Topping off the water…

Or maybe making the best of a bad situation, I dunno.

A few years back the float switch in the water tank failed, and characteristically it was quite a while before I noticed. During that time the tank overflowed any time the sun shined and it made a bit of a mess – to say nothing of wasting masses of water, a practice to which I object.

I jumped to the – logical in context – conclusion that the fault probably lay with the part that’s exposed to all that very corrosive water, and replaced the float. This turned out to do nothing, which moved the culprit over to the charge controller in the wellhouse…

…and I’m not competent to diagnose that nor in a position to replace it. But one thing the controller does have which proved very useful in the circumstance is a simple on/off toggle that bypasses all the nonsense.

At first I went into first-world-problem mode, grousing about having to stop at the top of the ridge from time to time and turn the pump on manually, and dreaming up schemes to replace the controller – even though I can’t be certain it’s really at fault.

Then, gradually, reality set in: Every problem I’ve ever had with the water tank level has snuck up on me, because I always depended on the technology to keep the tank full and over the years the tech has found quite an impressive variety of ways to let me down. Seriously, it has become a longish list; the system never seems to fail in the same way twice.

But the symptom that makes me aware of the situation is always exactly the same…

I never used to notice until that thing went dry.

So I propped that section of ladder on a couple of half blocks and – over months – finally developed the habit of stopping by once a week or so, climbing the ladder and looking inside to see what was what.

And you know? …okay, no, it still let me down last winter and I never quite nailed down why though I’m guessing it was a freezing thing with the one-way valve. It happened quick. So not perfect.

But statistically I’m still in a much better position to catch a problem before it leaves me without running water if I just behave as if the pump isn’t supposed to run automatically.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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9 Responses to Topping off the water…

  1. Ben says:

    If there is a toggle switch that works, that makes me think that the issue isn’t the charge controller. If changing the float switch doesn’t fix the problem then I would look hard at the float switch cable and connections.

  2. Beans says:

    Plug in for on, pull plug for off is the simplest switch.

    Work out from there.

    Complex is the enemy of the self-sufficient.

    And making the rounds of the land including the water tank as a regular thing will help keep down issues.

  3. terrapod says:

    As a retired electrical engineer I offer you troubleshooting and repair service for free. Will happily visit with a truckload of cable, relays, switches and any other fool thing you may need to make a simpler more reliable system.

    I presume there is a solar panel or two to charge a battery which drives the pump when the float valve drops to the low point of arc. A simple voltmeter, 12 volt probe and an ohm meter is all you need to spot the cause.

    Like someone already mentioned, start at the battery, verify it is charging and can power the pump (bypass all the in between stuff to make sure motor kicks on), then trace each wire back from the float switch and forward from the battery. Can’t be that complicated other than cold weather being a bear.

    I will probably be out in Chandler in March, make your list of needs known before then so I can bring them to AZ then figure out how to get them to Tucson.

  4. matismf says:

    Looks like we need to get you a huge neon sigh:


    before terrapod heads out there…

  5. Norman says:

    1) What is the “normal” total weekly consumption rate of tank water?
    2) What is the average refill ratio (usage rate / pump GPM ) on a weekly basis?
    3) What is the average pump performance ratio (168 / number of hours per week the pump actually moves water at the standard GPM rate)?
    3A) What is the number of tank gallons necessary to maintain an adequate reserve, by average week?
    4) How many hours / week would be required to achieve an average balance of consumption vs pumped?
    4A) What is the average weekly volume and cost of overage (tank overflow) on a per gallon or per hour of pump operation basis?
    5) What’s the cost and complexity of a pump timer necessary to accomplish that?

    There will certainly be instances where the pump timer calls for pump output but there is inadequate PV panel output (or battery) voltage to run the pump so the solution would be to maintain an adequate reserve and a favorable consumption-vs-pumped ratio if the costs of excessive pumping (overflow) are minimal. Whether a timer inside the pump house is a more reliable and cost effective solution than a float switch subject to corrosion, contamination or wear is best judged by experienced on-scene personnel.

  6. B says:

    Do you have the correct float switch? Is it designed for 12 (or 24) Volts *DC*? Some switches work longer at 120 VAC, some don’t last long at all on DC. Or is this just enabling a relay? And if it is enabling a relay, then all the above also applies to the relay contacts.

    Just askin’

  7. Stefan says:

    How about a lashup with a big plastic float in the tank, with a stick poking out the top of the tank, as a visible level indicator? Or, a pulley and weight hanging down instead of the stick?

  8. Mike says:

    I just came across this and it might do the trick…

To the stake with the heretic!