Plumbing problems with wells

Plumbing problems with wells are common today in the Maryland-Delaware-Virginia area.  Times have changed since people lived on farms and would have to walk outside in the morning and move the handle of a pump up and down, then wait for a minute for the water to flow into a bucket or into a trough leading into the house. Today pumps are more sophisticated, but require vigilance to keep them working properly in delivering water for the home.

Often the homeowners can observe the pump in action by walking down into their basement and observe two lines running from a large blue tank that holds the water from the pump and two lines traveling through the basement wall to the well outside.  One line is for bringing in the water from the pump into the water tank. The average well is about 200 feet deep and has been drilled by a team with specialized drilling equipment. Many wells have screens to keep dirt and debris out of the water

Pressure switch

The other line generally has the mechanism that pumps the water into the house. Often the second line will also contain a pressure switch with a cut off often ranging from 30 to 50 pounds per square inch (PSI).  What this pressure switch does is to keep the pump from running all the time and using large amounts of electricity. This could also cause the pump to wear out much sooner than it should. When working properly the pressure switch would start when the pressure drops below 30 PSI and pump until the pressure is around 50 PSI. This is sufficient to allow for the family’s water needs for drinking, cooking and bathing.

The mechanism will also have a shut-off switch, so the electricity can be turned off when a plumber is working on it.

The pressure switch can be adjusted with a screwdriver. This is a job often best left to a plumber. Many a DIY person has found his basement turned into a swimming pool after he had “fixed” the shut-off switch and returned from work or from a weekend away from the house.

In addition, the unit will have a gauge to indicate the current water pressure in the tank.

Bladder holds back the water

The water tank has a bladder inside to keep the air separated from the water. A major plumbing problem for wells occurs when the bladder inside the tank ruptures or becomes dislodged. Then the air and water would mix and the pressure would no longer be sufficient to push the water through the tubes and into the house.

Toward the top of the water tank is a shrader valve similar to what you would see on one of your car tires. An easy fix for the tank that has lost air is to pump air through this valve and into the tank. The homeowner can use an air compressor to fill the tank to proper amount or a simple bike pump.  You might need to be prepared to work up a sweat if you choose the bike pump option. In general, if the water pressure is 30 PSI, the air pressure will be a couple of pounds less.

Clogged line

Another plumbing problem with wells might be that the pump is laboring and the tank is not filling as it should be. In this instance, the plumber would throw the switch to turn off the electricity to the system.  He would then ask the homeowner or an associate to turn on the water spigot in the house. When the flow of water has turned into a mere drip, the plumber will want to check the water lines leading from the pump into the house. He will frequently discover a line is clogged. Depending on the severity of the damage to the line, he will clean it out or replace it.

After years of use, the water tank may begin to fail.  Rust might have accumulated inside the tank or the bladder is beginning to fail. (No jokes about old age and bladders, please.)

Pressure relief valve

Most tanks have a pressure relief valve that allows water to be dumped onto the basement floor if the pressure inside the tank becomes too great.  A few gallons of water on the floor is better than the tank essentially blowing up and sending shrapnel flying in all directions.

One of the pipes will have a shut-off valve that would prevent the water from reaching the house in case there is a problem or if workers are doing work in another part of the house and need the water shut off. 

Another component in many tanks is an ultraviolet light that kills bacteria in the tank. That would have an electrical connection, of course. The lights would need to be changed from time to time as they wear out.  Also, some tanks have a filtering system to keep out contaminants.

With proper attention and an occasional visit from the plumber if a problem arises, the homeowner can avoid plumbing problems with his well and provide his home with water for many years to come.