Millions of homes in the U.S. are at risk of flooding, and it’s only projected to get worse as the likelihood of extreme weather events increases. All it takes is heavy rain to flood your basement or crawlspace with a foot or more of standing water.
I’ve seen firsthand what damage even a minor flood can do — things like mold and mildew, water-damaged building materials, and short-circuited electrical systems. And in every case, a submersible or pedestal sump pump and a battery-operated backup would have protected the home from flooding and subsequent damage.
There’s no one right type of sump pump for every home. So, if you want this device’s protection, you’ll have to explore your options and choose the one that’ll work well for your home design, budget, and preferences. To decide if you want to embark on this plumbing project, this guide digs into what a sump pump is and why you need one.
- Submersible sump pumps are the quietest and most powerful options
- A battery backup is always a good idea for an extra layer of protection
- Sump pump installation costs much less than water remediation services
Have you ever noticed that your basement or crawlspace feels damp and musty? Maybe you’ve even seen water stains, mold, mildew, or cracks in the foundation.
If so, you may already have water working its way into your home. And that means you could end up dealing with a severe flood if conditions align unfavorably.
Heavy rain and other weather events are the most common reasons homes flood, but there are many other causes, such as:
- Plumbing leaks
- Clogged gutters
- Poorly sealed doors and windows
- Faulty drainage systems
- Cracks in the foundation
- Improper grading
- Roof damage
Overly saturated soil around the outside of your home’s foundation can also cause major problems. This happens when water doesn’t drain out of your yard fast enough, resulting in a high water table. The excess water increases hydrostatic pressure on your foundation walls and causes cracking.
Without a lasting solution, the water will degrade your home’s building materials. Exposure to moisture can result in crumbling drywall, rotting wood, and rusting metal.
If the water reaches your electrical outlets, it could start a fire, or you could get an electrical shock. Your health and safety could also be in danger from any mold growth that occurs.
Installing a sump pump is a simple way to prevent or mitigate those issues. This device stands guard at all times, ready to pump water out of your basement or crawlspace before it can cause major problems.
By removing the water as it pours in, the pump protects your home’s structure, prevents damage to your appliances and other belongings, and reduces health and safety risks.
There are three main types of sump pumps you can use for your home: submersible, pedestal, and battery backup. Let’s take a look at each type and what sets them apart.
Submersible sump pumps are known for their power and reliability. This design sits directly in the basin and works underwater. A sealed, waterproof case protects its ⅓ to ¾ horsepower motor as it drains water from the sump pit. Its in-ground pump design keeps the motor cool (even under heavy loads) while keeping noise levels to a minimum.
Most submersible sump pumps have a high price tag and are expensive to install. They’re also challenging to maintain due to limited access in the basin. Even with regular maintenance, they only have a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, which is half that of pedestal pumps.
Difficult to access for cleaning and repairs
A pedestal sump pump is a budget-friendly way to prevent a flooded basement or crawlspace. The motor and housing sit on a pedestal just outside the basin instead of being submerged in the water. This reduces installation costs and makes it much easier to maintain yourself. With proper care, you can expect it to last up to 30 years.
Despite being less powerful, pedestal sump pumps are much louder than their submersible counterparts. These pumps often take longer to drain water out of the basin, making it hard for them to keep up during severe storms.
A battery backup sump pump provides an added layer of protection against water damage. If your primary pump fails or the power goes out, the backup alerts you with its failure alarm and starts pumping water out of the basin. A 12-volt marine battery usually has enough juice to keep draining the sump pit for several hours at a time.
Even at full charge, battery-powered models don’t have nearly as much power as other types of sump pumps. Plus, the power output continues to decline as the battery runs out. Once the battery’s empty, the pump stops working altogether until it’s recharged.
Choosing the right sump pump system is key to adequately protecting your home from water damage. Think about all the following factors when deciding what pump to get.
Measuring the basin size ensures you get a sump pump that fits in the hole and has enough power to remove the water before the pit overflows. It also helps you select the right pump type. Submersible pumps need a wider and deeper basin than pedestal models.
Use a tape measure to check the diameter and depth of your sump pit. In most areas, the pit must be at least 18 inches wide and 24 inches deep to meet building code standards. If you don’t have a basin or it’s not big enough, you can create one, even if you have concrete floors.
Residential sump pumps have ⅓, ½, or ¾ horsepower motors. The pump you select should have enough power to clear the basin before it fills up and fully pushes the water out of the lines. Properly matching the pump’s power rating to your home’s water evacuation needs means you’ll get the most value out of the system.
A ⅓ horsepower can remove up to 45 gallons of water per minute. It’s capable of pushing the water through 10 feet of vertical pipe, so it’s best for crawlspaces and smaller homes. Most ½ horsepower models can handle higher vertical lifts and evacuate up to 60 gallons per minute.
The most powerful ¾ horsepower pump works best if you have a deep basement, live in an area with a high water table, or regularly experience severe flooding. The extra power pushes the water out of the basin at a rate of up to 80 gallons per minute. Meanwhile, vertical lifts of 20 to 30 feet are no problem.
A sump pump also needs a grounded outlet within reach of its cord. The GFCI outlet should be a single receptacle on a dedicated circuit located at least 4 feet from the basement floor. This ensures it functions at its best, meets code requirements, and keeps you safe.
You should never use an extension cord to connect your sump pump to the outlet. If you don’t have an outlet nearby, you can have one installed or use a battery- or water-power backup instead. Just keep in mind that water-power models need high water pressure to operate efficiently.
Secondary backups can keep your sump pump running for hours after the power goes out. These DC pumps use a 12-volt marine battery designed to operate in wet conditions. They’re not nearly as powerful as AC pumps, only removing up to 30 gallons per minute while at full power.
Backup battery sump pumps are installed in the same basin as the primary sump pump and use the same discharge lines. If the battery runs out of juice during a power outage, it recharges through the main pump once electricity is restored.
Sump pumps come in either plastic or cast iron materials. In general, plastic models are lightweight and affordable but don’t last as long as cast iron.
Although cast iron can corrode, it dissipates heat faster and can better withstand debris in the lines, helping extend its lifespan. So, while you’ll initially pay more for metal, your investment may save you money in the long run.
Submersible sump pumps are much quieter than pedestal models. The basin helps muffle the humming from the pump motor, keeping disruptions to a minimum. The lower sound levels are ideal if you have a finished basement or otherwise spend a lot of time down there.
Pedestal sump pumps are easier to clean and maintain than submersible models. Regular maintenance helps extend the life of the pump, so be prepared to spend more time on upkeep if you want to go the submersible route.
You may need to get a permit for your sump pump installation project. It just depends on your local building codes and the scope of the work. In most cases, you’ll need one if you’re digging out a basin or installing an electrical outlet for the pump. Find out with a call or visit to your city’s permit center.
Once you’ve selected a sump pump, it’s time to install it in your home. Deciding whether or not to hire a plumber depends on key factors, like if there’s an existing sump pit and your comfort with DIY projects. If you want to do it yourself, you’ll need to get specific supplies and follow certain steps.
- Eye protection
- Sump pump and basin
- Check valve
- 1.5-inch PVC pipes and fittings
- PVC primer and cement
- Paver stone
- Demolition hammer
- Hammer drill with 2-inch diamond core bit
- Power drill with 3/16-inch bit
- Ratcheting pipe cutter
If your home already has a sump pump, you’ll need to remove it to install the new one.
- Put on your gloves and eye protection.
- Use the circuit breaker to cut power to the room and then unplug the pump.
- Remove the lid and disconnect the pump from the discharge line.
- Take the sump pump out of the basin and set it to the side.
When installing a new sump pump, the first step is creating the pit:
- Find the lowest point in your basement or crawlspace.
- Flip the basin over and trace around it to mark the hole size and location.
- Use a demolition hammer and shovel to dig out the hole in the low-lying area.
- Fit the sump basin inside and snug it down firmly.
Skip this step if your home already has a discharge pipe installed. Otherwise, complete the following steps:
- Find the ideal drainage point in your yard, far away from storm drains.
- Dig a 3-foot-deep trench from the house to that point.
- Use the hammer drill to create a hole in the foundation for the PVC pipe.
- Run the discharge pipe through the wall.
- Cut and assemble the pipe to reach about one foot above the top of the basin.
- Install the check valve on the end of the assembled PVC pipe.
- Assemble the rest of the pipe outside and cover it with dirt and sod.
Now, it’s time to prepare and place the sump pump.
- Place a paver stone in the bottom of the basin.
- Set the pump on the stone and center it in the pit.
- Use a level to confirm that the pump sits perfectly level.
- Confirm that the float switch has room to measure the water level.
- Measure from the bottom of the check valve to the center of the pipe threads in the pump.
- Attach a threaded adapter to the discharge pipe using PVC primer and cement.
- Drill a 3/16-inch weep hole 2 inches above the adapter, angling it 45 degrees toward the ground.
- Attach the pump’s PVC pipe to the check valve.
Installing a pedestal sump pump works nearly the same, except the motor sits on a pedestal above the basin.
Once you reach this step, it’s finally time to plug in the sump pump, flip the breaker back on, and test the system. Use a bucket to partially fill the basin with water. Listen for the pump to turn on and look at the water running through the check valve. Then, confirm that the valve closes again once the pump turns off.
If all is well, secure the power cords to the discharge pipe using zip ties to keep them off the ground. Don’t secure the cord higher than the outlet. You want it just below so water can’t drip down the wire and into the outlet.
Don’t wait until the rainy season arrives to install your sump pump. I learned the hard way that this project goes a lot smoother if it hasn’t been recently raining. Otherwise, the hole just keeps filling up with water and prevents you from properly placing and connecting the pump.
All types of sump pumps need quarterly cleaning and maintenance to stay in optimal condition. This will help prevent premature parts failure, so your pump stays in service for its entire lifespan (10 to 30 years).
Every three months, check off the items on this sump pump maintenance checklist to keep it in optimal condition:
- Inspect the sump pump, basin, and visible discharge line.
- Verify that the float can move freely in the sump pit.
- Watch the check valve to see that it closes when the pump stops.
- Remove debris from the sump basin.
- Clean the filter or screen on the sump pump.
- Confirm that the backup battery has a full charge.
- Test the alarm on the backup system.
Whenever you feel like your pump doesn’t work right, test it by pouring several gallons of water into the basin. The pump should start right up and discharge the water into the yard.
If it doesn’t start up, check that it’s getting power and that the float switch activates. The float switch and check valve are the likely culprits if the pump doesn’t stop running.
When the pump runs but doesn’t move any water, it could be a jammed impeller or something clogging the discharge line. Excessively noisy motors likely have worn bearings, letting you know it’s time to replace the pump.
I always recommend getting a sump pump if there’s any risk of crawlspace or basement flooding. The peace of mind alone justifies the cost, but it can also save you quite a bit of money.
Installing even the most expensive sump pump costs far less than it would for water damage cleanup or fire and smoke damage restoration. You’ll also get to avoid the stress of seeing your home flooded and figuring out what to do to fix it.
Even if disaster doesn’t strike, sump pumps prevent mold and mildew growth, keeping your home a healthy place to live. Your initial investment will last at least a decade (or more), so you can rest assured that your home and family are protected for years to come.
FAQs About Sump Pumps
Where does sump pump water go?
Water evacuated by a sump pump travels through the discharge line to your yard. The exact location varies depending on your property characteristics, but ideally, it’ll be somewhere that won’t get muddy or let the water pool.
What is the difference between a sump pump and a sewage ejector pump?
A sump pump removes groundwater leaking into your basement or crawlspace. A sewage ejector pump helps the plumbing system transport wastewater from basement bathrooms, sinks, and appliances up to the main sewer line.
How often should I empty my sump pump?
You don’t have to manually empty your sump pump. It automatically detects water and pumps it out of your home through the discharge line. You do need to clean and maintain the device annually to keep it working right.