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Apple Blog

Let's Talk Salt!

Pat Scheper

rock-salt
1305774207286

As we wrote in a previous blog, water softeners use salt to create a brine. That brine rinses off the hardness (calcium) from the resin inside the softener. It then recharges it with more sodium to continue removing hardness from the water. So, let’s look at the salt needed to complete this act. Now, there are two different types of salt- solar salt (left) and pellet salt (below)- that can both be entered into the brine tank of a water softener. Solar salt looks likes the salt that used to de-ice roads, or just much larger versions of grains of table salt. Pellet salt looks like packaging peanuts. Both are still salt so they both create the same effective brine mixture to rinse off the resin. But, as professionals, we recommend using solar salt- not because it is better but because of an unfortunate occurrence that is all too common with pellets.

One thing about solar salt is that it is smooth in texture and dissolves into water through erosion. Pellets, on the other hand, are porous and the dissolving process is a lot more like melting than erosion. The pellets get soaked by the water in the brine tank and soften before they dissolve. When the brine water is removed from the tank the pellets harden and meld together. This is where it becomes a problem.

Brine tanks always fill to the same water level to create the brine mixture. The water dissolves the salt, and as it does the salt above falls down to the bottom of the tank. However, in some instances the water will touch just the very bottom of a layer of pellets and will then harden them together to form one long sheet of hardened salt (pictured below in example illustration). This can create what we call a bridge and prevent the pellets from falling into the water. Now the softener is being rinsed with just water and not brine so the resin stays full and the softener stops working.

salt-bridge

This is generally not caught by homeowners until they notice they haven’t used salt in 6 months and the result is that Apple has to break up and remove the harden pellets or just replace the entire brine tank. It doesn’t happen to every system using pellets, but for the unfortunate few it is a costly problem.

One thing to note is that some pellets come premixed with an iron removal substance and solar salt does not. But for systems that need a low level iron removing agent you can add a product called “Iron Out” in addition to solar salt to your brine tank. For those on a low sodium diet, fear not, generally the amount of sodium added to your water is very low- generally less than 12.5 milligrams per 8 oz. glass of water; much lower than the Food and Drug Administration’s standard for “very low sodium”, which is less than 35mg of sodium per serving. A “low sodium diet” according to the USDA is less than 1500mg/day, or 120 glasses of softened water! But if sodium is just a deal breaker, there is a company that makes pellets of potassium-chloride that can be used in place of salt. But beware, those pellets can bridge!

Solar salt, potassium chloride, and iron out can all be purchased from us here at Apple.

It's Almost That Time of Year!

Pat Scheper

fall-leavesWell, autumn has come around once again folks! The leaves are changing and falling, outside it feels crisp and the scent of pumpkin-spiced everything wafts through the air. While that’s all nice and enjoyable, soon enough it’s going to start getting colder and things will start to freeze.  

Did you know your plumbing can freeze too? As we learned back in grade school science classes, when water freezes, it expands. So, when those types of pipes and fixtures get too cold, your pipes can swell and burst, outdoor hosebibs can leak, and you can have a mess of a problem on your hands as a result of that. Not fun! So, if you don’t already, it’s a good idea to have us come out and WINTERIZE for you!

What should you have winterized?

frozen pipeGenerally, if you have any water lines that are less than three feet below ground or buildings with no heat (such as barns, workshops, etc) you will want to have those winterized. In addition, any outdoor frost proof wall hydrants should have the hose disconnected and standard hosebibbs on your house ought to be winterized as well.

 

burst_water_pipe

 

The other time to winterize is when a house or building is standing empty and uninhabited through the winter- with the heat turned low and house unused, toilets, faucets, pipes and everything else should be winterized or come spring, that empty building is likely to have quite a lot of messy, wet problems!

 

So, whether this is something you think you’ll need done this year or it’s something you do yearly, here’s your friendly reminder to have your plumbing winterized!

How Does a Well Tank Work?

Pat Scheper

For this blog, let’s dive on in and discuss another type of pump you may have in your home!Your pump tank, or well tank, is the blue steel tank in your home. It is generally in your basement or in a utility closet and has the well pipe from your well pump connected on one side and the cold water main to your house connected on the other side. This is how your pump tank works:

WellTank1Inside of that tank are two bladders that sit on top of each other. The top bladder is completely sealed and filled with air. The air pressure in the tank varies for the house, but the standard is when the tank has no water in it we pre-charge the air pressure to 38psi. The bottom bladder is a water reservoir that is connected to the plumbing system. When we first turn on the well pump it fills the bottom bladder of the well tank with water. As the tank fills up the top bladder filled with air is contracted and as a result the air pressure builds.

On the outside of a tank there is a pressure switch which measures the amount of pressure in the well tank. When the well pump has filled the tank to the point where the top bladder has contracted to 60 pounds of pressure the pressure switch cuts off electric to the pump and water stops flowing.WellTank1

Let’s now say someone in the home goes to take a shower. When we turn on the water to the house the pump doesn’t immediately turn on but rather the pump tank delivers the first wave of water (pun intended!). When we open up the shower faucet we are literally relieving the pressure from the well tank and the air in the top of the tank pushes the water in the bottom bladder (and the plumbing pipes) out through the shower faucet.

As this happens, the pressure in the tank decreases. When the pressure reaches 40psi the pressure switch sends electric down the pump which turns on and continues pumping water into the plumbing system. When you finish your shower and shut off the water the pump keeps pumping water into the pump tank until it reaches 60psi and then shuts off. The next time you turn on water the process repeats itself and we call that the pump cycle.

A few “fun” pieces of information:

We call the amount of time that a fully charged well tank can deliver water before the pump turns on is called the drawdown time. The larger the reservoir in the bottom of the tank (it varies between about 10 different models of tanks), the greater the drawdown time, the less frequent the pump has to turn on and off to deliver water during its life, which all results in a longer pump life.

We also size well tanks so that the time it takes for a well pump to pump water into a well tank to increase pressure from 40 psi to 60psi is no less than 1 minute (it is a slightly complicated formula that deserves a full lesson on its own)! The reason we need a specific run time is that well pumps motors are designed to run for at least 1 minute before turning off or else it overheats the motor and damages it. A shorter run time is what we call “cycling”. This also occurs when the air bladder ruptures in the top of the tank and the pump turns on every time a faucet opens.

 

And there ya go, all about your well tank!

Pump Up Your Savings!

Pat Scheper

savingsMuch of the time, having to call a plumber isn’t something you usually plan on doing. Often times, you suddenly find your house without water or a pipe in the basement spurting all over.Maybe your well pump gives out and it needs to be replaced.

Whatever the cause, needing a plumber can be an unexpected cost you may not be prepared for. For such events, Apple Plumbing and Heating happily offers 0% financing over 12 months to give you a little extra relief. Weren’t expecting to wake up to no hot water and find out your water heater needs to be replaced? No problem!

We’re here to not only resolve the problem but also to make the financial aspect a little easier on you. Give us a call today, we’re here when you need us!

All About: Submersible Well Pumps

Pat Scheper

In previous blogs, we have talked about wells and the various plumbing aspects of it, and following in that trend, today we will look at the submersible well pump.The most important, and most obvious, component to a submersible well system is the submersible well pump.

A submersible well pump has two components- the motor and the water end. In general, homes in Central Maryland have well pumps with motors that range from ½ horsepower to 1½ horsepower. The motors are made of stainless steel and are about 4” in diameter and 12”-18” long. On top of the motor sits the water end. Like the motor, it too is comprised of stainless steel and is also approximately 4” in diameter and 12”-18” in length.

Inside the water end is a shaft that is turned by the motor and sticks down into it. Inside the water end and connected to the shaft are a series of impellers that spin as the shaft spins. Finally, in between the motor and the water end is a gap of about 2” that lets water be sucked into the water end.

pump_cutaway So how does the submersible well pump work?

Well the submersible well pump is connected to a pipe and wire (electric source) and stuck down into the well. The pump sits 10’-20’ off of the bottom of the well to avoid sucking up sediment/dirt in the well. The electric wire coming down the pump is connected to the motors wire and then we melt a plastic tube over the connection to make it water tight.

The pump head is connected to the pipe in the well and secured with clamps so that it doesn’t become disconnected. The wire extends all the way up the well, exits the well casing at the top and is buried underground where it goes into the house to connect to the electric panel and pump controller. The pipe extends all the way up the well casing and exits the well through the side of the casing about 3’ below ground (below the frost level). It exits with a special fitting that is called a pitless adapter. This adapter has 2 parts. The first is on the outside of the well connected to an underground pipe that goes into the house and connects to the plumbing system. The second piece goes inside of the well and is connected to the pipe coming up from the pump.

The two pieces connect to each other through a hole in the well casing, and when connected, form a water tight seal that allows nothing from the outside of the well to enter in and contaminate the system.

Soo… when the well pump is told to turn on the motor spins the shaft and the shaft turns the impellers. The impellers have fins on them so as they turn they create an upward driving force, which sucks water in through the opening between the water end and the motor, which in turn forces the water upwards through the well pipe in the casing. The water goes up the well pipe, through the side of the casing through the pitless adapter, through the underground pipe into the home and into the plumbing system. And just like that, we have water!

So how does the well pump know when to turn on? That is the job of the well tank, which we will discuss in next weeks’ blog.

A Note on Sizing: We mentioned that there are different sized motors and water ends, and we know you are wondering just how we determine the size of each. As we said above, motors come in different horsepowers. Water ends come in different gallons per minute ratings. The more impellers inside of the water end the more water it can pump and the higher gallons per minute rating it receives. They generally range in ratings of 5-25 gallons per minute. Different sized motor and water ends can pump different amounts of water.

To make things more complicated, the amount of water any given pairing can pump also depends on well depth, water levels, distance of a well from the house, well tank size, number of plumbing fixtures and the list goes on.

All of this information is used to look up motor/water end pairings on a series of graphs and charts provided by the manufacturer’s engineers to tell us exactly which well pump we need to install in your well. Simple, we know. But rest assured that all our technicians know how size a well pump and that Apple Plumbing will make sure that all you have to do is turn on the faucet!

Water Softeners

Pat Scheper

Water-softener
Water-softener

The last two blogs have been devoted to hard water and water with high iron content. Both problems have something in common, and that is how they can be resolved. Both hardness and iron are media that need to be removed from your water, and the way that is done is via a water softener.What is a Water Softener? Basically, softeners utilize two tanks and operate using an ion exchange system. The ion replacement takes place in one tank filled with small polystyrene beads, or resin. The beads are negatively charged and are bonded to positively charged sodium ions. As the water flows past the beads, the sodium ions swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions, which carry a stronger positive charge.

In the other tank is salt. After several cycles, calcium and magnesium replace all of the sodium in the beads. When this happens the unit can no longer soften water. To solve this, the softener enters a regeneration cycle during which it soaks the beads in a mixture of water and salt (sodium chloride). The large amount of sodium in the brine causes the calcium, magnesium, and iron ions in the beads to give way and the beads are then recharged with sodium. After this regeneration, the softener flushes the remaining brine as well as the calcium and magnesium down through a drainpipe.

For those on a low sodium diet concerned with the amount of salt your water is flowing through, generally the amount of salt added to your water is very low- generally less than 12.5 milligrams per 8 oz. glass of water; much lower than the Drug and Food Administration’s standard for “very low sodium”, which is less than 35mg of sodium per serving. A “low sodium diet” according to the USDA is less than 1500mg/day, or 120 glasses of softened water! But if sodium is just a deal breaker, there is a company that makes pellets of potassium-chloride that can be used in place of salt.

Standard Water Softener vs. Iron Water Softener. Although we use the same water softening equipment to remove both hardness and iron, there is a slight difference between a system meant to remove just hardness and one meant to remove hardness and iron. An Iron Water Softener uses a smaller, finer resin bead than a standard water softener. This finer resin allows the softener to remove a higher level of iron than the standard resin. A standard softener should only remove a small level of iron whereas the finer resin can remove up to 10ppm of iron. Why not just use the finer resin in all softeners? Simply, it is more expensive, so let’s not spend our hard earned money unless it is necessary!

Advances in Technology A traditional water softener has a time clock head that determines when to rinse off the resin with the brine solution. Basically, a technician takes the level of hardness, asks the homeowner about water usage details, and then makes a calculated guess as to when the softener needs to enter rinse mode because the resin can no longer soften the water. But thanks to modern technology, we now have what we call metered heads.

New softener heads have a meter that measures how many gallons of water have been used during the current cycle. The head is digitally programmed with the hardness level of the water and actually calculates when the resin is full. Once the resin is full the system enters the rinse mode. This saves energy, salt, and water!

And that is everything you wanted (or didn’t want) to know about water softeners!

FAQ: Iron

Pat Scheper

Have questions about the iron content in your water? We've got answers! Q. What exactly is the iron in my water? A. Iron comes in two forms, ferrous and ferric. Ferrous means the iron is dissolved into the water so that the water contains iron but still appears clear. Ferric iron results when ferrous iron has been exposed to oxygen and oxidizes, which causes the iron to then separate from the water and become a suspended matter, much like sediment.

 

Q. How is it measured? A. Both ferrous and ferric iron is measured in parts per million, or PPM. The industry standard is that iron levels of over 0.2 ppm in a water system should be addressed and treated.

 

Q. How does it get into our water? A. As iron is found in deposits in the ground, water readily dissolves it as it passes through them in its underground flow into our water sources. It can also result from the corrosion of pipes and your various plumbing systems.

iron_pics

Q. What can iron do to a home and plumbing system? A. In the home, both ferrous and ferric iron show themselves by leaving hard-to-remove yellow or reddish-brown stains on fixtures, anything porcelain and cooking utensils. They can also leave similar stains on clothing in the laundry. Water high in iron also has that distinctive metallic taste to it. To your plumbing system, ferric iron acts similar to sediment/hardness and can contribute to the formation of clogs in pipes, wells and pumps among other systems.

 

Q. How are high iron levels reduced from water? A. Stay tuned to see the answer to this, and last week’s question on removing hardness from water in next week’s blog!

What Is "Hard Water"?

Pat Scheper

That’s a good question. Simply, the hardness of water refers to the level of dissolved minerals, most commonly calcium or magnesium, found in the water. These minerals are the result of your water passing through limestone deposits in the ground before the water makes its way into your water system and eventually out your faucets. The more limestone between ground level and the water supply, the higher the hardness levels will be. Though city water can be hard, hardness is especially present in well water, where water falls to the earth and filters through the surface down to aquifers or the water table from which well pumps draw water.

Water hardness is generally measured in grains per gallon (gpg). GPG refers to, just as it sounds, the number of grains of a given substance in one gallon of water. One grain is equal to 1/7000 lb. and one gallon of water equals 8.33 lbs. The guideline typically used for measuring hardness levels in residential water is as follows; 0.0-0.9 gpg=soft water, 1.0-3.9 gpg= slightly hard water, 4.0-7.0= moderately hard water, and 7.1-12.0 gpg= hard water. A level of over 12.0 gpg is considered very hard water.

One thing to keep in mind is that having hard water is NOT dangerous or detrimental in any way to your health. It can and does, however, cause problems both to your plumbing system and in your home. Hard water reacts to soaps and detergents and forms a “scum” rather than allowing the soap to lather and do its job. This presents a problem when doing laundry, cleaning the house, and yes, cleaning yourself. It can cause clothing colors to dull and white fabric to appear yellow or grey, shortens the life of fabrics in general, causes soap scum rings in your bathtub, streaks glassware and dishes and prevents the soap and shampoo you use from lathering up as well as they should when showering. On their own, each of these can seem like a minor nuisance.

But put them all together and combine them with what hard water can do to your plumbing system and suddenly it’s not such a small problem!

hardnessHard water builds up and forms deposits that clog up your pipes. These deposits, of course, restrict the flow of your water and can corrode pipes, dishwashers and washing machines as well as the various pieces of plumbing equipment you have in your home. Maybe most importantly, hard water causes scale and sediment buildup in your water heater (as pictured in the second image) decreasing heating efficiency, gallon capacity, and the life expectancy of the water heater.

If hard water is such a problem, how do we get rid of it? Stay tuned…!

How To Remove Acid From Your Well Water

Pat Scheper

neutralizer

A few posts ago we talked about acid in your well water and the damage it can cause to your plumbing system- check it out if you missed it the first time around or need a refresher. So, how then do we get rid of that acid? Quite simply, we install an acid neutralizer. Remember that rain picks up carbon dioxide from the air and forms carbonic acid. If the rain water passes through a layer of limestone in the ground, the acid is “removed”, or rather, it is neutralized. A neutralizer acts like the layer of limestone. It is a tank filled with crushed limestone called Calcite. Water passes through the calcite dissolving some of it which raises the pH of the water.

Calcite, being an alkaline mineral, neutralizes the low pH acid water, much like adding hot water to cold in order to get warm water. The diagram to the left is of an automatically backwashing neutralizer. When water flows down over the calcite, it tends to pack the mineral causing restriction of flow (low pressure). In addition, the calcite tends to catch some sediment that is in the water. Periodically (about every 4-6 days) the system will backwash (flush) itself. Water flow is reversed and lifts the calcite so as to “fluff” it up, and captured sediment is flushed out. The water used for this process is washed down a drain.

In some cases where the pH is very low, we mix magnesium-oxide with the calcite creating a “super mix”. Also, depending on the pH and the size of the plumbing system, larger neutralizer tanks will be used.

Now, there is another type of calcite neutralizer-The Up Flow Neutralizer:

upflow neutralizer
upflow neutralizer

In this piece of equipment water flows down the center of the tank through a tube and UP through the calcite. There is no backwashing. The constant flow of water keeps the calcite “fluffed up”. However, the downside is that sediment will gather in the stone bed and the calcite causing the need for periodic re-bedding. Personally, I like the automatic back wash. However, the up flow is more economical, so if money is tight, this can be the way to go.

Both types of neutralizers need annual servicing. The calcite dissolves and needs replenishment.

Finally, there is one more type of neutralizer: The Soda Ash or Chemical Feed Pump system. This system is used for a very low pH or for water that has a high level of dissolved solids. This system pumps a solution of soda ash and water into the water before it enters the well water tank. It is very high maintenance and rather noisy. But, if you need one, you need one.

Thanks for reading- contact us with any further questions on this topic and check back next week for a new entry!

Water Quality- Total Dissolved Solids

Pat Scheper

There are many different components of water quality. While acidity, bacteria and hardness are among the better known, inside the trade one of the key components to water quality is something called Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). TDS is the measurement of the combined amount of organic and inorganic matter contained in water and it is measured in parts per million (ppm). The key here is that the matter is dissolved, which means that the matter has become part of the water.saltintowater TDS is like putting salt into water, as you add the salt it disappears into the water. Pure water would have a TDS of 0ppm. Typical well systems have a TDS anywhere from 50 to 940ppm (our office’s personal record). On average, our customers well water TDS is 150-250ppm.

What makes up TDS in water is generally not known without a laboratory doing a very thorough test on a water sample. TDS can be anything from the chlorine/fluorine cities put into water to minerals dissolved into the water while it is underground to nitrates from fertilizer on wells that are near farms. It is really just a numeric amount of the overall “stuff” that has dissolved into your water. There are always exceptions to the rule, but generally you cannot conclude that a TDS of 500ppm is more of a concern than a TDS of 150ppm. It just depends on what has dissolved into the water to raise the TDS. But the TDS test does not tell us what has dissolved into the water, just how much. Figuring out if part of the TDS is harmful would need to be determined by a separate test, such as chlorine, bacteria, or hardness test. In the rare case your water is making you sick, a laboratory test would be needed. But those are all separate well water issues!

So why are we talking about TDS if it doesn’t indicate harmful substances in your water? Water can only dissolve so much matter before it becomes “full”. Once water becomes “full” any additional matter added to it will not dissolve and just become suspended in the water. Add a tablespoon of salt to a cup of water and it will dissolve. Keep adding salt, however, and eventually the water will not be able to handle any more and the salt will just pile up on the bottom of the glass. The same thing can happen with well water when trying to treat it. Systems such as sediment filters and UV lights remove the “bad components” from the water. But systems such as acid neutralizers and carbon filters dissolve “good components” into water in order to eliminate (or neutralize) the “bad components”. We refer to these “good components” as a sacrificial media, meaning they become depleted as they treat the water. If water has too high a TDS, it becomes difficult to dissolve those good components into the water and special sacrificial media or equipment is needed.

TDS is also used to figure out if certain equipment is working. Equipment such as reverse osmosis systems take out a very wide range of dissolved minerals/organic material in water to give homeowners nearly purified water. On these systems, if the treated water has a much lower TDS than the raw water, we know the equipment is working even if we don’t know what exactly it is removing.

How high of a TDS is too high? Well that depends. Water has the ability to dissolve different levels of matter. For instance, water has trouble dissolving calcite (the standard media in a neutralizer) once the TDS is above 600ppm. Magnesium oxide is a much more potent (and expensive) media to add to a neutralizer but does not have a problem being absorbed by water, even with a TDS well over 600ppm. That is why treating water is so much fun! Every water quality test results in different factors that we must take into account when determining which equipment is right (or wrong) for a plumbing system. TDS may not be as damaging as acid, but if it is ignored it can certainly make water treatment equipment ineffective. Check back next week as we explore what a neutralizer is and how it works!

Acid in Well Water

Pat Scheper

In a previous post we talked about water quality as it pertains to human consumption. However, water chemistry that is not harmful to humans can really be destructive to your plumbing system. One aspect of water chemistry is acid. First, a little refresher on high school chemistry. What do the letters “pH” stand for….and why is the H capitalized? pH is an abbreviation for "power of hydrogen" where "p" is short for the German word for power, potenz and H is the element symbol for hydrogen. The H is capitalized because it is standard to capitalize element symbols. The abbreviation also works in French, with pouvoir hydrogen translating as "the power of hydrogen".

pH is the measure of the acidity or the basicity of an aqueous solution. An aqueous solution is a solution in which the solvent is water. It is water with stuff dissolved in it. So, a cup of coffee with sugar is an aqueous solution. Solutions with a pH of less than 7 are said to be acidic, solutions with a pH greater than 7 are said to be basic or alkaline. Pure water has a pH of 7.

PH_Scale.svg

The pH scale is logarithmic. WHAT?! Yes, those mind numbing logarithm problems from high school algebra do have a real world application. The only thing I have to say about the acid logarithmic scale is that it is exponential and has a base of 10. So, tomato juice (pH of 4) is 10 times more acidic than Black coffee (pH of 5). If you want to know more about the pH scale and logarithms (in which case I’d question your sanity) you can look it up on Wikipedia. Or dust off your old Algebra 2 textbook.

Okay, so how does our well water become acidic? Remember the term “Acid Rain”? There you go-that’s how. When rain falls to the earth, carbon dioxide in the air is dissolved by the rain creating an aqueous solution of water and carbonic acid. This solution seeps into the ground, into aquifers, and eventually into your well. Limestone is a naturally occurring mineral that is able to eliminate acid from water. So if the ground your rain water passes through contains no limestone you will have very acidic water, a solid limestone layer under the ground will remove the acid and give you neutral water, and everywhere in between.

Acidic water is corrosive. That is to say, it causes pinholes in copper water piping, causes water heater and well water tanks to get leaks, prematurely deteriorates faucets, and generally destroys plumbing systems. You may notice blue-green stains on porcelain fixtures (toilets, sinks, etc…). This staining is copper from piping and fittings that has been dissolved into the water from the acidity of the water. Dissolving copper causes weakness in the piping eventually creating pinholes.

How do you raise your pH if you water doesn't naturally pass through a layer of limestone? Read our next blog: How to Eliminate Acid in Your Home’s Water.

Bacteria in Well Water

Pat Scheper

waterIt almost goes without saying, we need water to live. Depending on the situation, a person can die from dehydration in a matter of hours, days at the most. I believe that, next to air, water is our most basic need. So it stands to reason that the water we drink needs to be clean, free of harmful chemicals and bacteria, and taste good. To that end, you should be certain your water quality is suitable for healthy consumption and cooking. If you have municipal water, the quality of your water is regulated by the EPA-Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA) . Created in 1974, it sets the standards for water quality for public consumption. So, if you have City Water, it is pretty safe to assume that it is suitable for human consumption.

Since this is Hump Day Pump Day, and we have been talking about wells, how do you know that the water you are pumping out of the ground is safe for your consumption? The short and probably smart-alecky answer is that if you aren’t getting sick, it’s probably okay to drink! Yes and no. I have seen wells that have bacteria in them and the residents are drinking the water with no ill effects. Yet, once they see there are bacteria in the water, they immediately take steps to get rid of it. Generally, two bacteria tests are performed on wells: E. coli and Total Coliform. E. coli is always bad… it’s an indicator of fecal matter in the well. Total Coliforms include bacteria that are found in the soil, in water that has been influenced by surface water and in human or animal waste. Total coliform counts give a general indication of the sanitary condition of a water supply. In a well, a Total Coliform reading indicates ground water is getting into the well. The New York State Health Department has a great web page explaining BACTERIA IN DRINKING WATER; far better than I can do. Here in Carroll County we see a fair number of wells with Nitrates. This is a result of ours being a farming county with an abundance of fertilizers having been used in the past. The EPA has set the Maximum Content Level (MCL) of Nitrates to be 10 ppm (parts per million). So, you can have a Nitrate level of 4 ppm and your water is safe or a level of 14 ppm and not meet EPA standards. See what I mean by yes and no?

There is also this thing called Turbidity. Again, the EPA does a nice job explaining TURBIDITY. To me, Turbidity is like Entropy- I know what it is, but have a hard time explaining it.

So, is your well contaminated with bacteria or nitrates… or both? Is the Turbidity a reason for concern? Only one way to find out: Have Your Water Tested. Two ways to have this done: 1. Call your local health department. In Carroll County, the health department will take a sample and test your water… for a fee. 2. Call a health department certified testing lab. We use FOUNTAIN VALLEY ANALYTICAL LAB. Their prices are very reasonable and the staff very helpful.

How often should you have your well water tested? The EPA recommends annually. That’s a good idea.

Bacteria and Nitrates aren’t the only substances that can contaminate a well. A good source to find out what else can be out there is EPA-Current Drinking Water Regulations.

Next week let’s look water quality that isn’t necessarily harmful to your health, but can wreak havoc with your plumbing system.

What Is A Submersible Well Pump?

Pat Scheper

Glad you asked!

So, last week I said we'd spend a little time on water quality. That can be a rather long subject to talk about and I was informed this morning that I tend to be long-winded in these blogs. So, in the interest of brevity, I'll postpone the water quality volume for a week and briefly talk about submersible pumps. To wit:

 

submirsible wp

This is a submersible well pump.

 

Have a great week!

Pat Scheper

 

Water Wells 102

Pat Scheper

Let’s jump right back in where we left off last week. If you missed it, I highly recommend you checking out last week’s blog entitled “Water Wells 101”. I gave an overview of wells, how they work and what they do. I mentioned there are different types but left you all in suspense. Well here we are, at the exciting conclusion to a two-part nail-biter of a blog miniseries! Read on! One type of well are called DRIVEN wells-a small diameter pipe with a screened well point on the bottom is driven in the ground. These wells are relatively simple and economical to construct, but they can tap only shallow water and are easily contaminated from nearby surface sources because they are not sealed with grouting material. Hand-driven wells usually are only around 30 feet deep; machine-driven wells can be 50 feet deep or more. We see these wells in areas with a high water table such as the Eastern Shore.

And there are hand dug wells. Historically, dug wells were excavated by hand shovel to below the water table until incoming water exceeded the digger’s bailing rate. The well was lined with stones, bricks, tile, or other material to prevent collapse, and was covered with a cap of wood, stone, or concrete tile. Because of the type of construction, bored wells can go deeper beneath the water table than can hand-dug wells. Dug and bored wells have a large diameter and expose a large area to the aquifer. These wells are able to obtain water from less-permeable materials such as very fine sand, silt, or clay. Disadvantages of this type of well are that they are shallow and lack continuous casing and grouting, making them subject to contamination from nearby surface sources, and they go dry during periods of drought if the water table drops below the well bottom. There are still some active hand dug wells around. We have a customer with a dug well that is about 8’ in diameter and 60’ or so deep. It is lined with stone and their pump just hangs in the water; it’s a little scary to work on that well. Years ago, my dad had a customer in Randallstown with a hand dug well. According to the homeowner, it had been hand-dug by slaves in 1850. It was about 30’ deep, 5’ in diameter and lined with some of the most beautiful stonework you’d ever see. That well continuously produced water…never went dry. Unfortunately, the homeowner passed away, the property sold and the well filled in. I think it was a historical artifact.

So, there you go: a brief lesson on wells. Before we get into well pumps, I think we’ll talk a little about well water quality next week.

Until then, GO ORIOLES!

Water Wells 101

Pat Scheper

In our trade, when one mentions “PUMP” we naturally think of a well pump. Today’s topic: Water wells. To define it, a well is simply a deep, skinny hole in the ground from which we pump water.

well

The illustration shows a typical 6” well such as we see in many yards. A well driller drills about an 8” diameter hole in the ground until he hits bedrock. He continues drilling 2 feet into the bed rock. He then inserts 6” steel or plastic casing into the hole until the casing rests on the bedrock. Once this is done, the driller pumps cement-like slurry (a semi-liquid mixture) called grout into the annular space between the casing and the hole up about 30 feet from the bedrock to hold the casing in place for the next phase. A smaller bit that fits into the casing is used to continue drilling into the bedrock. Once sufficient water is found, the drilling process is over. The driller then pumps more grout into the annular space to the surface. In addition to holding the casing in place, the grout hardens and prevents surface water from getting into the well and contaminating the water. Depending on local codes, the well casing will extend about 18” above grade.

What is “sufficient water” you ask? Well, that’s a deep subject (get it… Sorry, I couldn’t resist). Local health departments dictate sufficient water. The following is taken from the Carroll County Health Department web site: • Yield Test: Required of all new wells. Domestic wells must be capable of producing at least 1 gallon per minute. Also, at least once a day, the well must be able to produce 500 gallons in a 2-hour period. Well storage and tank storage is taken into consideration for this requirement. A well yield test must be conducted for a minimum of 3 hours. If after 3 hours, the well has consistently yielded 4 gallons per minute or more, the test may be terminated. If a well yields under 4 gallons, it must be yield tested for a minimum of 6 hours.

Here we go: We have a well that produces 1 gpm. That is 120 gallons in 2 hours. If we need 500 gallons in 2 hours to meet Health Department requirements, then we need 380 gallons storage in the well. At 1½ gallons /ft., we would need approximately a 253’ column of water from the bottom of the well to the static water line. If a well yields 10 gpm (a really great yield) then in 2 hours, it will produce 1,200 gallons! This certainly exceeds the 500 gallon requirement.

There is no minimum depth requirement for a well in Carroll County, although there must be at least 20 feet of casing. I’ve seen some wells in the county less than 100’ deep…they are generally older wells.

Now, there are other types of wells beyond the 6” drilled type we see in our area. BUT you’ll have to stay tuned and check back next week to find out what they are! (I love a good cliffhanger ending).

Back-Up Sump Pumps, Part 2 of 2

Pat Scheper

If you’ve been keeping up with our special “hump Day, Pump Day” series on sump pumps, you’ll remember that we’ve so far discussed sump pumps and their uses, and we’ve moved on to back-up sump pumps. Last Wednesday I went over one type of back-up sump pump with you, the battery-powered back-up. This week, I’ll explore the second type: water-powered back-up sump pumps. How do these work? Well, the pump utilizes a phenomenon know as the “Venturi Effect”. Essentially, CITY water flows through a nozzle in a pipe extending into the pit. The water flowing through the nozzle increases in velocity, thus decreasing pressure in the pipe. This decreased pressure “sucks” water out of the pit. It combines with the city water and is discharged to the exterior. Two bummers with this system: One- you MUST have CITY water. It will operate with a well pump, but if your electric goes off causing your sump pump to not work, the same power outage will cause your well pump to not work also. So, city water it is. Two- same as with the battery pump, the water powered pump will pump about ½ the volume as the primary pump. Again, this is still better than nothing.

I have seen some Do-It-Yourself videos on how to install a water-powered sump pump, and generally here are two rather important installation cautions that are either glossed over or ignored: first, back flow prevention. This pump is connected to your potable water system. It is also immersed in nasty water in your sump. This is known as a cross connection. It is possible for the nasty water to get into your potable water piping and contaminating it. The back flow preventer is designed to prevent this. However, there are varying degrees of cross connection hazard and, thus, various back flow devises. Back flow devises range from a dual check to a Reduced Pressure Zone back flow. Basically, back flow devises are a whole series of blogs that will bore you to tears. Suffice it to say, a back flow preventer is required on a water powered sump pump. My experience is that local codes require a Reduced Pressure Zone type of back flow. This is an expensive piece of equipment and must be tested by a licensed back flow professional. You don’t want to be cavalier about this-call your local plumbing inspector and make you have the proper back flow device installed-whether your hire a plumber or do it yourself.

Second, most installation videos show the discharge pipe from the water powered pump connecting to the discharge pipe of the primary sump pump. Again, check local codes. Some jurisdictions require the discharge pipe to run to the exterior INDEPENDENTLY of each other. Baltimore County, Maryland requires a reduced pressure zone backflow device AND separate discharge piping. Be attentive to the code requirements… they are there for your health and protection.

I trust by now, you’ve got the basic idea of sump pumps and their various back-up options. What do you have? Do you feel secure in the event of pump failure, a power outage and possible flooding? I hope so! Check back next week for an all new pump-related discussion!

Back-Up Sump Pumps: Part 1 of 2

Pat Scheper

On our first “Hump Day-Pump Day” we talked about sump pumps. As we learned, a sump pump is a very necessary item, especially when there are heavy rains. So, what happens when your electric goes out during a storm? Or when your sump pump just fails? Without a functioning sump pump, the rain water will eventually flood your basement. Just a ¼” of water, which is about 156 gallons per 1,000 square feet, can do great damage. It will soak your carpet, into wood molding the bottoms of cardboard storage boxes, furniture legs, etc. So if your sump pump fails to work during a storm, wouldn’t it be comforting and practical to have a back-up system? Fortunately, there are two sump pump specific products on the market that can help you out… This week we’ll look at battery back-up sump pumps.A battery back-up system is a small, secondary pump operated by a 12 volt DC, deep cycle marine battery. It is not intended to be the primary pump, nor can it operate indefinitely under battery power.

back up sump pump

The illustration shown depicts a typical battery back-up sump pump system. The system consists of: • Small 12 volt pump • 12 volt deep cycle marine battery (typically sold separately) • A float switch/alarm • A charger/controller • A battery box • A tee with check valves • Associated wiring

The pump is installed in the sump and connected to the discharge pipe of the primary sump pump. The float/alarm is mounted above the primary pump. The charger controller keeps the battery charged and, on some models, sounds an alarm when the back-up pump kicks on. In addition, on some models, the controller sounds an alarm when the battery charge drops. The system operates in this way: When the primary pump fails, water in the sump rises above the “on” level to the level of the float switch. When the float switch rises it energizes the back-up pump and your basement is saved from drowning. Of course, the battery will eventually use up all of its electrons and the back-up pump stops running. My experience is that a fully charged battery will operate the pump for approximately 8-10 hours, which is plenty of time to have our plumbers out to replace the failed pump or to safely run electric to the pump from an exterior generator. There are some models that use two batteries, thus doubling your running time. Check it out, and check back next week for a (shorter than these first two, I promise!) post on the other type of back-up sump pumps.

Have You Checked THIS Lately?

Pat Scheper

Almost every house has one. It’s generally located in a damp, dark hole in the floor, and most homeowners pay it no attention until they are standing ankle deep in water during a storm. Yup, it’s your sump pump. sump-pump Think of your basement as a reverse swimming pool. Instead of a hole in the ground keeping water in, you have a hole in the ground trying to keep water out. I say trying because most basement structures fail at keeping rainwater and ground water out. The soil around your foundation is very porous and holds water like a sponge during wet times. If your basement is 8’ in the ground, then the wet soil is like having a column of water 8’ high pushing against your foundation wall at your footers. That column of water is equal to 3.5 pounds per square inch (psi). That may not seem like a lot of pressure, but try blowing 3.5 psi on a gauge! A grown man can blow a pressure of about 1.4 psi. So, when it rains, there is a very real chance of water getting into your basement. Various construction methods help direct this rainwater to your sump which is where the sump pump comes in play. A good 1/3 horsepower sump pump will discharge about 44 gallons per minute (gpm) at 10’ of head. What’s that mean?! It means the pump will pump 44 gpm through a vertical pipe 10’ high, which is about the maximum vertical lift for a pump in a buried sump in a basement 8’ in the ground. So, is 44 gpm good? Let’s do some math: Let’s just say you live on an acre of ground. That’s 43,560 ft². And let’s say we get one of those kick a** thunder storms that spring up in the summer (we wouldn’t know anything about this year would we…). This storm dumps an inch of rain in about an hour; a lot of rain to be sure, but not an unreasonable amount for a summer storm. An inch of rain on an acre of ground is 3,630 ft³ of water, and a ft³ of water is equal to 7½ gallons. Your acre of paradise just had 27,225 gallons of water dumped on it! Now, not all of that water is going to be directed to your house and into your basement. Not if your builder did his job in grading and installing rain leaders. But, some of this water makes its way to your house. Let’s say 5% of that 1” of rain is going to get to your foundation and seep in through the foundation. By the way, I have no idea exactly how much will get to your basement, this is a HYPOTHETICAL example. Five percent of 27,225 is about 1,361gallons of water. Now, let’s go back to our sump pump that can pump 44 gpm. That equals 2,640 gallons per hour. That is about double the 1,361 gallons we are assuming is going to get through your foundation wall. So a GOOD 1/3 hp sump pump should be sufficient. We use the Myers MCI033 at Apple Plumbing. It is a nice, solid, cast iron pump with a float rod switch (less likely to hang up in the sump). Other good pumps are Goulds and Zoeller.

You should check your sump pump once a year, or have us check it out. We do this by pouring water in the sump until the pump comes on and observe the rate of discharge. Is it a strong, steady stream or a weak one? Make sure the pump is sitting on a solid base and there is no debris, silt, mud or stone in the sump that could clog up the pump.

That was quite a lot of information, but it really is too late to find out your pump doesn’t work when your basement is flooded!

Stay tuned for next week's post on back up pumps!basement-pool-cartoon

Apple Plumbing Wins Maryland Breakthrough Business Award!

Ben Scheper

NEWS RELEASEFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Baltimore, MD. June 6 2013. Apple Plumbing & Heating Inc., a full service family owned plumbing company located in Westminster Maryland, was awarded the Maryland Chamber of Commerce Breakthrough Business Award in the 11- 50 employees category on Thursday June 6 at the awards luncheon at Martin’s West in Baltimore. (see video below)

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce selects winners based on excellence in innovation, company growth, entrepreneurial spirit, competitiveness and contributions to the community.

In 2012, Apple Plumbing was awarded Small Business of the Year in the same category by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and was also voted the Carroll’s Best Winner in the plumbing services category in the annual Carroll County Times Reader’s Choice Awards.Since 1994, Apple Plumbing & Heating has provided plumbing services to families and businesses in Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Baltimore counties including services for well pumps, water treatment systems, water filtration, hot water heaters and more.

Some Easy Water (and Money!) Saving Tips

Pat Scheper

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners has voted to increase water and sewer rates in order to pay for repairs to our sewer and water systems, which affects a large portion of our customer base. Because of this, I thought now would be an opportune time to remind everyone of a few basic actions we can take to ensure we're not wasting more water and money. These tips can save up to thousands of gallons of water. Potentially thousands of dollars, too. Many small problems can escalate to much larger issues if ignored. Routinely check for leaks. It's spring time, so our outdoor hose bibs (faucets for hoses) are once more being used. Check them for leaks! Do they drip when not in use? When you screw in your hose, does more water pour over the sides than is being funneled through it? The same goes for indoor kitchen and bathroom faucets. Even a small, seemingly inconsequential drip can waste a huge amount of water if it goes ignored for too long.

Check your toilets too. After flushing, make sure they don't continue to run. It's easy to barely notice the sound of a running toilet in the background, or to all of a sudden tune into it and realize it had likely been going for hours. Be aware!

Is your toilet an older model? You may want to consider an upgrade. Newer models use less water to flush, and many are designed specifically to use the least amount possible. You'd be surprised how those extra gallons per flush can add up!

There are other little things that can be done that we've all heard probably dozens of times: turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Wait to run the dishwasher and washing machine until you have full loads of dishes and laundry to clean.

 

These few, simple tips can conserve water and save you a headache and bigger dent in your wallet.