Sump Pump vs French Drain – Which is Better?

What You Need to Know About French Drain VS Sump Pump

There is a significant difference between a sump pump and a French drain. They have different mechanisms for preventing water from soaking your premises. So if you choose between these two, you should first identify the details about these two options.

Sump Pump vs French Drain

Sump Pumps

Sump pumps are electrically powered and run on a motor to remove the water from undesired places. It will then transfer the water through a pipe to a remote location where it can be discharged. As you hire a contractor to install a sump pump, he will follow the following procedure.

  • Lay drainage pipes around the house if possible.
  • Detect the spot that collects the most water in the house.
  • If it is suitable, holes around the base of the sump pump.
  • Test the float valve of the sump pump.
  • Construct a hole for the sump pump liner.
  • Prevent clogging of silt and debris by installing an interior filter.
  • Set the sump pump inside the liner and connect it to the drainage pipes.
  • Fill the hole with gravel and add a layer of concrete to cover the gravel.

You can protect your basement from flooding using a sump pump installed as given above. Make sure to extend the exterior discharge pipes so that the removed water does not re-flood your house. Since this may not remove all the water up to the last drop, it is better to use additional waterproofing solutions. This is applicable especially for crawl space water removal.

French Drains

You need a contractor specialized in the field to install a French drain as well. The procedure followed for this installation is given here.

  • Excavate the basement and leave a clearance of at least one foot.
  • Drill holes in the walls to allow the water and moisture to drain out.
  • Install a slotted drainage pipe and cover it with gravel.
  • Cover the perimeter of the basement with cement.
  • Connect the installed drainage pipes to a sump pump to move the water out to a desirable location.

The French drain effectively removes water from your basement as it drains water from every corner. It is a highly reliable mechanism and protects your property. However, French drains are not always as powerful as the sump pumps and have separate issues with interior French drain pros and cons. So let’s learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of a sump pump VS French drain.

Advantages of Sump Pump Over French Drains

The sump pump has some important advantages when compared with a French drain. The most straightforward difference is that certain powerful sump pumps can drain up to 43 gallons of water per hour at a head height of 5 feet. French drains cannot beat the ability of a sump pump.

Activate Draining

This is another key advantage of sump pumps. It involves active draining, which means that the device actively engages in draining water from the basement. Once the pump is turned on, it will remove the water from the basement and make sure that it is not flooded. You can activate the pump as needed to remove any load of water within a few minutes. However, a French drain cannot drain the water as such. It will simply allow the water to pass through it and discharge over time. Hence, it is a passive draining mechanism.

Uphill Pumping

Sump pumps can pump the water uphill, unlike French drains, which use gravity to drain water downhill. So, French drains cannot remove water from a flooding basement compared to motor-driven pumps.


If you hire a professional installer with the necessary tools and equipment, the installation process of a sump pump takes only a few hours. You can even find a local plumber to do the installation if you live in a city.

Characteristics of French Drain

Now let’s identify the main characteristics of a French drain that make it less desirable than a sump pump.

Passive Draining

The French drain collects the water and drains it away from the house naturally with time. It needs at least a minor slope to use the advantage of gravity in discharging water. Since some homeowners install flat drains, it will be less effective and not drain the water as needed.

Direct Water Away

A properly designed drainage system will keep water away from your basement by draining it as expected. It is a less costly installation with minimal maintenance, unlike electrical appliances.

Electrical Connection

Sump pumps should always have an electrical connection to drain out the water. But if the power goes out in extreme weather, a French drain will still do the task by directing water away as long as it remains unclogged.

Mechanical Parts

French drains are less likely to break and cause issues since there are no mechanical or moving parts. But sump pumps could break easily if not inspected and maintained properly.

Noise Generation

The fact that French strains do not make any noise is a major reason that people prefer them. Sump pumps can be very loud and disturbing, especially when they are installed in closed spaces. It will be very inconvenient if you have a sump pump running in the basement directly under your bedroom.

How to Choose Between a Sump Pump and a French Drain?

Now you are aware of the pros and cons of both sump pumps and French drains. Considering these two options overall, neither of them is bad as they have their own advantages. Sump pumps are a better choice if you need to pump out a lot of water in increasing demand. It will drain out the water quickly but may leave behind some moisture that you have to dry up.

If you have a large area from which you need to remove water systematically, then a French drain is the ideal solution. It is also the best solution for areas beyond the reach of electricity. The low maintenance and continuous usability are added benefits. Despite the variation in cost to install a sump pump and French drain, you can pick the best solution for your situation.

It is Worth It to Use a Sump Pump for French Drain?

Yes, doubling up the two options will be a good idea. It will be more effective as the French drain collects the water and directs it to the sump pump, which will transmit to some distant location for discharging. It will make the draining quicker than any one of the two options along would do. This ensures that your basement stays dry and reduces the impact of water damage to the foundation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does It Cost to Put in French Drain?

The average cost of installation of a French drain will be around $5,000 and $13,500. Interior French drains are more costly than exterior drains as they require more labor. In French indoor drains, the basement needs to be excavated through the concrete floor, which is not an easy task. Since they can last between 30 to 40 years, French drains are considered as cost-effective solutions. You can even cover exterior French drains with plants and decorative pebbles to make them more aesthetically appealing. Depending on the location, you may have to dig it up and reinstall it every 8 – 10 years.

Will a French Drain Keep My Basement Dry?

A French drain will prevent flooding and water damage to your basement. However, it will not drain all the water completely. For this, you need to use additional waterproofing mechanisms to absorb the remaining moisture and dry the basement. If not, it will cause dampness and mold formation.

Do You Need Both Sump Pump and French Drain?

Although it is not necessary to use both a sump pump and a French drain, it is often a good choice to use them together. The two solutions pair well, and it increases the rate of removal of water. Considering the heavy flooding, you may have to use both the sump pump and the French drain together.

Does a French Drain Work in the Winter?

A French drain will work in all seasons when placed below the frost line. It will not meet issues such as obstructions caused due to the freezing or thawing cycles. You can contact the French drain professionals in your region to clarify this with regard to the condition of your area.

What is the Difference Between a French Drain and a Curtain Drain?

The function of both the French drain and curtain drain is the same, which is to get rid of water. The main difference is that French drains deal more with groundwater, whereas curtain drains mainly remove surface water. Although curtain drains are built similarly to French drains, they have a shallow depth.


Contact your local professionals to get an inspection and estimate for both these options. Then you can determine the best solution to remove water based on your setting and their advice. You can even consider pairing up the two methods if you are often affected by extreme weather.

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