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Sump Pumps Buying Guide

How to buy the best sump pump, with information on choosing submersible vs pedestal pumps, and tips on using battery backup sump pumps.

You can buy a new sump pump through do-it-yourself retailers, plumbing wholesalers, or waterproofing contractors. The prices range from about $60 to $500 or more, depending on the quality and features.

First decide between a pedestal or submersible pump. A submersible is out of sight and earshot, an important advantage if the basement is used as a primary living area. It’s also much safer if there are children in the house. But pedestal pumps are less expensive and easier to repair.

Because submersible sump pumps sit in water a good deal of the time, they have a life span of from 5 to 15 years. Pedestals, on the other hand, may continue to operate for as long as 25 to 30 years. (Because a pump’s life is closely related to the conditions and frequency of its use, most manufacturers offer limited one-year warranties.)

Switches on sump pumps come in several types, including floats, diaphragms, and mercury switches. It doesn’t really matter which type you choose—but be sure to choose an automatic one. By the precepts of Murphy’s Law, if you put in a pump with a manual control, you most certainly won’t be home to turn it on the next time your basement begins to flood. An automatic switch can protect the pump, too. Most pumps burn out if they run “dry” for too long. An automatic switch prevents this from happening.

A unit’s strength is directly related to its price. Almost without exception, the least expensive models are also the weakest. A sump pump is measured by horsepower, which ranges from 1/6 to 1/2 HP.

But more important is the number of gallons per minute (GPM) or gallons per hour (GPH) a pump will move. This capacity is a factor of both the pump’s efficiency and the “head,” or “lift”—the vertical distance from the bottom of the sump to the highest point of discharge. A pump may advertise “2400 GPH,” but this may be measured at a 1-foot head. At a 5-foot head, that figure might drop to 2100 GPH, and at 10 feet 1800 GPH. Also note whether the pump is strong enough to pass small solids, such as leaves and twigs.

Materials that make up a pump also affect price. Look for parts and housings that won’t corrode—cast-bronze, alloy, stainless-steel, and epoxy-coated cast-iron housings are favorable, but avoid sheet metal. Polypropylene and related plastics are used in all grades of pumps. Pay attention to the power cord’s length, too. Power cords come in 5-, 10-, 15-, 20-, and 25-foot lengths. Extension cords shouldn’t be used with sump pumps.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort developed his expertise more than 30 years ago as Building Editor for both Sunset Books and Home Magazine. He has written more than 30 home improvement books and countless magazine articles. He appeared regularly on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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  1. Can I use a sump pump to get the water out of a built-in swimming pool? It has reverted to a natural state over the last 20 years, also, if that makes a difference. I would estimate right now there are @30,000 gallons. Thanks for whatever guidance you can pass on-

  2. What is the shelf life of a sump pump? Not the “in-use” life – the shelf life…because I want to buy a spare and have it sitting on the shelf ready to go whenever my “in-use” sump pump fails…so how long can/should it sit on the shelf?


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