automatic bilge pump vs float switch

Automatic Bilge Pump vs Float Switch: 9 Differences [Must Know]

Last Updated on July 16, 2023

Automatic bilge pumps and float switches are indispensable devices you can use instead of a sump pump to prevent water damage in low-lying areas like basements and sump pits.

While they serve the same purpose of keeping these areas dry, they differ significantly in their operation and cost. The automatic bilge pump is a submersible pump that requires external power and a float switch to kick in automatically. 

In contrast, the float switch is a mechanical device that floats on the water’s surface and activates the bilge pump when the water level rises above a certain point. 

Although both devices are essential, the automatic bilge pump is typically more expensive due to its more complex operation. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the two.

Uncover the Crucial Contrasts Between Automatic Bilge Pumps vs Float Switches

bilge pump float switch

Now, let’s break down the differences between bilge pumps and float switches:

1. Function

An automatic bilge pump functions as a safeguard against flooding in low-lying areas, particularly in home basements. In contrast, a float switch is a device that can turn an automatic bilge pump on and off based on water levels. 

Without a float switch, the automatic bilge pump is merely a pump unable to sense when the water has reached a critical level and needs to be removed. Thus, when it comes to function, the two devices are interconnected.

2. Design

The float switch and automatic bilge pump differ in design. Automatic bilge pumps are usually submersible pumps. This design enables the pump to be submerged in the water, allowing it to pump directly from the pit. 

Contrary to this, the float switch is typically a mechanical device floating on the water surface. When the water rises above a predetermined level, the switch moves up or down, triggering the pump to eject the water from the area.

3. Power Source

The power source requirement for an automatic bilge pump differs from a float switch. Electricity is needed for the automatic bilge pump to work. 

Without a power source, it cannot function. Contrarily, the float switch works without any external power source. It utilizes the water’s buoyancy to push it up or down, activating the pump as required.

4. Activation

Float switches and automatic bilge pumps have differing activation processes. When water accumulates above the predetermined level, the float switch is activated, causing it to move up or down and turn on the pump. Once activated, the pump pumps water out of the sump pit or low-lying area to prevent flooding. 

On the other hand, the bilge pump uses a float switch to activate the pump once water pools above a predetermined level. Once the switch activates, the pump kicks on to remove the water from the area.

5. Maintenance

To ensure effective performance, the automatic bilge pump requires regular maintenance, such as cleaning the pump and checking for debris, while the float switch primarily requires minimal maintenance. 

Though periodic maintenance is necessary for the automatic bilge pump, it is fairly simple, and any homeowner can easily carry it out.

6. Installation

Installation is another area different from a float switch and an automatic bilge pump. The former requires installation in a low-lying area, such as a sump pit, and is typically a more involved process. 

On the other hand, a float switch is a self-contained device that needs only to be secured in the same location and connected to the pump. The simplicity of the float switch’s installation significantly reduces the time and cost required for its setup compared to the automatic bilge pump.

7. Price

Price is a significant factor when deciding between an automatic bilge pump and a float switch. In general, the automatic bilge pump is more expensive than the float switch, primarily due to its complexity and sophistication. 

The automatic bilge pump has a multi-component system that requires an external power source, making it more expensive to manufacture and install than a float switch.

8. Noise

When comparing an automatic bilge pump with a float switch, noise is another significant area where they differ. Automatic bilge pumps can be noisy, whereas float switches are quiet. 

Automatic bilge pumps use a mechanical pump that rotates to remove water from an area, while a float switch relies solely on a switch that turns on and off the pump. 

As the float switch has no mechanical components, it’s very quiet, making it a great option for noise-sensitive environments.

9. Size

Finally, we come to the size where the automatic bilge pump and the float switch differ once again. Due to its multi-component system, the automatic bilge pump is larger than the float switch. 

An automatic bilge pump has an electric motor, whereas an automatic float switch is a less complex system consisting of a switch and wiring. 

The size difference between the two devices may be insignificant in most cases, but it is still an important factor to consider in environments where space is limited.

Can I wire an automatic bilge pump directly to the battery?

bilge switch

You can indeed connect an automatic bilge pump to a battery. The process involves connecting the black (negative) wire to the battery and running power cables aft to the pump through a non-chafing route. 

The red or brown (positive) wire from the battery should be connected to one of the switch wires, while the other wire from the switch should be connected to the positive wire of the pump

This setup ensures that the pump’s operation is automatic and only activated when water levels exceed a certain threshold, making it a reliable tool for keeping your boat free of water. 

Also, it is important to ensure that the connections are secure and that any exposed wires are properly insulated to prevent the risk of electrocution or damage to the components.

Should I use a check valve on an automatic bilge pump?

When installing an automatic bilge pump in a basement sump pit, it is highly recommended to use a check valve. Such a valve serves as a crucial one-way door, allowing water to flow out of the sump pit while blocking any backflow. 

Without a check valve, the expelled water from the pump may return to the sump pit, leading to the pump’s inefficiency and reduced effectiveness.

Not using a check valve may also result in potential flooding or damage to the basement and the pump itself. The water level in the sump pit may rise due to backflow, causing more water to enter the basement and the pump to work extra hard.

So, it is essential to use a check valve to ensure that the automatic bilge pump operates efficiently and effectively, protecting your basement and the pump from any potential damage or flooding. 

With a check valve in place, you can rest assured that your automatic bilge pump will run at its optimal capacity and keep your space safe and dry.

What is the life expectancy of an automatic bilge pump and float switch?

bilge pump switch

An automatic bilge pump’s life expectancy can vary depending on factors such as usage and maintenance. These pumps can last for around 3-5 years with proper care. But, if they are neglected or not used regularly, their lifespan may be shorter.

Float switches, which are used to activate the automatic bilge pump, typically have a longer lifespan than the water pump itself. 

With proper care and maintenance, float switches can last for around 4-7 years. Like the pump, their lifespan may be affected by environmental conditions such as exposure to saltwater or extreme temperatures.

Safeguard Your Home from Flooding with an Automatic Bilge Pump With Float Switch

There is no need to choose between an automatic bilge pump and a float switch, as both devices are highly useful and interconnected in their operation. 

By working together, they can provide enhanced security to ensure your home or low-lying area remains dry and protected from flooding.

While both devices serve the same purpose, they differ significantly in their activation process, maintenance needs, installation requirements, price, noise output, and design. 

The automatic bilge pump requires an external power source and regular maintenance, while the float switch relies on the water’s buoyancy to activate and requires minimal upkeep.

In terms of installation, the automatic bilge pump is usually more involved and costly than the simple setup required for the float switch.

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