Basement Sump Pumps

By Todd Fratzel on Basements

Sump Pumps Keep Basements Dry

If you live here in New England you know that sump pumps are a necessity in quite a few homes especially when spring rains come. Currently we’re experiencing some historical flooding in the area and I thought I’d share some thoughts on sump pumps (also a friend’s recent article on sump pumps also reminded me of the issue).

For basements in poorly graded soils, basements below the water table and basements in flood zones, sump pumps can be the difference between a damp basement and a flooded basement when heavy rains come. In order for sump pumps to be effective there are a few things you should consider.

Sump Pump Considerations

Sump pumps need to be selected based on several factors including; how high it must pump the water (elevation from the bottom of sump pit to the highest point of the exit pipe), volume of expected water, and occasionally on the available power source. Most residential sump pumps come in 1/3 and 1/2 horse power (HP) motors with an occasional 1/4 HP motor in rare situations. As with any type of pump there is a wide range of pricing and options from all plastic housings to sturdier metal ones.

What Size Pump Do You Need?

While there is no steadfast rule on sizing a sump pump there are a few rules of thumb that can help you make a good choice.

  • 1/4 HP Pump – Frankly I really don’t see why you’d make this selection but if you have a very small amount of water on a rare occasion then this pump might work out just fine (for the little savings I doubt it’s worth it).
  • 1/3 HP Pump – These pumps are probably in more homes than any other size and they perform well under normal operations. Normal operation would be pumping heights less than 8 feet and an average amount of water. These pumps work best if your basement isn’t far below the water table and you get minimal water.
  • 1/2 HP Pump – These pumps are a workhorse and can handle most any residential application. If you get significant basement water then this is the one for you. In extreme cases you may need multiple sumps and pumps to handle large volumes of water.

It’s important to choose a pump that’s sized appropriately. If you pick a large sized pump when you only have small volumes of water then the pump will cycle on and off constantly reducing the life of the pump and creating quite the racket!

Sump Pump Power

Most sump pumps run off a standard 20 amp GFCI protected circuit. It’s important that you follow the manufacturers recommendations for proper power. It’s also important that you check all local and State regulations pertaining to the electrical code.

Sump Pump Drain Pipe

Most sump pumps are connected to a 1-1/2 inch diameter PVC discharge pipe. Running the pipe isn’t very difficult so we won’t go into how to install PVC pipe in this article. One of the most important parts of a properly connected sump pump is a check valve which prevents water from draining back down the discharge line into the sump when the pump stops. Without the check valve the pump would constantly be turning back on to drain water it already pumped up the pipe!

Have An Extra Pump Handy

Probably one of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to buy an extra sump pump the next time you buy one. Having an extra back-up pump available can be the difference between a flooded basement and a dry one during a severe flooding event. Sump pumps have been known to quit working when you need them most. If you’ve got a replacement handy the change can be made quickly and keep your home from flooding.

If you’re interested in a more detailed example of a house that was retrofitted with a nice sump pump and drain system then check out How To Water Proof A Basement over Homeowner’s Blog. Paul has some great photos and a nice basement drainage system in place now.

Photo Credit: Homeowner’s Blog

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Tool Box Buzz. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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  1. DeeJay says:

    Good article. I would also suggest a backup pump. I installed a sump pump after the “Mother’s Day Flood” we had here in NH a few years ago. The water came up through the bottom of the floor as the water table rose. I installed the pump before re-finishing the basement room. When the water level rose the following spring, I was all set, but with the sump kicking on every couple of minutes I got to thinking about how quickly I would be flooded again if the pump failed or the power went out. So I added a second pump on a battery backup, that installs right next to the primary. They are a few hundred bucks, but it is well worth the peace of mind.

    I should also note that I live on a hill, and I don’t believe there had ever been any water in the basement before that flood, so a sump pump is a good idea for just about anyone before finishing off a basement. Relatively cheap insurance.

  2. JohnE says:

    Todd, I used your site about 6 months ago for information on insulating basement walls. At that time I was starting a remodel project after getting some water in my basement. Back in Dec 2010 we had some very heavy rain and this backed up my foundation drain. The drain was jetted from the daylight end and appeared to be ok. There was an obstruction in the area where the drain passed under some shrubs and I figured that roots had invaded the drain pipe.

    Turns out I was wrong. In the recent week of heavy rain I once again got water in backing up. Good thing is that everything was in plastic or elevated off the floor. Also due to the remodel project things like carpet and furniture were not fully in place. No personal property loss but I did spend 6-8 hours with a 1/4hp sump pump (used to drain my hot tub), a Simer impeller pump and a shop vac. I had two sections of wall that were in the 17-22% moisture range. Drying in progress and is going well.

    The problem has been located…a rock crushed the flimsy piece of PVC pipe. A video inspection of the pipe, approx 120ft, showed that the pipe is generally oval shaped (but not crushed). Also when digging to find the obstruction it was observed that the PCV was not in gravel bed. I want to replace with a more rigid option. I have been told SDR-35 in gravel is the way to go to help insure the new pipe does not collapse. The drain at the foundation looks good in the video.

    My real question is about installing a sump pump. This was the first time in 11 year that I have ever had a water problem. It occurred when we have had the wettest spring in history. Lake Champlain and ground water levels are at all time highs. With a properly flowing foundation drainage system do I really need a sump pump? I have seen all sorts of shapes and sizes in my internet searching. Do you have any recommendations?

    I’m glad this happened before the remodel was finished but it is sure blowing the budget for sure. Thanks for any feedback you offer.


    • Todd says:

      Glad to hear the damage wasn’t all that significant. First off let me say SDR35 is definitely a commercial grade pipe that will hold up to any situation. Perfect choice.

      Here’s the deal, you just had a water event, chances are over the next 25 years you’ll likely have another one, drain pipes get blocked, things change, do yourself a favor and have a backup plan! Now it’s likely you won’t use the pump unless something really changes but at least you’ll have that option.

      One thing to consider when installing the sump pump is whether you have any Radon problems in the area. If so introducing sump pumps can make that situation worse.

      I’d recommend reading my Sump Pump Article for some tips on selecting a pump. Good luck!

      • JohnE says:

        This weekend I took a drive along the lake. A mile down the road from me there are camps and homes that now look like they are in the middle of the lake and only accessible by boat. Suddenly I feel very fortunate to have had only an inch of water in my basement.

        I didn’t really consider any Radon problems. My wife recently say some TV shows and said we should get tested. I have never had a Radon test and as far as I know neither did the previous owners. I do know that the soil in my area is mostly “clay-ish” and the rock is slate, all sedimentary type soils and rock which I have been told are not as prone to Radon. I do not know the composition of the concrete. Now would be the best time to get a test kits. Finding out now that Radon remediation is necessary is better than finding out after everything as been finished. Thanks for the input.

  3. Roger says:

    Forgot about this option. Not for me because I have a well pump.
    But it could be a good option for those with city water.

  4. Frank Wells says:

    Sump pump test tip.

    Here is a tip I got from the contractor that put in my radon mitigation system. Take a length of kite string and tie it to the float arm. Run that string up and out of your sump pit. If you have a sump cover like mine, running a string through the cover makes it easy to test your pump. All you have to do just gently pull up on the string and the pump will turn on if all is good. If you are in for some heavy rain a quick check before hand can save you some pain later.


  5. Julie says:

    Question, We for the second time in six months (this is annually) having to replace our sump pump. The pump runs almost continually and the water has heavy iron in it and sediment that does not help the pumps life span. The basement has been water proofed so I dont know why we have to replace pumps every six months. We also have the lines cleaned once a year as they also become clogged. We use the same plummer to install and since he only makes money on us he offers no suggestions.

    Any thoughts on what we can do to get a pump to last? Thanks.

    Any suggestions?

    • Todd Fratzel says:

      Julie – Sounds like you’ve got a TON of water! Sump pumps are not made to run continuously. I bet your electric bill is sky high too! Have you looked at the exterior of the house to see if there are ways to get the water away from the house? gutters? proper grading of the earth around the house? I’d start there first…try to eliminate any extra water that’s getting into the basement.

      Also, maybe you need a larger sump pump, one that can pump the water level down quicker, so there is less run time before it cycles on again.

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