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Choosing the Right Pump

A brief guide to the different kinds of pumps available and what they do

What type of pump do I need? This is a question we are frequently asked, as many homeowners can be overwhelmed by the sheer variety of pumps available - not to mention trying to understand what the technical terms mean. While we cannot guarantee that a certain pump or type of pump will be appropriate to your situation, we can offer some guidance on typical applications for each type of pump. If you aren't sure exactly what you need your pump to do, it might be best to consult a local licensed plumber before you start shopping. They may have recommendations or be able to advise you about certain requirements for your area.

Overview of the Different Types of Pumps

Sump Pumps

Key Term → Submersible
Most water pumps used in residential applications, like sump pumps, sewage pumps, effluent pumps, and pond pumps, are submersible. This means they can be used underwater, in fact some of them may not work unless submerged. The housing for most submersible pumps is sealed to protect the motor. Some other types of pumps are NOT submersible. Generally, they can be submerged to a certain point or are safe to come in contact with water, but will stop functioning if fully submerged.

If you have a basement, a split-level home, or live in a low-lying area or other situation where the geography of your home and a high water table causes water to accumulate, you might need a sump pump. Sump pumps are automatic pumps designed to drain (mostly) clean water quickly and help to prevent flooding of your home. Usually, sump pumps are installed in a sump pit or basin. Water accumulates in the pit first, and is pumped out of your home by the sump pump. Sump pumps can be submersible or pedestal style. You'll be able to tell just by looking at it, because a pedestal pump will be tall and skinny while a submersible will be more compact.

Sometimes, though, your sump pump or the check valve can fail, the power goes out during a storm (when you most likely really need your sump pump going!), or in times of extreme flooding it simply cannot handle the volume of water being drained into the sump pit. It is a good idea to have a battery- or water-powered backup sump pump to help protect your home and belongings in these situations. However, not everyone needs a backup sump pump - if your basement is empty and unfinished, if you have a generator, or if your sump pump rarely runs, it might not be worth the additional cost to you, but this is a very personal decision and should be based on your specific needs and situation.


Sewage Pumps

Sewage pumps do just what you'd think they do - they pump sewage waste from a toilet into the sewer or septic line. This type of pump is generally used whenever you're installing a toilet in an area lower than the level of the sewer or septic lines, such as in a basement or if your home sits into a hill and the lower level is partially underground. Sewage pumps typically can handle waste solids up to 2" in diameter. However, they are NOT designed to accommodate anything other than human waste and at least partially broken-down toilet paper. So even if you have a sewage pump, it is still not a good idea to flush feminine products, toys, soap, hair, or anything that is NOT human waste or toilet paper.

Some basement or below ground toilet installations use what is called a "macerating" system. These are essentially toilets with a sewage pump attached - usually located in a sealed housing installed right behind the toilet or right behind the wall where the toilet is installed. Sometimes this can be a good option as you won't need to break up your concrete flooring, but be careful to note how high the pump can lift the waste as these pumps are sometimes smaller than the average sewage pump. Most macerating toilet systems use a type of sewage pump called a "grinder" pump since it literally helps to grind up sewage into smaller particles, similar to the way a garbage disposal works. Grinder pumps can be used in complete macerating systems or on their own in place of a regular sewage pump. And although they do grind stuff up, you still need to refrain from flushing anything other than human waste and toilet paper when using a grinder pump.


Effluent Pumps

Effluent pumps are similar to sewage pumps in that they are capable of pumping waste solids - although these pumps can usually only handle solids up to 3/4" or less in diameter. The water typically being drained by an effluent pump is considered "greywater" as it is not sewage water, but is not clean water either. For example, effluent pumps are commonly used for laundry discharge, dishwasher and sink drainage, sump pits that collect a lot of dirt or debris, and similar situations. We do offer several types of pump packages to accommodate specific greywater applications, so it might be more practical and cost-effective to choose one of these depending on your situation.


Utility Pumps

Key Term → Dewatering
Technically, any pump that moves water from one area to another is "dewatering" - but different pumps have different jobs. For instance, you don't want to use a sump pump in a sewage system since it can't handle the solids inherent in that type of wastewater. When manufacturers or retailers, like PlumbingSupply.com, refer to a pump as a "dewatering" pump, we generally mean some form of utility pump that is designed to remove mostly debris-free water from one area to another. Let's say your bathroom flooded - you would need something to get all that water out of the bathroom and somewhere else. A dewatering or utility pump could come in handy there.

Utility pumps come in many shapes and sizes to suit a wide range of applications. Typically, utility pumps are only designed to be used temporarily to move water from one place to another, such as during an unexpected flood or to drain a water heater. For this reason, you'll notice that most utility pumps don't come with float switches since they must be manually turned on and off to avoid burning up the pump motor. We offer quality non-submersible utility pumps, submersible utility pumps that can be placed directly in water, hand-operated pumps perfect for garden water features, rain barrels, or backup use if the power goes out, small 12volt models that are great for use in RV's or boats, and utility pumps specifically designed to help you drain your water heater.

Not sure if you really need a utility pump? Need help choosing the right one?
Learn more about when and how a utility pump can come in handy and how to select one

Booster Pumps

About 15% of American homes have private wells, the rest of us get our water through traditional city water lines. Depending on where you live, water pressure can be a problem - either it's just extremely low or it frequently fluctuates - and disrupts many daily activities like showering, cooking, cleaning up, doing laundry, etc. Booster pumps are installed on the main water line coming from the city water line to your house to help regulate your water pressure and provide a more constant flow.

Most booster pumps take a conservationist approach to the energy they use. Usually if you have low water pressure, the more water you use (i.e., someone showering while someone else washes dishes), the lower your water pressure. Once one of the taps is turned off, you'll experience an increase in water pressure at the other tap. Modern booster pumps typically don't run all the time, but only when water is being used. As water demand picks up, the unit will pump faster to help keep the pressure from dropping.


Pond, Sprinker & Other Outdoor Pumps

Outdoor pumps have a wide range of applications from ponds and pool covers to sprinkler systems and livestock waste management. Depending on the specific application, these pumps will all function differently. PlumbingSupply.com® is pleased to offer an extensive selection of pumps designed for these unique outdoor situations.


Condensate Pumps

This type of pump is typically used with air conditioner units installed in areas where the condensation cannot naturally drain from the air conditioner. For instance, some apartment buildings or office complexes might have an air conditioning unit installed between stories. You don't want the condensation draining out through the walls or floors and causing water damage, so a condensate pump and basin is used to collect that water and pump it to a more appropriate drainage point. If your air conditioning unit is installed on the ground, on your roof, or somewhere else where any condensation produced can drip off naturally, you don't need a condensate pump. However, if you are uncertain about where your air conditioner drains, we suggest you contact your local HVAC or plumbing professional to help you determine whether or not you need a condensate pump.


Circulator Pumps

Circulator pumps have numerous applications, but are particularly useful in heating/cooling systems and for hot water return. There are two types of circulating systems - open and closed. Closed systems are typically used for heating/cooling applications, such as underfloor heating or baseboard heating. No new water is introduced into these systems, hence the term "closed". If you're using a circulation pump to increase hot water return so you don't have to wait forever for hot water at your tap, this is considered an "open" system since you will be introducing new water into the system.

Recirculating systems can be run on a timer, or can be activated on demand to help reduce energy use. More and more homes are utilizing on-demand or timer-based recirculating systems for "instant" hot water as it saves money and resources on both the energy needed to continuously heat water as well as the water itself since you're not standing there letting fresh, clean water run down the drain while you wait for it to heat up.


Well Pumps

Well pumps pump the water out of your well and into either a storage tank or directly into your home for use. Because sizing and installing a well pump is a complex issue, most manufacturers will not sell well pumps directly to homeowners or to businesses like PlumbingSupply.com® that sell directly to homeowners. We strongly recommend that if you need a well pump, you contact a licensed professional to choose and install the appropriate pump for your needs.


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