About Me

-Starting Point
Bill's Cabin
Robinson Deck



Plumbing: A project that turned into a career.

You would think that getting water from a hole in the ground to a faucet wouldn't be that difficult, but you'd be wrong. When we first went to look at the house, one of the things I did was check the water at several of the faucets to make sure there was nothing funky going on. having a House with a well around here often means smelly rotten egg water, rusty water, super hard water, no pressure or other problems which can be fixed... for a price! The water came out of the faucet clear, odor free and at a reasonably acceptable pressure. Well here's a tip for all of you would-be homeowners: turn on more than one faucet at a time!

We discovered after we moved in, that if you turned on more than one faucet at a time the water just kind of dripped out, and taking a shower was an all day event just to get wet. I began to hunt for the problem in the most obvious place... the basement. Most of the pipes were older, but not ancient... there was 1/2 inch copper throughout the house, but there were LOTS of stop & waste valves used for isolating the sinks, tub, toilet, etc, and some just in the middle of lines for no apparent reason. The one bit of pipe that seemed to be older than all the rest was a 4 foot piece of galvanized between the pressure tank and the water softener. There were 2 odd things about this particular piece of pipe: it had a main shutoff valve that you could spin indefinately with no effect, and a 2 gallon per minute flow restricter installed in it. Well it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that 2 gallons per minute will barely feed a single faucet, much less 2 or more at a time. Now it was time for a little research. The well is only a little over a year old, so the first thought was that the old well was failing and so they put a reducer on the main line to conserve water so they wouldn't run it dry. The septic is also new, only 2 years old, and so they may have been trying to deal with a failing septic tank. In my search of the net, these were the 2 most common reasons that someone would restrict the flow that much on the main.

So I've done a bit of plumbing in my time, it's a pain in the rear, but I know how to do it... with only a couple of sinks, a shower, and a washer, it shouldn't take too long to redo the whole thing from scratch. Being a smart boy, the next step was to call the guys who drilled the well, to make sure it could handle the increased capacity if I took out the reducer and upgraded the plumbing. "oh yeah", he says... "that well was producing 10-15 gallons a minute, you should have plenty of water." Great! so I go out and pick up all the stuff I need to replumb the entire house. I went with CPVC, as I have used it before, it's cheap and readily available, requires no expensive special tools, and is relatively easy to use and repair if needed. I spent an entire saturday rerouting the new pipe to give me a shorter and less complicated run, and glued it all up except for where the connections were to the furnace and faucets. It all looked good, I even left myself some stubs to add a sink in the basement for meredith's darkroom when I get it built. I spent another whole day cutting out copper pipe, and attaching the new plumbing to the old fixtures. When I got done I had a pile of copper in the basement that looked alot like a geek wrestling match... a pile of knees and elbows all tangled together on the floor. So much for the hard part, all that was left was to turn it on and check for leaks. On came the water, and everything was dry and happy, and I could turn on 2 or even 3 faucets at the same time with decent water pressure behind them... Hooray!!! sound too good to be true??? well it was. Everything was great for about 2 or 3 weeks, nice showers, you could flush the toilet in the bathroom while someone was getting a drink in the kitchen, we could go back to watering the garden during the horribly dry first part of the summer, all was good.

Then things went south. We were working outside, putting a bit of water on the parched garden when the sprinkler dropped to a trickle... first thought: oh crap, we've run the well dry! Second thought: ummm we have an artesian well... nearly impossible to drain the thing, oh crap, I've burned up my pump! So I ran like a maniac to the basement and threw the cutoff for the pump. That being done I started looking for signs of impending doom... no horrible flood in the basement, no breakers tripped or fuses blown, no smoke coming out of anything, so back to perhaps running the well dry??? nope, you can stand next to the wellhead and hear the water gushing out of the overflow pipe, so that wasn't it. Back to the basement for a more thorough inspection. no leaks, check! valves open, check! pressure in the pressure tank, check! sediment filter TOAST! The usually clear bowl of the whole house sediment filter was completely brown. Sigh! that's not right. So I shut off the main, and went about replacing the filter, which was completely plugged with very fine sand. I got everything all returned to normal and reinstalled, turned the pump back on and headed outside... hooray! sprinkler working like a charm again! for about 2 minutes... poof no water again. Back downstairs, and it had happened again... filter full of sand. OK boss... now what??? drop back 5 and punt. Using a tiny bit of logic, I guessed that this was the first time in about a year that anyone had drawn alot of water out of the well, and so it had stirred up the silt that had collected in the meantime. The solution to that is usually to blow it out, and so I did... hook the hose up to the system drain, shut off the house water, and just let the pump run water sand and all out to the lawn. After quite a while of this, I gave it another shot... new filter turn the house back on, check the sinks and washer... everything ok. final test: crank up the sprinkler. better this time, I got nearly 10 minutes out of it before I lost all water. Fed up, I repeated the filter change and a short purge and we went into water conservation mode until I could figure out what to do.

Hours of internet later, I learned that the flow reducer may have been placed on the line for that reason. If you only pull a few gallons of water at a time out of the well and let it sit, the sand issue isn't so bad. Well, there are a couple problems with that theory, the biggest of which is that there's no point in drilling a really expensive hole in the ground if you still have to get water out of it one eyedropper at a time! What to do about it? well the last owner had done me a favor and a disservice at the same time; they installed the sediment filter AFTER the water softener. Sand was probably not a big issue for them because the tank of the water softener was allowing the sand to settle out before getting to the filter or rest of the plumbing. The down side to that is that the softener is now so full of sand that it's coming out the other side. Following the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' rule of thumb when I redid the plumbing, I had left things in this configuration. The solution in the end is to get a permanent, self purging sediment filter, and place it and the finer whole house filter between the main line and the water softener. The other thing I discovered is that we have been killing all of our plants. Hard water + water softener = water packed with sodium ions. have you ever heard of salting the earth?? Salting the earth refers to the practice of spreading salt on fields to make them incapable of being used for crop-growing. This was done in ancient times at the end of some wars as an extremely punitive scorched earth tactic. In effect, that's pretty much what we were doing by watering the plants with the softened water. So a line for the garden hose would have to be placed before the softener as well.

I did some looking and finally parted with a little over $300 for the self purging sand filter I needed. I completely replumbed the pump room to get everything where it was supposed to be, and in the correct order. Before I hooked up the main house plumbing to the softener, I attached a hose to the outlet and let fly with all the water I could get out of the system to flush it out. Once the water ran clear, I reconnected the plumbing and turned everything on. With the exception of a leaky attachment to the front outside faucet, everything looked good. There was still sand in abundance, but with the new filter, it would clean itself out every few hours, and if we plugged it up sooner, we could just turn a knob to flush the sand out and go back to what we were doing.

Hard Lessons Learned:
After 2 weeks of having to purge the sand filter two or three times for every load of laundry, and only getting about 5 minutes of water for a shower in the morning, it was time to stop messing around and call the guy who drilled the well in the first place. The resulting conversation put the concept of full disclosure in real estate back a few decades. It turns out that the well was NOT drilled last year, as was stated in the disclosure, but that the well driller had set up over the existing well to attempt to resolve this exact sand problem, and had just drilled down another 20 or 30 feet and driven a few more sections of casing in to attempt to get to more coarse sand. In fact the driller said that many of the wells on this stretch of road have the same issue, and that because the silt is so fine, there's little that can be done to resolve the issue if filters don't work, because most pump screens fine enough to stop the sand rapidly get impacted and the pump burns up because there's no water in it. He suggested a backwashing sediment filter usually works.
Time for more research... It is important to note here, that after working in the computer industry for this long that there are always 2 correct answers: The right answer, and the Microsoft answer. The difference between the two is all about the terminology. So let's clear things up; self purging and backwashing means 2 different things, and sand, silt, and sediment apparently have nothing to do with each other as far as filters are concerned. Put "backwash sediment filter" into a search engine and see what you get. You'll notice that about 80% of the links that come up look remarkably like the big tank and salt bucket in my basement. I'm pretty sure there should be some laws about labelling this type of equipment, but I digress. It turns out that in addition to the zeolite media for softening the water, these units can also include different filter media as well. Apparently when you mix zeolite with filter media, the thing stops being called a water softener, and is known as a backwashing sediment filter (regardless of the fact that it softens the water). Armed with this new found fact, I decended once again to the basement and completely replumbed the pump room...AGAIN. Water now goes from the pump to the "backwashing sediment filter" (pronounced WATER SOFTENER) then on to the 100 micron sand filter and 20 micron whole house filter. So far, no problems and no sand. The current theory is that the increased water flow caused by removing the flow restrictor on the old pipes causes more of the sediment to stay suspended in the water, thereby overwhelming the capacity of the backwash sediment filter faster than the old system allowed. The water basically bypasses the filter at that point and dumps into the plumbing. The solution is to monitor the point when it does this, and set the meter on the backwash sediment filter to flush it just before it fills up with sediment.
Problem solved (hopefully).

Copyright © 2006 Devon R. Jacobs. All Rights Reserved.