Cold Weather Well Pump Overload Problem

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We started having a consistent problem with our submersible well pump since the temperatures have started dipping to 0F this winter. The first time it happened was the first week of December, when the temperature hit zero. The water pressure in the house dropped to a trickle and the tank pressure gauge was down to 10PSI range. After some troubleshooting, I hit the 'overload reset' and the pump started up and all was well... until January, when the temperature hit zero again. Then the same scenario--no water pressure, go down and reset the pump controller and pump starts up. All is well for the rest of the week. Until the next time the temp hit zero or below. There is a clear pattern. The pump overload cutout occurs when the temperature reaches zero or below. The pump is submerged some 220' below ground surface. The lines leading from the well casing is 4' below surface of ground all the way to the house. That should be below the frost line. And since 1973, we have had much colder winters and no problems with the pump overloading and shutting down like this. Once I reset the controller, the pump kicks on and refills the Extrol pressure tank at the usual rate of speed and reaches the upper cutoff pressure and shuts off until needed again. It usually stays working until the next bought of cold weather. I'm at a loss as to what the cause of this behavior is. I doubt that the pipes at 4' depth are freezing (and if they were, we would not get water at all once reset), but the overloads only happen on the coldest nights of the season, and with predictable consistency. Does anyone have another idea as to what could be causing the overloads on cold nights?
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Mark,
Though your problem seems to be temp related I'd recommend looking at the pressure switch. You indicate that your water pressure is 10 psi and the pump does not engage until you hit the reset switch. When this happens what voltage readings do you see at the switch before and after the reset? I'd clean and tighten all connections and clean the relay contacts. If there is a small diameter water line running to the switch I'd check that for crud. If this doesn't help it may be time to replace the switch. Your description makes it clear that the pump and it's lines are not freezing but you do not mention whether the holding tank and pressure switch are in an unheated space. This may be important.
Dave M.
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David Martel wrote:

If it were the pressure switch not closing, it wouldn't start on resetting the overload...
It's the overload that's tripping, and the reset there that he's resetting.
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I agree. This is a separate overload 'breaker' on the pump controller, so the pressure switch can be calling for the pump to start, but the pump is unable to.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote:

Amazing! Have started identical problem here over last couple of months, although not clearly correlated w/ temperature.
I gather your controller/pressure tank are in house basement from you're "down" to reset...the controller here is outside on the pole near the pump while the pressure tank/switch are in the old well house. Also in an unusual coincidence, the pump is set at 220' here as well!
So far, only real thing I've been able to detect is an apparent <slight> increase in pump amps indicating some impeller wear on the pump, but not nearly enough that it should be kicking the overload. I've not been able to determine a root cause so far...
How old is the pump/controller? This one is less than 10 years ('96, if I remember correctly). The only real problem has been a pipe leak in the hole two years ago that went undetected until we read the meter so that it ran continuously for quite some (undetermined) time that could have shortened lifetime some.
I'm probably going to replace start/run capacitors just as a preventive measure as they seem to be showing some signs of age--the controller is quite a bit older than this pump. All I know to do at present is continue to watch it.
If you haven't, I'd check the starting and running current and balance on legs and the neutral and also see that it doesn't go up excessively as pressure builds up. It should hold steady or drop a little, not rise.
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Duane Bozarth wrote:

the rest of the house/farm load (required by local water conservation rules for farm wells) and the meter seems to have crapped last month....dead stop. I'm wondering now if whether the last time it tripped the reset was somehow related to that, sorta' like when a light bulb pops and trips the breaker...reminded of that just now as they came to replace the meter... :( [ :) ]
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One could debate whether '3 in a row' constitutes a clear correlation, but it sure seems like more than coincidence in this case! :-)

Yes, they are in the cellar, sharing space with furnace and hot water heater (oil-fired). But on these cold nights, the temperature gets down as low at 60F. I wonder if the start capacitor is getting marginal and malfunctioning at the lower temperature, but not at the normal 66F that the cellar is usually at on warmer nights?

I'll have to break open some wiring and insert my DVM in line to see what's what. Maybe it would be useful to install a permanent current metering system so I can see at a glance if the current is normal. I have no track history of current. The only indication is a stamped rating on the tag that says 6.9 amps 220VAC. I know it has a high starting current because all the lights blink when it starts up (always has done that) and our previous emergency generator of 5500W would just about stall when the pump tried to kick on, so we'd have to do without water during power outages until we replaced with a 12kW genset). Perhaps that high starting current is stressing the breaker?

The pump and controller were replaced in summer 1985. They replaced a Gould pump that had completely rusted out after only 13 years' service. The new pump is a Sears Best model, their premium line, made of stainless steel throughout. I pulled it in Jan 1999 because the 4" long iron nipple that joins the pump to the plastic pipe at the bottom of the well had rusted through a nice hole in it. Pump looked to be in good shape, but with the expected sludge of rusty/iron deposits. I cleaned the filter screen, washed the impellers as best I could, replaced the iron nipple and put it back in service. Been fine until now. Incidentally, the rusted through nipple caused our pump to run 24/7 for possibly a few weeks, until it got bad enough to not be able to keep up with a shower and wash load running simultaneously.

I'm thinking about the start capacitor here as being a suspect. The first time this overload tripped in December, I was able to reset with just one press of the reset button. This morning, I pressed the reset, but it popped a few seconds later. I could not reset it for about another 2 minutes, but when I did, the pump finally started moving water, as I could hear it rushing through the pipes coming in from the cellar floor.

Our system is really odd. I see no ground on the neutral terminal. I mean that the ground/neutral is not connected to earth ground by any means that I can see.
Also, somewhere in this thread I read that a worn impeller can cause the current to rise. I wonder how so, since there would be less water resistance if the impeller were to wear out completely, the resistance reaching zero?
Logic would seem to suggest that current is at maximum during locked rotor, dropping 90% as the rotor starts turning, then rising, as the resistance of tank pressure works against the pump. I can't imagine current going down as the tank pressure rises.
I think what I'll do is hunt for a replacement start capacitor and see if that corrects the problem. If anyone has additional thoughts on this, I'd appreciate your sharing those.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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the original authors w/ prob , tell me what is problem yer having? could'nt find any previous posts on this.
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Playintennis5274 wrote:

Identical symptoms other than no apparent correlation w/ temperature (although it is winter now...)
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My submersible pump is failing to start up when the outdoor temperature dips to 0F and I have to press the overload reset button to start it again. After that, it works fine until the next time the temperature gets down to 0. Since the pump is 220' below surface, and all the lines are buried at least 4' below surface, I find it odd that the pump overloads only on very cold nights. The cellar gets down to 60F when it's 0F outside. Normally, it's around 66F when the temps are in the teens and twenties. The controller box (containing start/run capacitors and reset breaker) is in the cellar. Am wondering if the caps are failing in the cooler room temps?
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION FILM SCANNING DVD MASTERING AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote: ...

I don't think so...my starter is on the pole outside and has never been an issue for as long as its been there...something going on towards 30 years now....it looks from Dad's records that this starter was put in in '96 w/ the new pump although it's a piecemeal one contrived from parts of two to (I assume) save some rerouting of the conduit.
It looks to me like the only piece that is that new is the actually interposing relay between the pressure switch leads and the starter box relay itself. The start unit itself looks to me to be more nearly the vintage of the original when this well was dug (that was '78). I'm thinking possibly these caps are weak from age, but don't believe temperature has much effect. We aren't as cold typically as you, but it's routinely in the 10 - 20F w/ highs in the 30-40 F during most of the winter w/ days of below zero. (And, of course, the opposite extremes in summer--110F not uncommon). I don't have a capacitance tester big enough for these.
BTW, you mentioned putting current probe inline...what really need is a clamp-on meter--maybe you can find a buddy to borrow one from.
On reflection, I'm thinking I'm w/ you wrt the current characteristics...I don't follow why the service tech who came out to check out the pump said the current should drop slightly now, either. His was a statement he made and while it seemed a little funny at the time I let it pass...
I had to be away the last time it failed and called them to come out so the wife would have water when she got home...I was concerned it might be drawing way too much current and burn out a pump where a little maintenance/prevention might save a lot. It was so long before they showed up I got home while he was still there but he was packing up to go w/ an inconclusive result other than the somewhat higher than historical current draw but not sufficient to warrant pulling the well...
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Well I guess that rules out the capacitors as a temperature sensitive issue.
Add to that the fact that our pump overloaded today (27F outside) and it took THREE reset attempts (accompanied by house lights dimming for 4 seconds until the breaker tripped) before I got water flow.
My next step is to just shotgun replace all the caps. But I fear the 20 year old pump may be the problem.
I went to Sears' web site and perused their pump models. The only have ONE model that can handle 220' depths and it's over $800 and weighs 70lbs.
Oddly, our pump weighed more like 25-30lbs. I don't think two guys would easily handle a 70lb pump and 220' of water-filled 1-1/4" pipe very easily. We barely managed to pull the lighter pump six years ago.
The original pump is 3/4 HP. But Sears specifies their 3HP pump for our well depth. Their 1-1/2HP pump maxes out at 175'. I am baffled as to how our 3/4 HP pump manages to fill a 30 gallon tank in two minutes, when their top of the line pump only does 25 gallons/minute with 3HP! Someone who's in the well business please set me straight here... have pumps become less efficient in the past 20 years?
I would just get the 3HP model without concern, except that I think all the wiring to the well head will have to be dug up and replaced. We have about a 300' run of #12AWG 3-wire going from controller to pump now. That will have to be replace with #8AWG (adding MUCH weight to the pump/pipe assembly that goes into the well) and requiring excavation.
Bracing for the worst, in actic temperatures..
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -

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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote:

the water from pumping level to ground surface plus head needed in the application. Not the same as pump depth. The pump is usually set deeper than the amount of water lift which is needed.
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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote:

'Fraid so from that description of the problem w/ starting, but you might just get lucky...it <could> be a weak starting cap if it only does it on start.

I personally wouldn't trust Sears, but that's a prejudice thing...basically, my problem w/ them is one just never knows who's the "vendor of the week". I'd suggest looking at Gould or one of the other name manufacturers.
I'm quite surprised that a 3/4 hp rated pump would survive anywhere near that long--the one here is a 2 hp Gould. Of course, the supply pipe is 2" rather than 1-1/4", too, and it supplied enough water for 1500 head of cattle daily as well as house use. The one prior to this one did last from '78 to '96. I'm hoping this is a temporary aberration...I've had no more problem so far.
I'd sure guess pulling even that would be a real chore by hand---you got a gin pole or some other set up to use?
I think I'd bite the bullet on that one and go for the well service guys, particularly if it were my only source of water and the weather issue makes it even more of a pita. I told the guy here it'll be sure to finally crap out entirely during the next real blizzard or this summer when it's 110 in the shade (and there's no shade where the well sits...
Good luck, but changing out a start cap can't hurt and just <might> get luck and extend life a little...
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I dunno.. it IS a 20 year old pump.

Just the opposite experience here. The original pump was a Goulds and it lasted only 13 years. We put the Sears Craftsman pump in there in '85 and it's served well til now.

Yeah, I'm rather confused as to why we put this in here to begin with. Worse, the Goulds it replaced was 1/3HP! So this was a significant upgrade. The Goulds delivered maybe 12-13gpm. The Craftsman seems to be doing about 15 right now, as it fills my 30 gallon pressure tank to capacity in 1:40, taking it from less than 10PSI to 60PSI cutoff. It always provided more than adequate water pressure for simultaneous usage, like running the garden hose, washing laundry and taking a shower without a pressure drop. So I'm really wondering if it is wise to replace this pump (assuming it needs to be replaced) with a 3HP model, when 3/4HP has been doing the job adequately for 20 years.

Nope. Just lots of manual effort and a good neighbor. But I can see that if we upgrade the pump and the wiring, the dead weight is going to be more than Walt and I can safely handle. How much does 220' of a column of 1-1/4" of water weigh, plus 200' of three wire #8awg cable, plus 22 sections of plastic pipe, plus the 70lbs known weight of the pump all add up to? Got to be a couple hundred pounds easily. We use three people in the past to do this: two at the well head and one very tall person back about 20' to hold the beginning of the pipe as high up as possible to form a gentle bend in the pipe and guide it to prevent it from breaking. It was a real chore. And we had to discard our clothing afterwards because of the rust stains. And the last time we did this job was in January, with a foot of snow on the ground and raining at 55F--the one day the temperature was above freezing all that month.

The Sears web site mentions that they will replace and install this new pump for $185. If that's not a misprint, then I'd be inclined to let them do the work. But the last time I heard about any well work being done, the labor was more like $4,000. That would be out of the question. And as it goes, we will have to save up for the pump. My savings is wiped out from paying the second installment on our real estate tax bill. I'd take the 110 degree weather over -4F right now. At least the pipe isn't brittle at 110. :-)

It's relatively easy and cheap to do, but yeah, I'm not holding out any great hope. Pump is getting worse with each start. Failed a second time today, just three hours after the previous overload.
I don't even have any jugs to fill up for reserves in case it goes out altogether. Gonna make some phonecalls and see if I can line up some parts and also find out about the total cost of installing a new pump. That might have to wait til we get our tax refund.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote:

Phew!!! Hate to even think of it! :( I don't think it would be possible w/o a good winch for our well...it sets the truck down pretty good to break the snubber loose before it will actually lift...

The pipe leak episode here from the local well service company was well under $1000 -- I'd think anything much over that to be robbery...not inexpensive but $4k??? Ugh!
But if Sears will do it w/ a reasonable warranty, etc., I'd sure be tempted...
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You must have a 10" well diameter and a really huge pump weighing several hundred pounds. The well digger originally used something that looked like a small crane to lower the assembly down into the well, but he put the plastic pipe sections together one by one and lowered it another 10' and repeated the process. The installer had it easy compared to us folks having to pull it up for repair. I suppose being 6' 10-1/2 and 360lbs does help and my neighbor is a real backwoodsman type, so let two of us grizzlies at it and we pull the whole thing out of the well in 5-10 minutes. :-) Lifting the weight isn't the problem as much as not having any rest until the whole thing is out of the well. It's 5-10 minutes of agony. I can lift the back of a Ford F150 pickup clear off the ground for a second or two, but try holding it there for 10 minutes? Nah.

Yeah, friend of mine had to have his well serviced and it was a major expense. Anything submersible is the ticket to big fees.

Me too. But I keep thinking "what's the catch?" Seems too good to be true.
Well, I've gone through all the connections, contacts and ground checks earlier this evening. Took out the main Cutler-Hammer breaker and, using a longnose pliers, squeezed the spring clips that hold the clamp on contacts together a little tighter and reinstalled. Then I cut up some strips of rough cardboard and used them to burnish the pressure switch contacts while pressing the contacts closed with a piece of wooden shim material. Next, I installed a ground wire from the secondary fuse box above the pump controller and connected it to the controller cabinet where the 3rd wire from the lightning arrestor was bolted. Then I powered everything up and used a piece of wood to push the pressure switch contacts closed. Pump kicked on without any issues. Switched it on and off a few times and the pump started every time. Pressure rapidly reached 100PSI on the tank gauge and then water started gushing all over me and the pressure switch I was operating--the pressure relief valve let go without warning. It appears that the pump is quite capable of filling the tank and raising the pressure to danger levels in a matter of seconds. Next, I opened a spigot for the outdoor hose. Let the pressure drop to 40PSI and heard the pressure switch close. Closed the valve and watched as the pressure came back up to 59PSI and shut off. Repeated process about a dozen times. Pump never failed to start up each time. Pressure builds from 40 to 59 in about 15 seconds. I guess we'll see how it goes over the next month. If no more problems, I'll consider that it was a bad connection somewhere. Perhaps one leg of 220 was intermittent and the pump wasn't getting enough juice to kick over, causing the other leg to overload and shut down. Hopefully that's all it was. Time will tell!
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote: ...

It's an 8" casing, I'm almost sure I recall...it is a bigger well than it might be if it were just for the house as it is farm use and 1500 head of cattle drink a lot of water on those hot summer days! :)
This is 20' sections of 2" plastic now although it was originally galvanized.
The "fixup" sounds like it indeed might have been a loose connection or a bad ground --that would be good. If you didn't, you might also inspect the connections in the starter box...in the basement there's a chance the humidity could have led to some corrosion products over the years, perhaps???
If you do have to pull it again, make (or rent) a well dog to hold the pipe sections as you pull it...that'll make the job much easier (and much less harrowing about worrying about the "what if" it gets away)...
...

I don't know...can't imagine they can get somebody local to do it for that. I'd surely get a written statement of what is and isn't covered before jumping. I personally just don't put much faith in Sears anymore.... :(
Good luck on yours as well...
It was 70F yesterday, to be <50 today w/ snow showers/cold rain by Thursday. This time of year if it's warm that's sure sign next front is just over the mountains and on its way... :(
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I think ours is either 6" or 7", if memory serves me. The plastic pipe seemed to be around 2", but the nipple on the pump is 1-1/4 so I think the plastic pipe must match. We sometimes use a lot of water around here in the summer too. Wife does a lot of washloads and I frequently wash the car, truck and outside of the house.

Control box looks like brand new. Cellar is actually quite dry. An electronics workshop shares the same space with the pump controller and furnace and hot water heater plus laundry area. Not a hint of corrosion on the contacts in the box, but I did clean some black carbon-like deposits off the pressure switch electrical contacts. They spark a lot, so they can get fouled with carbon. So far, so good. One day later and we have water pressure without having to reset. After a month of no resets, I'll be pretty certain if the cleaning fixed it.

I can't find any Google reference to this term other than having to do with healthy dogs. What is a 'well dog'? Is it a gin pole or jib of some sort?

Yeah, the price seems fishy, like a webmaster typo or some standard boiler plate text that wasn't removed.

Thanks!
Ah, summer weather. We're up to a swealtering 9F here today!
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . DVD MASTERING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote: ...

That may not be an "official" name, it's at least one name...
It's the piece that lays across the top of the casing and holds the pipe in either a friction fit w/ galvanized pipe or a slit that the pipe coupling can't slide through for plastic. That way you can set the rest of the pipe down while dissassessmbling joints on pulling (or vice versa on setting) the pump.
I'll do a little looking and see if I can come across one...
Well, it's damp and cloudy this AM...talking now of only a couple inches snow but yesterday it was supposed to stay warm enough here to be rain...but either way, sounds like no major precipitation event.
Sounds good on the conditions in the basement then...maybe your fix will have actually been a root cause. I'd still look into borrowing a ammeter and taking a set of current readings simply to start a baseline measurement if nothing else. That's a routine check the well company has on the wells going back to first installation.
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