The Sump Pump Diagram; A Birds Eye View
I like to think of the sump pump diagram as an all-encompassing piece on how everything fits into place when it comes to installing a sump pump. There is a ton of information regarding sump pump maintenance, how to replace a sump pump and the like. I’ve written quite a bit about it right here on theplumbinginfo.com. However, none have attempted to answer it all. Hopefully, after you read the final word of this piece you’ll have no more questions regarding sump pump design, sump pump service or any other sump pump related questions.
Lets Tackle the Most Basic of Questions: What Does a Sump Pump Do?
The simple answer is that a sump pump is built to move unwanted water from one spot to another. Most times the water is being moved to a place where the water will drain either by gravity to a sewer designed to handle storm/ground water or some place designed to handle rainwater/ground water retention like a retention pond or swale. In the plumbing world we use sump pumps and ejector pumps to dewater flooded basements or pits or open excavations all the time.
In quite a few areas around the US, basements are a common feature in single-family homes; in
fact they are pretty popular as a way to expand the living space in a house. Basements are built below ground under the home. In areas with a high water table such as the Midwest or Northeast ground water can be a basements worst enemy. Think back to when you were a child and you played with boats in the bathtub. If you tried to push a boat underwater it was difficult, the hydraulic pressure would always push the boat up unless you were trying to react a scene from Titanic. Essentially your foundation is a big concrete boat, as the water table rises the hydrostatic pressure increases, pushing your basement “boat” out of the ground. Will a high water table actually push a foundation out of the ground? I guess it’s possible but what is probable is that the water will find it’s way into the basement to relieve the pressure. Water will exploit any crack, seam or penetration you have in your basement. I’ve even seen basement floors crack pretty significantly due to extreme hydrostatic pressure.
What is a sump pump used for? It is used to evacuate ground water from underneath and around your basement foundation so it doesn’t turn into a swimming pool or a mold filled science lab.
Over the years I’ve seen many different sump pump installations. My home is at a high point on the block and has a foundation that sits about 2ft above grade with windows. The water table never gets quite high enough to get extreme
flooding. The past owner was obviously mildly concerned with flooding so they dug a sump hole or sump pit at the lowest point of the foundation, installed a corrugated plastic pit and pump and called it a day. The sump pit fills with ground water that weeps into the pit through the holes. It works fine in my house but it isn’t the typical sump pump installation. Most properly designed and installed sump pump systems have three components that work together to protect your basement from flooding.
Drain Tile – most drain tile installed these days is plastic and it comes in large
perforated corrugated rolls or you can also get it in lengths of rigid perforated SDR 26 plastic pipe. Both forms of piping should be installed within a sock or sleeve to filter out solids that can get caught and accumulate in the piping. Rigid piping is more expensive but more durable and it is able to be rodded or hydro-jetted in case of a blockage. A heavy-duty rodding machine will tear up corrugated flexible piping.
Sump Pit – After excavating the sump hole, a properly sized sump pit should be installed to connect the drain tile and collect the ground water. The pit should be deep enough so the pump can remove the water well below the bottom of the basement floor and large enough in diameter to accommodate two pumps in case a battery backup is wanted or needed. Check your local plumbing codes. Most have provisions that specify the depth and diameter.
Sump Pump – We will go into further depth with regard to sizing and installation but a properly sized and installed sump pump is the heart and soul of any functioning ground water removal system. If your pump isn’t sized correctly or worse isn’t’ functioning at all the water table will rise and you will flood.
Can You Help Me With a Sump Pump Install?
The answer is yes, of course. But first we have to define the question. Do you want to replace a sump pump or is this a brand new basement sub pump?
New Sump Pump Installation – If you want to install a sump pump system in a home for the first time you have to make some decisions as to how elaborate you want the install to be. Most ground water removal systems are partially installed while the home is being built. After the basement concrete forms are removed the foundation is still excavated around the perimeter of the home. This is a great time to install drain tile. The drain tile is placed close to the bottom of the foundation. Once you know the location of the sump pit you can chip out the floor on the inside and punch your drain tile piping under the foundation so that they can be connected to the pit.
The pit can now be installed. Holes will be cut out of the plastic pit at the locations where the drain tile discharges. The foundation can now be backfilled.
**Special Note – You have to at the very least pay attention while backfilling the foundation, especially if you’re using corrugated plastic piping. Heavy debris can crush or damage the pipe compromising the functionality of your system.
After the sump pit is installed it is a very good idea to use hydraulic cement to seal around the pit. This ensures a watertight seal. I’ve seen several basements in the process of flooding that have streams shooting from around a pit that wasn’t properly installed.
***A pretty sweet visual installation guide can be found by clicking the picture below. Thanks to our friends at London Drainage Services for your hard work putting that piece together.
**Please note, one of our expert readers pointed out that in Step 8 it states “plug the pump into a nearby GFCI protected receptacle”. He states and rightfully so that if the GFI ever trips for any reason your sump pump is useless. He further added that he has been an expert witness in several flood cases and the homeowner won every time. I did a little research and there are a few major pump manufacturers that still recommend a GFI box be used but several that don’t mention it at all. Please be aware of the problems that can occur if you are plugging your sump pump into a GFI receptacle.
Installing a Sump Pump and Drain Tile In An Existing Home – I have been in many homes that have a basement but neither a sump pit nor any drain tile. Most have never had a history of flooding but for whatever reason began flooding (we will attempt to answer that question in our Q & A at the end of this article) there are several ways to handle situations like this but only two are real solutions.
1.) Exterior Drain Tile System w/Basement Sump Pump – The installation of this type flood control system is almost identical to how you would install it if the house were new. Except for sizable cost of excavating around the entire perimeter of the home.
Step 1 – Pick a logical location in the basement for the new sump and pit. Things to consider when picking a location for the sump pump:
- Ease of access to service the pit and pump in the basement
- How difficult is it to go under the foundation floor in a certain location?
- Is the basement already finished? In this case finding a spot in an unfinished portion would be best.
Step 2 – Remove any landscaping or structures from around the home.
Step 3 – Lay the drain tile in a bedding of pea gravel and punch drain tile under foundation footings. (Pro Tip – We choose to use pea gravel instead of ¾ stone because pea gravel is self-compacting. If you use ¾ stone you will have to compact it to minimize the risk of settling)
Step 4 – Excavate interior location of sump pit.
Step 5 – Install pit and connect drain tile
Step 6 – Install sump pump and discharge piping.
Step 7 – Backfill exterior excavation with pea gravel over the piping and the rest with excess spoils and perform landscape restoration
2.) Interior Drain Tile System w/ Basement Sump Pump – This option is the most logical when faced with flooding issues when no drain tile or sump pump is present. If the basement is unfinished it’s a very straightforward project.
Step 1 – Pick a location for the sump pump that takes into consideration future plans for the basement. Maybe you can install close to the incoming water service in case you need to drain down the domestic water for any reason.
Step 2 – Sawcut and Excavate: We always sawcut an 18” – 24” trench about 12” away from the basement walls. You have to sawcut far enough away from the wall to get past the footing, which is about 8”.
(Pro Tip – When you sawcut make sure you cross cut the concrete every two feet or so. This makes the pieces of concrete small enough to handle.)
(Caution – If you do plan to sawcut yourself please make sure you rent or buy an electric partner saw. Using a gas powered partner saw can result in extreme sickness or death. Believe me, it happens more often than you think)
You want to dig down about 12”. Just deep enough to install 4” drain tile in a bed of pea gravel covering the pipe
Step 3 – Install drain tile and sump pit in pea gravel and make connections to sump pit.
Step 4 – Backfill trench covering newly installed drain tile with pea gravel and patch concrete.
Step 5 – Install sump pump and discharge piping.
There is a way to minimize the cost of installing a sump pump and drain tile using the second option but it can only be used in certain circumstances. In some instances it is clear that flooding/seepage is coming from one area of the house. This can happen because of how the lot sits on the property, maybe the landscaping literally funnels water to a certain area of the house. Under these circumstances it’s possible to install drain tile in the problem locations and connect that piping to a sump pit in the same area. This can save you quite of bit of the cost in the way of sawcutting, excavation, concrete patching and drain tile installation.
Sump Pump Help! What is the Cost of Installing a Sump Pump?
Obviously people ask me this question all the time and it’s pretty tough to give a straight answer because labor rates fluctuate wildly around the country but I’ll try. I will however put some qualifiers on pricing I’m about to give. To all of my plumbing pals out there, I apologize in advance if you’re getting more for some of this work. I think these are fair numbers. The pricing I will suggest is for work done by a real company with real licensed plumbers. These are companies that do this for a living, to be able to keep lights on, pay rent or a mortgage, feed themselves and other families and actually make a profit. I’m sure some of you have your favorite plumber who does side jobs or works out of the garage. Those guys are great but I can’t and I won’t compare them to
a business that is in business to survive and prosper and give warranty’s etc. So here are some loose pricing guidelines for installing sump pump in basement and installing drain tile systems.
LOW END SUMP PUMP – When I say low end I don’t mean bad. This is a 1/3rd H.P. with plastic housing, with a tethered float and a new rubber check valve. It’s not built to last a lifetime but it can get you by and a professional plumbing contractor will probably give you a year warranty. COST AROUND $400.00 Furnished and installed.
MID-RANGE SUMP PUMP – I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it, depending on the company this price point usually gets you what you need. A 1/3rd H.P. or ½ H.P. sump pump with a cast iron or stainless steel housing (maybe a combination of both), tried and true submersible float and a silent check valve. The contractor will probably throw in a 2 to 3 year parts and labor warranty. Again depending on the contractor this pump my even include an alarm, which will warn you if the pump fails or the power goes out. COST AROUND $650.00 Furnished and installed.
HIGH END SUMP PUMP – This is very subjective because there are options for high-
endpump that are in the 2K range and most of those involve commercial grade pedestal sump pump installation. For this discussion and this price range you’ll probably get a ½ H.P. to 1 H.P. pump that has a heavy-duty cast iron housing, (The cast iron dissipates heat better than other materials), a ceramic shaft, a true solid state electronic switch and controls that have several alarms that can be interfaced with home automation and upgraded if another pump or battery backup is installed. A solid-state electronic switch has no moving parts therefore it last much longer than a traditional mechanical float switch. This option would also come with a silent check valve. COST AROUND $850-$950 Furnished and installed.
NEW EXTERIOR DRAIN TILE W/INTERIOR SUMP PIT AND SUMP PUMP – With the pricing I’m giving you here assume you are getting the best pump available. Of course a plumbing contractor can shave off a few hundred dollars by lowering the quality of the pump however, when you are investing your hard earned dollars to upgrade your home to make sure it doesn’t flood downgrading the pump is probably not the best idea. This option would included excavation around the perimeter of the house (This doesn’t included landscape preservation or restoration), installation of SDR 26 rigid or corrugated piping with filter sock, furnishing and installing new trench backfill, backfill to grade, interior excavation for sump pit, final connection of drain tile to sump pit, furnishing and installing new sump pump and discharge piping, furnishing and installing storm drainage to sewer or run off area up to 20ft away, final patching of interior concrete. COST BETWEEN $15,000 – $25,000 depending on the size and layout of the house.
NEW INTERIOR DRAIN TILE W/INTERIOR SUMP PIT AND SUMP PUMP – As with the above option the pricing includes the best pump and product. Long-term functionality is too important. This option includes sawcutting, removal of all concrete and spoil from the premises, excavation for drain tile and sump pit, furnishing and installing of SDR 26 rigid or corrugated piping with filter sock and sump pit, furnishing and installing new trench backfill for drain tile and sump pit, backfill to bottom of concrete floor, final connection of drain tile to sump pit, furnishing and installing new sump pump and discharge piping, furnishing and installing storm drainage to sewer or run off area up to 20ft away, final patching of interior concrete. COST BETWEEEN $10,000 – $17,000 this again depends on the size of the house and how difficult it is to remove concrete and spoils. We have installed a conveyor belt system in basements utilizing a window well large enough to accommodate concrete and spoils being placed on it and removed. This greatly reduces man hours spent hauling concrete out of the basement in buckets.
Who Makes The Best Basement Sump Pump?
Wow, that is a really good question and you can read about it if you click the link below. There are quite a few great pump manufacturers here in the United States, Blue Angel, Hydromatic, Barnes, Glentronics (Basement Watchdog & PHCC Pro), Wayne, Liberty, Metropolitan Pump, Zoeller Pump, etc. are several that may be familiar to you.
Here are the things that I look at when deciding which sump pump is best.
How does the company support the installer i.e. the plumber or plumbing contractor? By support I mean if I, as a plumber am putting in X sump and ejector pumps and I have an issue with the
pump how is the issue resolved. Does the company send out a repair tech? Does the manufacturer provide me with a new pump and then pay me for my time to reinstall or do they do nothing? I’ll give you an example of a product I won’t use that you may be familiar with; Ridgid Pumps are sold by Home Depot and are manufactured by Wayne Pumps. They have a LIFE TIME warranty. That sounds great right? Here is the catch, if the pump goes out you can take out your old pump, take it in to Home Depot and they will give you a new pump. However, in the mean time your basement is probably flooding. They do not pay for the service professional’s time to reinstall the new pump. Therefore, if a plumber or plumbing contractor decides to furnish and install Ridgid Pumps they will always be responsible for the labor to take out and reinstall.
Does the manufacturer keep me informed on new products and technologies? The basic design of a sump pump hasn’t changed very much in 40 years. Materials have changed somewhat, switches have changed for some but for the most part they are pretty similar. Some companies are much better than others at R&D and push new and more efficient products to market. I’m a big fan of companies that don’t sit on their laurels.
Does the manufacturer build their own pump or are they a broker for pumps with a private label? There are several of the above manufacturers that have factories in other countries but they oversee the process. It’s their factory and their responsibility. There are also manufacturers that find a company in China to build a pump to their specifications. Is there some quality control? Some, but not like there would be if they owned the company. Then there are some manufactures that make most of their product right here in the good ole US and A. Those are few and far between but their products are top notch.
What kind of switch is used to control the pump cycle? As I’ve said before the switch goes bad way before most pumps. I’m a very big fan of some of the new solid-state switches. Because there are no moving parts they are very durable and more closely match the actual durability of the pump itself. If I am installing a pump without an electronic switch it will be a mechanical float style on an arm. I will not buy a pump with a diaphragm switch or one with a tethered float.
(Please note – The reason I don’t like tethered floats especially in colder climates is because colder water stiffens the wire or tether between the pump and float. Sometimes the float doesn’t travel up far enough and therefore doesn’t engage the pump. We use tethered floats in commercial applications but the configuration of the sump pumps and pit are different. The pits and pumps tend to be much deeper allowing the float to move.)
Pumping capacity – This is a published measurable but not all manufactures tell the whole truth
and not all pumps are created equal even if they have the same H.P.
Controls – I’ll admit I’m a sucker for technology but not if it sacrifices functionality. Some of the new controls being offered at certain price points are keeping up with home automation and really gives the customer some piece of mind and flexibility. i.e. connecting your sump pump and battery backup system to the cloud which allows you to monitor your system either while you’re home or away. Some controls also allow you to add a pump to effectively turn your system into a duplex sump pump by alternating between two pumps. This spreads the cycles evenly over the pumps prolonging the life of the system.
OK, OK so who makes the best basement sump pumps? My first choice is Zoeller Pump and my second is Metropolitan Industries. They share some similar qualities but are very different as well. Most of Zoeller’s product is made here in the United States. They are family owned and really, really care about their reputation especially amongst plumbing professionals. They continually try to improve their product and they stand behind it 100%. Metropolitan Industries is a company that started by manufacturing large-scale commercial house pumps and ejector pumps. They are literally on the cutting edge of technology, I call them water-pumping geeks and I love it. They like Zoeller are family owned and back up their products. With regard to residential pumps Metropolitan is a new comer to the market but when they commit to a product or technology they jump in with both feet.
Do You Have a Sump Pump Basement Flooding Questions Answered!
Q: Can You Explain How a Sump Pump Works?
A: I sure can. A sump pump is a submersible pump, which means it has a sealed housing protecting it from the water it’s being submersed in. The pump impeller is turned by the motor and that high speed rotation creates suction which, removes the ground water from your sump pit. The discharge from the pump is connected to piping that is installed to ensure ground water is adequately evacuated from the home. The sump pump purpose is to remove subsurface water away from a basement or foundation.
Q: What can I do About a Frozen Sump Pump?
A: This question has one of two answers depending on the meaning of the question. If your sump pump is locked up and not working then it’s time to replace the pump, especially if there is no sound coming from the pump.
The second part of the answer is quite literal and usually means that the sump pump discharge line is frozen. Since most times sump pumps are installed inside it’s very rare that an actual sump pump is frozen. So how does a sump pump line freeze? Almost 100% of the time it is because of improper installation. A sump pump discharge line is meant to be piped indirectly into line dedicated to receiving ground water. This means the smaller discharge piping is evacuating the water into a larger diameter piping with an air gap between the two. Frozen sump pump lines occur when the discharge piping is hard connected to the sewer line and that line freezes. At this point the pump is pumping against an ice blockage. If the discharge is piped properly and the storm sewer freezes the pumps discharge will just splash outside the house. Is it possible for ice to continue to build up eventually blocking the indirect connection? Sure, anything is possible however it is very unlikely. If your line is frozen you have to cut out the frozen section and replace. You also have to make sure the functionality of the pump hasn’t been compromised. If the pump has been cycling against itself for any length of time the pump could be burned out as well.
Q: What’s the deal with sump pump float switch adjustment?
A: There are quite a few different styles of sump pump float switches on the market, solid state electronic, diaphragm, and float style with guide, tethered float. However, there are only two ways a pump cycle is activated via those switches. The switch can be integral to the pump meaning it is built in to the pump itself or it is what’s called a piggyback switch. A piggyback switch is a switch that the pump plugs into and that switch activates the pump.
A pump that has a switch that is integral to the pump cannot be adjusted to allow for more or less water to enter the sump pit. The only adjustment available for pumps provided with this type of switch is how high or low the pump is installed inside the pit. For example, if the pump was cycling often and the pump was sitting on the bottom of the pit you could remove the pump, place several bricks at the bottom and reinstall the pump. The float would now be higher in the pit allowing the water to reach a higher level before cycling.
You have quite a bit more adjustment options with a piggyback switch, as it is not part of the pump body. Most piggyback switches are attached to the discharge piping with hose clamps or zip ties which allows you to place the float at any height in the pit.
(Pro Tip – The higher the water is inside the pit the more hydrostatic pressure you have pushing against the basement floor or foundation walls. Please consult with a professional plumber regarding float switch heights.)
Q: How can I perform a sump pump float switch repair?
A: If the switch is integral to the pump there is very little you can do other than making sure the float isn’t getting hung up on something in the pit or that there is scale or debris on the float mechanism.
If your pump has a piggyback type switch you can literally go to any home improvement center or local plumbing supply company and buy a new sump pump switch that they have available. Even if the pump came with a float type switch you can change it to a solid-state electronic switch that senses the amount of water in the pit.
Q: I’ve heard if people having outdoor sump pump installation. Why would someone have an outdoor sump pump installed?
A: Here is an example of why someone would have an outdoor sump pump installed. There are homes that have walkout basements that are dug out below the final grade of the lot. So in a sense the patio is a big bowl. I’ve personally been involved with a project where if it rained with any gusto the patio held 3ft of water and the sliding glass door was like an observation window at an aquarium.
The funny thing or not so funny if you own a home with this issue is that most builders don’t adequately plan for this volume of water. They may lay drain tile along the inside edge of the patio and that is obviously tied into the interior sump pit. The only problem with this plan is that when it rains the water doesn’t have time to percolate through the pavers into the drain tile. That water needs a place to go and it can’t get to the sump pit fast enough.
So how do you solve the problem? You create a sort of lift station. You dig a deep pit at grade lower than the patio. That pit would be made of fiberglass or concrete. We would install a set of trench drains about 12” in front of the sliding glass doors and run the drain tile to the pit. The pit and pump would have only function; to remove excess water from the patio. The pump discharge would be piped below the frost line below grade to a storm sewer or storm run off area. Please see drawings below to get an idea of the concept.
The sump pump will need a dedicated electrical outlet that is protected against the elements.
Q: I see advertisements all the time regarding sump pumps and they usually have horse power as a selling feature. Does a sump pumps H.P. make a difference?
A: The answer is yes and no, so let me explain. There is a plumbing term we use “Total Developed Head” or “Total Dynamic Head” In layman’s terms it is a combination of how high your pump has to pump the water to evacuate the pit of water and friction loss inside the run of pipe. If you have a normal 9ft basement that discharges out of your house several feet from the pit and pump a standard 1/3rd H.P. is the proper pump to use. It is possible to oversize the pump. In this case bigger isn’t better especially if the pump is cycling normally.
Now if you have 12ft ceilings in your basement and the discharge runs 40ft before it evacuates your home upsizing the pump is a good idea. A professional plumber will be able to look at the situation measure total dynamic head and properly size the pump. You don’t need to buy a 1/2 or 3/4 H.P. pump just because it has more power, buy a better quality pump that is properly sized.
Q: A plumber friend told me that the pump in a battery back-up system is just a glorified marine sump pump? Is there any truth to that?
A: Standard sump pumps installed in your homes are AC pumps. They are built to run on AC power that is supplied in the home. When the power goes out a battery back-up system kicks in. That battery provides DC current which can’t power your sump pump without a converter (Metropolitan’s Sump Pump Pro). So you need to have a DC pump in the pit along side the AC Sump Pump. Up till now the best pumps produced to remove significant water on a DC current were marine bilge pumps. Most battery back-up systems sold in the US have a slightly modified marine sump pump/bilge pumps to handle the pumping duties in case of a power failure. However the Zoeller Aquanot 508 is a DC pump that was specifically design as a sump pump and it is hand built and tested right here in the U.S.A.
Q: Google Search Topic: Help replacing sump pump
A: Why yes, I can give you some help on replacing a sump pump. In fact I’ll give you a step-by-step guide. This assumes you know for sure your pump is bad.
- Unplug pump
- If you have a rubber sump check valve you need a ratchet or T-handle nut driver to loosen the hose clamps on both sides of the check valve. (You can loosen the side closest to the pump however, I think it’s best to take the valve off and check inside for any debris or wear. In fact most often times I change out the check valve). If you have a union style ball and check valve you just loosen union joint by hand or by large channel
- Pull sump pump from basin
- Use large Channel Locks to unscrew male adapter and discharge piping from sump pump. Throw old sump pump away.
- Tighten pipe assembly back into new sump pump.
- Reinstall check valve on the outlet side of the discharge piping
- Place sump pump back inside pit. If piping is too long, measure length to be trimmed by lining up pump and piping next to outlet discharge piping with check valve. Piping from the sump pump should line up to the back of the inlet side rubber gasket. If pump piping is too short you can prop up the pump with a brick or brink paver however it is always better to have an exact measurement.
- Make sure float or floats are free and clear of the sides of the sump pit or any cords going into the pit.
- Plug in sump pump and ensure proper cycling.
That is how to install a sub pump.
As always thanks for reading. I sincerely hope that if you ever ask yourself “how does a sump pump work?” you know where to look.