Sump Pump Central: What Type of Pump is Best for Your Home?
Alex "Solar Girl" Steele
If you’ve never heard of a sump pump before, you’re probably pretty lucky. It’s one of those necessary evils that people who have experienced basement flooding know all too well. A sump pump is a device that is installed in the basements of properties prone to flooding. These are important appliances for homes where flooding is a common issue, or areas with heavy rain. Sump pumps are relatively simple devices, working to displace water in a basement and transport it out of the home. The word “sump” refers to a small basin dug into the floor of a basement. A pump is installed in the basin, with valves that can detect rising water. Once the water has reached a certain point, the pump is activated by a motor. It will move water through a special line, called the effluent, that runs out of the property into a designated drainage area. As is the case with essentially every plumbing appliance, we always encourage property owners to educate themselves on the way these systems work. We want to share some information about sump pumps with our readers, to help everyone add to their home improvement knowledge base!
Sump pumps are not necessary for every property; if you live in a slab house or a particularly dry or highly elevated area you should never need to install one. However, if you’ve noticed water building up in your basement after periods of heavy rain, you live near a body of water that rises often, or you live below sea level, it’s a good idea to have one put in to avoid the possibility of water damage to your property. If you’ve recently moved into a new house and you notice an old sump pump in the basement that is no longer operational, it would be prudent to have it replaced. Even if the landscape has changed over the years and you think you might not need one anymore, it’s best to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it! The last thing you want to deal with is inches of water filling up your basement with no way to drain it.
There are a number of externalities associated with water damage that can cost you thousands of dollars and seriously impact your property value. A flooding basement doesn’t just ruin your belongings and harbor mold… It can also cause cracks in your home’s foundation and rot any wooden support beams present, resulting in a serious structural risk. Many homes house water heaters, oil tanks, and washing machines in their basements as well; flooding where large appliances are housed can be a serious risk that leads to fires or electrocution. Beyond the long term property damage and immediate danger of a water damaged basement, leaving the bottom of a house in this condition can cause health problems for your family. Mold, fungus and mildew can all lead to serious respiratory issues (and even death in some catastrophic cases) if not properly cleaned.
There are a couple different styles of sump pumps, and each one works better depending on what your needs are. There are submersible sump pumps, which contain a pump and motor in one unit. They are housed in a closed basin below the basement floor, and run very quietly because the sound of the motor is muffled by the water and the lid of the basin. A submersible pump is a great option for basements that don’t have a lot of space to spare, or basement areas that are frequently used for day-to-day activities because they are so quiet. Their lifespan isn’t as long as other styles of pump because sitting submerged in water for long periods of time can wear down the mechanics quickly, but if your home is in an area with high flood risks or you’ve experienced major flooding before, it’s a great choice.
Pedestal pumps are another great option, especially if you want a pump that will last for years and not need replacing for a while. They take up a little more space than submersible pumps, because only the pump itself is seated in the basin, while the motor is elevated above it, connected to the pedestal base, a pump and a hose. The pump works to move water up through the hose and out of the house to a designated drainage area away from the property. These systems tend to be a bit louder than their submersible cousins because the motor runs outside of the basin, but they last longer because the motor is not submerged in water. They are also easier to service and maintain because the mechanics are more easily accessible.
If your area loses power frequently, and you’re worried that you might be hit with a flooding event and a power outage at the same time, you could consider getting a battery-operated backup pump. Unfortunately, if your sump pump get its power from the grid like most of your home’s electrical appliances do, when the electricity goes out, the sump pump will be rendered useless. This can be extremely risky, because oftentimes serious storms that cause flash floods are responsible for power outages. A battery backup for your sump pump can avoid this issue. These work with an independent float switch that triggers a battery to get the pump started if water rises to a certain level without the main electricity sending power to the motor. This option is great for households in regions where superstorms threaten to plunge you into the dark throughout the year.
Have you heard of a water-powered backup pump? These require no battery hookup if the main power is lost, because they rely on water pressure from your residential water supply to clear buildup in your sump basin. They can also run for a much longer time than battery-backup pumps, so if sustained flooding is occurring, a water-powered backup can be a lifesaver. Some cities prohibit these types of pumps because they can be quite water intensive, and others require a special valve part or yearly inspections for these systems, so if you’re considering procuring one of these devices, we recommend you consult a local plumber who is familiar with your city’s building codes.
The prospect of having to pump dirty water up out of your basement is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl, so Aqua Wolf Plumbing advises you plan ahead and consult with a qualified plumber to determine if your household would benefit from installing a sump pump, or if the current one in your basement is in prime condition. Many climatological analyses warn that hurricanes and other storms are increasing in frequency and intensity, so do your research to ensure that your home stays dry and secure in the event of a flood!