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What is a Sump Pump and How Does it Work?

What Is a Sump Pump and How Does It Work?

Sump pumps are motorised pumps that redirect water from one location to another. They are typically used in urban properties in areas that are prone to heavy rainfall or flooding. However many rural landowners use sump pumps

While primarily being used as an inexpensive and efficient solution to protect homes from potential foundational and structural damages caused by prolonged exposure to stagnant or moving water, they are also widely used by professional and hobbyist farmers, as a means to control water levels in dams and ponds, ensuring safe and clean water for families to use recreationally.

Over the course of this article, we’ll cover the fundamentals of sump pumps, including their applications, how they function, maintenance, and why they are an essential tool in both rural and urban homes. 

Sump Pumps in Action

Drainage pumps, including sump pumps, should be strategically placed to rest in a specially dug pit, known as a sump pit or a sump tank. The pit collects excess water from your property, be it rainwater or overflowing drainage systems. When water collected in the pit exceeds a certain level, a float switch triggers the pump into action to begin working to redirect the water.

When the drainage pump is turned on, it uses a straightforward discharge line to transfer grey water from the pit and away from your property, keeping your lowest point dry and protected from any potential harm from grey water.

It is imperative to filter out grey water from your home for a number of reasons. Grey water is incredibly damaging to the structural integrity of your home and will cause significant damage to your property, potentially even shifting its foundations. On top of that, it has been proven that stagnant grey water in homes is directly correlated to the long-term health conditions of the occupants. 

Types of Drainage Pumps: Submersible or Pedestal 

There are two types of sump pumps: pedestal pumps (above ground) and submersible pumps (underground).

The major advantages of a submersible sump pump are its very quiet operation and inconspicuous installation. Because the pump is submerged, the motor’s noise is greatly decreased, due to reduced or muffled vibrations produced from the motor. Urban residents typically opt for submersible sump pumps purely out of consideration for their neighbours, as the above-ground options are notoriously noisy! 

Additionally, submersible pumps are quite versatile and generally considered more robust, as they have a better capacity to handle dirty water, certainly when given an extra layer of protection using a pump defender or filter, which makes them better suited for various applications such as drainage, groundwater management and dealing with grey water.

However, as with all good things, submersible pumps do tend to be more expensive than pedestal pumps. They can also be more challenging to access for maintenance purposes due to their submerged position. Being constantly exposed to water leads to requiring more regular maintenance inspections to guarantee optimal performance. While basic safety precautions can reduce the majority of dangers, it is important to note that electrical failure is another possible source of worry.

The obvious difference between pedestal pumps and submersible sump pumps is that pedestal pumps are positioned above the sump pit, with the motor placed above and away from any water on top of a separate pedestal. The main benefit of this, which can be appealing to more frequent users, is that the pump is quite easily accessible for maintenance and repairs, making it a more practical choice for those who prioritise regular accessibility. Generally speaking, these pumps also tend to be more affordable in comparison to submersible pumps. 

Ease of accessibility is certainly an advantage of having a drainage pump above the sump pit, however, because of this, they are also considerably noisier during operation. While the risk of water damage is mitigated with pedestal pumps, they are in fact, still exposed to the above-ground surrounding environments which can potentially put them at risk of damage from dust, dirt, moisture, and pests. 

Additionally, above-ground water pumps are generally considered less efficient than submersible pumps when it comes to grey water or larger volumes of water, making submersible sump pumps more desirable for rural homes and dam owners. 

Ultimately the choice between submersible and pedestal pumps depends on individual preferences, budget, and specific property requirements. 

Do I Need a Backup Sump Pump?

Having a single primary sump pump is often enough to effectively manage water levels on your property, however as with all mechanical devices, they can also fail for reasons such as installation errors, power outages and general wear and tear. 

Owning a backup pump is a wise choice to protect homes, particularly in areas prone to heavy rains, power disruptions or larger rural properties wanting to control water levels of ponds or dams. 

Back-up drainage pumps can be powered by both batteries or water, ensuring full operation when the property’s main power source is unavailable.

A cost-effective and secure alternative for households looking to add an extra degree of security and comfort is a backup pump. You may think buying another pump as a backup doesn’t sound all too cost-effective, but the money spent on potential repairs to your property far exceeds that of a backup sump pump.

Signs That Your Sump Pump Needs to be Replaced

A well-loved sump pump should have a solid service life span of around seven to ten years, though this, of course, all depends on varying factors such as frequency of use, water quality, maintenance regularity and air moisture.


It’s worth keeping an eye out for the following signs, that may indicate your pump needs to be replaced or repaired:

  • Loud Noises: Erratic sounds such as rattling, roaring, and loose-sounding parts are the clearest indication that there is an issue with the pump motor. 
  • Constant Running: If your pump operates continuously, the life span will be drastically reduced and you may require a different size pump for continuous use needs. 
  • Irregular Cycling: Frequent starting and stopping can stress the pump motor and its other components, causing potential issues with the float switch that sits in the sump pit. 
  • Old Age: Typically, pumps older than 10 years may start showing times of general wear and tear. 

Check Valves and Alarms

Check valves are essential for effective drainage because they stop ejected water from returning to the sump pit. Ensure that a check valve is fitted on your water pumps at the location where the discharge pipe exits the pump unit.

If water levels climb too high, alarms may sound, signalling a possible pump failure. These days, alarms can even transmit alerts to your phone, enabling you to respond right away if needed.

Your sump pump system’s automatic float switch is crucial because it turns on the pump when the water level rises. Float switches come in various varieties, such as vertical and tethered models:

  • Vertical Float Switch: This switch rises and falls with the water level, activating the pump when needed. It is suitable for smaller sump pits.
  • Tethered Float Switch: Tethered switches are attached to a cord and offer more flexibility in terms of pump placement.

Be sure to clean the sump pit frequently or use a pump defender to keep the pump from becoming blocked and ensure ongoing, smooth performance.

Frequently test your system to have the peace of mind that your sump pump is running properly, be sure to do this particularly if your area is expecting severe weather. 

Keep an eye on backup systems. Check that your secondary drainage pump and power supply are working properly to assist in the event that the primary pump fails.

Last Words

Whether you’re a homeowner concerned with preventing water damage to your property, or a hobbyist farmer wanting to control water levels and quality, a submersible or pedestal sump pump should be on top of the inventory list for your garage. 

Be sure to take time to choose the system that best suits your needs and budget and remember that maintaining your pump in optimal working order requires regular maintenance and a dependable backup plan. While sump pumps are not a set-and-forget tool, they certainly do offer a sense of security and peace of mind.