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Should the breaker have tripped...? #68563
08/11/06 07:25 AM
08/11/06 07:25 AM
ThinkGood  Offline OP
Joined: Aug 2002
Posts: 1,081
Milwaukee, WI
Hi, all.

It's been quite a while since I've posted here. We've moved into a house that has some country stuff that I'm not used to, having always lived in the city before.

One thing (besides a water softener and sump pump) that is new to me is having water supplied by a (private) well.

I went to adjust the well pump switch (to have the pump cut in just a bit sooner when the pressure drops), and had a bit of a surprise. Here is the background information:

The pump is served by a double 15-amp (tied handles) breaker.

There is a shut-off switch (double-pole? I mean it's a switch that looks like a light switch but has 2 sets of 2 screws) next to the tank with the pump switch.

I was adjusting one of the nuts on the pump switch and had some sparks fly. Given that my pliers now have a scorch mark, should that have tripped the (double) breaker? Or is that not enough to trip it? I'm not really sure just what touched what. (Watt touched watt?)

Eventually, I would like to upgrade my main panel to a 200 amp service anyhow. What I would like to know is if the lack of the breaker tripping, even though the pliers got scorched, is not "normal."

Apparently, that shut-off switch doesn't shut off...

I'm glad I wasn't using my fingers to make the adjustment ;-O

Work Gear for Electricians and the Trades
Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68564
08/11/06 08:11 AM
08/11/06 08:11 AM
MKD Steve  Offline
Junior Member
Joined: Jul 2006
Posts: 6
Chicago, IL, USA
I suggest hiring someone qualified to make the adjustments you desire.

Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68565
08/11/06 09:54 AM
08/11/06 09:54 AM
SteveFehr  Offline
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 1,213
Chesapeake, VA
Breakers have a trip curve- they can usually take an incredible amount of current- like 1000A for a fraction of a second, or a hundred amps for a few seconds- before tripping. This lets things like refrigerator compressors start up without tripping the breaker, even though they might push a 15A or 20A breaker well over it's rating when they first turn on. It's also what causes a slow trip a few minutes after you turn the coffee pot and microwave on at the same time- the 20A breaker might handle 30A, but only for a few minutes. Or it might handle 25A indefinately.

So, it's quite possible to cause a high-impedance short with a screwdriver and scare the crap out of yourself without tripping the breaker. Unless you have an FPE panel, holding the screwdriver there an instant longer should have tripped the breaker.

...OR, the breaker could be bad!

[This message has been edited by SteveFehr (edited 08-11-2006).]

Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68566
08/11/06 12:40 PM
08/11/06 12:40 PM
mxslick  Offline
Joined: Oct 2004
Posts: 803
Atomic City, ID USA
There is a shut-off switch (double-pole? I mean it's a switch that looks like a light switch but has 2 sets of 2 screws) next to the tank with the pump switch.

Apparently, that shut-off switch doesn't shut off...

I think it's because the pressure switch was wired AHEAD of the shut-off switch, so it only kills power to the pump motor.

And, having grown up in a house with a well for water, you shouldn't mess with the pressure switch settings anyway. You may cause the pump to cycle too often or create an overpressure situation.

Adjusting the nut changes the cut-off pressure, the cut-in pressure is a fixed value below the cut-off pressure. (Usually between 7- 10 psi.)

MKD Steve has the best idea.

And to your original question, the breaker is most likely o.k. I've had a few "oops" situations where a momentary arc isn't enough to trip a working breaker. [Linked Image]

Stupid should be painful.
Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68567
08/11/06 01:04 PM
08/11/06 01:04 PM
Alan Belson  Offline
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 1,803
Mayenne N. France
As stated above, if you are not 100% sure of your capability to safely service the well-pump switchgear, hire an electrician, but as mxslick says, good advise not to mess with it if it ain't busted.

Breaker operation aside, the following may be of interest:

1. Striking a balance between pump on [ = pressure drop] and pump off [ = pressure rise] is difficult. I try and aim for 45-55 psi maximum pressure, [ie = off], as a target for the domestic supply. The 'trigger' on most pump switches I've seen consists of a floating beam with springs either side, which 'toggle' the contacts using a diaphragm-type 'piston' running on pump water pressure for power. The problem is, when you adjust one spring, [ say pressure rise = off], you also adjust the other one, [ pressure fall = on]. You can end up chasing your tail for hours adjusting first one then the other to get acceptable function between switch positions. The problems with adjustment are exaggerated if there is any kind of pressurised storage-tank in the system, [ usually consisting of a vessel with air trapped in the upper half, which acts as a buffer to reduce pump hunting.] Having a buffer vessel allows you to trickle water from a faucet without the pump chattering on and off, so it's well worth having. No pun intended!

2. In surface mounted-pumps, there is a non-return valve and strainer down the well on the end of the suction pipe. This must be in top-notch condition. If it has the slightest 'weep-back' the pump will hunt regularly, and will drive you nuts if it 'blips' every half-hour through the night. In a power outage, such a weep may mean re-priming the pump, depending on model, so if you get a weeping NRV, fix it pronto. This problem does not apply to deep-bore pipe wells where the pump is down the borepipe, of course.

3. If you are used to a public supply, it's advisable to get your water tested for bacteria, parasites and nitrates/nitrites etc., ASAP.
For living organisms, take the advice of the testing laboratory as to safe levels, depending on species - BTW, there are lots of harmless bacteria species, so don't get paranoid!
EPA public supply max level for nitrate = 10ppm.
EPA "ditto" level for nitite = 1 ppm.
You can 'shock-disinfect' a well with chlorine for biological organisms- just Google "disinfect well WI" for several useful Wisconsin sites.
If you do have higher than 'normal' levels of organisms, you will also need to take steps to eliminate the source of the problem, or they'll be back!
If the nitrate/nitrite levels are above the EPA levels quoted, note that European 'safe' levels are some 5 times higher for some reason. EPA levels are set by what they consider as economically feasible for a utility to provide for a public water supply. If you are worried by high nitrogen levels, consult a physician, or use bottled water for drinking/ teeth cleaning etc..

Hope this helps. Oh, and welcome back, BTW.


ps. My latest problem was.... a Frog! [ The amphibian sort, not a citizen !]. It decided to get sucked into the wellpump, [due to a missing bung I forgot to fit ], and siezed up the primary turbine: $200 pump wrecked. I'll post a pic shortly.

[This message has been edited by Alan Belson (edited 08-11-2006).]

Wood work but can't!
Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68568
08/11/06 01:29 PM
08/11/06 01:29 PM
gfretwell  Offline

Joined: Jul 2004
Posts: 9,337
I have been living with a well for over 20 years and I am also the guy the neighbors call when their well pumps are screwing up.
The pump switch usuakky has 2 adjusting screws. The center one over the spring adjusts the cut in and cut out pressures together (a 20/40 can be adjusted to a 30/50) The other screw slightly offset and deeper down in the switch changes the range (a 30/50 to 40/50). 20lb range seems to be the standard. The thing nobody can keep working is the bladder tank that bufferes the pump. This is supposed to store water so the pump doesn't cycle too often and it should be sized to the pump size/flow rate.
About 30-60 seconds per cycle while the washing machine is filling seems to be about normal. YMMV
The problem is the air bladders don't seem to last very long so the tank gets water slugged and the pump short cycles. Remember the pressure spec on the tank is when the system is open and all the water is out of the tank. One easy way you can see what the precharge is ... turn the pump off, open a valve a little and watch the guage. It should go down steadily and when it suddenly drops to zero, the last time it was steadily dropping is the precharge air pressure in the tank. It takes a few times to catch on to the trick but it does work. If you get a blast of air at the end the bladder is bad. Flotec told me Home Depot can order new bladders for their tanks. I haven't tried it yet. Some are not replaceable

Greg Fretwell
Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68569
08/11/06 01:48 PM
08/11/06 01:48 PM
PE&Master  Offline
Joined: Feb 2006
Posts: 138
I suggest shutting the breaker, or disconnect switch off before you make the next adjustment. If the 'light switch' shut off was off and u still got a spark, it may be wired wrong, gone bad, or someone replaced it with a 4-way switch.

Steve's right about the breakers being able to hold for brief overloads. Might want to have a licensed sparky make sure everything is done properly before you get more than some blown up pliers while working on it.

Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68570
08/11/06 02:28 PM
08/11/06 02:28 PM
wendel  Offline
Joined: Aug 2004
Posts: 55
Be sure the small 1/4" tube from the pressure switch to the pump casing is not clogged with rust. Over the years rust will cake on the inside of the pump and can affect the true pressure read by the pressure switch.

Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68571
08/12/06 04:32 AM
08/12/06 04:32 AM
pauluk  Offline
Joined: Aug 2001
Posts: 7,520
Norfolk, England
From Alan Belson:

[Linked Image]

A submerged type well-pump, dismantled to show a frog, [ it has ceased to be, it is an ex-frog ], jammed in the first-stage turbine. Result; impeller siezed, plastic front bearing welded up.

I should point out how the frog got in; this is in the original house 'dug' well, 1 metre diameter and 8 metres deep, lined right to the bottom with granite setts and with a cast-iron grating top. [ BTW- Somebody went down there 340 years ago, to dig the well and lay those setts - a braver man than me!].

I forgot to fit the 1/2" diameter rubber bung in the pump base on the last maintenance, so nobody to blame but myself.

This is a four-stage impeller pump, 1100 Watt; 230vac; 25 gallons/min max; 65 psi max. Although pump was wrecked, I did manage eventually to get a spare impeller set and 'O' ring pack from England for $25.

Re: Should the breaker have tripped...? #68572
08/12/06 10:48 AM
08/12/06 10:48 AM
walrus  Offline
Joined: Jul 2002
Posts: 680
Bangor Me. USA
I'd guess a GE breaker

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