Series: Well Install
In part 2 of this series, we covered the installation of the well pump itself, but not the wiring or plumbing.
In this blog post we'll be doing a temporary setup to get the well operational as quickly as possible without waiting for the utility building.
In this article...
In a conventional residential well installation, the well pump would supply pressurized water directly to the house. The pump would be turned on and off by a pressure switch. When all the faucets are closed, the pressure rises and the pump turns off. When a faucet is open, the pressure drops and the pump is turned on.
Oftentimes a system will also integrate a pressure tank - think of it like a reservoir of pressure, designed to absorb some of the pressure fluctuations so the pump isn't cycled as often.
But there's one big problem with that approach for us - we don't have anywhere to house the pressure switch (and optional pressure tank) until we have the utility building. And we want water before that for our RV.
The good news is that our RV, like most, has a fresh water tank which in turn has a water pump and pressure switch, exactly like you'd find in a house. So all we need to do is fill the tank periodically.
Until now we've been doing that with our Aquatank II water bladder and a transfer pump - using our truck to haul water from a neighbor and fill the RV. Not much fun!
So in this post I'll be walking through our temporary setup that allows us to manually turn our well pump on and off, without needing permanent power or plumbing.
Electrical & plumbing
When you think about a well pump install, it's easy to think of it as a plumbing job, but in reality it's just as much, if not more, about electrical.
As I described earlier, a conventional install would see a pressure switch control power to the pump, but that implies a permanent electrical supply - something we don't yet have either. Instead, our installation needs to work from temporary power - a generator in the short term, and an extension cord from our temporary electrical backboard in the medium term.
All of these connections, electrical and plumbing, will happen at the top of the well. This is one reason why we not only installed the drain valve (to stop the water in the top of the drop pipe freezing), but also installed a well seal instead of a well cap. See our last blog post for more details on that.
The well pump is a simple device with just three wires - hot, neutral and ground. There is no switch on the pump, so if you provide it power, it runs. Turn off the power and it stops.
The question then is how, until we have a permanent electrical supply, do we provide power?
There are several options here, but the one I chose was to use a 15A inlet receptacle. Unlike an outlet receptacle that you plug something into to get power, with an inlet receptacle you provide power to it. Think of it like the electrical connector on the side an RV when you plug it into grid power, or the 3-pin inlet on the back of an appliances to which you connect what is often known as a kettle lead.
In our case, I chose to use an inlet that accepts a standard NEMA 5-15 connection. The inlet has the male connection (NEMA 5-15P) to which you can connect a standard female NEMA 5-15R connector - or, in our case, the end of an extension cord!
To put it simply, we will provide power to our well pump by plugging an extension cord into a power source such as our generator, RV or temporary backboard, and connect the other, female, end to an inlet receptacle at the well.
The pump will run whenever it is provided with power, which means if you have an extension cord connected to a generator and plug it into the inlet receptacle, it will immediately turn on the well pump.
In general, it's not a good idea to have things wired in such a way that current starts flowing as soon as an electrical connection is made. Amongst other things, there's a risk of arcing on the connections and it can reduce the lifespan of the components in the system.
The simple solution is to install a switch. The switch is turned off until power is connected, and then the well pump is turned on by flipping the switch.
Building the post
We now understand what we want to build, but we need somewhere to mount the inlet receptacle, switch and a junction box to house the connections between the temporary wiring and the well pump.
The obvious answer is a post, so I opted for a pressure treated 4x6, stained for a little added protection from the elements, but mainly for aesthetics.
I needed a way to secure the post in position, and there is an obvious solution - anchor it to the steel well casing. After all, that casing is buried 20ft in solid rock and isn't going anywhere!
Then, I needed a way to mount the flat-faced post non-destructively against the cylindrical steel pipe. I measured the diameter of the steel well casing and the coupler that had been used to extend our well casing a little taller. The diameters turned out to be roughly 6¼" and 7¼".
I mocked up a rough design of what I needed for a mounting bracket.
A large band-saw would make quick work of such a design but I didn't have one. But as luck would have it, those diameters are almost exactly the same as the diameters of my two circular saws - one is 6½" and the other is 7¼".
It turned out great - it took about 10-15 minutes to hog out the material on two pieces of pressure treated wood to create the two mounting brackets, and the fit was almost perfect.
Wiring it up
I figured it would be easier to get everything built on the post before mounting it, so I cut and glued all the pieces of conduit to join the various boxes together. We deliberately chose to have the switch above the receptacle so that the the wire wouldn't hang down over the switch.
Once I had everything laid out, I removed the boxes and conduit and stained the post. When the post was dry, I reinstalled all the boxes and wired it all up, leaving just the connections for the well pump itself left to do.
The trickiest part of the installation was getting the wires from the well seal into the junction box. Our 1" 90° conduit needed to be screwed into the top of the well seal but trying to twist it on with wires inside would be a nightmare. So we had to lift the well seal off, pull the wires back down, install the 90° conduit and then fish the wires back through. It sounds hard, but it only took us a few minutes.
Once I had the wires fished through into the junction box, it was simply a case of using some wire connectors to join the well pump wires to the wiring on the post - ground and neutral going directly to the inlet receptacle, while hot was coming from the switch.
The junction box is a little more crowded than I would like because in addition to the pump wiring there are also the temperature sensor wires (see our last blog post if you want to know more about these) and the safety rope. I was keen to leave as much slack as possible on all of these so that I've got more wiggle room for the final installation later.
With the electrical side of things completed, I turned my attention to the plumbing which is actually very simple! The top of the 1" drop pipe is connected to an elbow with a barb on one side and a 1" thread on the other. A reducer, well, reduces the 1" thread to ¾" which is then connected to a simple boiler drain faucet (we were keen to make sure all the components were suitable for potable water).
I used thread sealant on all the connections to prevent them from seizing and minimize the chances of leaks.
There are some nuances with this approach. We have a drain valve 10ft below ground, and that can only work if air is allowed back into the system from above. If we simply turn off the faucet and then turn off the well pump, the line will never drain and in winter will be liable to freezing.
But if we turn off the well pump and leave the faucet open, water inside our hose will drain back through, potentially contaminating the well.
So we have to do a little dance each time we turn the well pump off. First, close the faucet, then turn off off the well pump, disconnect the hose, open the faucet to allow air back in until all the water has flushed out through the drain valve, and finally close the faucet again. A small price to pay for running water!
Turning it on
With the electrical and plumbing completed, we were almost ready to turn it on for the first time.
The last thing to do was some final testing. Using my Klein CL390 multimeter I confirmed continuity between all the appropriate connections, and then did a final check with my torque screwdriver to ensure all terminal screws were torqued to spec.
Satisfied that everything was good, with the switch off we turned on the generator and plugged it into the inlet receptacle. After some final testing with my multimeter and Klein NCVT3 non-contact voltage tester, we installed the covers and were ready to turn it on.
And what do you know, it worked! It took a little while for water to start flowing - not just because the pump has a slow start feature, but also because we had over 100ft of empty drop pipe for the water to fill before it would reach the top.
But soon enough, fresh water was flowing freely out of the hose!
While not an ideal long term solution, this is how we'll be running our well pump to provide water to our RV until we have the utility building finished.
In the short term, this is a simple and elegant way of powering our well pump, either via a generator or other source of power, to get fresh water.
We do have to be careful about not running the pump for too long with the faucet closed - the specs say it's fine for up to about 5 minutes, but we try to minimize it as much as possible.
By timing how long it took to fill a 5 gallon bucket, I measured the flow out of the hose at around 8gpm (gallons per minute). The pump is rated to 10gpm, but between the reducer and the hose I was using, I wasn't surprised to see the flow a little lower due to friction losses. Still, that's a very usable amount of flow!
I also used a power meter to measure how much power the well pump draws, and after its slow start over 1-2 seconds, it seemed to settle somewhere around 750W, roughly what we expected from a ½hp pump.
As exhilarating as it was to see water flowing out of the hose, we're not quite there yet. There's one big question to answer - is it safe to drink?
Stay tuned for the next blog post to find out!