If humility is good for the soul, and admitting mistakes makes one humble, this blog post should get me one step further to saintliness.
I'm also writing it because I enjoy firing up Google when I have a self-inflicted household problem and finding that some other guy has done something just as stupid as I did -- and thankfully shared the solution to getting out of the ditch he dug himself into.
So here's my tale of well pump "short cycling" (turning on and off rapidly, which can burn out a pump).
First, let's define a term: when I said stupid in the paragraph above I really meant unknowing. To me, doing something stupid is when you know it's the wrong thing to do. Innocently doing the wrong thing is different.
I had the right intentions.
Our complicated house water treatment system had been acting up. We've got an ozonator, iron filter, ph adjuster, and softener all lined up in our garage, cleaning our crappy well water before it enters the house.
Ozone gets pumped into a pipe right off the bat. Excess air is supposed to bleed off via a solenoid-controlled release valve at the top of the ozanator tank.
If the valve gets plugged up, air starts accumulating in the house water pipes, causing unwanted bursts of excitement when we turn a faucet on or flush a toilet.
I've been taught how to clean the release valve by Pacific Mist Water Company staff (we love these guys -- highly recommended if you've got water problems and live in the Willamette Valley or Portland area).
The deed got done, but the ozonator tank didn't fill up with water after the air supposedly was released. I'd been told that plugging the ozonator compressor directly into an extension cord might help speed the filling process.
I tried that for a while. Tank still sounded just as empty when I banged it with a screwdriver. Then came my unknowing decision: to also plug in the ozone generator (I think that is what it's called).
What this did, not surprisingly in retrospect but definitely a Yikes! producer when I went back into the garage to check on things half an hour later, was drastically increase the pressure in the pipes.
Ozonated air was going in. None was being released because no water was flowing (usually the ozone generator and release valve are turned on by a flow switch).
The pressure gauge was pointing at its maximum: 100 psi. Who knows how high it was. Usually the well pump kicks on at 40 and off at 60. We started running water to get the pressure down.
Which worked. But later we noticed that the pointer on the pressure gauge was bouncing around, which meant that the pump was turning on and off rapidly as the pressure dropped below 40 and rose above 60.
Any sort of water use, even minimal, made the pressure gauge freak out. The freaking out quickly spread to the psyche's of Laurel and me, since we'd recently had to have a new pump installed and didn't want to wreck it.
So we turned off the pump circuit breaker.
Soon thereafter people arrived for our annual holiday potluck. When they walked in the door they got instructions about how to dump water from a pail into the toilet if they had to go to the bathroom.
Fun (not). But the potluck went fine, with paper plates and plastic forks.
This morning I turned my attention to figuring out the short cycling problem. I lucked out with my first phone call, to Darren Currier of Salem's Aquarius Pump Service.
He was out and about with his family on Sunday morning, but cheerfully took a series of calls from me as he walked me through solving our Flex-Lite pressure tank problem.
(For city water folks, here's some basic info about how a pressure tank works with a well pump: Download Well pressure tank)
Darren didn't believe that the short cycling was due to excess pressure. Usually, he said, it's a loss of pressure in the air bladder that leads to the pump rapidly turning on and off.
However, high pressure can do the same thing, as cogently described here. Darren just couldn't understand how excess air pressure in the pipes could increase pressure in the bladder.
Nor could Jeff at Pacific Mist. Nor could I (who am by far the most ignorant of the three about matters pressure tank'ish, yet knew enough to be equally perplexed).
Nevertheless, I dutifully followed Darren's instructions.
Shut off the well pump circuit breaker. Drained the small amount of water in the pressure tank using an outside hose. Popped off the cover on the top of the tank. Checked the bladder pressure using a tire gauge.
It was over 50 psi.
Don't know how much over, since the gauge only measured that high. Darren recommended 36-38 psi, a few pounds under the pump-on pressure on our 40-60 psi pressure switch.
I bled air from the bladder valve by pressing the tire gauge in partway. Got it down to 37 psi. Fired up the pump and restored the water treatment equipment to their normal states. Nervously turned on water in the house, not knowing what to expect.
Yay! Pressure switch acted normally. No bouncing around. Problem seemingly solved.
It's still a mystery how high pressure in the pipes would produce high pressure in the Flex-Lite tank. The two must be connected, since we hadn't had any problems with the tank before I stupidly unknowingly dumped ozone into the pipes with no way for it to be released.
But as anyone with a well knows, water works in mysterious ways.
Maybe someone knowledgeable about such esoterica will read this one day and leave an answer via a comment.
[Next-day update: some Googling this morning revealed some interesting facts about ozone. It degrades rubber. Expose a balloon to ozone rich air and eventually the rubber will burst. So it seems possible that concentrated ozone could penetrate the rubber bladder in the pressure tank, causing the pressure of the air inside to rise.]