What Is a Sump Pump and How Does it Work?

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As a homeowner with concerns about water buildup in low points in your home, such as your basement, you might have wondered about your water removal options. The most common solution is a sump pump, which is a device that prevents flooding and keeps a basement or crawl space dry by pumping out water that collects in a basin into an area away from the home.
This not only prevents basement flooding but also mildew and mold that can develop from excess moisture.
There are two chief types of sump pump designs found in homes, both of which are electric and run on household current with a ground wire for safety. The electricity to either of these pump designs is turned on when enough water collects to activate a pressure sensor. The primary differences between the two designs, submersible and pedestal, stem from the location of the sump pump in relation to the recessed sump pit, or water collection basin.

Submersible Sump Pumps

As the design name suggests, a submersible sump pump rests inside the water collection basin, or sump pit. To protect the device from the watery environment, the sump pump has a waterproof casing. The actual pump motor resides at the bottom of the device on top of a grate that keeps leaves and other gritty debris from entering the pump. At the top, there is an outlet pipe that moves the water out of the sump pit and into other piping that leads out of the home.

Pedestal Sump Pumps

Pedestal pumps reside next to the sump pit and out of the water. They have a cylindrical shape with a larger piece at the top. The sump pump motor is located in that larger top portion to protect it from collected water in the pit. A tube runs through the cylinder and into the sump pit, which can essentially suck excess water out of the pit and into piping that goes out of the house.

Differences Between Sump Pump Designs

Aside from the actual functioning of the two pump designs as they relate to the location of the sump pit, there are a couple of other main differences that homeowners should consider when choosing a sump pump.
Pedestal sump pumps are cheaper than submersible ones; there are more materials and safety features involved in waterproofing a pump that can sit in water. The pedestal sump pump design is also naturally louder in its operation, as there is less encasement and sits out of the basin that can muffle sound.

Sump Pump Features

While there are two chief sump pump designs, there are other bells and whistles that different models might have, including:
  • Higher horsepower: Sump pump motors usually range between 1/4 and 1/3 horsepower. A higher horsepower could prove handy if water tends to pool in your basement or crawl space.
  • Increased head pressure: Head pressure indicates how many feet high the motor can pull water out of the sump pit. As bends in pipes and other anomalies can affect head pressure, it is advisable to deduct 10% of head pressure ability when assessing how high a pump needs to draw water.
  • Backup and alarm systems: Many sump pumps have a built-in alarm system that will sound if water levels rise too much, indicating a problem with pump functioning. For even more protection, these alarm systems can be connected to a backup battery to ensure the alarm will still go off in the event of a power outage.

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