Help diagnosing a no-water situation after a freeze

Users who are viewing this thread

BigEdgar

Member
Messages
48
Reaction score
5
Points
8
Location
Seattle
Hi, we lost water pressure from our well and I'm looking for some help troubleshooting. We recently had some much colder temps than usual (typical winter temps can get down to the 10s, but recent temps were down to –15). Our well head, pressure tank and switch are all housed within a heated pump house, but we lost power for a bit, which killed the heat and I think things got cold enough to freeze in the pump house.

I arrived at the house to find no water to either of our two structures (house and garage). I was pretty sure it was due to frozen pipes in the pump house, so I heated up the pump house to 50 degrees for a few days, but still no water. It is *possible* that something is still frozen given the unprecedented temps, but I'm now thinking it's more likely that one of the pump components has failed, perhaps due to some issue with the cold. Here's what I know:
  1. Oddly, our pressure tank (which I check a few times a year and ensure is at 38 PSI) was showing 41 PSI (40/60 switch). I'm not sure how the pressure increased from 38 to 41, especially with these cold temps. Even stranger, I turned off the power to the pump, let some air out to air the tank down to 35 PSI and turned the power back on. The pump kicked on for about 1 second and then shut off. PSI in the pressure tank was back to 44 PSI but still no pressure in the system?? I'm confused by this.
  2. The pressure switch is old and crusty, so maybe it is failing? But it seemed to respond to low pressure in the tank via the test I did above ^^, so maybe it's ok? I've included a picture.
  3. Pressure gauge reads zero. I think it still works because when the pump kicked on for a heartbeat I could see it wobble before going back to zero.
  4. I opened the local relief valve and got a few drops, but nothing else. That seems to confirm to me that there's no pressure in the system.
I'm at a loss for what could be wrong here. The behavior of the pressure tank is what has me most confused. Any thoughts on what could be wrong, or what to try next? Thanks!
 

Attachments

  • WellSetup.png
    WellSetup.png
    876.8 KB · Views: 61
  • PressureSwitch.png
    PressureSwitch.png
    583.4 KB · Views: 68

Bannerman

Well-Known Member
Messages
4,844
Reaction score
790
Points
113
Location
Ontario, Canada
There could be multiple issues occuring at the same time.
The behavior of the pressure tank is what has me most confused.

Water within the pressure tank, will increase the tank's air pressure. The air pre-charge pressure, is to be adjusted to 38 psi only while the pump is unpowered, and after the tank is completely drained of water.

With the pump system functioning within the 40/60 psi range, the air pressure within the tank will equal the water pressure as it is the compressed air that pushes water out from the tank and provides system pressure while the pump is not running. With the air pre-charge pressure set to 2 psi lower than the pressure switch Cut-In pressure (40 psi), the tank will continue to contain only a small volume of water when the pump is activated @ 40 psi.

You might open the drain valve just below the pressure gauge, to determine if water is expelled while the tank's air pressure is greater than 38 psi and also while the pump is running.

Although the pump house temperature was raised to 50°F, heat rises so the piping, P tank and P switch located close to the floor, will remain significantly cooler. You might direct heat specifically at those devices to expedite thawing. Perhaps a heat gun or portable fan forced heater maybe suitable.

What I find odd is, the pump shutting off at only 44 psi. Perhaps the tank supply pipe, tank inlet or the tank itself, continues to be almost clogged with ice, so once the pump becomes activated, with little water entering the tank, the pressure rises rapidly to cause the pressure switch to sense 60 psi and therefore, immediately shut down the pump.

Further reasons for no water flow to the home and garage include, a frozen buried supply pipe located between the pump house and the home/garage.

I assume the clear Pex piping is leading to/from a water softener or other water treatment device. Have you attempted to bypass that device to determine if any water will flow to the house, garage and other device connected to the black poly pipe? Perhaps the water treatment device is frozen and is preventing water from passing through?

The pressure gauge could also be damaged, and is no longer indicating pressure accurately.

Edit to add: There is a check valve located in the line after it exits the casing. That check valve is not necessary and should be removed as it will often cause problems such as water hammer in addition to other issues.
 
Last edited:

BigEdgar

Member
Messages
48
Reaction score
5
Points
8
Location
Seattle
Bannerman - thanks very much for your thoughts. I'm not seeing you point the finger at pressure switch or other component, so perhaps you and John G. are right and the pipes are still frozen. Seems unlikely as I had a space heater blowing hot air at the pipes for 48 hours, but it's been freaky cold for us (with the heater blowing on the pipes, it was 40-50 degrees on the floor of the pump house, probably closer to 60 degrees at head height).

Two follow up questions:

1. I could try applying direct heat as you noted - the pipes are PVC and galvanized steel (I think). What is the likelihood of the pipe bursting if I apply heat with a heat gun?
2. Does the pressure switch look ok from your experience? And based on our symptoms, is it possible that a bad pressure switch could be the culprit?

Other answers here:
The air pre-charge pressure, is to be adjusted to 38 psi only while the pump is unpowered, and after the tank is completely drained of water.
Good to know - I have not been recharging the air pressure with the tank empty. I haven't heard the pump running when I'm re-filling the air pressure, but good to know that it should be done with the water evacuated and pump turned off. I'll do that going forward.
You might open the drain valve just below the pressure gauge, to determine if water is expelled while the tank's air pressure is greater than 38 psi and also while the pump is running.
I assume you're referring to what I labeled as the "local relief valve" in the picture, yes? I did open this up when the pump was NOT running and expected to get water out because the P tank had 40+ PSI, but only got a few drops. I can try again to do it while the pump is running, but will have to release enough air pressure to get the P tank down below 38 again.
I assume the clear Pex piping is leading to/from a water softener or other water treatment device.
Yes, that's correct. And I should have mentioned that the temp on the ground was 50 - the temp up by those supply lines was probably closer to 60+, and those lines to the water treatment system were definitely unfrozen. I suppose it's possible that the water treatment tank is frozen, but I would have thought I would get water from the local relief valve even if the lines to the treatment tank were blocked by freeze.
There is a check valve located in the line after it exits the casing. That check valve is not necessary and should be removed
Thanks for mentioning this - I read up elsewhere that the check valve would probably only lead to issues, so will remove that as we're able.
 

Valveman

Cary Austin
Staff member
Messages
14,633
Reaction score
1,303
Points
113
Location
Lubbock, Texas
Website
cyclestopvalves.com
Sorry for your problem. The points on the pressure switch are open. With a screwdriver, push the points closed and see if any water will come out the faucet on top of the well head. I would not go any further until you get water to come out that faucet. When a well head freezes the part below ground in the well is insulated and hard to thaw out. But the switch points should not be open until the pressure gets up to like 60 PSI. The nipple under the pressure switch can be frozen, which will keep the switch points from closing and letting the pump run.
 

LLigetfa

DIYer, not in the trades
Messages
7,507
Reaction score
581
Points
113
Location
NW Ontario, Canada
Oddly, our pressure tank (which I check a few times a year and ensure is at 38 PSI) was showing 41 PSI (40/60 switch). I'm not sure how the pressure increased from 38 to 41, especially with these cold temps. Even stranger, I turned off the power to the pump, let some air out to air the tank down to 35 PSI and turned the power back on. The pump kicked on for about 1 second and then shut off. PSI in the pressure tank was back to 44 PSI but still no pressure in the system?? I'm confused by this.
How are you measuring the pressure? A pressure gauge that gets exposed to freezing cannot be trusted.
 

BigEdgar

Member
Messages
48
Reaction score
5
Points
8
Location
Seattle
Sorry for your problem. The points on the pressure switch are open. With a screwdriver, push the points closed and see if any water will come out the faucet on top of the well head. I would not go any further until you get water to come out that faucet. When a well head freezes the part below ground in the well is insulated and hard to thaw out. But the switch points should not be open until the pressure gets up to like 60 PSI. The nipple under the pressure switch can be frozen, which will keep the switch points from closing and letting the pump run.
Thanks for the thoughts, Valveman. We closed the contacts with a screwdriver (nudged the plate under the contacts to get them to connect) and then turned on the power, but the contacts just pop open immediately. I'll try this again, but this time with the faucet open to see if there's any water flow (we're going back to the house this weekend when the weather is a little warmer).
 

BigEdgar

Member
Messages
48
Reaction score
5
Points
8
Location
Seattle
How are you measuring the pressure? A pressure gauge that gets exposed to freezing cannot be trusted.
The 41/44 PSI in the pressure tank is being measured using a tire pressure gauge (that came from a heated garage) that we use with some frequency for tires, so feels pretty reliable.
 

Valveman

Cary Austin
Staff member
Messages
14,633
Reaction score
1,303
Points
113
Location
Lubbock, Texas
Website
cyclestopvalves.com
Sounds like the line to the pressure tank is froze, but not the little line to the pressure switch. Pump is working. Pressure switch is shutting off pump because water can't go any further down the line.
 

BigEdgar

Member
Messages
48
Reaction score
5
Points
8
Location
Seattle
Everyone - thank you all so much for the thoughts and ideas on this. As a few of you thought, the root cause was indeed a hard freeze. We have not had temperatures up here like this and I was naive about the amount of heat I needed to apply to get things to unfreeze. A week later, a bunch of new insulation and 30° warmer outside and everything is thawed out and working with no busted pipes and no broken components. I really appreciate all of you for your replies and I've learned a bunch about our well system that I didn't know before. Thank you all so much for the help!
 
Top
Hey, wait a minute.

This is awkward, but...

It looks like you're using an ad blocker. We get it, but (1) terrylove.com can't live without ads, and (2) ad blockers can cause issues with videos and comments. If you'd like to support the site, please allow ads.

If any particular ad is your REASON for blocking ads, please let us know. We might be able to do something about it. Thanks.
I've Disabled AdBlock    No Thanks