What Does A Sump Pump Do? What Is It Used for?

This seldom-thought-of tool is one of the most vital components of your home.

Lindsay Frankel
Written byLindsay Frankel
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Lindsay FrankelInsurance Writer
  • 5+ years in auto insurance and personal finance writing

  • Featured in top personal finance publications

Lindsay is a widely published creator of auto insurance content. She also specializes in real estate, banking, credit cards, and other personal finance topics.

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Chris Schafer
Edited byChris Schafer
Chris Schafer
Chris SchaferSenior Editor
  • 15+ years in content creation

  • 7+ years in business and financial services content

Chris is a seasoned writer/editor with past experience across myriad industries, including insurance, SAS, finance, Medicare, logistics, marketing/advertising, and many more.

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Updated December 20, 2022

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Homes with basements in areas that experience heavy rains typically feature a sump pump. When too much water collects in the sump pit under the basement, the sump pump helps divert the water away from the home through a drainage system.[1] This prevents costly water damage for homeowners. 

If you’ve had flooding in your basement, you may need to install a sump pump or maintain or replace your existing one. Here’s what you need to know about the types of sump pumps, their cost, and whether they’re covered under your homeowners insurance

What does a sump pump do?

Your sump pump removes excess water from beneath the foundation of your house to prevent basement flooding. When too much water collects underneath a basement with a sump pump, a float sensor automatically turns on the sump pump. The motor inside then pushes water out of the sump pit through a discharge pipe. Finally, the check valve ensures the water flows out and is deposited away from the home. 

Learn More: Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Plumbing? Consumer Guide

Types of sump pumps

A few different types of sump pumps can be installed under a home. Each has different advantages and drawbacks, and they all require regular maintenance. 

Submersible sump pump

Submersible sump pumps are designed to be installed at the bottom of the sump and can be submerged in water. Submersible sump pumps are thought to be more stable and run quieter than pedestal sump pumps. They can also remove more water and even pump out particles or solids. However, they also typically cost more than a pedestal pump and are more difficult to replace. 

Pedestal sump pump

The motor on a pedestal pump is not supposed to get wet, so it sits on top of the pedestal while the pump sits at the bottom. Since a pedestal sump pump can’t remove solids, a hose accompanies the pump, which is designed to suck up particles from the bottom of the pit to prevent clogging. Pedestal pumps are cheaper and last up to five times longer than submersible pumps, but they’re louder and not as powerful. 

Battery-operated backup

Think of a battery-operated backup sump pump as your safety net. When a storm knocks out the power or your traditional sump pump stops working, the battery-operated backup is there. Your battery-operated backup can also help when your regular sump pump has insufficient capacity to handle severe flooding. 

These pumps run on a 12-volt motor that gets power from a trickle charger. They have their own check valves and feature a discharge pipe that connects to the primary pump’s discharge pipe.[2] 

Water-powered backup

If the primary sump pump fails and the water level in the sump pit rises above the float switch, a water-powered backup sump pump can automatically activate to prevent the basement from flooding. Instead of using battery power, water-powered systems use water pressure to pump water away from the home. They’re reliable and low maintenance, but they pump slower than battery-operated models and they require high water pressure to operate properly.

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Do you need a sump pump?

If you have problems with dampness or flooding in your basement or crawl space — or you live in an area that experiences heavy rain — you’ll probably need a sump pump. The average cost for water damage restoration is $3,319, according to HomeAdvisor.[3] That’s much more money than the cost of an average sump pump installation.[4] But if you don’t have a basement or crawl space, you likely don’t need a sump pump. 

Does homeowners insurance cover sump pumps?

Homeowners insurance policies commonly don’t cover sump pumps. Standard homeowners policies cover water damage from rain or snow getting in through your roof or burst pipes, but not a flooded basement due to sump pump failure. 

However, you can typically add a water backup endorsement or purchase a separate flood insurance policy to cover sump pump failure.[5] If you have a sump pump, be sure to discuss your options with your homeowners insurance provider. 

Learn More: Flood Insurance: Definitions and Other Important Terms

How much does a sump pump cost?

On average, you can expect to pay $1,200 to $1,300 to install a sump pump. The sump pump alone costs between $60 and $400, depending on the type, and installation runs between $45 and $200 per hour. But several individual factors affect the cost of installing a new sump pump. 

Type of sump pump

Pedestal pumps typically range from $60 to $170, while submersible models can cost up to $400. The size and quality of the sump pump you choose will affect how much you pay. And if you install a water-powered or battery-backup sump pump, that’ll be an extra expense, as will a sump pump alarm. 

Type of basement floor

If you’re installing a sump pump for the first time and you don’t yet have a sump basin under your basement, adding one can cost thousands of dollars — especially if your home’s foundation is concrete. The accessibility of the sump pump installation location will also affect your labor costs. 

Geographical location

Contractors and plumbers charge higher hourly rates for their services in some areas than others. Permit fees will also vary depending on where you live. 

Check Out: Flood Zone X: What It Means for Your Flood Risk and Buying Insurance

Sump pump FAQs

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions about sump pumps.

  • What size sump pump do you need?

    The answer depends on the area and depth of your basement, along with other factors. However, a one-third horsepower pump is typically sufficient for most homes. And a one-half horsepower pump isn’t significantly more expensive and can provide peace of mind.[6] Your contractor can help you estimate what size sump pump you need, especially if your home is much larger than a typical single-family structure. 

  • How often should a sump pump run?

    A sump pump should run only when the water level in your sump pit rises high enough to necessitate discharging the water. It shouldn’t run on regular days with no rain. When water builds up under your house, your float switch will be activated, which will turn on your sump pump. If your sump pump runs constantly, you could have a faulty check valve or clog. 

  • How long does a sump pump last?

    That depends how often your sump pump runs. You should maintain your sump pump by cleaning the inlet screen on a regular basis and getting an inspection of your system once per year. Some manufacturers say you should replace your pump every five years, while replacing components like the switch and float every two years. If your pump is old but still in good working order when you test it, consider installing a backup pump. 

  • Why do sump pumps fail?

    Sump pumps can fail for a variety of reasons. Most commonly, they can lose power during an outage. The sump pump motor can also burn out and the pump can become clogged or misaligned. Or, the sump pump float switch might get stuck or tangled.

    Sump pumps can also fail if the sump pit isn’t large enough to accommodate the pump or if there’s too much water for the pump to handle. You might also have a sump pump that was incorrectly installed or that breaks down from improper maintenance.

  • Do you need a backup sump pump?

    Battery-backup sump pumps are designed to kick in when your primary pump fails. A backup sump pump can provide peace of mind, especially for homeowners who frequently travel. If you live in a flood-prone area or you experience frequent power outages where you live, it’s an especially good idea to install a backup pump. Just remember that you’ll need to regularly maintain and inspect your backup sump pump as well.

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Sources

  1. Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Maintain your Sump Pump."
  2. North Dakota State University. "Electric Backup Sump Pumps for Houses."
  3. HomeAdvisor. "How Much Does Water Damage Restoration Cost?."
  4. HomeAdvisor. "How Much Does Sump Pump Installation Cost?."
  5. Experian. "What Is Water Backup Insurance?."
  6. North Dakota State University. "Sump Pump Questions."
Lindsay Frankel
Lindsay FrankelInsurance Writer

Lindsay Frankel is a content writer specializing in personal finance and auto insurance topics. Her work has been featured in publications such as LendingTree, The Balance, Coverage.com, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, and FinanceBuzz.

Chris Schafer
Edited byChris SchaferSenior Editor
Chris Schafer
Chris SchaferSenior Editor
  • 15+ years in content creation

  • 7+ years in business and financial services content

Chris is a seasoned writer/editor with past experience across myriad industries, including insurance, SAS, finance, Medicare, logistics, marketing/advertising, and many more.

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