As you may remember from last week’s article, I’ve rested up and recovered from all of the “what-not” of the “ber” months. Feeling much better and more active, I went out and tackled some leaky hose bib problems that have plagued us for a while. Talk about feeling proud! I certainly felt a sense of accomplishment and well-being after replacing those hose bibs completely.
Every day since, I relax knowing that we are now leak free. It should be a while before the “stuff” and “junk” in the water supply wears away the little rubber washer in the valve, starting the leak process all over again. I’m prepared, though. I bought a good supply of those washers – enough to last longer than the repairman! If I was still a Boy Scout, I’m sure that I would have earned my “plumber’s helper” merit badge. “Be Prepared!” – that’s me.
So much for plumbing problems for this year, or so I thought.
WHAT’S THAT SOUND?
So life goes on in our leak-free environment. While it felt good to do a little physical labor, I find that in my “advancing years” I’m a little better at doing things with my head rather than with my hands. Being a CPA and running a tax accounting firm is more my speed. I don’t need a toolbox. All of my tools fit onto a small “thumb drive” that easily inserts into my laptop computer. Lugging my toolbox around cannot even begin to be thought of as a chore. The greatest difficulty in handling my toolbox is making sure I don’t forget it or lose it.
Now that income tax season is starting up, you’ll find me at the keyboard of my computer, entering data here, calculating taxes there, and so on. Yes, I even take breaks to write articles. (That’s something a plumber can’t do with the best tool in his box!) It’s all cranial, with a little eye-hand coordination tossed in. Easy, peasy,….
I was distracted from my number-crunching bliss last evening. Pointing and clicking away, I was disturbed by the sound of the well pump running. That’s a normal occurrence here in the evenings. We use well water to water our lawns and plants around the house. The pump ran for a while, then shut off. Water pressure was maintained, and all was right with the world.
“Wait a minute,” I thought, “that pump is running again.” With that thought, another break from work was initiated. Maybe it just seemed to have ”cycled” too quickly. When I work on taxes, I truly get focused and ignore everything else around me. Perhaps I just “missed” the time that the pump wasn’t running. Another quick listen, and nothing. The pump shut off, again. Okay. Moments later, there it was again. I needed to evaluate this.
I listened for about five minutes. In that time, the pump cycled on and off about four times a minute. Now, that’s not right. Not only “not right,” it could lead to a costly adventure at the hardware store. Replacing a pump motor that burned out due to excessive running is an expensive endeavor.
DEJA VU, ALL OVER AGAIN
I’ve lived through this experience before – many times. There’s a problem with the well water system, and the solution will only come with manual labor and plumber’s tools. Having achieved my “merit badge” last week, I was ready, willing and able to take this problem on. “What was the problem?” you may be asking. The problem is a “waterlogged” pressure tank.
“What kind of gibberish are you trying to feed us now?” might be your next words. Well, it’s not gibberish. If anything, it’s jargon. Simply put, it means that there is more water (and, more importantly, less air) inside the pressure tank than there should be.
“But don’t you want that tank filled with water?” some doubters may counter. The answer to that is yes, but up to a point. You want air in there, too. Unless you’re operating on a pure “gravity-fed” water pressure system, you need a little something to push that water out of the tank, through the pipes, and out the faucet or shower head. That something is air.
As water is pumped into the pressure tank and takes up volume, that air inside is compressed into a smaller area, increasing the air pressure. It’s that air pressure that forces the water back out of the pressure tank. If you start off with too much water and too little air, the pressure at which a pressure switch controlling the pump will be reached quickly, and the pump shuts off.
Since the volume of air wasn’t much to begin with, pushing the water out of the tank and the subsequent drop in pressure will occur just as quick. The pressure switch will sense low pressure, turn the pump back on, and the cycle goes on. (See the chart.)
We’re not fortunate enough to have a water pressure tank that employs a bladder (as shown in the chart). If we did, the fix would be simple. Just pump some air into the tank via the air fill valve at the top of the tank. Any method of pumping air works, from an air compressor right down to a bicycle pump. Just pump away until the air pressure is a couple of PSI (pounds-per-square-inch) less than the pressure switch’s cut-on pressure.
But, as I said, we’re not so lucky. We have a galvanized tank without bladder. That means totally draining the water from the pressure tank, and letting the outside air get into the tank using the same route(s) that the water took on the way out. You’ll hear gurgling noises – when they stop, you’ll know that air has replaced water to its maximum extent.
Once the entire tank is void of water and full of air – which, by the way, is at the same pressure as your surrounding environment (1 atmosphere) – then the tank can be refilled via the pump and cycled a couple of times to make sure all works well. (Sometimes draining the tank also drains the pump – in which case, you have to “dabble” a little bit to prime the pump once you’re ready to fill the tank.)
I’ve finished my task of “recharging” air into the tank and, once again, I’m feeling good. Time for a gold star on my merit badge. I even passed the “straw boss’s” inspection with flying colors. So, in closing, …
I hear some muttering out there: “So, how did the pressure tank – which is sealed – lose that air to begin with? We think you’re pulling our leg!” The answer to that isn’t complex. Remember that the air inside the tank is compressed. Well, air and water mix pretty well. The built-up pressure in the tank forces the air against the water, causing the two to mix or to aerate the water. Since well water is devoid of air more than surface water , it aerates quite easily. Once aerated, the air escapes with the water when you turn on the faucet.
There you have it. Plumbing and physics, all in one article. Think I’ll go take a nap.