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.

Our home has gray plastic water lines. Someone said these lines are likely going to leak. Our home is 30 years old, don’t you think if the lines were going to leak they would have already?

The lines you are talking about are likely poly “B” lines. While it is true these lines have had a poor history and many homes have flooded from this type of pipe, you need to consider a couple of things before you get too excited. As you said, your home is 30 years old and no leaks have developed to this point. The problems with Poly “B” was discovered early on and most of the failures happened in the first couple of years after the pipe was installed. I’m guessing that your poly pipe is fine but just remember to keep an eye on it. The affected poly pipe can be identified by the number PB2110. Even if you have PB2110 in your home you may have no problems if the fittings are copper and they are crimped with copper crimp rings. The majority of the problems with Poly “B” were in the connections between the plastic fittings and the plastic pipe.  visit  for more information.

Poly B fittings

Our sink in the main washroom is very slow to drain. Sometimes there is also a smell coming from the drain line. What might cause this and how can I fix it?

A slow draining washroom sink is usually the result of hair in the drain line. I recommend taking the trap apart if possible. Remember it should be full of water. Next take needle nose pliers and try to pull out the obstruction. If there is nothing in the drain your problem could be a poor venting. Water will not drain well unless it has a supply of air to allow it to move down the drain. Think of venting like holding your finger over the top of a straw full of pop. Until you release your finger the pop stays in the straw. If the problem is venting you will hear a gurgling noise and see bubbles when the water is draining. The smell you describe sounds like a vent problem. When the venting is wrong you can sometimes suck the trap dry causing sewer gases to come back into the sink. I recommend hiring a plumber if you cannot figure out the issue. 

I am going to change my bathroom sink, should I spend a little extra and put in valves?

I have renovated and changed dozens of sinks in my day. If there are no shutoffs under the sink you will need to shut the main valve off. Much of the time the main valve has not been operated in a long time and it likely to leak. If the main valve leaks and will not stop you will have a problem on your hands. The best approach is to have valves on all fixture supply lines. This way you will not need to touch the main valve. The cost of installing a couple of shut offs under your sink is minimal compared to replacing the main valve if it leaks. The other problem you may have is a leaking line near the sink. When this happens you will need to shut off the water supply to the whole home until the leak is repaired. This could be a major inconvenience. 

I have had several sewer backups over the past few years. Is there something I can do to fix this?

Sewer back-ups are caused by several factors including sags in the line, line displacements, tree roots, debris in the line, cracks in the line, line collapse, and deformed pipe. It is impossible to know for certain what might be the cause of your line backing up. The best approach is to send a special camera down the line to see what is happening. I have a camera for this purpose which I run from the cleanout in the home to the city street. The camera is crystal clear so long as the line is not full of water. If you have a back-up it is best to auger the line first then call for the camera. My equipment has a built in DVD burner and I also have a line locator that allows me to find the exact spot where the problem is located. Check out the video on my web site for more information.

Locating the problem area using 512MHertz locating device

Locating the problem area using 512MHertz locating device

The Color camera is amazing

The Color camera is amazing


The hot water tank has a very foul smell. I have been told there is a manganese rod in the tank that can be removed. Can you explain?

The greatest obstacle of a hot water tank is to overcome the destructive forces of the hot water and the impurities in it. One solution to this problem is to place a sacrificial rod made of manganese in the center of the tank. This rod attracts the impurities in the water and is attacked by them. The idea is to protect the enameled steel tank and sacrifice the rod in the center. The disadvantage of this approach is the smell that can sometimes result when the water attacks the rod. The smell is like sulfur or rotten eggs and it not pleasant. A lot of homeowner remove this rod by unscrewing the bolt that it is attached to. Removing the rod usually works but it also shortens the life of the tank. I recommend consulting a plumber for more information about this procedure.


My hot water tank is dripping from the valve on the side of the tank. How can I fix this?

The valve on the side of the hot water tank is called a PRV or pressure relief valve. This valve is designed to open if the pressure in the tank gets too high. If the PRV was not in place the tank can explode with as much force as a bomb. So needless to say the valve must be there. Because of the spring loaded design of this valve it has a tendency to leak. The good news is that the valve can be replaced. Make sure the water tank is shut off and cool, the water supply is shut down and there is no pressure on the valve. I personally have not changed one of these so I can’t give any particular tips other than to hire a plumber if you are unsure how to procede.

I grew up in the old school where copper pipe was used for water supply throughout the house. These days plastic pipe is used. Is this type of pipe safe and reliable?

There are two primary types of plastic I want to talk about, pex and poly B. I was like you once and was concerned that plastic pipe was not going to be as good as copper. I soldered a lot of pipe over the years because I was afraid of change. About 7 years ago I renovated a home and re-plumbed the entire home with pex piping. I was amazed at how easy it was to work with. The invention of a good form of plastic pipe didn’t come all at once, however. Initially a gray pipe called poly “B” was made with plastic fittings that turned out to be a disaster. Thousands of homes were flooded in the early years when poly “B” was first introduced. The problem was the stability of the poly butylene itself. The pipe had a tendency to change size and when coupled with plastic fittings it was common for the pipes to blow apart. Changes were made and copper and brass fittings were introduced that solved this issue. Today’ pex appears to be very stable and is far better than copper piping in my opinion. 

A plumber friend of mine said I should install a back water valve. Can you explain what they do and what I should do?

If you do not have a backwater valve in your basement plumbing you are subject to all the problems the city may have as a backup can happen at any time. The backwater valve is the only protection between you and the city sewer. When the city has high volumes of water such as after a downpour it can sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the flow of water coming at the treatment facility. Often the sewer lines are old and too small to handle high volumes so the water will rise up into your basement drain. If you have the back water valve and it is working properly it can hold back the water. Without the valve the water will usually flow into the basement through the floor drain which is the lowest point of entry. From my experience it is usually about $10-$30,000 in damage to a finished basement when only a couple inches of water enters the basement. A backwater valve is essential to prevent this. 

My last home flooded three times when we had heavy rains. The water came in through the sewer lines. How can I try to prevent this from happening in our new home?

A back water valve is what you need. These devices have a flapper valve in them that allow the water to leave the house but close when the city sewer water level tries to come into your home. The problem is that about 50% of these backwater valves fail over time. The flapper valves have a tendency to become stuck and even dislodged and stuck in the line. The best approach is to check the back water valve periodically. The back water valve should be the last plumbing valve/access before the drain line leaves the basement. I always recommend a flood check in the floor drains as backup safety valves as well. These floor drain valves only cost about $20.00, if you don’t have one get one soon.