Learn how a sump pump works and why you may need one to help prevent flooding in your home.

How a Sump Pump Works to Protect You

Learn how a sump pump works and why you may need one to help prevent flooding in your home


The warmth of spring carries with it a wealth of beauty, excitement, and energy. But cute little seedlings aren't the only thing the thawing ground around your home can produce. The dark side of spring is a yard thoroughly saturated with snowmelt and spring showers, unable to take on any more water. So what happens when it rains? Water finds the next best place to go... and all too often, that place is underneath your home.

Of course, it's not just in spring - flooding can happen at any time of the year. When your gutters or downspouts are clogged or not in the right location, or the ground around the house is sloped towards the structure (rather than away), you're going to have problems. And then there's cruel, cruel chance: a floor drain backup, a busted washing machine hose, a failed sensor that can't turn off the washer's fill cycle. Basements and crawlspaces are the most vulnerable parts of your property when it comes to flooding; protecting them protects your home. The first and best line of defense? A good sump pump.

Sump pumps move water from one place (a hole in the ground, the "sump pit") to another (somewhere well away from the building). There are two types: pedestal and submersible. The former feature their motors on a pedestal or column that remains outside the sump pit. A length of pipe or hose is connected to the pump and placed in the pit. Submersible pumps, on the other hand, go directly into the pit thanks to their sealed housing - the intake is on the bottom of the unit itself. Pedestal pumps can be noisy, but they're often less expensive than submersible units, and easier to repair.

Where does a sump pump drain to? Usually into the ground, at least 10 feet from the building foundation (the further the better). In most places, draining into the sewer system is illegal.

While there are manually-operated sump pumps, most people prefer the automation of a float switch. Once water in the pit reaches a certain level, these switches turn the pump on to keep things dry. Pit size is the chief determinant when it comes to the most common types of switch: tethered switches work best in wide-diameter pits, while vertical switches are perfect for narrower holes. The tethered type generally keep the pump off longer between cycles, providing more cool-down time for the motor. Vertical switches might run a bit more often, but maintain a lower water level in the pit.

It's an effective defense: would-be floodwater moves to the lowest point it can find - the sump pit - and starts filling it. Once the water level is high enough to activate the switch, the pump starts moving the water out of the pit and far away. Basic, regular maintenance will help ensure that the pump is always ready to go when you need it. And just in case it isn't, it's always a good idea to have a backup. Some just choose to buy duplicate units, but you might also consider a battery or water-powered backup. After all, it only takes the power getting knocked out for a standard pump to be rendered useless - and your home compromised.

Quick Tip: A flood alarm system is another good idea - should your pump(s) fail to clear the area, these alarm systems will alert you so that action can be taken.

A flooded basement or crawlspace can result in thousands of dollars in damage - not to mention the potential loss of treasured or otherwise important items. Whether you live in an area prone to flooding, or just have a washing machine in the basement, a sump pump is a particularly wise investment for your home and your peace of mind.


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