Back to the Basics

We surveyed industry professionals to pinpoint seven items they wish the public knew about pump systems.

By William Wagner

Brian Lane, CPI, CVCLD, of Joe Samples Well Drilling Inc. in White Pine, Tennessee, has a message for people everywhere who rely on water well pump systems, or at least those residing in his neck of the woods: “Let us do what we do.”

In other words, leave it to the pros. Installing or maintaining pump systems is serious business, and Lane and others like him have come to realize few laypeople have even a notion of what it entails.

“I’d say the biggest issue is people who move here from out of state,” Lane says. “We’re in a very rural area here. Lots of people who move here from out of state have bought the house they’ve always wanted in the mountains, and when they turn the faucet on and nothing comes out, they have no idea what to do. They don’t even know where the well’s located, let alone what to do to fix it.

“So we see it more on the property-transfer end of things—a lack of understanding of what they’re getting into when they go from a public water supply to a private water system.”

Sandra Baldwin, CPI, of Hawk Drilling Co. Inc. in Ballston Spa, New York, sees it across the board, from new homeowners to those who have been in their digs for a while.

“We consider it an accomplishment when we get to talk to somebody who understands how their system works,” she says. “It’s always a challenge to walk people through their systems to get an idea of what’s going on so we can diagnose the problem before we get out there. It’s difficult to go in blind. The more information they can give you, the better off they are when you get there.”

None of this should come as a surprise, of course. As you know, working with water wells has many aspects to it requiring substantial training.

“No. 1 is groundwater expertise is very unique,” says Mark Reeder, director of innovation and field marketing for Franklin Electric, a pump manufacturer headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“You think about all the regulations and requirements a groundwater contractor has, and it’s an expansive list. They have to understand geology, hydrology. They have to have an outstanding working knowledge of electronics and even chemistry in terms of the type of water in the area. And wrapped around all that, you have to be a businessperson. I don’t think that’s something homeowners really appreciate.”

Nevertheless, everyone benefits when customers have at least a rudimentary understanding of their water wells and pump systems. Here are seven things in particular some pros wish the public knew. All are items you should make sure you’re passing on to your customers.

1. Where’s your well?

This might seem like a gimme, but it isn’t. A surprising number of homeowners have no idea where their well is located, especially those who have never needed to have it serviced, leading to some prickly problems for groundwater contractors . . . literally.

“Roots, shrubs, bushes—it seems like in our area, everyone wants to plant some sort of heavily rooted, prickly bush next to their wellhead,” Lane says. “Those roots can cause damage to the pump. And it’s difficult to service the area [from an access standpoint]. We find ourselves doing a lot of landscaping.”

Sometimes things get much worse than having to remove a bush or two.

“The pump needs to be replaced, and they’ve built a swimming pool, a two-car garage, a retaining wall, or something else that obstructs access to the wellhead,” Lane adds. “A lot of people just don’t think about that. We’ve literally had wells located in the crawlspace underneath a kitchen. There’s nothing that can be done about that.”

The moral of the story? Tell homeowners not to make any drastic changes to their property without taking their well into account.

2. Cheaper is not better

Everyone loves a bargain, but there aren’t necessarily any to be had when it comes to water well pump systems. More often than not, skimping in this area has dire consequences.

“You really do get what you pay for,” Baldwin says. “So if you’re putting in a new system or updating an old system and somebody gives you a cheaper price, they’re not doing you a favor, really. You’re going to be losing in some manner.

“There’s a big difference in wire—the quality of it, how durable it is, how long it will last you. There’s a big difference in pressure tanks—a metal tank isn’t going to have as long a life as a fiberglass tank. And the pumps themselves—you can get a pump that lasts only about five years or one that lasts 20 or more. Do you want to buy a system that lasts you five years or a system that lasts you 20 or more?”

And when you put the question that way to a homeowner, it’s an easy one to answer.

3.  Avoid a hodgepodge of parts

Mark Reeder of Franklin Electric stresses it is not good to mix and match parts from different manufacturers.

This falls partially under the preceding “Cheaper is not better” banner. Buying one part here and another there for a system will do a homeowner little good over the long haul. Take it from Reeder, an expert in this area since his company is one of the leading manufacturers of pumps in the world.

“At Franklin Electric, we design water systems,” he says. “The parts are all designed to work together. It’s not a good practice to mix and match [from different manufacturers].”

Adds Lane, “With switches, pumps, and that sort of thing, there’s a cost-effectiveness to using quality components.”

4. Pressure points

Insufficient water pressure is a common complaint among homeowners. Many people, however, mistakenly attribute this to the pressure tank, perhaps because it contains the word “pressure.” Understanding the full scope of pressure issues can more easily lead to a resolution.

“Lots of people think pressure comes from the pressure tank, and it actually doesn’t,” Baldwin says. “So they think the pressure tank is bad and neglect to look at other causes and effects. Do they have any water treatment that could be blocked? When was their pump replaced? Or has it been cold? Those are other issues that can cause pressure problems in the house rather than a pressure tank.”

5. YouTube is not a viable substitute for a certified pump installer

Homeowners try to repair their water well pump systems by themselves on occasion, which can lead to more difficult jobs for water well professionals. These images from Joe Samples Well Drilling Inc. in White Pine, Tennessee, are jobsites they were called to. The image to the right is from a site where homeowners tried to retrieve the pump on their own. Photos submitted by Brian Lane, CPI, CVCLD, of Joe Samples Well Drilling.

For Joe Homeowner, fixing a bum pump system on the fly can be a dangerous undertaking. Lane has seen the results up close, and they’re no laughing matter.

“In most cases, stay away from YouTube,” Lane says is his wish for all homeowners. “We’ve shown up and a customer has literally had a broken arm. Or he’s crushed his hand trying to pull a well pump out. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, call a professional. If there’s something that just doesn’t seem right, call a professional. Don’t try to troubleshoot something yourself.”

In a nutshell, people need to know ER bills tend to be a lot larger than those from CPIs.

6. It’s important to act early

Who among us hasn’t been guilty of procrastinating? Where pump systems are concerned, this foible only serves to make problems worse.

“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been to a location and they’ve said, ‘The water’s been pulsating like that for six months,’” Lane says. “Now the pump’s burned out, the wire’s worn, the switch is bad, and everything has to be replaced. They should have called when they first started noticing that something wasn’t right. A $200 repair then could have saved them from a $3000 repair six months later.”

7. The water well pump system is only a piece of the puzzle

There’s a lot more to an efficient pump system than the system itself, notably the plumbing inside the home. Baldwin sums it up in a way that even novices can comprehend:

“You need to look at the plumbing beyond the pressure tank,” she says. “Are there half-inch to quarter-inch fittings with a lot of turns and bends? You might know what your well and pump can do, but if your [plumbing] is restricted beyond [the pump] you’re still not going to be happy in your house.”

Make sure your customers know these seven items. When they do, it will make for a better pump system for them and a happier customer for you.

How to Become a CPI
The National Ground Water Association’s Voluntary Certification Program, which started in 1970, is the only national certification program for water well system professionals in the groundwater industry. Through this program you may earn the Certified Well Driller (CWD), the Certified Pump Installer (CPI), and other designations.
Governed by groundwater contractors who understand the daily activities in the field, the program is designed to demonstrate pride in the job and promote professionalism in the groundwater industry. It is recognized as the leading program in the industry by numerous state agencies, which have adopted the tests for their own programs.

William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area.

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