Experience the peace and serene confidence…

…that comes of installing and maintaining your own vital infrastructure!

Yes! You too can live off-grid, and wonder with every bump in the night whether your tap will run and your toilet will flush! Let “what’s that noise?” become the center of your life! Start today!

Regular readers will recall that less than two weeks ago we had a pretty good windstorm here at the Gulch, and the next day I found Landlady’s solar panel rack sort of … kneeling.

Nothing was really broken, and I didn’t detect anything wrong with the system electrically. At least not right away. She and I got it back upright last weekend, though of course there’s still work to do on the front legs…

But the morning of the very day she was to arrive, I noticed something unsettling. Every thirty seconds or so, for about five seconds, the inverter would buzz and the display would show a 3000 watt load. This had clearly been going on overnight and had badly discharged the batteries. It happened like clockwork; 30 seconds off, five seconds on.

I had no idea what the problem might be or how to alleviate the problem short of switching the inverter off, which I didn’t want to do since Landlady was coming that very day. I checked it again in the afternoon; the batteries were charging in the sunlight, but the periodic severe discharge continued. She dropped by the Lair after she arrived, since we had to coordinate the work plan, and I told her what was going on but had no suggestion as to a diagnosis.

She figured it out, though, quite logically: she asked herself, “What’s the oldest electrical appliance on the property, and could it cause that kind of load if it failed?” Then she went into the powershed and unplugged the well pump. The cable was hot.

Yup. She checked the well pump, just because it was due. It’s fried, I guess, and the 30-second gap is the time it took for the relay to re-set? I really don’t know.

And yup, I confirmed today that the tank, which should be completely full, is in fact less than half full. Pump’s toast, and I expect after all these years the one-way valve is leaking.

These things come in bunches.

While of course this is bad news, chances are it’ll work out well in the end. The pump is more than 15 years old and really was due, and it’s of an old design that’s now seldom installed off-grid around here; AC, high-flow, and needs god’s own amperage to run. The plan is to replace it with a solar-powered low-flow DC pump like the one Ian and I use. Properly installed it’ll be low maintenance but in case of failure we can do swap-outs ourselves, and it’ll put no strain on the main electrical system at all.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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13 Responses to Experience the peace and serene confidence…

  1. Norman says:

    After the pump swap, once you’re sure it’s all working right, buy a spare, enough parts to rebuild (at least) one, a set of the documentation on how to replace the pump and how to rebuild one, along with any specialty tools needed. Best stored – probably, and certainly securely – in the pump shed, and all properly labeled.

    Guaran-damn-teed when the new one needs maintenance 8 years from now it’ll be 5 years discontinued and parts only available on even-numbered sunny Tuesdays in March from left-handed epileptic elves in the Purple Forest 15,000 feet up a mountain 70 miles outside Wang Su Chu.

  2. Wayne Dygert says:

    So troubleshooting was as easy as disconnecting the load and Murphy was uncharacteristically kind. I’m amazed you didn’t lose the inverted and curious as to why no breaker tripped out.

  3. Ben says:

    Is it possible that the inverters self-protection feature kicked in, and the maximum current that it can produce happens to be less than the circuit breaker setting? In that case it would just keep happening as long as there is battery voltage.

  4. Joel says:

    I have no doubt that some self-resetting breaker was at work but I’m at a loss as to where it is. The actual circuit breakers are bog standard and once tripped would have stayed tripped. The inverter can shut down and restart but it’s supposed to log an error when that happens and it didn’t. So I can’t explain it, I’m just happy nothing fried.

  5. TK421a says:

    I’m glad that the problem was solved quickly. The issue of a solar-powered replacement pump intrigues me. One question, would it run all the time or would there be a battery that the solar panel would keep charged so the unit would run only as needed?

  6. Joel says:

    It’s very simple. The pump on my system is designed to run A)when the sun is shining and B)when the float switch in the tank says “pump.” There’s no need to run the pump at night so there’s no need for batteries. It only takes one 200 watt panel, one charge controller, one DC pump, and the electric and plumbing bits.

    Ours hasn’t been trouble-free by any means: A diaphragm in the pump failed one time and the whole unit needed to be sent back to Sun Pumps for repair. Since then Ian bought a spare the box of which I keep clearly labeled and in a known location. 🙂 We (unfortunately) used flexible pipe down the well casing; 200 feet of flexible pipe is heavy, and one time it collapsed and kinked. PVC would have been better. So I’ve had the whole thing up out of the casing twice in 11 years, which is a lot and it could happen again later today. Since then I rejiggered the pump house interior with a pulley that lets me do it by myself.

    The actual “solar-powered water pump” bit hasn’t given us a bit of trouble. It’s a low-flow system, about 1 GPM max, so there are obviously applications it wouldn’t suit but typical household use isn’t one of them. We’ve had lots of pipe-freezing problems but that doesn’t have anything to do with the efficacy of the solar-powered system so I won’t post that extensive list. At the time of installation it was kind of a gamble but all in all I like it a lot.

  7. TK421a says:

    I live in the country. Over the past few years, we have had an increase in the number of power outages. So now, I’m not that confident in the power grid. What I’ve been looking for is a backup to my generator in case we have a replay of the long power failure we had a few years ago when we did without water for a week.

    Now that you have explained how it works, my thoughts are that this wouldn’t fit our situation. 🙂

    Thanks, Joel.

  8. terrapod says:

    Joel, if you or landlady have not done this already. Run a stainless steel cable, one test rated at at least 3 times the weight of the pump and associated wiring/pipe.

    I figure from 3/16″ to 1/8″ is plenty. Attach firmly one end to the pump housing and leave the other end exposed at the top of the well pipe, coil it up out of the way. This is what we used to do back in the old country, makes it easier to pull out the old pump even when it rusts/calcifies into place (have to bang on it with long steel rod on occasion). I am sure this is SOP but one never knows what expediency causes.

  9. Joel says:

    Now that you have explained how it works, my thoughts are that this wouldn’t fit our situation. 🙂

    No, unfortunately our way does assume the existence of a very large water tank.

  10. B says:

    Probably the pump bearing seal leaked, causing the bearing/bushing to corrode….the pump is seized or nearly so, and the pump tries to start but never comes up to speed, gets hot, and sets a thermal breaker in the pump motor…which takes 5 seconds to get hot enough and 30 seconds or so to cool off enough to reset.

    I could be wrong, but I’d bet good money I’m not too far off.

  11. I think B nailed it. We had a jet (pressure) pump in our tank fail a year ago and it behaved in a similar way until the control panel shut it down.

    I’m a bit envious of those who can pull their pumps readily. I could figure out a few ways to pull >400′ of galvanized pipe – but it wouldn’t be any fun.

    I second the use of a backup cable just in case something goes wrong. Trying to fish the bottom 1/2 back out can get tiresome and/or expensive.

    Don’t skimp on strapping the wires to the pipe when you drop it back down. The pump can torque down there and cause movement and flex on the pipe. I’ve seen it happen where wires shorted because of abrasion against the casing.

    If any of your spare parts are prone to degrade over time like some rubber or diaphragm materials – try to find a way to package them to offset that. I just ordered several specialty gaskets recently that were unusual and a bit pricey. Since they’re for backup and expected to be used over a long time period – they all got packed away in a glass spice jar. I don’t want to dig them out 10 years from now and have one crack the minute I flex it a bit. I’ve seen this happen with NOS carb kits – albeit some of those might have been more than 50yo.

    I like having those big water tanks – as long as I remember to walk over every couple of days and do the knuckle test – then they’re 3000 gallons of cushion if something does go wrong with the system.

  12. Winston Smith says:

    I had a neighbor once tell me that the well he had just drilled was producing hot water. Now I am a geologist and the nearest hot spring is about 200 miles away in western NC- theres no way that well is producing hot or even lukewarm water. He INSISTED it was in the 80s all the time.
    Next week I saw him replacing his faulty pump.

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