Sump Pump vs French Drain: What’s The Difference

In your life, you have probably heard someone mention sump pumps and French drains. After all, they are two of the most popular drainage methods. Both have similarities, but they do have a few key differences. These key differences are of great importance when you are choosing a drainage system for your home. In order to make the right choice between sump pump vs french drain, it’s important that you fully understand what both are, what they do, and how they are different from each other. So, let’s keep your basement dry and flood-free by learning more about the sump pump vs French drain.

What is French Drain?


A French drain is a drainage system that consists of a ditch created under a slope and is usually filled with gravel or rocks. It was invented to stop water pooling and keep excess water out. 

A French drain is more of a passive drainage system since it doesn’t need electricity to function and you don’t need to “turn it on”. It’s a drainage system that, once installed, works all of the time. No matter what season or what the weather is like. 

What is Sump Pump


sump pump is a device installed in a sump pit, most commonly located in the basement, and it’s used to prevent flooding. Most of the time, the pump will be on standby. However, when it starts raining or snowing heavily, the ground around your house starts to become oversaturated. 

The excess water will go towards the sump pit and will start filling up with water. The sump pump has a detector that will register this, switch on and pump out the water. The water is usually removed to a storm drain or dry well, preventing your basement from flooding.

Sump pump vs French Drain: Main Difference 


Even though they serve an identical cause: preventing flooding and pooling of water; these two drainage methods are quite different. Even though indoor French drains exist, you will most likely come across outdoor French drains. Therefore, one of the differences is that a sump pump will be in your house (sump pit), while the French drain operates outside.

French drains are a passive drainage system since they don’t require you to press a button or anything similar to that. It just exists and works, no matter if there is electricity or not. Some find this a disadvantage, while others find it a disadvantage that sump pumps only function with electricity or some kind of battery. A French drain takes a bit of time to get all the excess water out, due to the fact that it relies on gravity. However, if the electricity goes out – the sump pump won’t be able to help you. This is why some people have both systems in place – because you never know what might happen during heavy rainfall. There are some water-powered sump pumps, but they tend to be a bit more expensive and not as practical (yet).

A sump pump can be noisy, whereas a French drain makes no noise. If you have a thin floor and the sump pump is underneath your bedroom, chances are that you won’t get a good night of sleep if the sump pump is powerfully pumping away the water. A sump pump basin cover can help with the noise a bit. But if you are a light sleeper, you might want to reconsider getting a sump pump. However, a sump pump is a quicker solution. [1]

A French drain doesn’t have any mechanical parts or moving pieces, making it less prone to breakdown or wearing down. Of course, a problem can occur with your French drain, but it’s less likely to deteriorate. Sump pumps have lots of mechanical parts and moving pieces, and they will break down over time or due to debris getting past the filter, resulting in a damaged sump pump.

Which is Better: Sump Pump vs French Drain


Some say that the sump pump is better, some say that the French drain is better. It all depends on what your “drainage needs” and preferences are. For example, some people like the fact that a sump pump is an active drainage system, whereas french drains are a passive system. However, both have their pros and cons.

Another thing to note here is that sump pumps tend to extract more water than French drains. If you live in an area that experiences flash flooding, you might not want to solely rely on a French drain. 

A downside with French drains is that they rely on gravity, while the sump pump can pump uphill. Sump pumps are also much easier to install. It will usually take a few hours to install a sump pump and get it going. While with a French drain, although you can DIY it, you will most likely need to hire someone.

Installing a French drain might get you in some trouble if you don’t call before you dig. You need to make sure that it would be okay with the local authorities or close neighbors since there have been lawsuits and legal disputes caused by installing French drains without consultation. A French drain also draws the water away from your home and/or somewhere where you can collect this water, which can be a plus side for some. French drains are often preferred for large terrains. [2]

The Verdict

If you want to keep your basement water-free and the foundation of your house free of mold, you definitely need a drainage system. (Or maybe even both drainage systems.)

If you live in an area that often experiences flash floods and you need quick solutions for it, a sump pump might be more ideal for you. However, if you live on a large area of land, you might want to look into a French drain.

Both have their upsides and downsides, but in the end, all that’s important is that you keep your home safe, healthy, and flood-free!