Friday, December 3, 2010

You don't suffer the way I suffer...

Well, hell.

Dang.  Poop.  Ca-ca.

This hasn't been a great day.

Okay:  Note for future generations.  When designing your off-grid water system, see what you can do about eliminating the pressure pump and tank.  Just write it right out of the budget.  Locate your well and cistern on a nearby hilltop or something.  BUILD a hilltop if you have to.  Seriously, right now a fifty-foot water tower is sounding like a better solution.

I knew something like this was going to happen - it really didn't come as a big surprise.  The pressure pump has been leaking for some months now.  Not a lot, just a drip.  It happened sort of abruptly when somebody - not saying who, but he has a blog you may have read - forgot to fill the cistern before a big everybody-here weekend.  The cistern ran dry, the pump - which is not supposed to run dry - started making horrid noises, and after that there was a little leak.  The housing is supposed to be bolted to the ground, but wasn't and vibration loosened a couple of threaded fittings.  Annoying, but there it is.

Then a couple of weeks ago the pump froze solid.  That came as quite a surprise, because nothing in the powerhouse has ever frozen.  The batteries always gave off so much waste heat that the inside of the building never got below freezing.  But now we run fewer, better batteries.  Guess I should have anticipated that.  Anyway, I thawed it out, Landlady bought a heat tape that should prevent it from happening again, and that was an end.

Except it wasn't.  I don't know if the ice hurt the pump or what, but yesterday the whole thing sort of...blew up.

I know for a fact that it hadn't been going on very long.  Yesterday, a beautifully sunny day, I took advantage of all those photons to fill the cistern.  When I plugged in the well pump, all was well.  I went to work on the cabin, came back a few hours later to unplug the well pump, and heard running water as I approached the powerhouse.  Lots of running water.

Okay:  One disadvantage of putting your water system in the same building with your electrical system is that when the building is flooded three or four inches deep, you may experience a mild reluctance to go in there and see what the hell is going on.  But I did, just enough to grab a handful of cords, unplug everything, and note that the water was somewhat cooler than tepid.  Water was pouring out of the building through a low spot in the foundation, and I figured I'd just go diagnose the problem when the procedure didn't involve wading.

I still don't know what happened.  The motor runs fine, but clearly is no longer connected to the pump.  The housing extension between pump and motor is broken in several places.  The water came from the cistern backflowing out through the violated housing.  Yep - 2000 gallons.  We have no water.

The good news is that we do have a plan B.  The bad news is that it involves hauling water in bottles for a while.


Jim said...

I've fought pump battles in freezing climates, and I wish I were close enough to try to give you a hand. I'm ignorant of your particular machinery, of course, but could a set screw be a problem? If the motor tried to turn a frozen pump shaft -- or a sticky dry pump -- it could have sheared a set screw, or key, on the motor > pump shaft coupling. Or maybe on an impeller?

I don't envy you. I hate dissasembling pumps. Luck to you.

MamaLiberty said...

I must give a thumb up for a tank on a hill. Gravity flow is sometimes frustrating, but chances are you'll have SOME water through thick and thin regardless.

Have lived with wells, pumps, cisterns and tanks most of my life. The tank on the hill was always the least trouble and the most reliable in all weather.

And hauling water, whether in jugs or trucks, is the worst. Good luck getting things fixed and hope the water leak didn't damage your foundation.

Joel said...

Jim, since the pump housing is shattered I don't think it much matters what part of the interface between it and the motor failed.

MB, the foundation is concrete and unlikely to have taken damage. I was worried about the building contents, like the electrical system. Also Landlady's guns, ammo and other supplies are in there. But fortunately the water never got high enough to dowse anything. I'll be spending time today cleaning and oiling guns, once it warms up a bit.

Big Wooly said...

Sounds like a check valve between the pump and the cistern might be a good investment. They aren't very expensive and that way you wouldn't keep losing water when there's a problem. Since you'll have everything apart it might be a good time to do it. Might reduce strain on the pump too.

Anonymous said...

If you have room for a small water holding tank on your upper level, or two or three small tanks in tandem, scattered to spread the load, and a small solar-powered pump (ours was a small stock-watering pump) to keep that small tank filled, that might work for you.
When we lived high in the mountains with no electricity, we put two smallish (100 gallons each) water tanks above the kitchen and bath, and had gravity-fed water only to the lower living level (the upper loft area of the cabin was storage and the water tanks, as well as the desk and library space. Our little solar pump did a superb job of keeping the little tanks filled, and we used water sparingly. Our kitchen water was heated on the little two-plate cook and heating stove, or in the stove's small 2-gallon warming cistern. (Our shower was heated by valved coils in the stove pipe system, and in summer, we put up a solar shower outside. Flushing was once per day per person.)
When it was foggy or cloudy for a few days, we usually just hauled a couple buckets of water, although we could have switched the water pump over to the seldom-used little generator.
Eventually, the book population also occupied the north wall of the cabin, providing extra insulation, where it continues today, behind mouse-proof old plate glass doors that we recycled.
Anyway, if your place can carry the load, and you have the materials or can get them, such a system might work for you. We found it entirely adequate for our needs.

Anonymous said...

I lived with "walking water" [buckets and barrels brought from town or a generous neighbor] for over two years and I can attest to that being the least favorite form of water supply that I have had to live with.
Even the tiniest of sailboats had a foot pump for pressure and rain water collectors to resupply.
I really liked having a [very expensive and power hungry] reverse osmosis water maker on boat some of the boats over the years.
My boat only had the rain collector and trips to the dock for "town water".

Good luck with getting it back together soonest.

capt gooch