Don’t Sing the Sump Pump Blues

If you have a house with a basement or crawl space, you likely have a sump pump. From time to time, these pumps need to be replaced. Knowing what type of pump works best for your situation will keep failures, flooded basements and other hazards to a minimum.

There are two main types of sump pumps: pedestal and submersible. A pedestal type pump has the motor attached to the top of a shaft. The motor is not designed to be under water. A pedestal pump works well in small diameter basins.

Submersible pumps are designed to sit in the base of the sump basin, below water level. These pumps are more adapted to larger sump basins and are typically quieter than pedestal pumps.

Sump pumps usually come with an automatic on/off switch. A float switch is the most common. As the float rises with rising water levels in the basin, the pump is started after the water rises to a certain level.  There are also switches that can be purchased separately, that allows you to set the point at which the pump kicks on and off.

To determine the size of pump needed, you must know three things:  how much water will need to be pumped, how high the water will need to be pumped, and the length and size of pipe.

Don’t assume that having a large horsepower pump will be the best choice.  A large horsepower pump in a small diameter basin will cause the pump to frequently cycle, shortening pump life. At the same time, you need a pump that will keep up with maximum drainage. Pump capacity charts are available from professional installers and pump manufacturers; the information can also be found on the web.

To maintain a sump pump, periodically check the system. Make sure the float is free of obstructions. Observe the outlet to make sure water is actually being pumped. Listen for unusual noises when the pump is running. If the pump runs just a few months of the year, fill the basin with water and make sure the system is operating before its normal operation time begins.

If a properly-sized, quality pump is used, it should last three or more years, with 10 years being reasonable, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Development. When purchasing a pump, look for one that is built and tested according to Sump and Sewage Pump Manufacturers Association (SSPMA) specifications

For more detailed information on properly sizing a sump pump, get the U of I Extension fact sheet “Sizing Up a Sump Pump” at    Information on sump pump installation can be found at the SSPMA website,

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About the author

Duane is an Educator with University of Illinois Extension in the Calhoun/Cass/Greene/Morgan/Scott unit.

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