Sump Pump vs French Drains – Which is Better?

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    Sump Pumps and French Drains are two of the most popular and effective home drainage methods. Both sump pumps and french drains offer different advantages and disadvantages.

    While both draining options are effective at keeping water out of the basement it is important to consider all your options so you don’t end up with a basement flood.

    In this article our team will walk you through choosing between a sump pump and french drain – as well as if your home needs both drainage options!

    Sump Pump Advantages vs French Drains

    Sump pumps offer a few key advantages over french drains. The biggest and most obvious advantage is the amount of water they can pump and drain.

    Zoeller M53

    Pumps like the Zoeller M53 Mighty Mate can drain up to 43 gallons of water per hour at a 5′ head height – something that french drains can’t compete with! Read our full M53 review.

    Activates When Needed

    Another major advantage that sump pumps offer over french drains is active draining. French drains are passive, which means there is nothing to ‘turn on’ during a heavy storm or flood. Sump pumps on the other hand activate as soon as the float starts to rise. This means that as long as the pump can drain more water than can enter the pit the basement will not flood.

    Additionally, french drains are good for draining small to medium amounts of water over time, but do not handle large influxes of water during flash fooding. A basement sump pump on the other hand can easily handle large influxes of water into the basement.

    By activating the pump on an ‘as needed’ basis when the water level starts to rise you can gain massive pumping power in the blink of fan eye.

    Pumping Uphill

    A third major benefit sump pumps offer is the ability to pump water up hill. French drains work well when gravity is in their favor and the water is flowing downhill but they are unable to remove water from a flooding basement.


    The final potential advantage is the install time and costs. Installing a sump pump can be done in a few hours by a professional or someone handy with tools and a shovel. If you live in a major city you can also likely hire a local plumber to do the job for you.

    Sump Pump Disadvantages vs French Drains

    In some situations sump pumps are not as good as French drains

    Passive Draining

    Unlike basement sump pump french drains offer passive draining instead of an on and off pump.

    These drain lines lay in the ground with a minor slope to use gravity to your advantage and drain water away from the basement.

    There is no motor or float switch to activate, water simply collects and drains naturally over time.

    Route Water Away From Home

    A well designed system of french drains can route water away from your basement keeping water from draining into your basement. By positioning a series of drains the empty into city drainage or a more ideal part of your property you can collect water as it falls and drain it away from your home.

    No Electrical Connection

    Sump pumps (except for water powered sump pumps like the Zoeller 503) need electricity to run. That means they will not work if the power goes out in a large storm.

    French drains on the other hand are powered by gravity so as long as the drains remain unclogged water can always flow.

    No Mechanical Parts

    French drains do not contain and mechanical or moving peices. This makes them less likely to break or have problem than a sump pump.

    Pump pump rely on many moving parts as well as a powerful pump that can easily break if a pebble gets past the filter, or just wear out over time!

    No Noise

    One of the biggest advantages that attracts homeowners to French strains over sometimes is that they do not make any noise. A sump pump can be loud especially if you get a powerful pump.

    This can be an even bigger problem if the sump pump is directly under a bedroom and you have a thin floor. Sump pump basins covers can prevent some noise from keeping you awake all night. French drains on the other hand make no noise which makes them a good choice for sensitive sleepers.

    A well designed set of french drains can also help keep the noise down by allowing you to use a less powerful pump since less water is entering your basin.

    How to Pick between a Sump Pump and French Drain

    Next we will help you pick between a sump pump and french drains. Each drainage option has pros and cons so it is important to consider both options before starting to dig. Neither option is better or worse but both systems have advantages.

    Sump pumps tend to be better when you need high pumping capacity on demand. They do come with a higher upfront and ongoing cost but are one of the most effective solutions to keep your basement from flooding.

    Homeowners should consider French drains if they have a large area of land, little access to power or need to decrease the total gallons of water per hour needed to be pumped out.

    Which is Better?

    One of the most common questions homeowners ask us is which is better: a sump pump or French drains. Both options offer the ability to drain water and have their advantages and disadvantages – if you still can’t pick we recommend installing a sump pump. They offer more draining power and are more flexible.

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