Sump Pump 101: Backup Sump Pump Buying Guide

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Posted June 1, 2017

Anyone who has experienced basement flooding before knows the consequences of a wet basement. Personal possessions can get destroyed, expensive appliances can get ruined, the home’s foundation can be compromised, mold and mildew can form, and other water-related problems can develop. Learn more in this sump pump buying guide.

If you have experience water in your basement, a sump pump can be extremely beneficial. It is a solution for your basement flooding problems and can mean the difference between chronic water damage and a dry basement. If your basement never floods, you don’t need a sump pump.

How Does a Sump Pump Work?

In simple terms, a sump pump discharges water that has gathered in its sump basin to an outdoor drain. The sump pump is installed in the lowest part of your basement and contains a sensor which activates the pump (similar to the one in your toilet tank) when the water level gets too high.

When the water level rises or water enters the basement, it gets directed to your sump basin (sump crock or sump pit), where the pump discharges the water through a drain line. In order to keep the water from reentering the home, the drain line releases the water at least 10 feet away from the home, displacing it into your drainage system.

The sump or pit in your basement is usually around 18 inches in diameter and contains a float switch that turns the pump on when water enters.

Sump Pump Tips

  • Make sure your sump pump has an alarm sensor that alerts you when the water has reached a certain level.
  • You will also want to consider a battery backup since sump pumps without batteries will be unable to function in the case of a power outage.
  • Test your sump pump every 3 months by pouring a bucket of water into the sump basin to check if the pump is working. If the pump doesn’t automatically switch on when you pour water inside, call a professional as soon as you can.

The two main types of sump pumps are pedestal and submersible.

Pedestal v. Submersible

If and when you decide to install a sump pump for your home, you will have to choose between a pedestal sump pump and a submersible sump pump.


A pedestal sump pump, also known as an upright sump pump, sits on a pedestal, which keeps the device out of any water that may accumulate. There is a connecting hose that extends into the sump reservoir, where it gets pumped up and out of the home. Similar to a submersible pump, there is a float that activates the pump when the water reaches a certain level.

Pedestal pumps are cheaper than submersible ones and are generally easier to maintain since the pump sits above the pit, however, they aren’t as effective against heavy flooding.

PROS: cheaper, easier to repair/maintain, longer-lasting motor

CONS: less effective against heavy flooding, louder operation, higher risk of clogging and overheating, can get in the way


Submersible sump pumps generally work the same as a pedestal sump pump, but instead of being above ground, they are located in the actual sump basin. Since the motor can get submerged, they are water-sealed to prevent any damage. The water helps to keep the motor cool during heavy-use periods.

The motors in submersible units are stronger and better able to deal with torrential flooding. Since the motor is designed to be submerged in water, it is much quieter during operation. Also, the water helps cool the motor down, nearly eliminating any risk of overheating. Being underwater, however, does take its toll. While pedestal-style motors can last around 25-30 years, submersible units only last 5-15 years.

PROS: out of the way, better for severe flooding, less noise, pumps water out faster

CONS: more expensive, higher maintenance and repair costs, shorter-lasting motor

Learn more about the differences between a pedestal and submersible sump pump here.

How Much Does a Sump Pump Cost?

The costs for a sump pump depend on the type of sump pump you wish to install (pedestal or submersible) and whether or not you will be replacing a sump pump system or installing a new one.

If you are looking to hire a professional to install a new sump pump system, you can expect to pay between $2,000 and $6,000 for parts and labor. If your home requires additional drainage, the costs can go up from there. It’s not the equipment that’s expensive, it’s the installation of a basin, pump, and drains that drives the cost up.

Still, when you think of the damages associated with flooded basements, this is a very reasonable price to pay to protect your home and belongings.

Learn more about the sump pump installation process here.

Why 2 (or maybe 3) is Better

If you have acute water damage, sump pumps are great, but what if one isn’t enough? Sometimes extreme weather will overload your single sump pump, requiring the need for a backup. If there is a power outage and you don’t have a battery-powered sump pump, then you’re at the mercy of the storm. Additionally, since your submersible sump pump is located underneath the basement floor, you may not be aware of malfunctioning parts.

We recommend having a backup sump pump in place to account for these potential pitfalls. Unlike your primary pump, which will most likely be connected to your electrical system, the backup sump pump uses a battery to remain on guard 24/7. If your primary pump isn’t working, the secondary pump can operate 12-50 hours before using up all the power in the battery.

If the battery isn’t completely used up, when power restored, a special system will recharge the battery in preparation for the next power outage.

Things to Consider When Purchasing a Sump Pump

Although you will definitely want to consult with an expert to determine the proper pump and size for your home, there are some things to keep in mind when selecting your new sump pump.

  1. Pump Design (pedestal or submersible; manual or automatic)
  2. Horsepower (most are 1/3 HP, but if you are in a high-flood area, you might need 1/2 HP)
  3. Head Pressure (how high your pump can raise the water)
  4. Voltage (residential sump pumps only need the standard 110-volt circuit, but industrial ones may require 220 volts or higher)
  5. Cord Length (you never want to use extension cords as a permanent solution, so make sure your cord can reach a GFCI outlet)
  6. Battery Backup and Alerts (if your sump pump should fail, you should have an alarm system to let you know or a battery-powered backup sump pump to take over)

Reasons Why Your Sump Pump Might Fail:

  1. Power outages, tripped breakers, and blown fuses (invest in a battery backup just in case)
  2. Stuck or damaged float valve
  3. Clogged or frozen discharge pipe
  4. Broken motor or impeller
  5. Water coming in exceeds the power of the pump to get it out (invest in a backup sump pump)

If your primary pumps for any of the above reasons, you’ll be thanking yourself for investing in a 2nd (or 3rd) backup pump.

DIY Sump Pump Maintenance

How to maintain a sump pump

To make sure that your primary sump pump is working, it’s important to periodically ensure the system is working. The safest way to test your pump is to quickly pour a full bucket of water into your sump basin. If the pump turns on and the water flows out of the sump pit, then your pump is working and your good to go. If the sump pump does not turn on, call a professional for repairs.

In addition to periodically checking the functionality of your sump pump by filling the sump pit with water, you will also want to make sure:

  1. The sump pump is receiving power and all connections are tight
  2. Clean dirt and debris from the sump pit and the discharge lines
  3. Clear the discharge lines by periodically pouring clean water into the pit
  4. Test the sump pump float switch by lifting it up to see if it activates the pump

*Call Hiller Plumbing if you would like a professional to conduct sump pump maintenance for you (recommended every year).

In addition to protecting your home from the possibility of flooding, you also want to make sure your electrical system and all your electronics are protected from dangerous surges. Learn more about surge protection here.

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