Sump pump cycle frequency and duration: Should I be worried?

Hi folks-
My new house (just moved in a few months ago) is 5 years old, on flat terrain in Indiana. The basement floor is about 8-9 feet below ground level.
We have a sump pump, which runs for ~5 seconds once every 10 minutes or so. This worries me, as it seems very frequent. I've never lived anywhere that had a sump pump before, so I have no experience to draw upon. One friend told me that such short cycles, so frequent, are a bad sign re: the sump installation.
The basement, half of which is finished, seems completely dry and there are no signs it ever got wet.
I'd like to investigate the sump pump to verify it has a battery backup, and maybe investigate the pit to see about how deep it is, etc., but the sump area is sealed up tight as part of the radon remediation work done at least 4 years ago (either when the house was built, or when the first owner sold it to the second owner; I'm the third owner). Basically there is a fan system that sucks air through the sump area and out the side of the house.
There is one other opening in the floor, a drain hole where the furnace humidifier and the pressure relief valve for the water heater discharge.
I'm extremely handy but admit to being intimidated by a lack of experience in this area. I can always call out the radon remediation people who closed it all up and have them come out and poke around, but that will be pretty expensive.
Any thoughts on all this? The thing has apparently been working fine for years, but I worry about a power outage possibly resulting in a flood, and frankly I hate hearing it cycle so frequently.
I'd appreciate any input.
Thanks
Marc
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Open it up and look , the float can be adusted for it to run longer, caulk it up when finshed
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Even with the Radon work you should be able to access the sump for routine maintenance of the pump. You may have to unscrew the cap on the sump.
If your sump pump has a float arm to turn the pump on it is just a matter of adjusting so you get a higher water level in the sump before the pump comes on. There may be similar adjustment on other types.
If you are concerned with a pump failure you can buy a battery operated water sensor and pump. One type has a battery charger connected so if the main supply is on the pump runs and is recharged automatically, If the main supply fails the battery will run the pump for a few hours.
You may be able to find the depth of the water table in your area from the local planning department. (building permits)
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You will get short cycles if the off position is set too close to the on, if in fact those setting are adjustable; on some pumps they are, on others they aren't. But I doubt you could even set it to get a 5 second cycle; the pump would probably not move enough water in that time to affect anything.
If the whole thing is sealed, it will be hard to figure out what is going on. If it were mine, I would unplug it for a couple hours at at time when it was cycling every 10 minutes and see if any water comes up anywhere. Obviously you will have to watch it closely during that time. Then plug it in and see what happens. It should (I suppose) run for a minute or so to make up for the 12-5 sec. cycles it missed. If it does then you have a problem with either the switch or something in the crock interfering with the switch. If it doesn't (if it runs 5 seconds like always) then you have a more perplexing problem, but probably the switch.
Fast cycling like that is a great way to wear the pump out prematurely.

If it only runs 5 seconds every 10 minutes, then you probably don't have a water problem. 5 minutes every 10 minutes is a water problem. What does it do after heavy rains; same 5seconds?

controller! If it had a water powered backup you would see the water line. Presumably you don't have a backup; but if it never runs more than the 5 seconds, you probably don't need one.

Mine used to cycle for 45 seconds every minute. I moved.

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Thanks everyone for your quick follow-ups.
I took a closer look just now. It is completely sealed to the point where I'll need to cut caulk lines to open it up. However, the top plate is relatively transparent, and by shining a light through, I could see inside quite well.
The pit is just under 2 feet deep. The bottom is covered with scum so I can tell what the bottom is made of.
There are three drain tile lines that terminate in the pit (about six inches under slab floor surface level), and none of them have any significant water coming from them (one appears to have never carried water, one drips once a minute or so, and the other looks like it carried water but is now dry).
However, the water is coming from somewhere, presumably flowing in from the bottom somewhere. I can see the water level rise after each pumping cycle is complete. The pit is about 14-18 inches wide (estimate, not measurement). I unplugged the pump for a short while, and the water didn't seem to be slowing down in its rise, but for this short test I didn't let it get more than 2 inches above the normal "high water" mark which is pretty clearly described on the sides of the pit.
The pump & wiring look all crusty. Not real confidence-inspiring! There's no built-in backup system.
When the pump cycles (timed it, 7 seconds), it drains about six inches of water from the pit.
Since the drain tile lines are basically dry, at least when it's not raining much (today was light rain, nothing major), I'm guessing the water table is somewhere between the normal "high water" mark (where the pump comes on) and the bottom of the drain tile openings.
If this is the case, I guess I'd rather get this thing adjusted such that the pump doesn't cycle unless the water level rises above normal.
Any ideas what sump pump folks tend to charge for a service visit? I'm in Indiana. I enjoy tinkering but this is a major system and since I travel a lot, I want to know it's going to work correctly...
While I'm at it I would probably have the guy put in a backup pump (with battery power) in case the first pump fails. I like lots of redundancy in my systems...
Marc
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I've had 2 homes with sump pumps, and in both, I installed a battery backup. The major problem is fitting both pumps and floats into the same pit. The other problem is running a second discharge line.
One easy solution is to replace your existing pump with a DC pump. Home Depot use to have (and may still have) the Watch Dog system. It included a pump, controller, and you add the marine battery. The nice thing about that system was the pump was strong enough to be the primary pump. I have no idea about long-term reliability.
The other benefit for you is that the float is easily attached to the discharge pipe at any height. That will let you easily set when the pump turns on.
Note: in the 2nd house, when I first moved in, the water in the pit was almost up to the top. I cleaned out the pit and adjusted the float. The pump then ran almost continuously for about 2 months before it finally drained the water table for the neighborhood. Since your pump has already been running for a while, you may not be able to lower the water table. The pit can have drain holes in the bottom, so water can seep up. I probably wouldn't set the "on" point any higher than the lowest drain pipe.
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To the OP:
There should be a check valve on the sump pump line to prevent water from the line from running back into the sump hole. If the valve is absent or leaking, then water can run back in after it's pumped out. As far as checking it out, that shouldn't be hard to do. With radon remediation, you just need to be sure to out everything back together again and make sure it's sealed up. That shouldn't prevent you from getting to and inspecting the pump. Other possibilites include a sump pit that isn't deep or big enough to hold much water or a float set too low.
If you have municipal water, I'd look into a water driven backup pump. Bascily, you put in a second water driven pump that would come on if the water got to a slightly higher level. That protects against power outages (as long as you still have water), and pump failure.
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If you have the type of float switch that is a floating ball in water attatched by a electric cable then you lengthen the cable by looening the clamp on the motor. If it is a pedistal pump and float you adjust float height. You want it nearly full when turning on , and nearly empty off. DC pumps , Battery backup, are truely junk, Batteries last 4-7 years , ratings are with new batteries. Imagine in 7 years on a power outage, and the pump dies after 5 minutes, it happens. A water powered pump is best. www.zoeller.com or www.basepump.com make pumps that work, unless of course you pump your own well.
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snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net says...

believe it works. After the pump cycles, there is a sort of slamming noise that I interpret to be the valve shutting. I suppose it is possible the check valve isn't completely shutting and I'm seeing some backflow; probably this can't explain all the water though.
I'm guessing the pump is set to come on with the water level too low.
:-)
Marc
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is any water coming out of the water heater pressure relief drain? this could be the drip you are seeing in the well. I'd check that as a possible culprit. could fix 2 problems with one solution if so.

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says...

The furnace humidifier does discharge excess water into a drain nearby, and this probably accounts for a small amount of the water I'm seeing, but the cycle times don't change much even if I turn that off.
Definitely the water table is higher than the "on" set point for the pump. I'll try unplugging the pump and see how high the water comes on a dry day...
Marc
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snipped-for-privacy@nowhere.com says...

Some more follow-up:
I left the thing unplugged for about an hour while watching the water level. The level rises pretty quickly in there to a point maybe six inches above the regular turn-on point. Then it slows down and comes to an equilibrium, or nearly so, right around the point where the drain tiles feed in. The lowest of them gets about 1/2" submerged, though not much water backs up into it (because it's at a downward angle).
Note that we've got light rain today; no major downpours going on to contribute an excess of water.
The pump is a Hydromatic VA-1 pump; I found literature on it in the house records passed along from the previous owners. From the manual it doesn't look like there's much adjustment I can do to the setpoints beyond where it is now. I could raise the whole pump.
Since it looks really nasty in there (signs of rust and lots of mineral scale) I just bit the bullet and called up the plumber that installed it as part of the original construction, and I'll have them sort it out. Including a coupon from their site, the diagnostics will only run me $60 or so, which I consider definitely worth it for the peace of mind it will bring.
I may be in for a new pump and labor and stuff, but given the fact that it's a finished basement, this is an area where I don't really want to risk my ignorance causing a disaster, no matter how handy I think I am.
For those interested I'll post the results next week.
As usual I'm always interested in further discussion.
Marc
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