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Well [water], well, well...What to do? [LONG]
Old 09-20-2016, 11:53 AM   #1
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Well [water], well, well...What to do? [LONG]

This is for people who have well water to their residence 😊 (Of course, anyone else who wants to read it is welcome).

We've had some issues with our water supply recently, and are mulling some proposals from the plumbing company (well-system specialists) we've used since 1990. Trying to decide what to do, and would appreciate advice and insights.

Background: We have a 26-year-old home on 3 acres with a 280-foot-deep well. A pump deep inside the well pushes water through a pipe into the basement, where it goes into a pressurized well tank (nominal 50 gallons - actual capacity 12 gallons) and an iron-filtration system into the sinks, toilets, etc. This is 1990 equipment, except for the in-well pump, which was replaced in 2004. All the equipment fits under the basement stairs. The water heater and furnace are located nearby.

Careless water running (e.g. leaving sprinkler on too long) depletes the in-house water tank, and then we have no water until the well can replenish the tank. The well has a slow but steady fill rate (I think it is 1 gal/minute but am not sure). Until recently, the system has been adequate, but our needs are changing. Due to more shade from taller trees, our gutters need to be cleaned twice a year, and the house has to be pressure-washed every year or two.

Now for issues: In June, we had the house pressure-washed and the gutters cleaned. The workers ran out of water. At that time, I checked to see if any toilets were running or other leakage was occurring. I didn't find anything. It seemed that the power-washing simply used water faster, than the well could supply it. After about 2 hours, we had full water pressure again.

Then, two weeks ago, we hired cleaners to clean our basement. They ran lots of water and flushed toilets numerous times. I also ran a load of wash while the cleaners were working. The washer cut off mid-cycle and the kitchen faucet went dry. The cleaners left because they had no water. This time it took forever for the pressure to return, so we called our plumber. He spent about 90 minutes going over the whole system, interior and exterior; checked all 5 toilets (found one that runs a little, but not terribly; turned it off); dropped chlorine tablets into the well to estimate the water level, which was way down (he estimated 200 feet below ground level). He found an exterior hose bib that had been left on, possibly for as much as two weeks (depending on who forgot to turn it off). The bib doesn't leak, but the hose washer does, so there had been a steady if minor leakage for some time.

He said the interior water tank appeared to be OK, but that we had drawn down the well so much that it would take a while for it to refill. (He also warned that letting the well get so low could cause the well sides to collapse, due to lack of hydrostatic pressure). So, for the next 2 days, we showered at the gym, didn't wash clothes, and only ran water to drink and flush toilets. The water pressure on the in-house tank came back to normal.

I ran a load of wash, but the washer was barely getting water. I unhooked the washer hoses and checked the particle screens; they were clean. So I called the plumbers again. By now, the well water level was fine. However, the in-well pump wasn't pulling enough electricity. He recommended replacing it (cost: about $2600; we paid $1900 in 2004). I've read that the life expectancy of a deep-water well pump is about 10 years.

I also spoke with the head of the company, who strongly recommended a new water tank and filtration system to replace the 26-year-old ones. The cost will be $4,415.00 (for comparison, the original 1990 iron-filtration system cost $1,500.00, not including the water tank which was included in the price of the house itself). This would not involve moving any equipment to a new location.

In addition, he recommended replacing the pressurized well water tank with a 400-gallon, non-pressurized, offline storage tank and a booster pump to raise the water to the first and second floors. The advantages to this are a) less strain on the in-well pump, since it gets cycled on and off less often and b) more water available on demand for large jobs like washing the house and cleaning gutters. This would require moving all the interior water and filter equipment to a different location in the basement, since a 400-gal tank won't fit under the basement stairs. Cost: $6,165.00.

The good news is, we have enough in the Emergency Fund to do it all. The bad news is, we had other plans for that money. The other good news is, we now have water to wash clothes, etc.

Even so, we are in it for the $2600 well pump which is past its life expectancy, and probably should do the $4400 filter system upgrade. But, not sure it is worth doing the additional $6,000 upgrade. OTOH, it would be peace of mind...it's upsetting not to have water when you want it.

Well (ha ha), that's my story...what do you all think?

Amethyst
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Old 09-20-2016, 12:03 PM   #2
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You definitely need a larger storage tank. I'm surprised you've managed to do as well as you have up to this point with a 50 (12?) gallon tank with a well flow of only 1 GPM. For us that would be totally inadequate.

As a comparison, our 800 foot deep well has a pump at the 625 foot level that supplies 6 to 8 GPM to a 2,000 gal storage tank. A separate pressure pump then supplies water to the house.

Edit: The point your well guy makes about having a separate pressure pump to reduce wear and tear on your submersible well pump is worth noting. The cost for us to replace our pressure pump is ~$700 vs, ~$4,000 to replace the submersible.
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Old 09-20-2016, 12:22 PM   #3
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We have a very similar system. Our well is about the same depth and it is still all the original pump, tank etc from 1972. Never have a problem with water.

Sounds like your well just doesn't have the capacity you need. I wouldn't think it's a pump problem. Even if you put in the storage tank wouldn't you still have a problem with the well getting pumped down when it is refilling the tank? Sounds like you need a deeper well.

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Old 09-20-2016, 12:30 PM   #4
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I agree about probably needing a deeper well, as well as a larger capacity system. We have never had any issue with supply, and although I can see a drop off in pressure when we're irrigating or pressure washing and running the inside water at the same time, it's just a minor problem. Go for it, you'll be glad you did.
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Old 09-20-2016, 01:09 PM   #5
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Some random notes:
I guess getting hooked up to city water / sewer isn't an option. After having well & septic in my previous house (suburban Chicago), when I began looking for my next house I wanted city water & sewer. I never had the system capacity issue that you're describing, but I had other problems with my well.
if possible, talk to several different well contractors. It's always educational.

Good luck!
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Old 09-20-2016, 01:24 PM   #6
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Amethyst,

You may want to contact your county health department which maintains well logs to find out what the well yielded and the amount of draw down when the well was first drilled as well as what the various layers the well goes through. You may need a new well pump, may need to go deeper or may need to have the well hydrofracked if you are pulling from bedrock. With a low yield well it is easy to draw it down a hundred feet or more when watering a lawn or other project. If your yield is that low, you should also consider a well protection device that monitors the draw on the well pump and sounds an alarm if you've drawn down too far and your motor is at risk of burning up.

One thing to note on the need for a larger storage tank. The well shaft itself has a lot of storage capacity. A 6" bore stores 1 1/2 gallons per foot. The problem is how quickly the well is replenished from the surrounding ground.

Good luck
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Old 09-20-2016, 01:29 PM   #7
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Did you ask the well company about drilling deeper to achieve increased output?
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Old 09-20-2016, 01:37 PM   #8
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I agree with the above comments that the equipment is not so much the problem as is the well. AFAIK drilling a new or even deeper well is no guarantee of better water flow, but if your neighbors' wells are yielding more than 1 gal / min that's a positive sign a new well for you might help. If you don't want to drill a new well, the 400 gallon tank will provide a larger buffer, but even that can be exhausted if you make heavy use.
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Old 09-20-2016, 01:44 PM   #9
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We have a well (approx 200 ft deep), and I built the water softener and drinking water filtration/RO/UV system for our home.

Wow, I've never heard of residential systems with hundreds of gallons of storage. Sure, it would result in the "deep" pump cycling less often than if there were just the "normal" 15-30 gallons or so, but the cost and space requirements seem really high just to save wear and tear on that pump. And, it drives the need for an additional pump to pressurize water for the house (something done by the submerged pump in a standard pressure tank system). So the rationale that makes the most sense is that somebody thinks that the well itself has a very low capacity (i.e. the groundwater enters the well casing at a very low rate) and pumping it out over time to a larger storage tank is the only way to get quick access to the 200 or more gallons/hr you might need occassionally.

A well that can't produce at least 10 gal/minute is generally considered a failing or marginal well, and more than that is normally required before a house can be built using that well.

How are your neighbors doing? Have they got wells the same depth as yours, and are they producing enough water?

In your shoes, I'd get another opinion about the well pump, and be prepared to replace it. I would not replace the filtration system unless you are having water >quality< problems. The filtration system doesn't reduce the iron in the water sent to the exterior hose bibbs, right? So that has nothing to do with your water quantity problems (>unless< your filtration system has some sort of resin/filter backwashing function that has gotten stuck "on" and has depleted your well). If you have been doing just fine without a 600 gal tank topside, and your neighbors aren't using such a system, I would be very reluctant to invest in one. A new pressure tank is small potatoes, but if the present one isn't "waterlogged," the bladder is okay, and it is functioning normally (with a proper air charge), I would not change it out. Ours is at least 25 year old and doing fine, and I don't think that is very unusual. OTOH, being >out< of water can put some extra strain on the bladder, so maybe your tank has aged more rapidly.
When you go to bed, try turning off >every< tap and user of water in your home (icemaker, reverse osmosis water treatment, don't flush the toilets, etc) and turn off the well pump. In the morning, turn on the well pump power and see if it cycles on. If so, you have a leak >somewhere<. If you want to know how bad it is, don't turn on any taps or use any water and see how long it takes for your well pump to cycle again. You say your pressure tank holds 12 gal of water, so the time it requires for it to go down in pressure and "ask" for more water will tell you the approx rate of your leak.
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Old 09-20-2016, 04:28 PM   #10
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It seems to me that the most important issue so far is the one gal. per minute. That would scare me. Our 200 foot well draws 10 gals. per minute. Plus, we get water from the local irrigation district during the summer. So, we use the well water only for household chores, etc.

I would try to find out what the typical well in your area draws, and gauge your decisions on that.

Best of luck with this, Amethyst...!
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Old 09-20-2016, 04:36 PM   #11
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The 1 gallon per minute would scare me too. Another issue is how long do you plan to stay in the house? If for a long time I'd make the $6k investment.

BTW, I've never lived in a house with a well so I can't say much about the mechanicals. FWIW, for city water and sewer we pay ~$120/month, or in ten years ~$14,400, so $6k for ten year's worth of water looks like a deal to me!
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Old 09-20-2016, 04:56 PM   #12
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That is interesting data. I've had well water and septic for much of my life. I was raised on it...Public water/septic for our erstwhile rental townhouse was rather cheap, but for a house like ours it probably runs at least as high as you are paying, Walt.

We don't know how long we'll stay. We're not getting any younger. OTOH, to sell the house, we would need to convince buyers the house's systems are well-cared-for and in good working order. Old equipment would be a turn-off, I imagine.

BTW I talked with the boss at our well company. He said his company's notes show that our flow rate was just as low back in 2004,when they replaced the in-well pump! He said another well would be unlikely to help.

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Originally Posted by Walt34 View Post
T FWIW, for city water and sewer we pay ~$120/month, or in ten years ~$14,400, so $6k for ten year's worth of water looks like a deal to me!
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Old 09-20-2016, 05:13 PM   #13
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1 gal/min may not meet your local standards, in which case you'd need to rectify it before you could sell the home. If you find out that's indeed the case, you might as well fix it now and enjoy a stable water supply.
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Old 09-20-2016, 05:29 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Wow, I've never heard of residential systems with hundreds of gallons of storage. Sure, it would result in the "deep" pump cycling less often than if there were just the "normal" 15-30 gallons or so, but the cost and space requirements seem really high just to save wear and tear on that pump. And, it drives the need for an additional pump to pressurize water for the house (something done by the submerged pump in a standard pressure tank system).
Living where you must spend $25,000+ to drill 800 feet or more (through rock) to reach water adds a level of complication/risk/cost to the equation.

If my submersible pump fails it costs $1,000 to $1,500 in labor to pull and replace the pump, plus $3-4,000 for the pump itself (it is a long way to the surface). And that is if I am fortunate and the failed pump doesn't self-destruct in a way that makes extraction impossible, requiring me to start over and have an entirely new well drilled. (My neighbor suffered this type of catastrophic pump failure and it cost him more than $30,000 for a new well.)

This is why everyone in my neck of the woods has a large storage tank and separate pressure pump to minimize the cycles/stress on their submersible pump.
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Old 09-20-2016, 05:45 PM   #15
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Lifting water 280 feet is a head pressure of 120 psi. If your water pressure is set with a 40-60 psi switch, then the pump is working against 180 psi of head when it is trying to top off the tank, or 160 psi against a tank that is drawn down to the kick-in pressure.

160 psi is about 370 feet of head pressure. Some of the water pumps giveup around that area. A holding tank plus a booster pump could allow the pump pump at a higher capacity.

If the pump is undersized, the solution is to get a higher performance pump. (More horsepower!) If the well is the limiting factor, then the only way to increase the gpm is to modify the well in some manner. First check I would do is determine what the pump will put out with minimal house pressure. Connect a hose and let it run continuous. That would give you what the well can do with no house pressure resistance. If it runs out of water after 10 minutes, then it is a well problem. If it flows 4 gpm at no pressure, and 1 gpm when you turn the valve down so it maintains 40 psi, then your pump is close to maxed out.
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Old 09-20-2016, 06:38 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by REWahoo View Post
Living where you must spend $25,000+ to drill 800 feet or more (through rock) to reach water adds a level of complication/risk/cost to the equation.
. . .
This is why everyone in my neck of the woods has a large storage tank and separate pressure pump to minimize the cycles/stress on their submersible pump.
Well, (yuk, yuk!) that makes sense. Off topic: One "silver lining" of having such a deep well is the ability to use the well as a "one-hole" geothermal heat exchange system for heating/cooling. The water can come from the deep well, do the heat exchange at the heat pump to make hot/cool air for the house, and then the water just gets dumped back into the top of the well. The well casing provides enough surface area so that the "used" water, mixed with the existing water at the bottom of the well casing, stays pretty much at the regular earth temp at that depth. It can be a lot less expensive to heat and (esp) cool than using an air-to-air heat exchanger, and a lot less $$ to install than digging vertical wells or horizontal "slinky trenches" typicaly used by these geothermal heat pumps.
But, that means a lot more hours on that deep pump, which goes back to your main point.
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Old 09-20-2016, 09:40 PM   #17
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I think you really need to check with neighbors, are their wells much deeper with better flow rates, or at the same depth with similar flow rates.

You don't need water to clean out the gutters, a blower will blow them clean very easily.

As to new buyers wanting a system well maintained, most likely they will be like my DD, never saw one before, and had no idea how it worked or anything.
They did learn fast when it broke after being there a year
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Old 09-20-2016, 09:46 PM   #18
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There may be more to that "1 gallon per minute" figure than meets the eye - or maybe I'm just confused about it.

We needed our pump replaced a few years back, and with the new pump, the continuous flow rate was somewhat low, ~ 3 ~ 4 GPM. But - the initial flow was much higher, ~ 10~12GPM. He told us our well depth is 190', the water level reaches 130', and the pump is set at 160'. So the pump has 30' of water above it, roughly 15 gallons in a 6" pipe.

The pump itself isn't a limiting factor in our case (it can reach > 10 GPM with a 'full' well), but the well only recovers at ~ 3 ~ 4GPM (the long term flow into the well from the surrounding rock/gravel/whatever). So you get that first 15 gallons, plus the 3 GPM from the well flow - but once you have used that, you are limited to the 3 ~ 4 GPM. So even a small pressure tank gets us along OK for now. Our shower heads are < 3GPM, an outside hose on full is a little higher, and a washing machine doesn't use more than maybe 10 gallons (guessing?) at any one time, so there is time to recover.

We run into a problem if two major draws occur at the same time, and long enough to use up the resrve - so we just don't water plants, run the washer, or run a shower at the same time.

Sooooo..... if you have some reserve before that 1 GPM, it may not be so bad. But you also need to know that the pump doesn't run dry trying to fill a large reserve tank - that can burn out a motor. So it kind of depends where the limit is.

Our well guy said they might be able to do an acid shock to increase the flow. Sounds a little risky though, I'm tempted to leave it as is (OK, I avoided saying "well enough alone" - groan).

-ERD50
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Old 09-20-2016, 10:22 PM   #19
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If you do add a large storage tank, be sure to consider the structural implications - hundreds of gallons of storage is one hell of a load. If it's being supported by framing or a floor other than a concrete slab, it could cause problems.
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Old 09-21-2016, 12:05 AM   #20
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Both of the houses we have lived in the last 30 years have had drilled wells. I think you need a second opinion.

What are the well depths and flow rates for your neighbors? If yours is deeper than most and lower flow rate than most then a new well might be a better solution. A 400 gal tank in the house would scare me.

I am thankful that our 225' well produces more than 25 gal/minute.... we have never come close to running out of water.
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