How Does a Sump Pump Work? Here’s a Simple Overview

By: Diana Rodriguez-Zaba
Updated on: December 1, 2022

If your Chicago home has a basement, it probably has a small appliance sitting in one corner. The unit might be installed in a basin just below floor level, or it could be an upright pedestal model.

Whichever type you have, the equipment is your first line of defense against basement flooding repair. Do you know how your sump pump system works?

When we help homeowners deal with basement flooding, we often find that sump pump failure contributes to the damage. You don’t have to be a master plumber to take care of the equipment. You just need to be familiar with the basics.

A Simple Sump Pump Overview

brand new sump pump
A brand new sump pump for suctioning collected ground water from a basement

Homeowners know it’s downstairs, but our teams are often asked, “What is a sump pump, and how does it work?” After we clean up a flooded basement, we sometimes hear a customer wonder out loud, “Do I need a sump pump?”

We can answer the first question, but the second depends on your home’s construction. If the house has a basement, a sump pump downstairs can save you the expense of water damage and repair.

A residential sump pump is a passive type of appliance. Its only purpose is to drain water from your basement, and it operates with these components:

• Pump Motor – Sizes vary from 1/4 to 1 HP and run on a home’s electrical system.
• Pump Switch – Float rises with basin water levels automatically turning the pump motor on and off.
• Impeller – Small disk spins and pushes water through the system’s discharge line.
• Check Valve – Blocks discharged water from spilling back into basin after pump shuts down.
• Discharge Line – Pipe or open valve directs pumped water outside for drainage.

Figuring out how to keep your basement from flooding depends on determining the best type of sump pump for your home. While different models offer different features, they all operate on the same mechanical principles.

Understanding How a Sump Pump System Works

sump pump system
How a sump pump looks when installed in the basement of a home

We deal with heavy seasonal rains, and our Chicago winters freeze pipes that burst inside the house. Any kind of flooding quickly fills up the basement, but your sump pump’s design enables it to react and minimize water damage with the following mechanical process:

1. Excess water in the basement flows into the sump basin.

2. This raises the float that switches on the pump motor and activates the impeller.

3. The impeller begins to spin directing water into the discharge line.

4. Water can’t flow back into the basement because it’s blocked by the one-way check valve.

5. Once water is pumped out, the float repositions and turns off the system.

As long as you take care of routine sump pump cleaning and maintenance, the system’s mechanical life should last between five and seven years. We recommend inspecting components every six months, but always check the pump after any kind of basement flooding.

Submersibles, Pedestals and Backups

pedestal sump pump
A typical pedestal sump pump / Image via Wiki

Equipment type doesn’t affect how a sump pump works. The best pump for your home depends more on horsepower than size.

Most basements get plenty of protection from 1/3 HP pumps, but discuss your options with a plumbing professional before choosing between:

• Submersible Pump – This unit sits in a basin with motor and pump enclosed in housing.

It’s a good choice because it’s out of the way and operates quietly. However, submersibles are prone to common sump pump problems.

• Pedestal Pump – Above-floor installation makes this model easy to maintain. A pedestal pump usually costs less than a submersible and has a longer mechanical life. serHowever, it isn’t designed to handle large volumes of water.

• Backup Pump – Most backups run on batteries. They take over for the main pump during power failures but need replacing every five years. Water-powered backups are expensive and require extra plumbing connections.

Getting to Know Your Equipment

We hope our overview helps you become better acquainted with your sump pump. It’s easy to overlook the small workhorse downstairs until it stops working, so keep sump pump maintenance on your seasonal to-do list.

If you’re thinking about an upgrade or a first-time installation, talk to a plumbing professional first. He can help you crunch the numbers and figure out the best model for your home. Even if you’re considering the DIY route, it’s always a good idea to get solid advice.

Proudly Serving Chicago and the Suburbs

tech repairing flooded house

If you’ve ever faced basement flooding, you know the little pump plays a big role in minimizing water damage. If you have tips about taking care of sump pumps, we invite you to share through our Comments Section. Also, take a look at sump pump guides for more relevant information.

As an established leader among Chicago flooded basement cleanup companies, we proudly serve the city and suburbs with industry-backed expertise. Whether you need information about your home’s sump pump or emergency water cleanup, call us first here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba.