Informational Guide

French Drain Vs Sump Pump

by Andrew

Clearing water from a basement after a storm can be a daunting task. Thankfully, nowadays, we have drains to do it for us. A French drain and sump pump will both clear the water from your basement or your garden, but out of the two, which is a better choice? 

Follow this guide for a full breakdown of a French Drain vs. Sump Pump and which will be best suited for you.  

The name doesn’t come from the country. Rather, a man named Henry French, who was showcasing the idea in an 1859 book for farm drainage.  

A French drain is pretty simple; it works passively in that it doesn't have an on/off switch. The water from the grounds surface or water flowing by the house will flow into the drain as it travels downwards and out to a drainage ditch or onto the street. It works the same way the gravel on train tracks is used to absorb and drain water.  

Unclogging Drain

Usually, the trench is dug down into the ground and in a downwards direction, as water will always flow that way. The trench is filled with gravel and contains perforated pipes at the bottom to take the water away to its desired destination. The simple design requires no electrical input and will work all the time.  

 Installation can be easy, but if it’s to be installed in a preexisting house, then work to place the trenches by the right footing can cost a lot. If you’re installing into a basement, the installation of a deep French drain can be pricey to dig deep enough into the floor or remove the footing to install.  

Pros & Cons Of Installing A French Drain 

The Good 
  • No electric input 
  • Simple design 
  • Allows water to flow naturally 
  • Disrupts water before entering  homes/basements 
  • Removes surface water quickly 
The Bad 
  • Can’t pump uphill 
  • Can’t handle flash floods 
  • Preexisting home installation expensive 

What Is Sump Pump And How Do They Work? 

If you live in a newer build or any home with a basement, you probably own a sump pump. These are built into basements or crawl spaces, either completely hidden (Submersible Sump Pumps) or one that sits on a pedestal above floor level (Pedestal Sump Pumps).  

Karl Niedermeyer invented the sump pump in 1946 for the prevention of floods in basements, even if a pipe bursts. It also stops groundwater from flooding your house if there is a storm. It works with a float activator or pressure sensor, where if they are activated,  pushes the excess water out through a drainage pipe. They’re emptied past the foundation of your house. It's able to drain water upwards and doesn’t need to be built on a slope.  

The genius behind a sump pump is that it'll work from any pipe; connect it to multiple access points, and you'll be able to keep water away from different parts of your home. It can also handle much more water than a French drain can, which comes in handy during the stormy season.  

Naturally, due to the force of the water drainage, the noise can be excessive. Down in the basement, you won’t be able to hear it all the time, but during the night, the noise could disturb you. The other downside is that if there's a power outage, the sump pump won't activate without a backup battery, and your basement or home will flood anyway.  

sump pump hole

Pros & Cons Of Using Sump Pumps 

The Good 
  • Diverts water away from your home 
  • Works automatically to drain water 
  • Pumps water upwards 
  • Handles large volumes of water 
  • Can have multiple access points 
The Bad 
  • Noisy 
  • Requires constant electrical input 
  • Collects water before draining 

French Drain vs. Sump Pump: Key Differences Compared 

Both systems of drainage work well, and will keep your basement and home water-free. There are major differences between the two; sump pumps will handle a higher volume of water, but a french drain will work all the time.  

In terms of which is better than the other, this will all depend on your location and the conditions in said location. Below we'll compare different factors to help you make the right decision: 

Weather Conditions 

If you live on the east coast, where hurricanes are commonplace, a sump pump would be ideal. The French drain simply couldn’t handle the volume of water or debris from a tropical storm and would quickly overflow and flood your house. Sump pumps would work during a heavy downpour and torrential rain to clear the excess water. Potentially installing both may be a viable option too, but the costs of this could be exorbitant.  

Installation Location 

Depending on the layout of your house, locating the right place for either can be tricky. With a French drain, you need to install it at the location that collects the most water. So you would install the drains close to the entrance of your basement, or in your yard that faces a downward direction. 

A sump pump can be installed in low flooded areas, but your best bet is to have it in an area that floods the most. It’s best to be installed near a basement wall so that the pipes can reach the outside without re-flooding your basement. With either choice, you want to install close to the primary flooding location.  

high rise sump pump

Maintenance And Energy Consumption 

It’s no secret that a French drain needs no electricity - it will work whether or not it needs to. The downside to it is that if debris (leaves or dirt) clogs it up, it'll quickly stop working. You will also need to ensure the gravel isn't stopping the perforated pipes from collecting water. So in all, maintenance can quickly build up energy and prices. 

The sump pump requires a constant source of power, racking up your energy bills. But it won’t switch on until it needs to and retains any water until it's time to drain. Installing filters can also stop any blockages, which will also need replacing. Maintaining a sump pump requires less work, and they’re useful at removing high volumes of water. 

Effectiveness 

The sump pump will work fast to remove a large amount of water. The French drain works as a trickle-down system and works well with medium amounts of water. To answer which system is more effective, you should consider your own circumstances.  

In a place with minimal amounts of flooding, a French drain is ideal. The water can drain easily and stop any excess water from flowing into basements. A sump pump is better for high-risk flooding areas or higher rainfall - they’ll just be able to handle the volume better.  

Costs 

Building a new drainage system into your home isn’t cheap. For a deep French drain, you can expect prices of $12000 to clear a path for the pipes and trenches for the water to flow. A shallow French drain also could cost up to $3000 to cut the trenches and install pipes below. Maintenance costs are better because you can clear and look after it yourself.  

Sump pumps tend to be cheaper, with the unit and labor costing up to $4500. The installation is more straightforward, as it sits in your basement, with the external pipes flowing out of the basement. Of course, this doesn’t include the running costs, which can rack up quickly. 


Do You Need A Sump Pump With French Drains? 

Both of the systems have their merits that will benefit homeowners in different locations. It’s hard to accurately determine which one is better than the other.  

In some homes, a French drain and sump pump are installed. If you live in high-risk areas where flooding is likely, then sometimes it's just a better solution. The French drain collects the water to the sump pump, which will remove it and keep your basement dry.  

Installing both at the same time won’t be cheap, but if you already have one, perhaps installing the other to help wouldn’t be a bad investment. Combining their merits is an excellent way to ensure your home stays flood-free.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

When should homeowners use a French drain? 

If surface water is becoming an issue in your garden, or you find your basement soggy after rainy periods, it might be time to consider a French drain. Usually, properties that require these solutions will come preinstalled with one.  

Where do French drains end? 

The water will leave the system either onto the street to be drained, or it can also follow into a drainage ditch to be reused or collected. It can also flow into fields or simply into your home's existing drainage system.  

Can French drains work without pipes? 

If your soil absorbs or drains effectively, then you could install a trench and fill it with gravel, thereby eliminating the need to install pipes and drainage systems. If your soil doesn't drain as quickly as you need it to, you'll be better off installing pipes.  

How curved does a French drain need to be? 

Using a 45-degree angle will allow the water to slip into the gravel, and in the downwards position the pipes will do the rest. This will also make sure the ground above will remain stable. 

Do all basements need a sump pump? 

If your basement isn't prone to flooding or you live in a lower-risk area, generally, you won't need a sump pump. However, most new builds nowadays tend to come with a sump pump anyway, to minimize the risk of flooding.  


Conclusion

There is no right or wrong option between a sump pump and French drain - realistically, it's down to your personal needs and which will work best. Sump pumps will work better for higher volumes of floodwater, where a French drain can remove surface water from a large area. Combining the power of both can prove to be very effective in higher volumes of water and will keep you and your homes dry. Stay protected and clear of floodwater.  

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