Diagnosing Problems With The Ejector Pump

UPDATED: July 5, 2017

After 5 years I think it’s about time we talk about troubleshooting an ejector pump. So many people rely on the functionality and durability of a sewage ejector that knowing how to do some minor diagnostics and repairs are a must for the homeowner.

Zoeller Ejector Pump

The Zoeller Ejector Pump

Ejector pumps come in many shapes and sizes from the simple submersible ejector pump that you see in millions of homes across America, to a small point of use ejector pumps that are fairly complicated with duplex/triplex sewage ejectors that can grind up a small bike. Zoeller ejector pumps aren’t the only ones in the world either! There’s also Myers ejector pumps you can invest in. And you can find reviews and descriptions online to help find out which one will fit your needs. Ejector pumps are used when a bathroom or laundry room fixture is located below the grade of the main sewer or the septic line. They allow for the flow of solids and liquid to work against gravity and be pumped from the basement up to different parts in the house like to a house sewer or sink. The sizing determines the cost of the package system and basin. They range from around $400-$1000 because they differ in size and design. Replacement and maintenance can be expensive, so we’ve come up with tips on installation, and tips on how to keep your little or giant systems running.

Ejector pumps move the waste “up” and out of the home through the plumbing system’s disposal pipe; it works like a vacuum. They all work on simple concepts. Wastewater and suspended solids flow to an ejector pit below the elevation of the main sewer that flows out to the city sewer. As the wastewater flows into the pit the water level rises and actuates a switch which cycles the pump. An ejector pump is designed to pass small solids so those solids are broken down into smaller particles and they are pumped up and out to the house sewer. The ejector pump is designed with a sump pump, a pit or hollowed in which liquid or solids collect. You can find a great diagram on the web like this one, to help map out your ejector pump. The system is pneumatic meaning it is operated by air or gas under pressure.

A steam jet is an alternative to the mechanical vacuum pump for many different reasons. No energy is needed to move the gas through the pump which keeps the system efficient. It’s hydromatic, meaning it has functions like an automatic transmission that was originally developed for cars in 1940. The venturi effect is used in the process of pumping water via the tubes connected to the pump. “The Venturi effect is the reduction in fluid pressure that results when a fluid flows through a constricted section (or choke) of a pipe” (Wiki). Grinder pumps are another term for an ejector pump used when toilets are underneath the sewer line. The smell of waste is not noticeable with this device, but that should be obvious, no washing or cleaning is usually needed. Check out Barnes and Noble for more books of helpful tips and facts about ejector pumps.

Usually, people don’t think too much about their ejector until it fails and when it fails it’s usually a pretty traumatic event. Things don’t go too well. And deep down you’re thinking “how in the world am I going to fix this?” Don’t make me paint a picture for you, being in the plumbing business for over two decades has given me the power to describe plumbing mishaps in great detail. Lucky for you, we have some solutions for you that’ll make all the difference! And don’t you want the liberty of having a working ejector pump? (The answer: yes.)

Below are the most common ejector pump problems and their solutions:

PROBLEM: The pump isn’t cycling at all. 

Troubleshooting an ejector pump can be easier than you think. Don’t set off the “oh no” alarm in your head just yet.

Zoeller Float Switches

Piggyback Float Switches

SOLUTION #1: The best thing you can do is check that the outlet that the machine is getting power from. You can install and plug in a light or another electrical device. If it is not receiving power check your fuse box to see that you haven’t tripped a fuse if that doesn’t solve the problem, call in a qualified electrician.

SOLUTION #2: Solution 1 vs. Solution 2 may make a difference in troubleshooting your ejector pump. If your sewage ejector pump has a float style switch, take a wire coat hanger and straighten it out so that you have a hook on the end of the hanger. Manipulate the float so that it engages the switch. If the pump doesn’t cycle you either need a new pump or you can attempt to buy a piggyback type switch which bypasses the onboard switch. You can buy them retail for between $20 and $30 dollars. This could save you some serious dough.

SOLUTION #3: If you use the makeshift remote ejector pump actuator and lift the float and the pump cycles you know that for some reason the float isn’t lifting properly. You may have debris on the float or the float rod is impeding its movement. Clean off the float and rod and fill the pit to see if that takes care of the problem.

SOLUTION #4: Please see above. If the switch actuates and cycles the pump and there is nothing impeding the float and rod from moving it could be that the float is water logged and it’s too heavy to float. In this case, go and purchase a piggyback ejector switch and you should be good to go.

PROBLEM: You can hear the pump cycling but it isn’t evacuating the pit properly.

SOLUTION #1: This is sort of rare but it does happen. It’s possible that the float rod is out of adjustment or alignment and it’s short cycling. So it is possible to repair. Spend the extra money for a clear silent check valve. The pump is working but the pit isn’t being fully evacuated. Adjust float or rod to ensure proper pump cycle. If this doesn’t solve the problem buy a piggyback switch.

SOLUTION #2: This is a much more common issue. You hear the pump cycle but all you see is some slight movement of water in the pit. In most cases, the impeller has become clogged. Remove pump and clean inlet screen.

SOLUTION #3: If you’ve done the above and the pump is still humming but the wastewater isn’t being evacuated the impeller or shaft is damaged. You’re going to need to purchase a new ejector.

Zoeller Silent Ejector Check Valve

Spend the extra money for a clear silent check valve

PROBLEM: Ejector continues to cycle but no water is being removed from the pit.

SOLUTION: This is a very common issue. Your check valve on the discharge line isn’t indestructible. Often times over the years, debris gets caught on the flapper and it gets hung up. Sometimes the flapper can shear off and become lodged inside the discharge piping. The pump either pumps against itself because the discharge line is clogged or the some of the wastewater is coming back into the pit because the flapper isn’t closing properly. Either way, go out and purchase a new 2” ejector check valve, you can find them at Home Depot or Lowes.

I’d like everyone to know I had a lot of fun treading lightly around what debris’ may hang up floats and materials that clog impellers. I will give you one last tip, don’t flush baby wipes/butt wipes, paper towels or feminine hygiene products down a toilet that drains into an ejector pit. No residential ejector pump can grind up those products, so be cautious and hopefully your ejector pump will be fixed in no time!

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