Well Pump Problems Or Water Table

Old 12-26-01, 05:04 AM
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Post Well Pump Problems Or Water Table

We had a new pump installed on the advise of a local plumping contractor. Since putting it in over a year ago our water flow has been erratic and pressure often low. In 10 years here, never a problem with pressure. Plumber said we needed a pressure tank. I called and spoke with Amtrol and other local plumbers. They all said our problem wasn't the tank but the pump. After much hassle- I installed a new pressure tank- the problem has persisted. When I flip the well switch on and off, the water returns in full force- sometimes for weeks, other times for a few minutes! It turned out the pump wasn't at the proper depth. Plumber says it's now at proper depth- problems still persist. NOW THEY TELL ME I NEED A DEEPER WELL!!!!!
My question is does the pump have a swith that goes on and off as the pressure tank needs more water? Is it possible that 1: the pumb could still go deeper, and how can I know? and,
2- could the pump have a switch that isn't working? My concern is that this plumber won't tell me the truth. and I don't want to spend thousands digging a deeper well if not needed. Who can I trust? How do I get answers? How can I tell the quality of the water table. Other homeowners in the area have no problem with their well water.

Thanks, Jerome Leonardi
Old 12-26-01, 08:52 AM
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First, check with your local Health Department. They would be the ones who issue permits and inspect wells, and should know the answers to some of your questions (water tables, etc).
For good general info on wells and water pumps, go to www.peekspump.com and www.jessstryker.com (irrigation tutorials, but same-same).
Reading through those two sites will give you a much better understanding.
Just to answer some of your questions, a pressure tank controls the on-off pressure switch of the pump.
An Amtrol has a bladder in it, and the air pressure should be two psi below your cut-on pressure. For instance, if your cut-on/cut-off is set at 30-50 psi, the air pressure in the tank should be 28 psi.
Turn off or unplug power to the pump, drain the water pressure off, and check the tank pressure at the air valve near the top of the tank with a tire pressure gauge.
If it is too low, air it up with a bicycle pump, or portable air tank or compressor. If it is too high, bleed it off. That may solve your problem.
A well and pump are a system, and there could be any number of things affecting it, so it is a process of elimination. Start with the pressure tank.
Good luck!
Old 12-28-01, 06:58 AM
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I would like to offer some help with your problem, presuming you have not already resolved it. If you have, please disregard this posting.

There are a number of reasons for erratic performance from a well and pump system. Some additional information would give me some idea on where to start with any suggestions.

Please tell me whether you have a submersible pump (installed in the well), or a jet pump where the pump unit is located above ground. In the first case you cannot see the pump, but you can in the case of a jet pump.

You mentioned installing a tank. Did you have one before this work was done on your system?

Did you ever find out how deep the intake of the pump system was set to? Either initially or after you said your contractor lowered it.
Old 12-28-01, 02:59 PM
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some other information that might be useful to everyone:

What were the indications/circumstances that led to the pump replacement? (Same problems?)

Has any of the water been dirty?

Do you know the depth of other folks wells in the area?

Have you tried the county? They often have very detailed maps of underground streams.

Sorry you're have such terrible luck with your local tradesmen. Wells and pumps are pretty easy to diagnose if you're on site. Plus, the people working on your pump should have enough local knowledge to make a first/best determination.
Old 12-31-01, 12:05 PM
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help from andy & hopro

Thanks for the responses. The original problem was no water. The plumbing contractor charged $1100 to replace the pump and the pressure guage, switch, etc. (A side bar: is it normal to charge twice per hour if you send two men - - each gets $70 an hour? Just a question!!!)

Back to the responses: After the new pump was installed, the pressure slowly went from bad to worse. They insisted that the Amtrol tank was bad, but a lcoal plumbing suppy house and Amtrol technicians said my description pointed to the pump NOT the tank.

Since the new pump wasn't shutting off, the contractor warned that if the pump burned out - we would be responsible. Since his price to install the tank (which he said would solve the problem) was 3 times what it would cost me, I bought an Amtrol tank, new 4" T, pressure switch, etc. Once all done, the problem was exactly the same. Today, a year later, it's only worse. Now they tell me it's because the water table is low, and I need a new well. Why don't I believe them?

The tank is a submersible Gould (1/2 HP) 230 v. The water is clean and clear. We have a neutralizer and a water softener because our water is so hard.

I had a well guy look at it -yesterday- and the electrical is fine. He checked the depth of well. It's a shallow well 50-60 feet. He thinks the pump ( if the plumbers were accurate) is about as low as it can go. How can I check the actual depth of the pump?

Finally, we now shut the pump off manually when we're not using water and at night. If the water table is low, would that cause the pump to NOT shut off?

Sorry for the length, but I am responding to both of you and getting too verbose. Sorry.
Happy New Year.

Old 12-31-01, 04:15 PM
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In my humble opinion, the guy you're using for your pump is very expensive. I know you wouldn't have minded paying a premium for expert work if you would have gotten a solution to the problem, rather than replace this/that, and dig a new well. While I think that Gould is one of the best pumps, a 1/2 horse submersable and labor shouldn't be that much. I'd start looking elsewhere at anything over $800. Typically, they'll charge a plumber's labor rate and a helper's rate (usually 1/2). At $140 and hour and the cost of the pump, I figure they should have worked on the installation for about 5 1/2 hours. Way too long.

There are several things that may be affecting your water source:

1) Well water is depleting (any new homes in the area that might be tapping the same source?) Some of the shallow wells are fed from underground springs and when more homes are using the source, the springs can't replenish the source fast enough. A guess would be the times the water is plentiful is around 6am, then around 3pm. Don't understand whether your problem rather suddenly occured or very slowly over time got worse.

2) Position of the wellpoint in your well. The way it is checked is with a measured line device that "alarms" when it hits water and then the line goes slack when the bottom is reached. The other way is to have a lighter weight at the end of a wire and "feel when it hits bottom and goes slack. One checks for the "depth of moisture on the cable and can see how deep. One tries to place the well point 3/4 down the source.

I can't quite understand how the guy who "checked" your well came up with a "marginal" conclusion. They should have known at what depth the water started and the bottom. That should tell you whether your pump could work, and at what depth the wellpoint should be placed, sometimes 3/4 down the depth (exacting the optimum is easy with measuring your wellpoint position from the top of the shaft).

It seems like we're still going back and forth on this thing without giving you "the" solution. Hopefully with a few more words, we can offer a few more things to for your consideration.

Overseas, we used to create "water resevoirs" to fill during times the water was present and had a pump on a timer to fill. Put a small pump near the tank from the resevoir to pressurize. Kind of a modern cisturn approach. Usually we put the tank in a shed and turned a 100watt light on during the winter to keep it from freezing. Hopefully, your problem will be solved in a more graceful manner.

Curious why you went to a plumber rather someone you found in the yellow pages under "Water Well Drilling and Service".

Last edited by hopro; 12-31-01 at 04:42 PM.
Old 01-01-02, 05:52 AM
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Essentially, nearly everything told you by "hopro" is correct and covers nearly all your questions. Perhaps I can add some detail.

First, did you sign a contract for the installation job before the work began? On the basis that you did not, the amount you paid for the installation of a new pump may or may not be what would be customarily charged for the same work in area in which you live. Using the receipt as a guide for the particulars of the original job, you can ask several plumbing and/or pump installation contractors in your area for a quote on what they would charge to do the same work. Indicate to them that the work needs to be done, not that it has been done. If the amounts they provide are substantially below what you were charged, you can ask the company who did the work for a refund, and assuming that you will not get one, you can persue your complaint in small claims court.

This is based upon the fact that the contractor is obligated to explain to you, up front, what his charges will be, including the price of major components and the amount and the system he uses to charge for labor. If he does not do this, and most do not, he is limited to what he can charge to what is prevailing in your market place.

Future advice. Have any and all contractors with whom you propose to deal provide you a written quote or contract for the work. If they try to tell you they cannot because they do not all that might be involved, don't believe it. A competent, experienced contractor who works regularly in the area where you live can and will provide you cost figures. Shop around!

A competent and experienced water well contractor, either a water well driller or a pump installation contractor, should be able, as "hopro" points out, to determine the performance of your well.

Let me explain a bit here. At rest, the water in a well sits at what is call the "static water level" and is generally some distance off the physical bottom of the well.

When the pump starts, the water level in the well begins to drop. How far it drops is a function of the "output" of the well and how fast the pump is delivering water. If the output of the well and the output of the pump reach equalization before the water reaches the inlet of the pump, the water level is now said to be at the "pumping level".

A well equipped water systems contractor can perform tests to determine the above information by using a "well sounder", a very common instrument designed for this very purpose. The length of the test is generally short, no longer than a few hours.

There is a very simple way for you to test the output yourself.

Turn off the pump and drain the system. Detach the plumbing somewhere between the well and the pressure tank that is convenient for you.

Purchase a hose bibb and sufficient plumbing fittings to allow you to attach the hose bibb to the pipe that you have disconnected from the tank.

With the hose bibb fully opened, have some one turn on the pump while you watch the end of the pipe. Water should immediately begin to come out of the hose bibb.

If your well production is severely limited, the water flow will stop shortly after you turn on the pump. This indicates that the pump is delivering more water than the well can produce.

Wait some period of time, say one hour, for the well to "recover" and repeat the test. If once again the water flow stops after a very short while, you have confirmation that the pump is heavily overpumping the well.

This does not mean the well is dry. If it were, you would get no water. It only indicates that the well cannot supply water to your pump as fast as the pump takes it from the well.

You have many options at this point, short of drilling a new well.
Some effort should be made to determing the actual output of your well, which will probably require you get some competent, professional help.

Once the actual output of the well is determined, it may be feasible to do something as simple as installing a flow restrictor on the pump output so it and the well are working together. There are any number of other control devices on the market all designed to deal with this type of problem.

I hope this provides some ideas on ways you can proceed in trying to determing the exact nature of your problem.

A final comment. A competent water well contractor should be able to answer your questions about the level of local water tables with no more than a phone call. That same competent contractor should be able to determine if there is a problem with you own well in no moe than an hour or two.

Sorry for the long answer.
Old 01-01-02, 06:42 AM
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Thank you both for your detailed replies. It is greatly appreciated.

One point, the well drilling contractor-who seemed competent and well-versed, gave me static water level and depth figures. He did not, however, pull the pump to determine its depth. Can I do that?

As far as my own test: the well water enters the house through the basement wall. There is all of about 20 inches of hose before it enters the pressure tank. There is a hose bibb at the 4" T. Is that usable for your test?

Thanks again-- happy new year.
Old 01-02-02, 03:30 AM
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Hello again:

By the way, in what area of the country do you live? Just my curiosity.

The pump is most likely installed on black, poly pipe. If so, you can easily pull the pump from the well by yourself. If you do, you can easily do some checking.

Using a fishing reel, attach a weight to the end of the line. Something like a plumbing fitting or something else close to hand that weights about 1/2 a poound.

Lower this into the well until you hear a splash, tie a knot in the line. Let the line further out until it goes slack.

Retrieve the line, lay it out on the ground, and with a measuring tape, you can detemine the distance from the top of the well to the top of the water, and then the total depth of the well.

You can run a test on the ootput of the well by using the hose bibb at the base of your tank, but it can be a little more difficult. This is because the pump will attempt to fill the tank with any water not going out the hose bibb.

Do this. Turn off the pump and drain the system. Shut off any water useage.

Turn the pump on and watch the pressure gage. The gage should begin to climb. If the pressure stops going up before the pressure switch turns off the system, turn off the pump and wait a bit, 15 to 30 minutes. Don't use any water but let the system sit.

Turn the pump on again, and if the pressure begins to climb again, you have an indication that you are overpumping the well before the pump can deliver enough water to fill the pressure tank and then turn off. If you experience this, you will need to investigate remedies.
Old 01-02-02, 01:18 PM
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Hi Andy-

Thanks for the note. I live in Central/ North Jersey in a town called Chester near Morristown. Yes, it's a black poly pipe maybe 1 1/2". It runs into the T connector, etc.

Check me out here. (I shut off the pump from inside)
I remove the cap off the well "top."
Then I just pull up the hose and pump and lay it out on the lawn?
Can I then accurately measure the depth of the pump as well. ( I still think it isn't set deep enough.)
With the pump out, I then do the measuring of water, and base of well. Does that mean if the water (at the splash) is say 50 feet, and the well bottom is 66 feet, that I have 16 feet of well water?

After those measurements, do I then reinstall the pump? Obviously, I need to reinstall it! But here is the $100,000 question. How deep should the pump be based on depth of water and well. Is the pump's depth determined by top of water line or depth of well? If I need to sink the pump deeper, how is this done?

When I'm all done, do I need to disinfect the well water? If so, how.

You're so helpful, I truly appreciate your assistance and expertice.

Last point? If the well is just low on water, why does the pump not shut off even after using the water, shutting all the water in the house, and the pressure remaining high? Shouldn't the pump shut off???

Thanks again.


Feel free to e-mail me.
Old 01-02-02, 02:45 PM
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Andy1 is giving you great advice, so I'll sit here wishing you the best and keep following your ongoing saga.

Since he is starting you on the right path toward self-reliance, perhaps its best if you follow one set of suggestions. His instructions seem perfect to me, and I've been through a lot of well problems in several places, USA and overseas. About to go through some more at another house and property we just bought.

Hope you tell us when there is final resolution.

Good Luck!
Old 01-02-02, 02:55 PM
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Thanks, hopro; will keep you informed....
Old 01-03-02, 01:30 AM
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Hello Jeromeleo:

I want to address your questions in the same order as you asked them.

After you remove the well cap and look into the well bore, you will most likely see the top of what is known as a "pitless adapter". The pump and pipe are hung from this unit which allows the pipe to your house to go out through the well casing below the frost line. If there is one of these, you should see a female thread in the top of the fitting. This is for you to screw into it a length of pipe, generally 1-1/4", used to begin pulling the pump.

The most common pitless adapters are made of brass and are installed using a wedged fittitng. This means you may have to pull up fairly hard to get it to come free. Once it is free of the fitting, continue to pull on the pipe (not on the submersible electrical wire) until the pump is clear of the well.

Lay the pump and pipe out in a straight line and measure to the bottom of the pump unit. Add to this measurement the distance from the pitless adapter to the top of the well and you now know the depth at which your pump is set. Comparing this figure to your measurement of the static water level and the total depth of your well will give you an idea of the relationship between the setting of the pump and the total depth of your well. Note that the water inlet on the pump unit is located about in the middle. The motor is on the bottom.

If you were to find that the water is at 50 feet, and the well is 66 feet, then you are correct, you have 16 feet of water in your well.

Let me interject some general water well information here. Useable ground water is contained in an aquafier. This is a saturated zone underground that is both porous and permeable enough to allow the removal of water. It is generally under pressure both from the weight of the earth above it and from the amount of slope in the aquafier. This "hydrostatic" pressure causes the water to rise up the well bore when the well is drilled. The level at which the water rises to, when the well is not being pump, is as I mentioned earlier, the "static water level". As a well is pumped, the water level begins to fall toward the bottom of the well, and the rate of production of the well rises as this level drops. Depending upon the ultimate rate of production your well is capable of, the water level may or may not stabilize some distance off the bottom.

This information is important when installing a pump as it affects not only the depth at which the pump is set but also the designed output of the pump unit. Problems arise when a new pump capable of say 10 gallons per minute output is put in a well that is capable of a maximum production of only 5 gpm.

This problem often arises when an old jet pump is replaced with a submersible pump. In most cases, the submersible will deliver much more water per minute and overpumping of the well will result.

Which means, one of the first questions I should have asked is, what type of pump did you have before the new one was installed.

So now to your $100,000 question. I would say that you need to get the pump right near the bottom of the well, but not touching it. You can add a length of black poly pipe by disconnecting the fitting at the top and attaching the new piece with an insert fitting and stainless steel clamps. Soften the ends of the pipe using a hand held propane torch. You may also need to splice in a section of submersible pump electrical cable. This wire and the necessary splice kits are available from pump contractors plus place like Lowes and Home Depot. Purchase a splice kit that includes not only the connectors but shrink tubes.

Make sure the clamps you use are 100% stainless. Many hardware and auto parts stores sell clamps that have a stainless strap but a mild steel screw. Another point, it is best to use new clamps each time. Used clamps have generally been stressed to where they do not hold well. Also, be sure to put your clamps on the barbed section of the insert fitting, not on any blank or smooth sections.

You can disinfect the well by adding several pints of Clorox to the well before you return the pump. Doing it before allows the pump and pipe to pass through the bleach and helps to disinfect them, plus it helps the bleach mix in the well. If you put in too much, it only means it will take longer to get rid of it.

To answer your last question. The pump does not shut itself off because when it runs out of water, it develops an air bubble inside the pump housing from cavitation off the outside edge of the pump impellers, of which there are about ten in your pump. Once formed, these bubbles will not move until the pump is turned off and then turned back on. At that point, if water is available, the pump will push the bubble out of the way and begin to deliver water until the pressure rises enough to activate the pressure switch.

The pump model you have plus the estimated depth of your well tell me that the performance of your new pump will be in excess of 10 gallons per minute. If your well produces even a small amount less than that, say nine gallons per minute, you will overpump the well and air lock the pump. Interestingly, if there are other houses close to yours with wells, their use of same may affect your well's production through what is known as "interference". Since this varies during the day, the performance of your well may vary similarly.

How to fix. The first answer is to restrict the output of your pump by installing a "Dole Flow Control" valve between the pipe from the well and your pressure tank. These come in various sizes and many different flow rates. The are also relatively inexpensive. To be used effectively, you must determine the actual output of the well.

Another is to go to a different sized submersible pump. Say a 1/3 hp pump designed to deliver five gpm.

Another answer is to install a large resovoir system, filled slowly over time by the well, with a second pump to deliver water to your house. This is a good solution only if there is no other.

Finally, you may have to consider having a new well drilled, or if you can find a willing contractor, having your current well drilled deeper. This may be your best option and not nearly as expensive as you may think. For additional information on well drillers in your area may I suggest you contact the National Ground Water Asociation located in Worthington, Ohio. I do not know it, but I assure you they have a web site.

After all this discussion, it seems most likely to me that the original contractor was not careful enough to determine the performance of your well before he installed the new pump. Every problem since then leads me to believe that the new pump is simply overpumping your well. In other words, you have a pump problem, not a well problem.

I certainly hope this is helpful. Let me add, I was in the water well industry and a water systems contractor in Oregon for 20 years before retiring.

P.S. I get typing faster than my fingers have skill. Sorry for any mispelled words or other typos.

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