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Water Pipe Freeze Protection - Gone Wrong!

Or, can I warm my hands over your well?  Gainesville Pump received a call the other night, and the gentleman said his well controls had caught on fire, and asked if we would come out in the morning and get him up and running.  I assured him that we would be happy to oblige and would see him first thing.  

I have been performing well equipment repair for over 35 years and have seen all types of damage caused by short cycling pumps, usually a melted pressure switch, or a shorted control box, sometimes caused by lightning.  You can only imagine my surprise when I approached the well and saw everything, and I mean everything burned down to a nub.  

          The only thing standing was the pressure tank, and it was burned as well.  But alas, therein was the culprit, the instigator, in a series of events that caused the thermal melt down of this once princely and humble purveyor of all things wet!  Now Dennis how could this be, you might inquire?  Allow me to enlighten you.  

While sifting through the ashes I noticed the remnants of an old blanket, hmmm.  Sift; sift, aha, pine straw, also. Looks like we had the makings of a camping excursion gone wrong in a Hollywood horror film.

          Now to the cause of the inferno, that dastardly pressure tank.  Hey, ho, you say, how can a pressure tank filled with water cause a fire?  Because it was hydraulically locked.  Let me explain, a pressure tank has to contain a volume of air, along with the water, in order to function properly, the reason being that air compresses, and water does not!  When the tank is being filled by the water pump, that air is being compressed as the pressure rises, when it reaches the preset high pressure point of the pressure switch, the switch will cut the circuit to the pump, and shut it off.  When you turn on the faucets and run water, it is the “compressed air” in the tank that is pushing out the water and providing you with water pressure. 

In the case of that particular tank, the bladder had… ruptured. (God, I hate that word).  When a bladder ruptures, the air is absorbed by the water and short cycling will occur, this results in the pressure switch engaging and disengaging rapidly, sometimes very rapidly, an obvious indicator would be a pulsating shower stream,…. no, Dennis don’t go there.  Anyway, this rapid action of the pressure switch will over heat the contacts and the contact holders will begin to melt, add to that the blanket placed over the switch and pipes, to prevent freezing, and the pine straw to provide additional insulation, and you have in place all the necessary ingredients for a weenie roast.  It was a good thing the well was far enough from the home and no further damage was done.

Two things to remember here, first, insulate with foam pipe insulationnot blankets, plastic, inverted children’s swimming pool, beer cans, or old pet carcasses.  Second, if the well pump is short cycling, or thepressure is pulsating, or if you hear the pump running when no one is using water, give us a call, it’s cheap insurance in the long run.  If not, stock up on marshmallows.


Sincerely, Dennis


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Erica Bales