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A Step in Self Reliance — Installment Two

Jennifer Quinnpressure switch

Installment One left me hurrying upstairs to check the faucets as my newly-primed pump filled the pipes with water. Imagine my shock when I found a geyser spouting from my bathroom sink and one of the faucet handles blown off!

I had recently disassembled the handle because the faucet was leaking and I thought it just needed a new washer. Then it turned out that I probably needed to replace the valve seat, or something, which I thought was beyond my skill level at that point. In fact, the guy at Lowe’s thought I might need a whole new faucet set. So I put the faucet back together and screwed it on tightly — or so I thought, anyway — but this was the faucet that had now blown off.

By the time I could rush out to the porch and shut off power to the pump I had quite a flood in my bathroom. Meanwhile, my neighbor emerged from the basement to find out what the trouble was. We found the cutoff valve under the sink and got it shut off as tightly as possible. I went out to the porch and turned the pump back on, and — what do you think? — another geyser!

Clearly not only the faucet but the cutoff valve was bad. Since I didn’t feel ready to tackle faucet and valve replacements and my handy-couple hadn’t returned my calls for help, it seemed my only recourse was to call a plumber. It wasn’t just a matter of using the bathroom sink — I couldn’t have the water turned on with that valve not functioning.

Next day the plumber arrived and installed a new faucet set and new cutoff valve, costing me more than I’d like to admit. Then it turned out there was a badly leaking valve in the basement, adding more to my already astronomical bill. But my troubles weren’t over. Even after replacing the leaky valve the pump refused to shut off, with the pressure gauge hovering a little below 30 psi.

I couldn’t remember what the shutoff point was supposed to be, but assumed the pump was somehow not reaching adequate pressure. I was afraid maybe I had damaged it when I absentmindedly left it running one day for several hours. The plumber thought this was a likely explanation but thought it might also be the check valve that keeps the water from running backwards, or possibly that the pressure switch was bad. He said he’d have to ask his supervisor about this and would call me on Monday.

At this point I decided to consult a friend from church, who is quite experienced in these matters. He said he wouldn’t be so quick to suspect the pump, and told me if I went online I could find YouTube videos on how to trouble-shoot a pressure switch.

Over the weekend I observed the operation of the system and thought things over. I noticed that I could leave the pump off and the pipes would hold their pressure all night. So then, it couldn’t be the check valve, could it? Meanwhile the pressure seemed about the same as usual — not great, but adequate — whether the pump was on or off, until I needed to start the pump again. That got me thinking maybe the cutoff point was just set a little too high.

So I went online and found a video showing how to adjust a pressure switch. It explained the procedure very clearly with an excellent photo. Now I had the confidence to attempt a fix. All it involved was removing the cover and turning a nut one way or another, then testing the pump.

It took a few tries to get the right direction to turn and how far to turn it, but once on the right track it didn’t take long before the pump shut off. With the system now operating normally, I concluded that this had been the approximate shutoff point all along. A clue was that on the inside of the cover I found two numbers: 10 and 30. I guessed that this was the setting range of the switch, since I had read that it’s always a range of 20, though for residential systems it’s usually something like 30 to 50.

Finally I not only had running water, but could use it without turning the pump on and off. But before I pay any more big bills I think I’d better try to increase my plumbing skill set!