A sump pump is used to draw storm  water up  from low areas and discharge it into a designated drainage area, well away from the house. The water can be drained directly onto the ground surface, provided the ground level slopes downward, away from the house, or into a French Drain below the surface. The pump is installed in a pit located below floor level in the basement of the home. The pit is generally concrete, but older pits may have earthen walls. The sump pump should never drain into Municipal water lines, as they can cause severe damage if freezing occurs.


As storm water rises, a float switch activates the pump as the pit begins to fill. Regular maintenance is required with sump pumps, especially the floats, as they are the trigger that sets the system into operation. Many homeowners will keep an extra pump or parts on hand, as they are usually less costly to replace than to repair. Once the pump has been activated, the water is drawn up through a pipe (usually plastic), and discharged into a municipal sewer, a storm ditch or a French drain. On a property where the ground slopes away from the house, the storm water can be drained directly onto the ground. Where a high water table exists, a home owner may have an auxiliary pump which is powered by the pressure of the water in the supply plumbing. This type of pump is used in the case of an electrical failure or a malfunction of the electric pump. It can be identified by opening the water  supply    valve   to the   pump.  This type of pump, referred to as an “ejector pump”, is also activated by a float valve.

sump pump
sump pump


A French Drain is a buried gravel pit designed to allow water to accumulate quickly and dissipate slowly by soaking into the soil.


Debris and Blockage: When sump pumps have earthen walls, or when the system begins to deteriorate, debris and soil can enter the  pump  mechanism.  To avoid this, the system should be inspected annually by a professional plumber. When sump pumps are neglected, the cost to repair escalates.

Electrical Failure:   Sump pumps operate on electricity.  If the power supply is interrupted, the sump pit may flood. Unfortunately, most electrical failures occur during stormy weather, which is when the sump pump is most active.

The float mechanism that controls the pump can become tangled with the pump, the walls of the pit, or any foreign objects that may find their way into the pit. Floats are inexpensive, easy to replace and adjust, so a homeowner should always keep a spare on hand.

The piping for the pump can crimp or leak, connections can be weakened, and in severe conditions, the discharge may be completely obstructed by a crimped pipe. It is often difficult to locate an obstruction within the discharge pipe. During the winter months, the water in the discharge pipe can freeze if it does not have a good slope or is not well  buried.

Upright Sump Pumps

The upright model consists of a motor mounted on a pedestal. The base of the pedestal rests on the bottom of the sump pit. The motor, at the top of the pedestal should never be in contact with the water. This is the most common and inexpensive type of sump pump.   Average cost: $130.00, 1/3 hp.

Submersible Sump Pumps

The submersible sump pump is more expensive than the upright, but cannot be damaged by flooding and requires little maintenance. It can be run for a longer period of time without damage to the motor.  Average cost: $170.00, 1/4  hp.


Technology has introduced new polyethylene sump pump wells. They are fitted into a hole in the basement floor and are connected to pipes below. They are sealed at the top to protect the sump pump motor. They resemble a large plastic garbage can, and have an average capacity of 19 gallons, and cost about $50.00. There is also electronic recharging battery-operated backup sump pump systems. These eliminate the risk of flooding by turning on automatically in the event of a power failure.  They cost about $289.00 and can be easily installed by the homeowner. Regardless of the type of sump pump a homeowner chooses, it should have the Underwriters’ Laboratory label and the Sump Pump Manufacturer’s Association certification. This ensures that the pump is electrically safe and will handle the load of flooding water.