Sump Pump 101

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Updated on March 25, 2015
By ProMatcher Staff, ProMatcher

Sump Pump 101

What is a sump pump?

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A sump pump is a pump that moves water away from the foundation of the house in order to prevent the basement from flooding. The sump pump sits in a basin in the sump pit that is typically located in the lowest point of the house. When the water level rises past a certain point in the basin, a switch is activated to turn on the pump and take the water out of the house. In most cases, a battery back-up pump is installed along with the primary sump pump. The back-up pump has its own switch and will activate automatically if the main pump fails.

Types of Sump Pumps

Pedestal Pump
A pedestal pump is mounted above the sump area and is designed to rest above the water. Pedestal pumps are more affordable than submersible pumps. Pedestal pumps are easily accessible above the floor, which makes them easier to repair, but also somewhat noisy. However, this can also make them a hazard to young children and pets. Pedestal pumps have a longer lifespan than submersible pumps and are therefore ideal in areas that experience frequent flooding.

Submersible Pump
Submersible pumps are designed to function underwater and are typically installed underground or below the floor. Rather than being mounted above the basin, these pumps are installed inside the sump pit. They typically require a large sump pit that is at least two feet deep. Submersible pumps are typically quieter and require less maintenance than pedestal pumps. The pumps are better equipped to handle pieces of debris like gravel and sand that may make its way into the sump basin. Some people prefer submersible pumps because they can be hidden from view, making it safer for small children and pets. Submersible pumps can generally handle more gallons per minute (GPM) or gallons per hour (GPH) in terms of water flow capacity.

Related: Pedestal vs. Submersible Sump Pumps

Floor-sucker pump
A floor sucker pump is usually installed in a home that does not have a sump pit. The pump rests on the floor and can pump water that is within 1/8” of the floor.

Sump Pump Components

Check Valve
The check valve is the part of the discharge pipe that makes sure that the water pumped away only flows one-way. When the pump shuts off, the check valve ensures that the water flows outside rather than back into the basement.

Sump Pump Switch
Most sump pumps have a float switch that will trigger the pump on when needed. Typically, the switch has a small air-filled ball that will rise with the water level. When the ball of the float switch rises to a certain level, the pump is activated automatically. Most sump pumps have an automatic switch that will immediately start pumping when the water reaches a certain level. However, some sump pumps have a manual switch that must be turned on the homeowner. If there is ever a flood when you on vacation or away for an extended period of time, having a sump pump with a manual switch will not do you any good.

Battery Back-up
The sump pump battery back-up is typically installed in case the main sump pump fails. The battery back-up is separate unit that sits next to the primary pump. It has its own float switch and check valve. Unlike the primary pump that is plugged into an electric outlet the battery back-up will activate in case of a power outage or switch failure in the main pump. Power outages are likely to occur during severe weather when the sump pump is often most needed. If the power remains out for an extended period of time, the battery can die after several hours of continuous use.

Water-powered back-up pumps
Some back-up sump pumps are powered by the water pressure from the plumbing system in the home and do not require any electricity. They work similarly as electric or battery pumps and can handle comparable water flow rates. While a battery back-up can only run continuously for 6-8 hours, a water-powered back-up will continue pumping as long as the water supply in the home in running. If the water-powered back-up is working overtime, you can expect the water bill to be higher than usual.

Other Pump Options

Sump Pump Construction
Sump pumps are typically made of two materials: plastic or cast-iron. Plastic sump pumps are less expensive but are not as durable. Cast iron pumps will last longer but come at a higher initial cost.

Water Flow Capacity
Water flow capacity for sump pumps is measured in terms of gallons per minute (GPM) or gallons per hour (GPH). In order to accommodate more gallons per minute, the pump requires a higher horsepower motor. It is important to install a sump pump that fits your needs correctly. An oversized pump will do more harm than good.

Sump Pump Failure
There are several reasons why the primary sump pump may fail:

• The switch fails and the pump never activates
• The sump pump jams or clogs.
• The pump dies due to old age or overuse.
• There is a power outage.
• The discharge pipe freezes.
• The pump becomes overwhelmed.
• The sump pump is defective.
• The pump is not properly maintained.
• The sump pump is the wrong size.
• The pump is not installed properly.

Brands of Sump Pumps
There are four main brands that sell sump pumps. Zoeller, Little Giant/Red Lion, Flotec, Wayne and Glentronic are some of the most popular. Other brands are: Superior Pumps, Simer, Liberty Pumps, Wel Bilt, Basepump, Craftsman, and Sta-rite.

Professional Associations
The Sump and Sewage Pump Manufacturers Association (SSPMA) sets quality standards that must be upheld by all members. Products that meet or exceed these standards are marked with a SSPMA-certified label. Some of the manufacturers that belong to the association are Champion Pump Co., Inc., Crane Pumps & Systems, Franklin Electric/Little Giant, Glentronics, Inc, Liberty Pumps, Pentair Water (Pentair, Flotec, Simer, Sta-Rite), and Zoeller Co.

Related: Cost of Sump Pump Installation

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