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What Goes Into a Better Sump Pump?

If you’ve read any articles on theplumbinginfo.com you are bound to come across several regarding the sump pump. Most are about choosing the right one for you or about helping you choose which is right for you. After reading the articles written here and around the web I’ve noticed that no one has ever really broken the sump pump down and explained why some sump pumps are better than others.Here is my shot at complete sump pump stardom. For the sake of this article we will be addressing the submersible pump as opposed to the pedestal pump. A submersible sump pump is pump that is entirely submerged in water. There are no parts of the pump housing that are outside the liquid they are made to control. A pedestal pump is different in that the impeller and discharge line are submerged but the pump motor resides out side of the sump pit.Pedestal pumps are advantageous because in the event of a pump failure you can usually replace the pump and switch without pulling the entire pump out of the pit. However, pedestal pumps are significantly more expensive than submersible pumps. So much so that it will throw them right out of the typical homeowners budget.

Here is a typical breakdown of the most important parts of a sump pump:

Pump Housing

The pump housing is what “houses” the pump guts. Zoeller pumps are green as are Hydromatic sump pumps, PHCC Pumps are blue and Metropolitan’s Ion Storm Pro is black. Different pump manufacturers try to make their pump stand out to some degree. There is one thing consistent among pump manufacturers; the cheapest pumps are made from plastic, mid-range pumps to high end pumps are made from cast iron and high end pumps are made from stainless steel. There are quite a few manufacturers that are combining a stainless steel jacket with cast iron on their midrange pumps and for the most part they are fine pumps.

Zoeller M35

The Zoeller M53 – One of the most recognized in the world

Obviously a Zoeller sump pump made from cast iron will be more expensive than one made from plastic because of material costs. However, pumps made with cast iron run cooler during continual use so their shape won’t distort warping seals are interfering with sump pump switches. Stainless steel pumps are the most expensive because of their anti corrosive properties and their ability to dissipate heat. Don’t be fooled by a largely plastic pump with a stainless steel jacket. Just lift the pump up, cast iron pumps are heavy!

Motor Construction

I am over simplifying this a bit but motors are built with two types of windings, aluminum and copper. Copper windings are much better than aluminum windings at conducting electricity and copper is more expensive as well. Here is a bit of information not many companies will tell you about, check the amp draw on the pump you are buying. The lower the amp draw the more copper windings there are in the pump making it more energy efficient and cheaper to operate. Knowing the shaft material is good thing as well. The really nice pumps are made with a composite ceramic material.

Impeller Type

There are two type of impellers used in submersible pumps open impeller or open vane impeller and a recessed impeller. A recessed impeller is a much more efficient design for sump pump installation. The only draw back is that a recessed impeller cannot pass large solids because the solids never come in contact with the impeller. Therefore the impeller doesn’t grind any solids.

Recessed Impeller

A Recessed Impeller never comes in contact with solids

The Switch

You didn’t think we would go through a sump pump article without mentioning the switch right? The switch is probably the most important part of a sump pump or sump pump battery backup with regards to pump reliability. Switches are rated by the amount of cycles they can perform. If you don’t know it I’ll tell you now, the switch fails far sooner than the pump so the more reliable the switch the longer the pump will work. Most normal pumps are rated at anywhere between 75,000 and 300,000 cycles. There are three types switches and their descriptions are as follows:

  • 1Float Switch or Vertical Switch – This is the type of mechanical switch you’ll find in the majority of sump pumps across the country. A float is attached to a small metal rod. When the water levels rises to the level of the float the float pushes upward engaging the pump.
  • 2Diaphragm Switch – The much maligned diaphragm switch works a bit differently but it is still a mechanical switch in that it uses moving parts in order for the pump to engage. As the water level rises inside the sump pit pressure increases which pushes on the bladder depressing the switch. Hydromatic had a massive problem with diaphragm switches many moons ago. I’ll be honest I have nightmares about the issues I’ve had with diaphragm switches so much so that I wouldn’t buy a pump that had one no matter how reliable they say they are.
  • 3Digital Level Control Switch – There are several companies with different ideas on how these should work but the best one out right now is the Ion Digital Level Control by Metropolitan Industries. It comes standard on the Ion Storm Pro pumps and battery backups. It has no moving parts so there is no physical wear on the switch; it is rated at over 2 million cycles. That is a million more cycles than it’s nearest competitor and I know there are pumps with this switch running right now at over 2.3 million cycles. There was no planned obsolesces when Metropolitan built this pump. The level control works by sensing the water level in the pit and it can work in ejector pits as well because solids do not affect its ability to sense the water level even if the control is covered by a paper towel or bathroom tissue.

Ion Digital Level Control

Fully Digital, No moving Parts.

Can A Small Sump Pump Do The Job?

That is an interesting question and has a couple different answers. The physical size of the pump really doesn’t matter, A small sump pump like the one used in a battery backup is small but can move a ton of water. If you’re talking about H.P. (horse power) that is on a case by case basis. There really aren’t many sump pumps less than a 1/3 h.p. Yes, you can find less powerful ones but they are just slightly less. So for the sake of this article 1/3 h.p. is as small as I would use.

Pumps are made to pump. If you took the switch off and just let the pump run some of these pumps will last years pumping continuously. So if you’re looking at a small sump pump ask yourself, how far am I pumping this water? Is the discharge coming out of the sump pit going up 7ft making a 90-degree turn and exiting the house with a 1ft run of pipe? If so a 1/3rd horse sump pump will do the job well 95% of the time.

If you’re one of those people that has a tremendous amount of water filling the pit day and night, raining or dry as a bone then you may have to do some math to figure out approximately how much water is coming in and size the pump accordingly. The reason I point this out is I see many people say “I bought a new sump and bought the biggest best one they had” which is usually a 3/4 h.p. I take a peek and find out that they have an 8ft rise and a 2ft run out of the house and a 1/4 h.p. would have been fine. Oversizing the pump isn’t the right way to go.

So not all sump pumps are created equal. Chances are that if they cost more they are actually better built with useful features that can save you the homeowner quite a few headaches in the future.

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