Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mysteries of the Well House



Like most homes in rural Oregon, our water comes from a well.  There's municipal water in the city of Rogue River, but two miles out, you're on your own.

Oregon water law is similar to the Talmud, but more complicated.  Basically, all the water in the state belongs to the people.  You can use water from your well for household use and to irrigate a garden up to 1/2 acre, but acreage beyond that must be irrigated with surface water.  We can pump water from the creek for this -- if we pay $330 a year for the privilege and if our "water rights" to the creek are still valid.

The Roguefarm well house encloses our well and water processing stuff.  Originally, it had its own electric meter, but is now powered by underground cable from the house.  Water from the well house goes through pipe to the house and also feeds irrigation water to hoses and sprinklers.



Inside the well house.  The well itself is to the left.  Since Jack & Jill were not available, the builders used an electric pump to deliver the well water.  The pump is actually at the bottom of the 65-foot-deep well and
runs on 220V power.  The tall blue tank is the "pressure tank," the one wrapped in insulation is the water softener and the squat blue container is the "brine tank."



This diagram shows how the water system works.  Water from the well is sent out to irrigation use untreated.  The pressure tank stores water so the pump doesn't need to start every time you turn on a faucet.  When the pressure starts to drop, the pressure switch turns on the pump to refill the tank.

In the water softener, minerals dissolved in the well water are replaced (I think) with salt.  The controller monitors how much water we use and periodically cleans the beads inside the tank by flushing water through it backwards.  It recharges the beads by dosing them with brine, which is stored in the brine tank (duh) along with salt granules.

In the house, softened water from the well house is used for everything except drinking.  To provide better-tasting drinking (and cooking) water, a multi-stage filter removes sediment and minerals.  The heart of it is a "reverse osmosis" filter.  It uses water pressure to force water through tiny pores in a filter through which minerals cannot pass.  The bargain you make with the Devil in R/O systems is that they waste a gallon or more of water for every gallon they process, mostly to flush out the filter membrane.  The R/O system can purify about 50 gallons of water a day, but it takes 24 hours to do that much.  A small storage tank lets us use up to 3 gallons of drinking water at once, then refills from the R/O filters.

Today's project was winterizing the well house.  Since water expands when it freezes, frozen water will crack pipes.




This "before" picture shows the pipes that connect, among other things, the well, pressure switch and pressure tank.  Some of the pipe is iron, some is plastic.

To keep pipes from freezing, I use "heat tape," which looks like an extension cord, but is made of resistance wire that heats up when electricity flows through it.  A thermostat ensures that the heat tape only comes on when the temperature falls to near freezing.

The other part of prevention is foam insulation around pipes.  This keeps the heat tape close to the pipe and insulates it from cold air.


In this "after" picture, you can see the insulation installed over the pipes.  I've also put a couple of wraps of heat tape around the tanks, too, so they won't freeze...I hope.


Water and electricity may not mix, but at Roguefarm there's a lot of electricity involved in water.  When the previous owner installed underground wiring from the house, he did so in a way that brought in 220V for the well pump, but not 110V for other uses in the well house.  (You may recognize this as wiring with two hot leads and a ground, but not a neutral wire).

To deal with this, I added a new breaker box (the gray one to the left of the picture, with a 30A 220V breaker that feeds the well pump.  It also feeds a step-down transformer (above) that produces up to 1500 watts of 110V power from the 220V source.  The output of the transformer is monitored by the little "Watt-miser" thing, and is then used to supply the water softener controller, heat tape, irrigation controller (the brown thing) and anything else in the well house that needs 110V power.



As noted, the water softener cleans itself with brine, which it makes from water and salt.  The three pellets in the picture show the kind of salt it uses.  The bag holds 40 pounds and costs around $6.  When the brine tank runs low on salt, I dump in another bag.



Under the kitchen sink in the main house is the R/O system.  The five filters last six months in some cases and a year in others.  The R/O filter itself (which is expensive) seldom needs replacement.

A coward by nature, I hired a local plumber to install the R/O system.  That's why it doesn't leak as it would if I had done it myself.



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