How Does A Sump Pump Work?

How Does A Sump Pump Work

How does a sump pump work? In homes prone to dampness or flooding, understanding how a sump pump works is crucial. A sump pump is a device that activates when water reaches a certain level in a specially constructed pit, usually in the basement, and pumps the excess water out to prevent damage. This article will demystify the key operations of a sump pump, including its types, setup, and upkeep—all without requiring a deep dive into plumbing expertise.

Key Takeaways

  • Sump pumps are critical for preventing basement floods. They use switches and an impeller to move water from the sump pit to a discharge pipe, and they come in two main types: submersible and pedestal pumps.
  • When selecting a sump pump, factors like operation mode, horsepower, head pressure, and the presence of backup systems should be considered. It’s crucial to match the horsepower to your needs and consider a backup system for power outages.
  • Regular maintenance of your sump pump, including monthly tests, seasonal care, and timely replacement of worn parts or the entire pump after 7-10 years, is essential for optimal function and longevity.

Exploring the Mechanics of Sump Pumps

Sump pumps, typically found in the lowest part of a basement or crawlspace, play a vital role in preventing floods. They employ a variety of switches and sensors, including diaphragm pressure switches, electronic sensors, and float switches, to monitor water levels and react accordingly. When the water level triggers the sump pump’s switch, the electric motor powers an impeller, creating a centrifugal force that transports the water away from your home and into the discharge pipe. This mechanism is designed to keep your basement dry, thus preserving your peace of mind.

The water from the sump pit is routed through a sump pump drain system, consisting of a network of pipes that lead away from the home to a safe drainage area. This complex system is designed to keep water away from your home’s foundation, offering an added layer of protection against water damage.

The Two Main Varieties of Sump Pumps

In the world of sump pumps, two main types stand out: submersible pumps and pedestal pumps. The design differences between them lie in their motor placements. Pedestal pumps have the motor positioned above the sump pit, while submersible pumps have both the motor and pump unit located inside the pit. This difference in positioning affects the overall design and function of the pumps.

Submersible Pump Advantages

Several advantages are associated with submersible pumps. They are known for their quiet operation, a significant advantage over louder pump types. These pumps can handle a wide range of fluids, from clean water to abrasive slurries and wastewater, showcasing their versatility in managing debris-laden water.

The compact and space-saving design of submersible pumps, including the submersible sump pump, is ideal for confined spaces. Their motor, encased in watertight housing, allows them to operate fully submerged; the motor is protected and this contributes to an extended lifespan.

Pedestal Pump Features

Pedestal sump pumps, also known as pedestal pumps, come with a set of distinct features. They have a long, upright design with the motor mounted on top, away from water, ensuring it remains dry. This design allows the pump to activate an impeller in the pump base that is submerged, to pump out water.

The advantages of pedestal pumps include:

  • Easier access for maintenance or repairs
  • Less expensive compared to submersible pumps
  • Cost-effective choice
  • Easier to service, reducing maintenance costs over time

Selecting the Right Sump Pump for Your Home

Numerous factors need to be taken into account when choosing a sump pump, such as:

  • The operation mode (manual vs. automatic)
  • Horsepower
  • Head pressure
  • Cord length
  • Voltage
  • The presence of backup and alarm systems

Selecting the appropriate horsepower for your sump pump is essential for preventing flooding and guaranteeing the pump’s durability. For most average homes, a 1/3 horsepower sump pump is a standard recommendation.

Assessing Pump Horsepower and Head Pressure

If your current sump pump performs satisfactorily, you should aim to match the horsepower of your new pump to your existing one. An inadequate horsepower sump pump may struggle to displace all entering water, resulting in premature motor burnout.

Backup Systems and Alarms

Power outages, often triggered by severe storms, can render primary sump pumps inoperative, heightening the risk of flooding. This underscores the need for a backup pump. Battery backup sump pumps engage during power outages to continue pumping water out, with certain models capable of sending text or email alerts and incorporating both a primary sump pump and backup pump.

Alternatively, water-powered sump pumps operate independently of electricity, using house water pressure, offering uninterrupted protection without the need for battery replacement, albeit with the cost of higher water usage. Sump pump systems, including alarm systems, provide early warning of backup system activation or primary pump failure, enabling a timely response to prevent flooding.

Installation Insights: Setting Up Your Sump Pump

The process of installing a sump pump requires a few steps, starting with identifying the sump pit’s location at the floor’s lowest point to ensure optimal water flow toward the pump. Afterward, ensure that the sump pump and battery charger have two separate power outlets, while avoiding the use of extension cords to maintain electrical safety.

Install the sump pump by routing the outlet pipe, digging the hole for the pit, and attaching the discharge pipe. To ensure the sump pump operates as intended, adjust the float valve accordingly. Following these steps will result in a successful sump pump installation.

Essential Sump Pump Maintenance

Basic sump pump maintenance encompasses the following tasks:

  1. Check the power supply.
  2. Ensure the pump is placed upright.
  3. Clean the pump’s inlet screen.
  4. Replace parts like the float switch every two years.

Monthly Inspections and Testing

Monthly tests on the sump pump should include pouring water into the pit to check for proper activation and water discharge. Along with monthly tests, certain tasks such as unplugging the pump and removing debris from the sump basin should be performed quarterly.

This also includes checking the pump’s power cord and discharge pipe, as well as testing the float switch.

Seasonal Care for Your Sump Pump

It is also important to provide seasonal maintenance for your sump pump. Protecting the discharge line from freezing is crucial to ensure the sump pump continues to operate during winter, thus preventing disruptions in water evacuation.

Regular seasonal checks that are also recommended include cleaning the pump’s inlet screen to avoid corrosion and checking for worn-out parts to maintain pump efficiency.

Troubleshooting Common Sump Pump Issues

Despite diligent maintenance, sump pumps can occasionally face issues, especially when the primary sump pump fails. A common problem is a stuck float switch that becomes trapped, leading to the pump either not activating or continuously running. Float switches can cease functioning correctly due to wear from overuse or age, causing the pump to continuously operate and potentially burn out.

When to Consider a Sump Pump Replacement

The typical lifespan of a sump pump ranges between 7 and 10 years. If your pump is older than seven years, it may warrant replacement, especially if it hasn’t been maintained optimally. Signs of occasional motor failure or excessive vibration during operation often indicate the need for a sump pump replacement.

Rust or discoloration on sump pumps, which can result from iron bacteria, signals potential flow problems and may necessitate a pump replacement.

Enhancing Basement Protection Beyond the Sump Pump

Beyond the vital role a sump pump plays in preventing basement floods, there are other steps you can take to bolster protection. For instance, using gutter guards, downspout filters, or regularly cleaning the gutters can prevent flooding by ensuring water is effectively directed away from the home.

Additionally, ensuring downspouts are clean and properly connected prevents them from directing water against the foundation walls, which could lead to basement flooding.


In a nutshell, having a sump pump is essential to protect your basement from water damage. Understanding the mechanics of sump pumps, the different varieties, and how to choose the right one for your home is crucial. Performing regular maintenance and troubleshooting issues promptly can increase the lifespan of your pump. And while sump pumps are vital, don’t forget that there are other ways to enhance basement protection, such as gutter maintenance and proper landscaping.

Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Kansas City offers a free consultation and inspection of your existing sump pump, your basement or foundation, and can install a quality sump pump to protect your home. Our experienced plumbers have seen just about every sort of flooding situation and are more than prepared and qualified to steer you in the right direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sump pump?

A sump pump is a small pump installed in the lowest part of a basement or crawlspace to prevent flooding and keep the area dry.

What are the two primary types of sump pumps?

The two primary types of sump pumps are submersible pumps and pedestal pumps, which serve different purposes in managing water in basements and crawlspaces.

How can you test whether you need a sump pump?

To test whether you need a sump pump, you can tape a piece of plastic onto your basement floor or walls to check for moisture. If the plastic is wet after a couple of days, you may have a moisture problem and need a sump pump.

How can a sump pump be installed?

To install a sump pump, first determine the location of the sump pit, then route the outlet pipe, purchase the pump and liner, dig the hole for the pit, fill it with gravel, attach the discharge pipe, and adjust the float valve.

How can a sump pump be maintained?

To maintain a sump pump, make sure to check the power supply, ensure the pump is upright, test the pump with water, clean the pump’s grate, inspect the outlet pipes, and maintain a backup power source.