The most reliable off the grid water source is a well. The water is available throughout the year. All you need is to keep your well pump in working condition to enjoy the water. You rarely have to repair the well itself or worry about it running out if it was dug well in the first place.
At times, your water pressure might drop below the minimum or even trickle to a stop. If this happens, it has to do with the pump, the plumbing from the well, or the well pressure pump.
The remedy to the problem depends on what is causing it. I will explore the different issues, teach you how to diagnose your system, and propose different fixes that will bring your water pressure back to normal.
Start By Reading the Pressure Gauge
A good well system with a pressure tank has a pressure gauge between the tank and the pressure switch used to turn the well pump on or off. The gauge comes in handy when reading the pressure on your tank off the bat.
If the gauge shows that the tank is pressurized to your predetermined range, then everything between the pressure tank and the well is working properly. You can skip to troubleshooting the plumbing between your tank and the house.
If the gauge shows very low or no pressure in the tank, you will first have to understand how the well pressure tank works before going on with the troubleshooting.
What Does a Well Pressure Tank Do?
The work of the pressure tank is to keep a reserve of water at a steady pressure ready for use whenever you open an outlet in the house.
- It accomplishes this by using some air in the water reservoir
- When the pump adds water to the tank, the air is compressed building up pressure
- The pump kicks off when the maximum is predetermined pressure is reached
- When you open taps in the house, they will run on this built-up pressure without forcing the pump to cycle on demand hence extending your well pump’s lifespan
- The pump will restart again if the tank pressure drops below a predetermined value repeating the process again
Most well pressure tanks cycle between 40 psi and 60 psi. This means that anything below 40 psi (+ or _ 2 to 5 psi) should count as low water pressure.
Signs that Your Well Pressure Tank is the Problem
If the pressure tank is leaking, the compressed air portion will dissipate long before you get to use the water leading to low water pressure in the house. The pressure gauge could drop all the way to zero if you switch off the pump for a while.
A leaky pressure tank will either produce a steady hissing sound or have water leaks at the punctured point. This is quite rare and will only happen to very old systems or a tank that was punctured in an accident or after deliberate sabotage.
A Faulty Pressure Switch or Pump
Sometimes, the low pressure could be because the pressure-actuated switch isn’t working and can’t tell the well pump to switch on and replenish the tank on time.
- Try switching on the pump manually. If it works, then you have to replace or recalibrate the pressure trigger. Pressure pumps might clog over time due to sediment or mineral accumulation. Sometimes, all it needs is some cleaning and will be good as new
- If the pump doesn’t turn on after a manual switch activation, chances are the trigger switch is working but the pump has issues
Troubleshooting a Well Pump Power Issues
Start tracing the power supply to the pump to ensure that you have juice flowing through. The following checklist is in order of convenience to ensure that you identify any problems upstream before pulling out the pump.
Pro Tip: To make it easier to follow these steps, bypass the pressure switch and hardwire the pump power supply to a manual switch that you can flick after each step to check if the pump turns on.
- Confirm that there is power flowing into the electrical box feeding your pump. This will help you identify any faults with your solar system or the power source you use to power the pump. If there is no power here, troubleshooting your power supply to find out what is the problem
- Check the power board supplying the well pump. If the circuit breaker is tripped, moved it to On position.
- If the pump turns on, monitor it for some minutes to ensure that the circuit breaker doesn’t trip again.
- If the breaker trips again, chances are there is a short circuit on the line. You will have to inspect the entire wiring and replace damaged cable
- If the circuit breaker has not tripped and there is power in the electrical box, chances are the wiring to the pump is faulty. If you ran a complete cable all the way to the pump, you will have to pull it out to test this hypothesis
- If the pump hooks to the power supply on a terminal at the pump head, use an electrical meter at the right settings to find out if there is power there. If there is no power, you have to replace the cable between the electrical box and the pump head
- At this point, if you troubleshooting hasn’t fixed the problem and turned on your pump, you will have to pull out the well pump and inspect it.
- Once the pump is out of the well, turn on the power supply and check if power gets to the pump terminals using your electrical meter. If there is power, chances are that your pump is damaged and it needs repair or replacement
- If there is no power at the pump terminals, chances are your wiring is damaged and you will have to run a new line
The Water Table Sank Below the Pump
Most submersible well pumps are impeller-based. They are very intolerant to pumping air. They will heat up and seize if the well water level drops below the intake level. On the surface, jet pumps are more forgiving but they still don’t like pumping air.
When pulling the pump out of the well, inspect it and ensure that it is wet. A dry pump means it was never underwater and perhaps your well has run dry.
If the pump is wet but the impellers are fused, it might mean that the well water level dipped below the pump for a while in the recent past.
Here are some things you should consider when thinking about your well water levels
- Muddy water forcing your filters to capture more sediments
- Murky water flowing off your pumps
- A dry pump
- The well is more than 20 years old (the estimated lifespan of a well is 20 to 30 years)
- There has been a prolonged drought
You can fix this problem by lowering the pump deeper into the well hole if it wasn’t as low as possible in the first place. Alternatively, you can deepen the well or consider techniques like hydrofracturing that could help increase the well’s water flow.
Pro Tip: You might encounter dry-like behavior if you are using more water than your well can provide. A well pump with a circuit to prevent it from running with no water will kick off often meaning that your water pressure will drop until the well gathers water the pump can move again
If your off grid water system is built on an old well you found in a place or dug over 20 years ago, you can get better water flow by sinking a new modern well. Chances are the new well will not only produce more water but will also be cleaner and more reliable for years to come.
Faulty Plumbing Between the Pressure Tank and The House
If the pressure gauge on your tank was above the low-pressure limit (often above 40 psi), then the problem must be between the tank and your house.
Common issues here include:
- Clogged pipes
- Poorly winterized plumbing causing ice to block water flow
- Loose or cracked pipes that leak water into the ground
- A clogged sediment filter than needs replacing
- Clogs in water softening or other filtration systems in the line
Your troubleshooting procedure will vary depending on where you find the clog. Either way, you will have to open up and check the pressure statuses between different parts of your plumbing.
If you don’t have pressure gauges and critical points in your system, troubleshooting is going to be a bit harder. This can easily get messy so be ready to get wet and drain water spills.
The first place to start is where the pipe from the well enters your house or the filtration shed just before it gets into the first filter.
If the pressure is already low, chances are the pipe is clogged, cracked or broken somewhere between here and the well pressure pump.
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If the pressure is still high, you should consider checking filter status in your filtration system. Clogged filters make it harder for water to flow and the pressure will drop significantly. If any filters are long past their replacement date, take this opportunity to replace them.
Otherwise, you can clean any cleanable filters to get rid of sediments. Continue isolating different filtration and water softening systems to identify which is blocking pressure and works on fixing it.
Pro Tip: You can make this easier in future by installing pressure gauges at crucial points in your system. This can be at the main entry from the well and immediately after each pump or heater in your house.
Troubleshooting water pressure issues in a well system might sound complex but it is easy if you know what to look for. After fixing the issue for the first time, you should ensure that you install pressure sensors at critical points and have an electric meter at hand to make your next troubleshooting easier.
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