Sunday, October 30, 2011

'Til the washing of the water makes it all all right. Let your waters reach me like she reached me tonight (a.k.a. Well Done Broke Part 4)

The morning had been going so well. The wife and I had been out to breakfast, then dropped by Lowes where she was able to find several dozen closeout special perennials for, like, a dollar. We went back home where she planted them while I walked the dogs. When I returned, she said she was about to hop in the shower and asked me to "water in" those plants. Sure, our rain barrels were full (hey, it did finally rain a bit) and I probably should have used that water to do it. But that takes forever and involves having to haul water from the other end of the house in a watering can. Instead, I opted to use the water hose.

I unwound half of it from the hose wheel then went into the garage to turn it on. It didn't really start up to much more than a trickle, though. From what I could see, the hose didn't look like it was filling up very well. In fact, it looked sort of kinked, so I unwound the rest of it to fix that. Soon enough water was pouring out at a nice clip. I watered in the plants then dropped the hose in the yard and went back into the garage to turn it off. As I emerged from the garage, though, my wife came out of the back door and announced, "Well, we seem to be out of water." I was baffled, because it had only just been pouring nicely for me. How could we be out? But sure enough when I turned on the kitchen sink tap there was only a drip.

The options for what had happened seemed limited. Either we were out of water (bad enough, but it would return) or the pump had somehow lost power (also not great, but possibly an easy fix) or the pressure tank had finally given up the ghost as Dave had predicted it might (another not great, as the pump might burn up if we didn't cut the power but still not as expensive a fix as...) or the pump had failed entirely and was dead (beau coup expensive). I opted for turning off the power and hoping it was just the well that was out of water. We had to leave for the afternoon anyway, so we could give it a few hours.

But one thing the wife and I were in agreement over was that we probably needed to proceed with the reserve tank project, since we were still a year out from city water and apparently were continuing to have problems holding enough in the well. Also, Thanksgiving is on its way and once again we're scheduled to have a house full of people. Last year, we did run out of water. While we were out, I called and left a message on Dave's voicemail explaining the situation and our plan for the tank install.

When we returned, a few hours later, I turned the power back on and we checked the tap. There was still no water. I went into the crawl space to see if there was a reset button on either the pressure tank or the pump's new powerbox, but didn't see one. So I turned off the power again and called Dave to leave another voicemail about the trouble not seeming to be due to the well being dry.

We gathered up our usual emergency containers and headed out to fill up from the Culligan machine. Then we filled buckets from the rain barrels for toilet flushing. Fortunately, the wife grew up in a series of plumbingless cabins in Alaska, so she knows from having to work without running water. Soon she'd heated water on the stove for cat-bath wipedowns.

Didn't hear back from Dave. For all I knew, he was on vacation and I know him to be a good guy, so I wasn't put out that he'd not called back. He's not precisely local anyway, being based an hour away and our previous visits from him were because the local office didn't have anyone to spare. But the well company knew me by name and said they'd see about getting someone to me as quick as they could, but it might be a day as they were all scheduled up. They'd have someone call me by the end of the day.

By 2 p.m., the wife and I were getting snippy. Mm. Okay, mostly it was me. I'd been pissed off all morning at our situation and the hovering likelihood of a huge expense to replace the pump, so everything was setting me off. Most of it was my fault, like knocking a coffee cup into the sink and chipping a dish. But other things were not completely on me. A couple of days before, we'd seen mice poops and an actual live mouse in the crawlspace, so the wife had said she wanted to put traps in the crawlspace. This was perfectly sensible. What wasn't, in my estimation, was her choice to put mousetraps just inside the crawlspace door, on the lip of the concrete of the crawlspace's door, right in the way where a person would be unable to get into the space without either having to move the traps or setting them off. As I saw her doing this, I advised her not to, since we had every reason to believe we would soon need to go down there as would the well repair guys. She declined to take my advice, though, and left them there anyway in the hope of catching a mouse. So later, when I went down to check the pump again, I had to move the traps and one of them snapped in the process, flinging stinky rotten mozzarella everywhere. I cursed VERY loudly and stomped my feet on the concrete floor in fury. I then put the snapped and unsnapped traps on a nearby table saw surface and tried to calm down.

"You're so easily irritated today," the wife complained after I emerged.

"Yeah! I am!" I said. The morning had been a series of things getting more and more EFFed up and I was sick of it. I was also sick of having no ability to take a proper shower. We both felt greasy and awful. And our hair, which was still cowlicked and bed-headed, was a sight. I don't tend to be a happy camper when I'm in such a state and knew that a wet rag bath just wouldn't cut it.

"You know," I said, "we could go take showers at the gym."

The wife agreed this was a great idea so we set about to make it happen. I forwarded the house phone to my cell phone so I wouldn't miss the call from the well guys. Even as I did, though, I realized that the one sure fire way to get the well company to call me back quickly would be to get into a shower. It's already happened once this week, with the wife choosing to call and respond to a series of text questions I'd sent her only after three hours had passed and I'd given up on waiting and stepped into the shower.

The shower at the gym was amazing. Just full bore hot water pressurized enough to nearly hurt. I was enjoying it immensely, but then had to pause because my phone had begun to ring from my pants pocket, deep withing the backpack I'd hung on the towel hook. Sure enough, it was Mark the well guy. We made an appointment for the next morning.

That evening, Dave called. I told him what the current status was and he said it sounded grim. He was still hopeful that it was something small, though. He asked if I'd hit the reset button on the pump's power box. Oh, so there was a reset button. I took the walky phone, turned the breaker for the pump back on and crawled under the house to check, passing by the two mouse traps the wife had set, one of which was still live, and the third one I'd put in the crawl space, which was live and empty. Sure enough, there were two buttons on the bottom of the power box, hidden in a recessed area. Dave asked me to press them one at a time.

Nothing happened.

"Did you hear a click?" he said.


I pressed them again. Still nothing.

"And no click?" he asked.


"Ohhhhhhhh," he said. Dave said this did not sound like a good thing. He still hoped it was something minor, but it was sounding kind of like either the powerbox or the pump might have gone bad. Fortunately, he said that Mark, the guy who was coming out, was a good man who knew his stuff. I'd be in good hands.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wade in the water. Wade in the water children. Wade in the water. God's a gonna trouble the water (a.k.a: Well Done Broke Part 3)

I stared at our full-home filter unit, hanging from the plumbing beneath our house, at the trickle of water dripping slowly, seemingly from beneath a sticker on the side of it.

"Uh, this thing has a leak!" I called up to my wife.

"What?!" she called back from the kitchen, cause that's what we say to one another whenever one of us tries to talk to the other from beneath the floorboards.

"I said, `This. Thing. Has. A. Leak!'" I called back.

"A leak?!"

"A leak!"

Turns out, the filter unit itself was not leaking from the seal between the hangy-downy screw-on filter housing and the upper bit that spans two parts of our main water pipe. It wasn't even leaking from a hole beneath the instructional sticker on the side of the filter as it first appeared. Instead, it was leaking from a tiny crack above that sticker, in the side of the upper bit of the filter unit, specifically from the middle of the letter O in the word "OFF" which was molded into the plastic itself and indicated where the valve in the top of the filter could be turned to stop the water flow. (Well, I say "could be turned" but, in fact, that valve switch snapped off of the top of the unit well over a year ago. I'd been trying to turn it into the off position and it refused to budge, until it did. Being stuck in the on position isn't catastrophic, though, so we just left it that way.)

The crack in the filter housing was causing a single drop to seep out, slip beneath the sticker, then from the bottom of the sticker, then over the lip of the filter's seal and into the bucket on the ground below at about the rate of one drop every three seconds. And since it was a pickle bucket, it was going to take a loooong time to fill. We debated for a while whether we could repair it with J.B. Weld (our favorite steel-like epoxy substance), but decided instead to call Dave. He said J.B. might do the job, but he couldn't say for sure. If we wanted, he would try to fit us into his schedule and come over and install a new filter for us. It would cost $200, labor included, but we would need to go buy a new filter unit in advance. We told him to hold off, as the wife wasn't sure this was a big enough job to call in a professional. She thought we could do it just fine. I had reservations about that likelihood. Oh, sure, we were fully capable of installing a new filter unit, but if I've learned anything about our track record for home repair it's that anything we do that we've never done before takes three times as long to accomplish than we think it will and we usually wind up screaming at one another in the process, and not just from crawlspace to kitchen. The other thing I knew was that we wouldn't do it right away. With a leak as slow as that one, we could go on pouring out buckets of drip water for weeks before getting around to the replacement. Hell, for all we knew, we could wait until city water was installed and get Dave to change it out while he was down there installing the new lines. From the word on the street, city water was coming in very soon. In fact, the water guys had been in our neighborhood only days earlier putting orange marker flags down to denote the future location for water meters and fire hydrants. (Wait, what the EFF? We live in neighborhood filled with nothing but houses with wood siding and we have NO FIRE HYDRANTS? How is it that we've never realized that before?) It could be a matter of weeks before we'd have city water.

Turns out, it is. Except it's a matter of at least 52 of them.

About a week after our filter leak began, a neighborhood association meeting was called to discuss the city water installation. The project is indeed in full swing, but ground has not officially been broken yet. The project would be done in stages and our particular stage was not scheduled for completion for nearly another year, barring any delays. Shit.

We didn't replace that filter unit for a few weeks. About once a week, I'd go out and the bucket would be close to full. I'd scoop out a couple of butter tub sized scoops of it and haul the pickle bucket out to pour into the yard. (It's got to get irrigated some way, cause damn if it had rained any yet.) But I did notice as the weeks went by that the bucket was filling faster and faster. The drip was now one drip per second. Soon, I was having to go down every five days and then even that wasn't fast enough. It was likely that it would continue to increase until it just started spewing a stream of water in the middle of the night and we wound up with a flooded crawlspace--at least til the well ran dry.

I went to Lowes. There I found and purchased a new filter that had a clear screw on housing, so we'd be able to see when the filter was nasty at a glance. Within another week, the wife and I set aside a day to get it done.

As predicted, it took three times as long to accomplish as we thought (we try not to budget for the triple amount, because then it will just take nine times as long) and, in the end, was not as difficult a job as it might have been. For instance, we didn't have to cut any pipe to get it done, though we did have to use the old metal connectors from the previous filter rather than the push on plastic jobbies that came with the new one, cause they just plain leaked. Even the metal ones gave us a lot of leaking trouble, until we realized we'd not used plumber's tape in all the connections. Had we used our brains a bit more, it would have been an easier job. But at the end, we had a new whole house filter that did not require herniating one's self to screw the housing on and off (or bruising one's tail bone). We felt pretty good about ourselves. Which was good, cause we'd been feeling pretty crappy about the water situation as a whole. Maybe this whole well thing would be okay.

Then, one week later, we lost water altogether.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Walk on the ocean, step on the stones, flesh becomes WATER, wood becomes bone (a.k.a.: Well Done Broke Part 2)

Yes, the bring city water to Juice's neighborhood project has been one in the works for a long long time, much longer than we've actually lived here. The thing about plumbing the hills of West Virginia, though, is that they're very hilly and require a lot of planning. A whole bunch of professionals have to basically do the planning work on spec in order to know how much such a project will cost and how much of a hassle it will be. Then there's the factor that just bringing water to our neck of the area isn't cost effective enough, so you really need the next community down the road to sign on too. This requires a signature campaign in which the residents of both of these semi-rural communities have to sign on and agree to take the city water if it's offered. Unfortunately for our neighborhood, the folks in the next community down the hill took one look at the signature campaign and said, "Eh, we're doing pretty good with our wells. We'll pass." So that screwed us. More meetings were met, more planning planned and a couple years later a new signature campaign was attempted, probably at gunpoint, and that one finally stuck.

That all happened before we moved to the area in 2008. The first we heard about any of it was when our neighborhood association called a meeting to discuss the latest news. At that point, the news was that the project was a go, but that it wouldn't be completed until 2011 at the earliest, and that was assuming that everything went to plan and no delays occurred. What were the chances of that? Slim to fukall. I assumed it wouldn't happen until 2013 and put it out of my mind

Only, now it is 2011 and evidently things are actually moving along. The first I heard about it, though, was when the plumber/under-the-table well guy turned up. He mentioned that we were slated to get city water and that it was happening soon. Then, when Dave the good well guy was in, I mentioned it to him and asked how much problem it would be to install a switch that would allow us to move between city water and well water on a whim. I didn't want to pay for city water unless we had to, and so we could keep it in reserve for in case our well ran dry or if we needed to water the lawn. Dave said such an installation would not be a problem. It could even work in conjunction with the 500 gallon reserve tank, if we wanted to go that route. We said we'd consider it.

After Dave's work on the pressure tank and the new power box, our water pressure was much better than it had been. During the following week we thought little about it. That is, until our well seemed to run dry again. First the water began to stink, then it began to come out very silty and kind of greasy looking. Clearly our whole house filter was under assault from below and I wasn't drinking any of it no matter how many Brita pitchers it went through.

I called Dave. He couldn't tell us for sure what was happening, but theorized that when we ran the well dry on purpose we might have allowed some previously submerged matter sticking to the sides of the well-casing interior to dry and break free. Or a wall of the well below the actual casing could potentially have collapsed, messing up the water. Fortunately, we were scheduled to head out of town anyway, so we figured the well would have time to recharge and maybe settle out. In the meantime, we decided to at least change the filter beneath the house. Only when I tried by myself, I couldn't get it off. I'd opened up the faucet in the kitchen, so there wouldn't be any pressure issues, and I'd closed off the valve from the pump itself. But no matter how much muscle I put into turning the plastic housing wrench it wouldn't budge. Dave had tightened it with one quick motion. Either the plumber's goo had glued it shut somehow, or he was LOT stronger than he looked. After ten minutes, I was out of breath and my arms hurt. So I gave up.

When we returned home, days later, we still needed to change the filter, but once again I couldn't get the damn housing to unscrew. So the wife and I climbed under the house and worked at it together. And it was tough, cause the filter itself is not exactly braced against anything, but is just a device hanging between two ends of copper piping that you really don't want to put a lot of force on for fear of snapping any of the welds further along its length and flooding the crawlspace. But you also couldn't unscrew it without really giving it some moxy. Soon we were both straining to the point that we began to question our sanity and whether or not righty-tighty/lefty-loosey was as hard and fast a rule as we had once thought. Finally, I moved to the other side of the filter, so that I would have plenty of space behind me, had the wife brace the bottom part of it with her hands, and then I grabbed the wrench and leaned back with my weight on it. At first, it held fast. Then, all at once, it gave and I fell backward, grazing the back of my head on a joist before landing painfully onto my tail bone on the hard-packed and semi-rocky earth. Water poured out of the filter into the bucket we'd placed beneath it and I lay dazed at what had just happened. I would be very sore and have difficulty sitting for the next three weeks. But I don't think I actually broke my tailbone.

We changed the filter and the wife left me to the task of screwing the housing back into place. This I did, and saw no evidence of leakage around the seal. However, from my particular angle, on that particular side of the filter and in the light of my flashlight, I could see a trickle of water pouring from beneath an instructional sticker on the side of the upper part of the filter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dan, can't you see that big green tree where the water's flowing free and it's waiting there for me and you? (a.k.a. Well Done Broke, Part 1)

Well, we're having trouble with our well.


We've been having issues with the well, and the amount of water we can pull from it, on and off practically since we moved into the house. On most days it's great. Once in a while, though, it runs dry for a spell, returning again a few hours later. We can usually tell when the well is getting low because our water begins to smell of sulfur and we then treat it with care for a few days until we think it's risen to a level that will again allow us to run the dishwasher. Usually the summer months are the worst, and this summer has been particularly dry. So dry that we didn't feel we could water our lawn and had to use our ever dwindling rain barrel water supply to water the plants in the flower beds. My back lawn--which I had replanted last fall after the drought of last summer, and had been babying back to life--pretty much dried up and blew away. Even with this, though, we've counted ourselves lucky because we have a number of neighbors who have no water in the summer at all and have to import it in 500 gallon containers.

In August, my in-laws were visiting and our water began to smell a bit funny. We thought we were low. My father-in-law proposed that we drop a line down the well pipe and see just how deep the sucker was and how much water we actually had in it. This might give us a better idea if we needed a new well drilled or if there was another, cheaper solution. We lowered a wrench on a stout line, then had to tie kite string to that line when we ran out of line. When we struck what we thought was bottom, we were at 380 feet. Over 200 of those feet were wet when we pulled the line back up, which told us we had some water. But we first theorized that perhaps the pump was only seated in, say, 20 or 30 of those feet, which would give it a limited amount of water to pull from. We also quickly realized we probably weren't up to the job of lowering it ourselves, as that involves having to add more pipe and potentially more wire--assuming our theory was right in the first place.

We called a local plumbing and well company to come and have a look and told them our theory. The guy who came out didn't blink twice at what we said and told us he could lower the pump, no problem. First he dropped a few rocks down the well pipe and listened to them hit, but our theory sounded as good as anything to him. The company he worked for, he added, would probably charge $1200 for it, but he was willing to come back after hours and do the job for $200. This sounded like a bargain, but it also sounded like a guy trying to undercut his own employer. Beyond the bad taste we got from the idea of dealing with a guy so willing to undercut the man who paid his wages, we decided that it also wouldn't look right to include such an under the table job in the paperwork pile we have about the house, which would be passed on to future owners of our place. We told him we preferred to do it on the books. He then phoned his employer to get an official estimate of what the job would cost and came back to tell us it was actually $3200. That seemed like quite a jump to us, so we declined. Instead, we called for a second opinion by an actual well digging company (as opposed to a plumber that also did well service).

Our new well guy, Dave, came out a few days later. He quickly and professionally pointed out that our well was actually deeper than 380 feet, but that the pump was actually sitting at the 380 foot mark, which is what pa and I had hit with the wrench. And to prove it, Dave busted out a sonar device that told us what the water depth of the water level in the pipe. There seemed to be plenty of water in there that day, at least, until we proceeded to run the well completely dry via the water hose. We did this both to see how fast our water would flow out (8 gallons a minute) and to lower the pump level to show us exactly where it was located compared to the previous level of the water in the pipe. Took half an hour. After that, Dave did sonar calculations to determine how fast the water returned to the well from its underground source. Not very fast. Only about 12 gallons an hour. So it would take a few days to return to the level it had been at before he arrived. In the meanwhile, he recharged our pressure tank that regulated the water pressure within the house. He said that it had dropped in pressure from its standard level, which was a sign that it was going bad. He didn't want to replace it then and there, but warned that if our pressure began to waiver wildly we'd better have it done or it could burn up the pump if it dropped all of its pressure. He also replaced the power unit for the pump.

And while Dave was under the house, he asked if we had any extra water filters for our whole house filter system. He figured he'd change it out and have a look at the amount of silt in it. It was pretty nasty, but had been changed less than two months previously and it's supposed to be a three month filter. I told him that I hated that filter system, because it was terribly difficult to change. It was woefully hard to get the damn housing for it unscrewed and after the filter was replaced was equally difficult to get it screwed back on without leaking. Dave said he'd fix it with a little plumbers goo. He smeared some around the threads, gave it one crank with the filter wrench and it was set and sealed. Amazing!

At the end of the time, Dave said he didn't think we were in such dire straits that we needed a new well to be dug, but we certainly didn't have much more for standard household use and certainly not enough for watering the lawn. He suggested another option would be to install a reserve tank which could pull 500 gallons of water from the well gradually and then be there for use whenever we needed it, connecting to our existing plumbing. It sounded like a good plan, but the other wrinkle is that our outside-the-city-limits neighborhood was slated to get city water sometime in the relatively new future.