Sump pumps, like furnaces and water heaters, live their lives obscured in basements and crawl spaces. Most people don’t pay much attention to them—until they stop working.

Are you heading down to your basement or checking your crawl space right now to see if you might have one tucked away in the dark?

If you’re a homeowner who wonders if you need a sump pump or are just curious what all the sump pump hype is about, this post is for you.

We’ll answer the main question on your mind—what is a sump pump?

Read, learn, and then get ready to install.

What Is a Sump Pump?

While you might think the name explains it all, don’t feel bad if you’re not sure exactly what a sump pump is—if you’re not a plumber or if you’ve never lived in a house with a basement or crawl space, you get a free pass on this one.

Okay, smarty, yes, it’s a pump, but a sump pump is not just any old ordinary pump. Sump pumps keep the area under your home dry. It’s like a mini-flood prevention system pumping water out of your home’s sump pit (we’ll get to that in a minute)

Why would water need to collect in a pit and get pumped out?

In some homes, the basement sits lower than the level of the water table. This allows water to seep into your basement. If your basement has a waterproofing system installed, the water comes in via that system.

Homes at risk of flooding benefit from this special pump because instead of allowing water to accumulate inside the basement, the pump directs it away from the home.

The Inner Workings of Your Sump Pump

In homes with sump pumps, you’ll find either a submersible or pedestal type pump. Both sit inside the sump tank or sump pit.

As its name indicates, the submersible pump is concealed inside the pit—you won’t see it sitting above ground, and it’s covered with the pit cover. The pedestal sump pump sits inside the pit as well, but it has a column that sticks up through the pit cover. The pump motor is mounted on the column and sits above the floor.

The sump pump is a part of a 4-part system and includes:

  • Water Collection System
  • Sump Tank or Pit
  • Pump
  • Outlet Drain

Homes with sump pumps also have a drainage system either buried along the foundation or under the basement floor. The drain tile drains groundwater into the sump tank, also called a sump pit. When the sump pit fills to a certain level, a float or switch turns the pump on.

Water then gets pumped out through a pipe or hose and either into the yard or to a dry well. Once the tank is empty, the motor shuts off and waits for the pit to fill up again.

Groundwater is collected by drain rock and drain tile buried along the foundation (and, in some cases, under the floor). Drain tile carries the water to the sump tank (or two sump tanks, in a large house) that is buried in the basement floor.

How Do I Know If I Need One?

If you’re a new homeowner or the first-time owner of a home with a basement, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine if you’re a good candidate for a sump pump.

Has your basement flooded in the past? If so, you should consider installing a sump pump. As you likely already know, replacing carpets and personal belongings after a basement flood isn’t cost-effective. A sump pump will save you the hassle and the money.

Do you live in a low-lying area? Low-lying areas are at, or below sea level. You might also live in an area with a high water table.

Either scenario benefits from a sump pump installation.

Does your area get a lot of precipitation? Heavy rainfall (not just a storm here and there) increases your flood risk. Install a sump pump.

Do you have a finished basement? If you’ve invested the time and money in your finished basement, you don’t want a flood. Protect your home from a flood disaster and get a sump pump.

Saying yes to any, or all of these questions means you’re an ideal candidate for sump pump ownership.

Sump Pump Mistakes Not to Make

Most sump pumps are hardwired into the electrical system of a home. This means the sump pump may not work in the event of a power outage. Since many power outages occur during heavy rainstorms (the time you need a sump pump most), your system should have a battery back up. Take the extra time and expense and ensure you’re sump pump works when you need it most.

Don’t be that person who never tests the sump pump system. This is part of a home maintenance plan and only takes a few minutes. All you do is fill the sump pit with a bucket of water and see if the float or switch triggers the pump. Do it before the rainy season starts so that you have time for repairs.

The other mistake new sump pump owners often make is not cleaning the system. This includes cleaning leaves and other debris from the sump pit. You should also clean the pump and its parts.

If you’re not comfortable testing or cleaning a sump pump, you should call a plumbing professional to come out and take care of maintenance at least once a year.

Now You Can Answer the What Is a Sump Pump Question

Now you know a few things you didn’t know about sump pumps. You can also answer the question everyone asks at breaktime—what is a sump pump?

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