. The right hand side electrical box is where the gfci is located and the 2 sockets supply juice to the washer and the sump pump. The left hand side electrical box has 4 sockets, one of them is used for the dryer.

This is an old style washing machine (2nd pic) with electromechanical controls. The timer knob on the right hand side controls the cycle operation. If the drain hose is submerged, it means the pump would not have been running, which would happen if the gfci had tripped, in which case there would also be no power to the washing machine. This situation would cause the timer not to run, nor would the washer pump operate.




 
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Old 07-07-22, 04:10 AM
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Likely the GFCI tripping was the cause of all the events. Either something is failing on the washer, dryer, or ejector pump causing it to trip, or the GFCI itself is failing. I recommend replacing the GFCI with one with an alarm that sounds when it trips.

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Leviton-...-0KW/206280966
 
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Old 07-07-22, 04:59 AM
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A washing machine has two spin intervals, sometimes three, During the first spin interval a good machine will draw water and immediately pump it out for part of that interval to improve the overall rinsing action.

This is not perfect. The water should be sprayed on the spinning clothes. But depending on how the clothes get spread out on the spinning drum, the spray may miss.and go straight out the holes in the drum and then be pumped out without doing anything useful.

With the end of the drain hose submerged, it was possible for water to siphon back into the washing machine tub after the washing machine pump finished its part of the cycle.

Plug either the washing machine or the sump pump into an extension cord going to a receptacle protected by a different GFCI unit or on a different branch circuit. This way you can better figure out who is tripping the GFCI.

Every time you wash clothes tyou might want to set a kitchen timer for half of the wash cycle (after the first pump out and spin) and you go downstairs to see if the sink is threatening to overflow. This will give you a better idea of when it happens..
 

Last edited by AllanJ; 07-07-22 at 05:26 AM.
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Old 07-07-22, 11:06 AM
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Tolyn, thanks for alerting me to the alarm sounding gfci. I had not known about this product. It would be useful under the right circumstances. It might be challenging to hear the alarm when I'm at the living room or bedroom level and the gfci trips and sounds in the basement.

Allanj, thanks for your suggestion on using a different gfci controlled receptacle for one of the two appliances. I'll try it out.
 
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Old 07-07-22, 11:37 AM
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My 2Ę-
1) You need an air-gap so the washer discharge into the sink cannot siphon back into the washer. Simply suspending the hose over the sink, using a sock or 1 leg of old pantyhose will prevent splashing.
2) What is the MAXIMUM volume of water discharged by the washing machine in the fullest cycle? You want a sink that's about 10%-25% larger than the max that you expect.
3) Curious- does the basement have a below-slab sump pump? If so, IIWY, I'd cut an overflow outlet into the upper lip of the sink, and run a hose to the below-slab sump pump.
4) As mentioned above, the sump pump is critical and it needs to be on it's own circuit.
 
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Old 07-07-22, 05:30 PM
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Hal, you're making some good points.

1. An air gap already exists. The drain hose overhangs slightly into the sink, not all the way down, see attached pic. Under normal circumstances when the sump pump is pumping away water, the water level in the sink does not rise much. In the failure case, the water level may have risen all the way to the top and with the washer drain hose dipping in slightly may have caused a backflow into the machine so the water did not spill down the sides of the sink.
2. I could not find the spec for water volume discharge. The sink size is 22x14x17 = 5236 cu in, which is 22.7 gal. The installation instructions say the sink capacity should be a minimum of 20 gal, which requirement is met.
3. The basement does have a below slab sump pump and French drains. However, I'm not very confident of this setup. The basement was flooded once because of loss of electricity during a storm. The water did not find its way all the way to the sump.
4 Yes, it would be beneficial to have a dedicated circuit for the sump pump.


 
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Old 07-08-22, 11:46 AM
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If it normally does not fill the sink then I suspect the drain at the sump pump was plugged. No water was getting to the pump and so it drew too much current and kicked the breaker. Look inside the sump pit and see if there is something in there that wrapped around the pump causing water to not be drawn into it. I would guess that whatever it was dropped off enough to let it pump the last bit out with no problem. It could also have been a clog in the exit pipe from the sump pump. Pump not pumping would be what caused the sink to fill up. Pump getting hot from not pumping water caused the breaker to kick off. So if you had them on separate circuits the pump would have kicked it's breaker and the washer would have finished it's cycle pumping more water on the floor.
 
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Old 07-08-22, 01:01 PM
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It didn't "kick" the breaker. It tripped the GFI receptacle.
That means it was a leak to ground problem.... not an over current situation.
 
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Old 07-08-22, 05:01 PM
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Correct, it didn't kick the breaker at the main electric service panel. It just tripped the local gfci. Somebody mentioned that the gfci could be faulty. I bought a gfci outlet circuit analyzer. Both the gfci's in the basement check out fine.

In the meantime, I used an extension cord to connect the sump pump to a different gfci controlled receptacle. Also, I had been pouring a bucket of water at a time into the sink and the sump pump had been handling it fine. Encouraged, I tried to do a load of laundry. Unfortunately, I ended up with same results. After the load was done, the sink was full of water, the wash cycle was complete with some water remaining in the machine, and the gfci for the sump pump was tripped. So this is something new I learnt - the washing machine is not tripping the gfci, but the sump pump is. I was unable to reset the gfci, because it tripped right back. I'll try resetting it after a couple of hours.
 
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Old 07-08-22, 08:04 PM
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I bought a gfci outlet circuit analyzer. Both the gfci's in the basement check out fine.
The GFCI circuit analyzer only performs rudimentary tests for the GFCI. They are really no different than using the TEST button on the GFCI. I have seen where an appliance (in this case a microwave) would trip a GFCI. I figured the microwave was bad. It turned out that the GFCI was bad. Replacing them fixed the issue.

the washing machine is not tripping the gfci, but the sump pump is.
That was a good test and narrows the issue down. It is very possible the pump is getting water into someplace it shouldn't causing a ground fault.
 
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Old 07-09-22, 10:39 AM
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First of all, thanks to AllanJ for suggesting to plug one of the two appliances to a different gcfi socket. It did narrow the issue down to the sump pump.

Tolyn, you're making a good point concerning the utility/benefit of a gcfi tester. Is there a definite way of ruling out a gfci? I had installed the 2 gfci's in the basement just last year to comply with township codes which require gfci protection for sockets that are within 6 feet of a sink. In this case, the sump pump is tripping both the gfci's, whichever is used at the time. It would seem that both are not bad at the same time. I agree with your assessment that it is quite likely that moisture is entering some place in the pump where it shouldn't. I had mentioned below that I had replaced the sump pump switch 3 months ago. Even at that time, I was thinking what if water entered the interior of the switch. A seal does exist but it is almost like a very thin rubber band.

I tried resetting the gfci this morning and it wouldn't reset. I may have to wait yet another day, possibly the moisture will dry off by then. At that point, I plan to run another wash load and sit close by to observe the action as it happens. Hopefully this experiment will provide more information about the failure.
 
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Old 07-10-22, 07:11 AM
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Is there a definite way of ruling out a gfci?
Replacing the GFCI with a new one would be the easiest way to test the GFCI. However, since the GFCI will not reset, unplug the sump pump and see if it will reset. If it does reset with the pump not plugged in then I would recommend replacing the pump as the issue will likely not get any better.
 

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Old 07-10-22, 08:22 AM
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Tolyn, the method you've described is exactly what I've been doing, namely, unplugging the sump pump. The gfci does reset at that point. When I plug the pump back in, the gfci trips immediately. I thought the internals would have dried off enough after 2 days, but the failure continues.

Just as an experiment, I tried plugging in the pump to a non-gfci protected receptacle. The pump went into action and I could hear the residual water being sucked away. I dropped another bucket of water into the sink, and again it was pumped away. All this while the circuit breaker at the main electrical panel did not trip. Could the pump be causing a "nuisance" gfci trip? Should I use the washing machine and sump pump without gfci protection till I'm able to get a new replacement pump?
 
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Old 07-10-22, 02:07 PM
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I continued to experiment.
At one point, I tried reconnecting the pump to the gfci outlet and it did not trip! Bear in mind that at this time all the residual water had been pumped away so the pump was not compelled to activate immediately. I tried running the washing machine. At the first sign of water disposal and potential pumping action, the gfci tripped. I immediately switched the pump to the non-gfci outlet and the pumping action started. The wash completed and the pump drained away all the waste water. I ran another load of laundry with the pump remaining at the non-gfci outlet. The load completed successfully. It sounds like I can get by with a non-gfci outlet but am concerned about the lack of protection. As I mentioned in the thread below, I had installed the gfci just last year. For the previous 17 years, the washer, dryer and pump had been running successfully without gfci protection.
 
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Old 07-10-22, 04:07 PM
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All this while the circuit breaker at the main electrical panel did not trip
That is because it is tripping on a ground fault, not on overload. Standard breakers and GFCIs perform different functions.

​​​​​​​Could the pump be causing a "nuisance" gfci trip?
It could. Replacing the GFCI will eliminate it as the cause.

​​​​​​​It sounds like I can get by with a non-gfci outlet but am concerned about the lack of protection
Just be aware that it may be leaking current to ground and could cause a shock hazard.

GFCIs trip on 4-6 milliamps of leakage current to ground so it does not take very much for them to trip.
 
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Old 07-11-22, 11:55 AM
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That is because it is tripping on a ground fault, not on overload. Standard breakers and GFCIs perform different functions.
Tolyn, the only reason I mentioned breaker not tripping was to indicate that the moisture entering a critical component is not severe enough to cause a short, but is certainly enough to trip the gfci. The breaker will trip when the appliance on its circuit draws a current in excess of the breaker rating, which in this case is 20 amps.

​​​​​​​Replacing the GFCI will eliminate it as the cause.
If one gfci had been constantly tripping with the pump plugged in, whereas the other gfci had not been tripping with the pump plugged in to this outlet, I would suspect the first gfci is bad. In my case, both the gfci's are tripping individually when individually supplying power to the pump.

​​​​​​​Just be aware that it may be leaking current to ground and could cause a shock hazard.
​​​​​​​Noted. At this point, I'm inclined to replace the sump pump.
 
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Old 07-11-22, 07:56 PM
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In my case, both the gfci's are tripping individually when individually supplying power to the pump
You mentioned the GFCI's were installed at the same time and they are likely the same lot number. I had the same issue with that microwave I mentioned earlier. I ended up replacing both GFCIs.

​​​​​​​moisture entering a critical component is not severe enough to cause a short,
Water is actually a poor conductor. Rarely does water cause a short big enough to trip a breaker.
 
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Old 07-12-22, 06:34 PM
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Water is actually a poor conductor. Rarely does water cause a short big enough to trip a breaker.
Here's a copy/paste from a website I came across:

Tap water conducts electricity since there are small amounts of calcium and magnesium salts dissolve in it, pure water (distilled or de-ionised) has nothing at all in it that can conduct electricity. This is because water itself isn't a conductor. However, when one dissolves ionic compound such as salts, the ions becomes loosely bound to each other which makes tap water a good conductor of electricity.

 
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Old 07-12-22, 06:49 PM
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As I said, water is actually a poor conductor. Watch this video and you will see what I mean:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvbvMT-ieTw
 
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Old 08-01-22, 11:26 AM
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Tolyn, interesting video with nice visual effects. It does show that distilled water is a bad conductor but tap water and water mixed with soap (which washing machine wastewater is) are progressively better conductors.

Regardless, I installed a new sump pump and plugged it into the gfci protected outlet. It all works well now. I have tried several loads of laundry and the gfci remains untripped.
 
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Old 08-01-22, 02:41 PM
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Glad to hear you got it fixed.
 
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Old 08-01-22, 06:20 PM
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While the issue is fixed, the mystery I articulated in the original post remains unsolved. Why did the washing machine cycle go to completion with the gfci tripped by the sump pump? Both the washing machine and the sump pump were under the protection of the same gfci circuit.
 
 

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