Well House Hardening

“Redundancy is ambiguous because it seems like a waste if nothing unusual happens. Except that something unusual happens-usually.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Living where we do, in the shadow of Lake Michigan in the southwest of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, I’ve focused a lot of my thinking, time and energy on making sure we are never without ready access to two necessities; water, and heat. In this post I address the delivery of pressurized and filtered potable water to the house.

I addressed heat in my post, Sustainable Heat – Year 2 of Our Journey. In part one of this post, Resilient and Sustainable Fresh Water Systems, I addressed the supply plumbing in particular, i.e. the piping and componentry that distribute pressurized water within the house.

Resilient Fresh Water Supply – Schematic

In part one I wrote, “First is the desire to maintain pressurized well water supply to the home supply plumbing system,” and I wrote about back-ups to “Normal Operation,” which I defined as “4 inch well pump is fully functional and grid electric power is available.” I discussed two back-ups, the first to the short term loss of grid power, i.e. 1-2 weeks at most, and the second being a backup in the event of a longer term loss of power. This post goes specifically to the second backup, as part of a resilient fresh water supply system.

Of course it all starts with the planning. There are two key components required to improve the resilience of the fresh water supply system; a larger Well Tank, and a Hand Pump.

  • The Bison Shallow Well Hand Pump does more than just fill buckets, it is actually capable of pressurizing the Well Tank, which allows for normal operation of in-home fresh water systems.
  • A much larger pressurized Well Tank; roughly four times as large as the pre-existing Well Tank.

I like to do things once, and investing in quality componentry is key to that objective. The Bison is bulletproof, and incorporates key features necessary to resilience and safety:

  • Constructed of 304 Stainless Steel
  • Internal drain back feature for winterizing
  • Hose bibb to connect Pressurizing Kit to pressurize home water system
  • Food-grade O-rings and cup seals

I also ordered the repair kit to address normal wear and tear of the O-rings and seals.

As for the pressurized Well Tank, I bought the biggest tank I could get through the door of the Well House. A tank this big is not necessary under normal circumstances, but we’re not preparing for normal. There are two fundamental reasons why I went big:

  • Under normal circumstances, the bigger the pressure tank, the less often the Well Pump cycles on and off. Less frequent cycling extends the life of the Well Pump, and the pressure switch that conducts power to the pump.
  • Under abnormal circumstances, i.e. if we are without power for an extended period of time, I don’t want to be trekking out to the Well House any more often than I need to to re-pressurize the Well Tank. With the pre-existing Well Tank we might have been able to flush a toilet twice; with this tank we’ll be able to even take baths. I say baths as opposed to showers, because if the power is out we won’t have hot water at the tap.

Resilient Fresh Water Supply – Integration

Then there is the business of designing the plumbing so as to integrate those two components within the Well House fresh water supply system. As Polish-American scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski remarked, “the map is not the territory,” and, “the word is not the thing,” which is to say in this case the schematic is not the system! So, how then to accomplish the functions explicit in the drawing is the question. You might know by now that I love PEX, but I didn’t think PEX was appropriate for what I call the Well Tank Manifold. The chief reason for that is that I saw a requirement for a very solid, that is a mechanically stiff structure, in this application. The problem as I saw it was the two 1″ Polyethylene Pipes between the Well Pit and the manifold. Those Poly pipes are relatively inflexible, and I didn’t have a lot of length to work with, so I expected that when I connected them to the manifold they would stress the manifold structurally. Freeze damage to the Well Tank Manifold might then be a concern, but I convinced myself for a few reasons that I didn’t have to worry much about freezing:

  • The Well House is heated by a hot return line to the Outdoor Wood Boiler during winter, and the Well House is very well insulated; the normal temperature of the room is about 80°F in winter.
  • There are 86 gallons of water in the Well Tank, and quite of bit of concrete in the Well House, which act as heat sinks. Even if the OWB is inoperative for a day or two, which would be unusual, the sinks will give up heat to slow cooling of the space.
  • Expansion in the PEX and Poly pipes if frozen would protect the brass components.
  • Water is flowing, or can be made to flow, and since our ground water is at about 52°F freezing can be prevented in any event.

The decision to use brass for the manifold having been made, it was simply a matter of organizing and assembling the necessary components, and then connecting the manifold to the Poly and 1″ PEX lines.

Resilient Fresh Water Supply – Complete

So there you have it, as installed. Clockwise from left in the image: Pressurized Well Tank and Well Tank Manifold, Bison Shallow Well Hand Pump and pressurizing hose, Whole House Filter, and Water Softener. Works fine, lasts a long time. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them for me, I appreciate it.

All the best,