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What Does a Sump Pump Do?

June 08, 2022


Whether you’re a new homeowner or not, you might not be very familiar with your home’s sump pump. Sump pumps are drainage systems that prevent flooding in homes.

Like any home utility, sump pumps require regular attention and maintenance to run smoothly. But to know when your sump pump needs service, you need to know how it works. In this blog, we’ll discuss:

  • What is a sump pump
  • How do sump pumps work
  • Possible sump pump problems

Once you have a basic understanding of the sump pump in your basement, you can plan how to take care of it and prevent potentially costly water damage to your home.


If you’re experiencing flooding or water backup in your basement, don’t wait to get professional help.

With more than 60 years of experience serving Queens, NY homeowners with reliable plumbing service, Ranshaw’s highly-trained plumbers will get your sump pump fixed right the first time. Call us at (718) 767-0707 or book a convenient service appointment online today!

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What Is a Sump Pump?

What type of sump pump is best for your home?

Maybe you’ve heard of sump pumps before, but you might be wondering, “What do they look like? And where is mine located?” These are good questions! A sump pump is a pump installed in a hole in most basements, and it drains excess water from under the basement.

In most basements, you can find a hole in the corner with a cover on it. This is the sump pump basin. The sump pump basin collects excess water from your home and groundwater from around your foundation via drain pipes. Once the water level in the basin reaches a certain point, the sump pump activates and drains the water out.

There are two types of sump pumps:

Submersible Sump Pumps

Submersible sump pumps are submerged in the sump pump basin's water. Some homeowners prefer them because they are quieter and out of sight, but they’re more difficult for plumbers to service and more expensive to install. Typically, submersible sump pumps last around 5–10 years.

Pedestal Sump Pumps

Pedestal sump pumps sit above the sump basin on columns. While they’re louder and more visible than submersible pumps, they’re accessible to service and can last up to 30 years.

Sump pumps are great for homes that sit below the water table or experience seasonal floodings, such as in areas with high rain or seasonal snowmelt. They can also prevent flooding due to burst pipes, overflowing washing machines, and other water issues in areas with drier climates.

How Do Sump Pumps Work?

A sump pump drains water through a discharge pipe.

Once sump pumps are activated, they drain water by pumping it up and out through a discharge pipe, emptying the water into the ground outside the home.

They are powered by electricity or by water pressure from a municipal water supply. While electric sump pumps are typically less expensive, they won’t work if the power goes out during a storm, which could cause flooding. As a result, some homeowners have a sump pump system composed of an electric primary sump pump with a backup water-pressure sump pump.

Sump pumps turn on when the water in the sump basin reaches a certain height. Activation occurs either via a pressure sensor or an activator arm. Pressure sensors turn the sump pump on based on the water pressure in the sump basin. These are fairly accurate but are difficult to replace if they break.

Activator arms measure water level through a buoyant ball that balances on the water's surface in the sump basin. Your sump pump turns on when the ball reaches a certain height. Activator arms are more accessible to fix than pressure sensors, but they quickly get stuck and malfunction, particularly if your sump basin has debris clogging it.

Possible Sump Pump Problems

Use a sump pump to prevent your home from flooding.

Typically, sump pumps run periodically to drain the sump basin, although they'll run more frequently during storms or seasonal flooding events. If you notice your sump pump is running continuously or won’t turn on, you might need to have it serviced or replaced.

Running Continuously

If your sump pump is running continuously, check to see whether your sump basin is full of water. When it's empty but your sump pump continues to run, you might have a broken pressure sensor or activator arm.

Is your sump pump running, but the water level in your sump basin isn’t draining? There are a few potential problems:

  • Your drain line might be clogged or frozen, which would prevent water drainage
  • Your sump pump might be too small to manage your home’s drainage needs adequately
  • You might have a broken household item leaking water into your sump pump, like a burst pipe or a leaking washing machine
  • Your house might sit on a subterranean spring

Contact a reputable plumbing company if you need help troubleshooting a sump pump issue. At Ranshaw, all our plumbers go through rigorous training so that you have peace of mind that your sump pump repair is in good hands.

Won’t Turn On

When a sump pump doesn't turn on, you should investigate the issue before your sump basin gets too full. An overflow could lead to flooding and water damage. Start by inspecting the circuit breaker to ensure electricity flows to your sump pump properly.

Two reasons could explain why your sump pump is receiving power but not powering on:

  • The pressure sensor is broken, or the activator arm is stuck
  • The sump pump’s impeller that pushes the water out of the pump basin may be clogged

Before water levels get dangerously high, get professional help for a sump pump that won’t power on.


Make Flooding a Problem of the Past With Regular Sump Pump Maintenance By Ranshaw Plumbing and Heating

Contact Ranshaw for an efficient and reliable sump pump installation in Queens, NY.

As a licensed plumbing company, our team will check your sump pump for leakages, broken components, and worn-out parts, so you can keep it running smoothly and prevent costly flooding. We provide homeowners with peace of mind by offering upfront pricing, reliable scheduling, and great plumbing service in Queens, NY.

When you need your home taken care of, choose the company New Yorkers trust—Ranshaw Plumbing and Heating. We have 60+ years of plumbing experience and hundreds of 5-star customer reviews. Schedule service by calling us at (718) 767-0707 today!

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