Maintaining your pressure tanks – know the signs of failure and under performance issues

Pressure tank Maintenance

If you live on an acreage or farm you will likely have a well and pressure system in your home. This little component is often overlooked and receives very little maintenance. This week I was having some issues with my Reverse Osmosis system so I began to trouble shoot what the problem might be. I concluded that the pressure tank was only at 6 lbs. I added air to the bladder to achieve about 30 lbs and the problem disappeared. While I have the compressor handy I decided to check the well pressure tank as well. I found that this tank also was low on pressure at 13 pounds. I added air to this tank as well to achieve around 28 pounds.

The procedure for checking the air pressure in a bladder tank is often misunderstood so I will go over it here. First of all you should turn off the breaker for the pump. Next turn on as many of the cold water fixtures as you can to drain the water pressure from the system. You should be able to watch the pressure drop on the gauge and physically see the volume of water drop in the fixtures. Once the water stops coming out of the fixtures you can assume the pressure is at zero. If your gauge is reading something else gently tap it to see if the needle drops, if not I recommend changing the gauge at this time.

Now that the pressure in the lines is at zero you can check the pressure in the bladder with a tire pressure gauge. If the pressure is below 28 pounds you should add more. Never go above 45 lbs as most bladders are only rated to 50 pounds and 28 – 38 should be adequate. If you cannot get the tank to build pressure or if it appears to leak out once you remove the pump, you likely need a new tank. If the pressure tank is not holding air you are over working your pump and may need to replace it prematurely if you don’t address the pressure pump issue.

Finally, if you notice the pump is cutting in and out (cycling) more than once every few minutes or so than you likely have a bad pressure tank or the tank is low on air. The cut in and out pressures on the pressure switch should be set close to 35 and 55 pounds pressure. If you go higher or lower than that you may shorten the life of the pump and risk other issues such as leaks. If you are hauling water you want low pressure to conserve water. If you live in a two story home with 6 bathrooms you may need more pressure (65 PSI) to adequately supply the house. As always if you have questions about your particular situation don’t hesitate to contact me for free over the phone or text advice.

Dealing with cold weather water issues.

Here in the Midwest we have suffered our fair share in this bleak artic tundra this year. Ok, its not that bad but it seems to be when your fighting through the snow drifts. This week I tried to help a friend deal with a frozen hydrant on a local acreage. We added hot water and a propane heater to no avail. So this issue I will talk about how to avoid the cold weather blues when dealing with outdoor watering devices including hose bibs.
Water equipment that is designed to withstand the cold will provide a steady flow even in the most extream weather provided a few precautions are taken and the installation is correct. First of all so long as the water is flowing at a reasonable rate it will not freeze within the hydrant or the hose bib. The freeze ups occur when the water is turned off and the piping doesn’t drain completely . These devices have drain back provisions that allow the water in the pipe to drain back to a warm area or in the case of the hose bib to drain outside while the valve is turned off inside the warm part home.
If installed properly these cold weather adapted water supplies should remain frost free all winter long. Some of the common issues with freeze ups in these components are found when the drain back system is hampered. On a hydrant this occurs when the weep hole deep in the ground is plugged or the clay soil around the base becomes saturated. On a hose bib the two most common problems are improper slope of the drain which causes water to stay in the pipe after the hose bib is turned off and when a hose is left on the bib. When the wall can’t drain away quickly after the water is turned off it will freeze. This year alone I have come across at least two homes that were damaged by hose bibs that froze in the winter and split open. In the spring the hose bib is turned on and water begins leaking into the wall without anyone noticing until it comes out on the floor. So make sure the hose bib is sloped downward so the water drains outside and you will save yourself a lot of grief.

Septic Design and the impact of garborators.

Are you considering moving your family from the city to the country? There are a lot of differences between living in the country and living in a town or city. People have migrated to the cities over the years to take advantage of a lot of the conveniences of city life.  One major convenience of a city is that someone else looks after the sewage disposal. When you move to an acreage or are building a new country residence you will need to deal with the septic component yourself. You may be surprised at the complexity of this part of the country lifestyle.

Recently I spent three days of a six day course learning about septic design. I can’t express how much I have learned already and how surprised I was at the complexity of onsite sewage waste disposal systems as they are called now-a-days. It surprised me how many design parameters must be considered to properly size a septic tank and field system. My biggest eye opener was the impact of garborators on septic systems. I have never been a big fan of garborators in homes and after learning that installing a single garborator would require the septic system to be 30% larger I had my mind made up.

Its true, if you plan to put in a garborator or garbage grinder as some people call them you will need to install a larger septic tank and field system. Food from the garborators apparently overwhelms the septic tank unless it is factored into the design. The extra ground up food requires about 30% more bacteria, tank space and field capacity to properly eliminate the waste. So I suggest you consider composting your food scraps above ground as the garborator is going to cause you to spend thousands of dollars extra in a sewage disposal system not to mention the total waste of good compost. I for one have decided to pay closer attention to what goes down the sink.


In previous issues I talked about well flow tests. This issue will deal with how to properly assess the well and its components such as the pressure switch and tank and the well pump itself.  I will also mention a bit about what types of samples I recommend the buyer take when assessing the quality of the well water.

Most wells in the Midwest are drilled wells consisting of a 5 -6” well casing that is usually 80 – 500’ in depth with the average depth about 200’ or less. The second type of well is a bored well that is usually dug with a bucket type of tool or an auger and is generally about 36” in diameter. Drilled wells almost always have a submersible pump in the well.  The bored wells can have the same set up or the pump may be in the home. Regardless of the style your acreage has you will want to check a few things to see if the system is working properly. First of all, there should be a pressure switch and possibly but not always, a starter switch inside the basement. The pressure switch should start the pump when the water pressure is  about 30psi and turn the pump off when the pressure reaches about 60psi. If the pressure tank is not working right or is full of water the pressure switch may cycle on and off every few seconds when the water is running eventually causing the pump to burn out.

If you have never experienced the intricacies of well water equipment it is likely best to hire an inspector, driller or water specialist to guide you through the process, as little problems can leave you without water and a large bill. The last item I want to discuss is the topic of testing well water quality. At Border Home Inspections we recommend the standard well potablity  test for e-coli, coliforms and nitrates. In addition I believe the well should have a full chemical analysis preformed to show the presence of other water contaminants that affect the water, more then your immediate health. The chemical analysis costs about $100 but it alerts you to the presence such chemicals as manganese, lead, iron, and many other unwanted minerals. If your wells has a high concentration of contaminants and or minerals you will likely be faced with adding a filtration system to make the water safe and aesthetically pleasing for drinking and bathing. Trust me when I say it is not nice to have a bath and feel that you were cleaner before you went in. If the water is terrible, its terrible and you may be forced to filter it. I believe it is best to know this going into the purchase rather then finding out the first week you move in.  Go to$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/wwg408 to learn what the Alberta Government has to say on the topic.


Shock Chlorination is preformed to kill bacteriological growth to prevent sickness and eliminate unwanted tastes and odors from your well. The process of shock chlorination is not that difficult but if the procedure is not completed properly it may be ineffective. There is more then one way to shock the well. The Saskatchewan Research council (SRC) recommends that you use a 1200 litre water tank to hold water that can be treated and re-released back into the well. SRC SITE This is a great way to do it but few of us have such a large water tank so I am going to explain how I do it.

First of all it is important to understand a few things before you start. Plan to save enough water to last about 12 hours. Chlorine such as household bleach will do the job but it also will negatively affect some water treatment equipment so be sure to turn all water equipment to bypass to keep the super bleached water from entering the filters. If you are unsure how to do this contact the supplier of the filter for more info. The other issue you can face after chlorinating the well might be chunks of debris coming off the pipes and plugging up the screens on your water spouts.  It is recommended that you turn off your hot water tank, you will later drain  the tank and re-fill it with fresh treated water.

The goal is to get the bleached water to all the fixtures in the home and the well. So here is how I do it. After I have completed the filter bypass I hook a hose to the hydrant (or outside tap) and begin running the water. I make sure my hose will easily reach the well head. I then add about 4 gallons of regular or extra strength bleach to the well through the top. Be sure not to buy scented bleach, you want the original brand. It doesn’t matter if you have a dug well or a bored well. Just make sure that the garden hose is in the well and let it run for at least two hours with the bleach in the water.

Next you want to turn off the hot water tank so it doesn’t fire up or turn on the element when you run the hot water. Then run all the cold and hot water taps until the smell of bleach is strong in each. Finally leave the system to work on the bacteria over the next 12 hours.

TIP: I start the whole process in the late afternoon so it can have a good 12 hours to kill and clean the unwanted bacteria in the water.  In the morning you will drain the hot water tank  into the floor drain and begin running the garden hose into an area that won’t kill any plants or trees to clear the well of the chlorine. Finally all the fixtures should be run to to clear the lines inside the home until the smell of bleach is gone. It often takes a day or so for the water to completely return to its natural clear color. Don’t for get to turn on the hot water tank again. You will now be able to turn the filters back into active service if the chlorine is mostly gone.

TIP: Often after the shock treatment there will be black slime and chunks of debris coming out of the spouts. I usually take the screen filters off the spouts so they don’t plug up.

Let me know if this all makes sense, if not I can rewrite parts to be more clear.

UPDATE: I recently shocked my well and caused problems with my pump because I stirred up the well too much. The sediment I stirred up partially plugged the screen in the pump causing it to overheat and trip the overload. Fortunately for me the pump is quite new and has the overload protection it needed to protect itself. When I released the 100 gallons from the above ground tank I should have let it go more slowly. The goal of the stored water is to force the bleached water into the formation by filling the well more then it is normally. So remember if you do this to slowly add the water to the  well.  Here is a site I came across that might shed some more light on the process as well. SHOCK CLORINATION


I have lived on an acreage for most of my adult life and have experienced different styles of wells and well water. I have even had to treat dugout water for household use because the well was a low producer. In any case I want to take a few minutes and explain a few different things you can do to make sure your water is safe regardless of its source.
The first line of defense is to take a potability test of the water. This test is not difficult to obtain but it must be done according to the instructions on the bottle provided by the testing lab. First you go to your health department and ask for the sample bottle. Next you take the sample and send it back to the lab. Once again I am not going to go into the procedure for taking the sample as this blog is going to be long enough without getting into specifics. If you want clarification go to This SITE. The potability test is to check to see if there is E.Coli or Coliforms and sometimes nitrates E.Coli and Coliforms are living organisms and the lab needs to have the sample within 24 hours to be able to properly report on their presence. E.Coli and coliforms can make a person sick. If they are present in the water the lab will report that the water is unacceptable for human consumption. So if you get a negative result you will need to shock your well, a topic I will address in another blog soon. Nitrates are considered unsafe for infants under 6 months of age if the levels in the water sample exceeds 45mg/l.
Water born illnesses are not just biological in nature. It is true that the above mentioned organisms will make a person sick quite quickly it is also possible to become sick from long term exposure to these organisms and certain chemicals such as Alkalinity; Aluminum; Arsenic; Barium; Boron;Cadmium; Chloride; Chromium; Copper; Fluoride; Hardness; Iron; Lead;Manganese; Nitrate; Selenium; Sodium; Sulphate; Total Dissolved Solids;Trihalomethanes; Uranium; Zinc; and pH. Once again these chemicals and organics can be naturally occurring or introduced to the water and may need to be filtered out if possible before you drink it if the levels are above the recommended safe levels as indicated by health department for your area. The list above was taken from the Saskatchewan water site –
The most common problem with well water that I have experienced is HARDNESS and IRON, although there are other issues that come up from time to time such as TOTAL DISSOLVED SOLIDS (TDS) and contamination from ground water sources. In any of the above cases it is possible to buy a filter system that will cause the contaminant to become insoluble in water by using minerals such as salt. This new product is then back washed into the drain while the filtered water is ready to be used in the home.

Just a quick note to say that we will take the samples for you for a fee and send them to the lab with the proper paperwork. We also provide a free onsite analysis of total hardnes and iron in the water as part of every acreage inspection.


I have lived on acreages for most of my adult life, and I have to say there are many advantages. The seclusion, privacy and space are the greatest advantages I suppose. What seems to elude most potential acreage shoppers is the work that goes along with having your own piece of the world. In the city you pay taxes to have many of the nasty parts of home ownership looked after. Such as water, and septic. In the city you never have to give a thought to your water, you just turn on the tap and there it is. The same goes for your waste and garbage.

Things are different on an acreage or a farm. For starters you need to understand how to maintain drinkable water from your well if you have a well that produces water that is. Wells require shocking and equipment maintenance in order to maintain an adequate and safe supply of water. I could go on and on about wells but I will leave it there for now.  The septic system also requires proper design and maintenance on an ongoing basis.

Then there are the unforeseen situations that crop up like the one I had to deal with this morning. We had about 2″ of rain yesterday and I awoke to find a lake on my front lawn. I also lost a tree in this storm because the ground is so saturated.

IMG_5150I have been pumping water most of the morning and the lake is almost gone, for this week at least. This issue has been ongoing for the three years since I have been here and I have just adapted to deal with it the best I can. Oh well, the kids don’t mind! So think about these things while you are out there looking for that wonderful farm or acreage. Having said all that I would not trade this life for a city life, at least not at this point in my life. Remember to hire an inspector that has experienced these types of issues and can help to steer you clear of some of the obstacles out there.