Sump Pumps: How Do They Keep Your Space Dry?

A sump pump, often overlooked yet crucial, is the unsung hero of any home’s plumbing system. This mechanical device is typically installed in the lowest part of a building, such as basements or crawl spaces. Its primary function is to collect and pump out any excess water that may infiltrate these areas, thereby preventing potential water damage and maintaining a dry and safe environment. Whether you live in an area prone to flooding or simply want to safeguard your space against occasional water accumulation, understanding how a sump pump functions is key. In this article, we’ll delve into the workings of sump pumps and their role in keeping your space dry.

What is Sump Pumps?

Before we delve into the mechanics of a sump pump, let’s define what it is. A sump pump is a mechanical device that collects and pumps out excess water from a designated area, usually located in the lowest part of a building. It consists of a motorized pumping mechanism housed in a waterproof casing and connected to an outlet pipe that directs the water away from the building. There are mainly two types of sump pumps: submersible and pedestal. Submersible pumps are designed to be fully submerged in water, while pedestal pumps have a motor mounted above the sump pit, with only the pump intake located within the pit.

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How does it work?

The basic principle behind a sump pump’s operation is simple: as water accumulates in the sump pit, the float switch or pressure sensor triggers the pump to turn on. The pump then sucks up the water through its intake and pumps it out through the discharge pipe, directing it away from the building’s foundation. Once the water level lowers, the float switch or pressure sensor turns off the pump. This cycle continues automatically as long as there is excess water to be pumped out. Some sump pumps also come with a backup battery system, ensuring that the pump continues to function even during power outages.

Types of Sump Pumps

There are primarily two types of sump pumps, each with its own set of advantages:

  1. Pedestal Sump Pumps: These pumps feature a motor mounted on a small pedestal. The pump intake is located in the pit while the motor remains out of the water, reducing the risk of electrical issues. Their compact size makes them ideal for smaller sump pits.
  2. Submersible Sump Pumps: Designed to operate while fully submerged, these pumps boast a more powerful motor, enabling them to handle larger volumes of water. Housed in a waterproof casing, these pumps are usually more expensive than pedestal versions but are quieter and less obtrusive.

When selecting a sump pump for your space, consider factors like the size of your space, the volume of water to be managed, and the availability of power outlets. Remember, a sump pump is a long-term investment in the safety and protection of your home.

Installation of Sump Pumps

The installation process of a sump pump is a task that requires careful planning and execution. It generally involves digging or identifying a suitable sump pit, installing the sump pump, and setting up a discharge line.

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Steps to Install

  1. Choose the Location: Identify a suitable location in your basement or crawl space for the sump pit. Remember, it needs to be near a power supply and a place where water can be safely discharged.
  2. Dig the Sump Pit: Dig a hole about 24 inches deep and 18 inches wide. Use a bucket or a small garden shovel for this purpose.
  3. Install the Sump Liner: Place a sump liner or basin into the hole. Make sure it fits snugly; if it doesn’t, you may need to adjust the hole accordingly.
  4. Position the Sump Pump: Place the sump pump into the liner. If you’re using a pedestal pump, only the bottom part of the pump should be in the water. If it’s a submersible pump, it should be fully submerged.
  5. Connect the Pump to the Discharge Pipe: Attach a PVC discharge pipe to the pump. This pipe will carry the water from the sump pump to outside your home.
  6. Test the Sump Pump: Pour water into the sump pit until the float rises and triggers the pump. Make sure that the pump effectively removes the water and shuts off afterward.
  7. Seal the Sump Pit: Once you’re satisfied that everything is working correctly, seal the sump pit with a secure lid. This will ensure that moisture, odors, and radon gas do not escape into your home.
  8. Check Regularly: After installation, regularly check and maintain your sump pump to ensure that it’s functional when needed. Plan to replace your sump pump every 5 to 10 years.

Remember, if you are not comfortable handling the installation yourself, it’s best to hire a professional plumber. This guide is a basic overview and there can be complexities based on your specific situation.

Points to Consider During Installation

Below are essential points to keep in mind during the installation of a sump pump:

  1. Sump Basin Size: The size and depth of the sump basin should be sufficient to allow your chosen sump pump to function effectively. It’s crucial to ensure the basin is deep and wide enough to hold the pump.
  2. Location: The sump pump should be installed in the lowest part of your space, where water naturally accumulates.
  3. Discharge Line: Make sure the discharge line is correctly installed and pointed away from your home to avoid water flowing back towards the foundation.
  4. Power Source: Ensure that the sump pump is near a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet to power the pump. If a backup battery system is included, it should be fully charged and tested regularly.
  5. Professional Help: Installation involves handling electrical components. If you are not comfortable with this, it’s advisable to hire a professional to install the sump pump for you.

Sump Pump Maintenance

Maintaining your sump pump is crucial to ensure its longevity and performance. Here are some essential maintenance steps to keep your sump pump functioning optimally:

  1. Check the operation: Regularly test your sump pump’s operation by pouring a bucket of water into the sump pit. The pump should turn on automatically, discharge the water, and then turn off.
  2. Clean the sump pit: Over time, silt, sand, and other debris can accumulate in the sump pit and interfere with the pump’s operation. Regularly clean the pit to prevent obstructions.
  3. Inspect the discharge line: Ensure that the discharge line is clear of any blockages and that water is being directed away from the foundation of your home.
  4. Check the float switch: The float switch signals the pump to start operating when the water level rises. Make sure it’s not stuck or obstructed.
  5. Listen for unusual noises: Unusual noises may indicate a problem with the motor or the impeller. If your pump makes abnormal sounds, it’s best to consult a professional.
  6. Inspect for leaks: Check the pump and the discharge pipe for any signs of leaks and repair them promptly.
  7. Backup Battery: If your sump pump has a backup battery, ensure it is fully charged and replace it as recommended by the manufacturer.

Regular maintenance can help keep your sump pump in good working condition, protecting your home from potential water damage. If you encounter any issues beyond your capability to handle, don’t hesitate to contact a professional for assistance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should a sump pump be replaced?

On average, sump pumps need to be replaced every 5-10 years. However, factors such as frequency of use and maintenance can impact its lifespan.

Can I replace my pedestal pump with a submersible one?

Yes, it is possible to replace a pedestal pump with a submersible one. However, it may require modifications to the sump pit and discharge pipe.

How do I know if my sump pump needs to be replaced?

If your sump pump is not working properly, making unusual noises, or showing signs of wear and tear, it may need to be replaced. Regular maintenance can also help identify any potential issues.

How much does it cost to install a sump pump?

The cost of installing a sump pump can vary depending on the type and size of the pump, as well as the complexity of the installation. It’s best to consult with a professional for an accurate estimate.


Installing a sump pump in your home can help prevent water damage and protect your basement or crawlspace from flooding. Remember to carefully consider the size, location, and power source for your sump pump, and regularly maintain it to ensure optimal performance. If in doubt, always seek professional help. With proper installation and maintenance, a sump pump can provide you with peace of mind during heavy rainfall or spring thaw.

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