Water does what it wants. Which pretty much amounts to following the path of least resistance and flowing downhill. These simple directives can yield complex, breathtaking displays of power and beauty... outside. But once water's blind march brings it to the threshold of your home, the time for awe and fascination is through. Depending on where you live, such an occurrence might be common or rare, with preparation varying accordingly.
It's not always about preparation, though. Sometimes water acts like the inert matter it is, and just sits there. Which is great, except when you want it somewhere else. Maybe it's a pool that needs to be drained, or an aquarium. Maybe you want to more easily use the water from your rain barrel in your garden. True, a watering can will get it out of the barrel and to the plants, just as a bucket would get the water out of the pool. Siphoning can also work. But pumps work better, and make life easier. Like the name implies, utility pumps (also called transfer pumps) address a variety of tasks, and are among the most useful of household items you probably don't own.
As mentioned, one's level of flood preparation often depends on location: some regions, neighborhoods, or even particular homes can have high flood risks or drainage issues. These homeowners often have automatic pumps in basements, window wells, or other low-lying areas that turn on when water reaches a particular level. Utility pumps are sometimes part of this arsenal, often as backups should a main pump fail. Designed for temporary water removal applications (the odd flood, the random emergency, maintenance draining), utility pumps are usually turned off and on manually. They aren't dedicated, primary pumps, but are instead a sensible precaution, a convenient help.
Flooding isn't the only time you might need a utility pump. Need to drain a water heater? You could just hook a hose up to the outlet and let it go, but you might be waiting a while: a pump makes short work of it. Is your pool cover turning into a massive bird bath? Specialized utility pumps with stabilizer plates are available to quickly move collected water off covers, and most can easily be adapted to pump water from elsewhere, too. Window well regularly submerged? Rather than expose an automatic pump to the elements, regular manual draining with a utility pump can keep the basement just as dry.
Additionally, utility pumps increase outgoing water pressure up to an additional 40 psi. Connect a hose and nozzle, and you have a serviceable pressure-washer for cars, the house, or wherever! Be sure not to leave the pump running very long with the nozzle closed, as this could result in overheating.
Quick Tip: If you plan on using the pump for draining a water heater or any other hot-water applications, be sure to check the maximum fluid temperature rating for the unit. It's also a good idea to have a hose on hand that is designed specifically for handling hot water.
Choosing a Utility Pump
Given the wide variety of applications that fall under the purview of utility pumps, choosing wisely can seem difficult. While most units can theoretically perform a number of tasks, attention must be paid to their specifications and your needs. The wrong pump in the wrong situation can ruin the pump, your day, and maybe a whole lot more.
Utility pumps can be submersible, which works for larger applications with significant volumes. Non-submersible pumps use hoses for their intake, and are suited more towards smaller, around-the-house applications. Most pumps utilize 115V household electricity, but there are 12V battery-powered pumps available if you require extra mobility and don't need a great deal of long-lasting power.
Did you know? Many utility pumps come with a standard garden hose connector, or an adapter for one. These allow you to easily discharge water to your desired location. To maintain the highest possible flow, use a wide-diameter hose and try to keep the length below 25 feet.
Example of performance curve chart
When looking for a pump, the performance curve chart is probably the most important source of information. A simple plot of total dynamic head (the maximum vertical distance water can be pumped) against flow in gallons per minute, it tells you at a glance if the pump can meet your needs. If you won't be needing to pull water up very far, focus on the flow rate of the pump: you'll want one that can quickly deal with your usual tasks, but you don't want to go overboard paying for power you don't really need. If draining a water heater is going to be the biggest (planned) job, dividing the heater's tank capacity by a pump's stated flow rate gives you an idea how long it would take under ideal conditions: choose the best time within your budget.
We buy a lot of things for our homes, running the gamut from trivial to necessary. Pumps can be tricky. For some, they're a rental item, sought out only when needed. Others live under the perpetual threat of flood, and a working pump or three is as much a no-brainer as a can of WD-40. Whatever your situation, we think having a utility pump around just makes sense, even if only for flood preparation (water damage restoration is no fun). The fact that so much more can be done with these pumps only sweetens the deal!