Sump pumps are an invaluable tool that can help protect against the chances of your basement or crawlspace flooding. They are commonly found in homes that are located in potential flood zones or anywhere that experiences lots of precipitation. Many local building codes also require that all new homes have sump pumps installed regardless of the location or flooding potential. If you’re not familiar with sump pumps, here is everything you need to know about what they are and how exactly they work.

What Is a Sump Pump?

A sump pump is a small mechanical pump that is designed to remove water from basements and crawlspaces. These units always sit either inside or on top of a sump basin or pit, which is essentially a large plastic barrel that is designed to collect groundwater. The top of the basin should be near ground level in the basement or crawlspace and extend at least two feet down below the surface. Whenever water begins to fill the basin, it eventually triggers the sump pump to start running and pumping the water out through a pipe and away from the building avoiding those emergency services.

Types of Sump Pumps

Two types of sump pumps are found in residential buildings. The most common is a submersible sump pump, which sits down at the bottom of the sump basin. The other type is a pedestal sump pump, which has its motor out of the water next to the top of the basin. A pipe runs from the motor down into the basin to allow it to pump out the water.

Choosing which of the two is the better option depends on several different factors including the size of the sump basin, how far the water needs to be pumped and how much you’re willing to spend. Pedestal sump pumps are generally a bit cheaper, but they are also less powerful and are better suited for smaller basins. They also produce more noise since the motor is out of the water.

Submersible sump pumps, on the other hand, are more powerful and can handle a larger volume of water and pump it a further distance. The fact that the motor is always fully covered by water whenever the pump is running also makes them much quieter. This same factor also helps them to last longer and be less prone to overheating since the water helps to keep the motor cooler when running.

If the vertical distance from the bottom of the basin to where the pipe exits the building is more than a few feet, you will definitely want the higher power of a submersible pump. The same is also true if you frequently experience extreme downpours that cause the sump basin to fill up rapidly as a pedestal pump may not be able to handle that volume of water.

Battery Backup Sump Pumps

All sump pumps run off of electricity and are usually plugged directly into a nearby outlet. The only issue with this is that the pump obviously won’t work if the power goes out, which is often the case when you need the pump the most. The only way to overcome this problem is to choose a battery backup sump pump.

These battery backup units can be either submersible or pedestal style. The difference is that the units also contain their own dedicated battery that can automatically kick in and power the pump if the electricity goes out.

How Does a Submersible Sump Pump Work?

Submersible units have a centrifugal pump that forces water up and out of the basin. When the unit is running, the motor spins an impeller which produces a centrifugal force that pushes the water up through a pipe. This results in a low-pressure area near the sump pump, and water inside the basin rushes to fill this void and even out the pressure. As the impeller spins, water is continually drawn into the pump and out through the pipe.

Submersible sump pumps typically have a float that signals the motor to turn on. When the water level rises high enough, it raises the float and triggers the motor to start running. Some units instead use a pressure sensor that is activated when the water sitting on the pump has sufficient weight to trigger the sensor.

How Pedestal Sump Pumps Work

Most pedestal sump pumps are also centrifugal pumps and still use a similar impeller. The main difference is that the motor is located outside of the sump basin. The impeller still rests at the bottom of the basin and is connected to the motor by a long plastic or metal pipe. The outlet pipe that leads out of the building is connected directly to the motor. When water is drawn into the unit, it branches off directly into the outlet pipe instead of flowing through the motor like with a submersible sump pump.

Pedestal sump pumps almost exclusively use a float to trigger the unit to run. This is connected to the motor by a long piece of metal that acts as an arm. When the water gets high enough, the float raises the arm and signals the pump to run. It will then continue running until the water is low enough that the float sinks back down to its original position.

How Long Should a Sump Pump Last?

In most cases, a new sump pump should last for around 10 years or so. However, pedestal pumps that run frequently may not last nearly as long since they can be prone to overheating whenever they have to run for a longer period of time.

No matter what type of sump pump you choose, it is important to keep it well-maintained, or it may only last a few years. One of the biggest things you’ll need to do is periodically clean the intake screen. This screen works to prevent dirt and debris from getting inside the unit and potentially damaging the motor. On submersible sump pumps, the screen is located on the underside of the unit. With pedestal pumps, the screen is located at the very bottom of the pipe where the water is drawn in.

If the sump pump runs frequently or the water in the basin is overly dirty, the screen can quickly become clogged. When this happens, it prevents the pump from being able to draw as much water in. This means that the pump will need to run for much longer and work harder due to the reduced volume, increasing the chances of it overheating or breaking down. Cleaning the screen is as simple as removing the pump from the basin and gently scrubbing the screen with a toothbrush.

San Jose’s Most Trusted Plumbing Service

If you need to have a sump pump installed, repaired or replaced, the professional plumbers at Plumbtree Plumbing & Rooter are ready to assist. We also install and service water heaters, garbage disposals and other appliances and plumbing fixtures. Our team also specializes in drain cleaning, rooting and hydro jetting as well as water, sewer and gas services. Contact Plumbtree Plumbing & Rooter today if you have any questions about sump pumps or need any plumbing or sewer services.

Josh Gibson

Hi, I’m Josh. I’ve been around plumbing my whole life. When I was 5-6 years old my family built a home where I did a lot of the sanding of copper pipe and definitely some playing in the mud. Plumbing is a major part of my family as I am a fourth-generation plumber. The skills I bring to the job are a good technical knowledge of plumbing and code requirements. I am often complimented on my hands-on problem-solving skills.
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