As I type this, I am waiting for a plumber to call.
We have a spring that is piped down to the corner of the property to a reservoir underground. Above this reservoir is a lid, a pump, a pressure tank. The lid is roughly 4×4 and is 4″ thick cement. Heavy SOB. We replaced the pump in ’05 (this post and the 4 that follow it) which was an adventure. The system works by the pump drawing water a few feet up from the reservoir, into the pressure tank, where it then sits and patiently waits for us to turn on a faucet. The pressure tank then pushes the water to the house and out the faucet. Simple, right. Well, not exactly…..
We will have lived here 20 years this January, it is expected that things are due for replacement. I just wish it hadn’t happened all at once.
It all started this summer. We had a friend who was doing odd jobs for us here like clearing the field, moving stuff, etc. We also had him raise the roof over the pump house and, while we were at it, we also got a new pressure tank. It also holds more water which means less work for the pump. And boy did we have better pressure! Holy cow! It was great! Then, not so great. This worked fine for a few months until one day I am in the shower and the water is kinda weak. Still flowing, but weak. The higher pressure had knocked some sediment off the pipes so we assumed the shower head was clogged. As I am showering, the water gets less and less then it slows to a trickle. After a few seconds, it comes back on and I rinse quickly. I mention this to Lorna and she cleans the shower head. It doesn’t happen for a few days then starts again. And again. Until we are taking very quick showers just so we get it done before the water stops. I call my bro to brainstorm and between us n00bs, we are thinking it is something to do with whatever is telling the pump to turn on when the pressure in the tank drops to a certain point. That something is, not surprisingly, called a pressure valve. Ours is located on the pump and was part of it when we bought it. Fine, I can replace that. Except the pump is against the wall and, you guessed it, that’s the side the valve is on.
Meanwhile, we’d realized our friend had never finished the roof on the pump house. I go down there to help Lorna assess the situation and that’s when I realize something he had done that is would later prove to be a BIG problem. The new pressure tank is bigger in physical size as well as capacity. It wouldn’t fit where the old one was so he had put it in another corner. Rather than get more pipe, he had used the scrap pieces we have around (I save all that stuff) and made the connection between the pressure tank and the pump. Problem is….he went at a direct angle across the lid to the reservoir. We have only raised this lid, oh, three times in 20 years.
Back to the problem at hand. When I see the angle of the pipe, I know we have to get this fixed and, frankly, I’m tired of redneck-engineering it. We knew we’d want to call a plumber to re-route it all and do it right. Fine. Except now I need to move the pump to get to the pressure valve which means disconnecting the Rube Goldberg mess down there. We did what we normally do. We procrastinated.
That would be fine except….another problem came up. On Thursday of last week, I saw that the water in the freshly flushed toilet looked kinda colored. We’d just had several days of constant rain. Twice over the years, the spring got muddy so I figured that was it. The bathroom cup is white so I used it to confirm the water color. Yep, kinda red (Carolina red clay, sigh). Then, the water spit like it had air in it. I reached behind me and flushed the toilet again. Air like mad then it settled down. In a few minutes, the water got clear. Ooookay. Later that night, it happened again. I hit the internet and consulted a friend and we figured out the problem.
The pump has a pipe that goes straight down into the reservoir and stops at about, oh, a foot or so above the bottom. On the end of the pipe is this cage like thing that I figured was, well, a cage like thing to keep critters from getting sucked up inside the pump. Gross but there you have it. Come to find out, no, that’s not just a cage like thing, it’s called a foot valve. What it does is opens when the pump sucks and closes when it stops. This keeps water in the pipe and in the pump, keeping it “primed”. Air in the line meant the foot valve was staying open, allowing air into the pump which then puts that air into the pressure tank. Following me so far? To make sure the reservoir actually had water in it (which would be another reason for air in the line), I take a stick and put it down the hole in the corner of the reservoir lid. It comes up wet at the appropriate space so we assume there’s enough water. We can’t lift the damn lid to look, after all.
Meanwhile, we are also looking to rule out a leak in the supply line. Early Saturday morning, Lorna goes down to the basement to start there and work her way down to the pump house to see if she can find a leak (it would be a soggy or soft area above the pipe where the leak is). What she found instead was…a very very leaky hot water tank. Yay. It was replaced, gee, well, hmm. A looooong time ago. We were so poor when it died, that a friend of ours (thank you Johanna!) not only loaned us the money to get it but went with us with her truck and helped us install it. We are thinking that the higher pressure (see the theme?) killed it maybe. We had always thought it would be way cool to get the hot water heater out of that wet cellar and up onto the porch but not this time. I’d love to move the water line out of there and seal the cellar for some archeologist to find someday.
Meanwhile, the water at the house is now more air than water. It is unusable except to flush the toilet because of the sediment. We go Saturday and buy a hot water heater. My god those things are expensive!! For just under $800, you can get one that has not only an LCD screen telling you the temp of the water, but it will also self-clean itself. No, it won’t do the windows but at that price, it should! We got a 50 gallon one for just under $300 that does not have an LCD screen and it does not clean itself (lazy bum). Our dead tank is a 40 gallon but we’d measured it first and there’s only a few inches in height difference. We get new pipes that are cloth (like fire hose) vs “flexible” copper.
Then Saturday night, the water stops completely. We are assuming the pump has lost its prime. Yay.
We got the water heater in place on Sunday. The water lines are loosely attached just to make sure it fits. I’ve not hooked it to the power yet. We realized that power line going to it is so very ancient. I will be running a new one as soon as the rest is done.
And Monday I called some plumbers until I found one who could be here this week. He should be calling soon with the time frame for him coming out today. Yay.
Meanwhile, Lorna’s car went in Friday (before this fun started) to get an axle replaced (a big problem with Subarus, or at least hers). After we get back from Lowes ($400 poorer) we get a phone call that her car needs a helluva lot more than just a single axle. By the time he is done, the bill is close to $800. And now we need the plumber (no freakin’ clue how much this will cost). Most likely we will replace the pump ($200) and the foot valve ($?) and then his labor costs (shudder). Lorna hit up her credit union savings account, her money market account, I deposited a royalty check I still had in my wallet, and we SHOULD have enough. If not, she gets paid Friday so we can always have him return then to finish.
Meanwhile, we gots no water. We have a trashcan under the gutter that we dip into for watering the flowers so we’re instead dipping into it to get water for the toilet. Lorna’s sponge bathing and hair washing at the post office and I, well, I’m shoo nasty. The dishwasher is full. The clothes basket is overflowing. And the dogs don’t like the bottled water we got from Ingles. Too damn bad, I told them. I don’t either.
So, yeah, fun fun. I’ll update y’all on the progress when/if any happens.
Meanwhile, donations accepted. (grin)
OH! By they way, I found a cool website that has helped tremendously with diagnosing the problem(s). Even if I can’t fix it myself, I will know if the plumber is trying to scam me. Inspectapedia.com. Awesome site. I’ve only really looked at the water system sections and wow, it’s got some great information.