Water pressure fluctuations are common in private well systems, and, unfortunately, it’s something you might be too familiar with. Typically, 55 psi is a good level of pressure to maintain. But the value varies and generally falls within the 30 to 60 psi range.
Anything less than that, and you’ll be standing in the shower thinking you deserve better than a few dribbles of water after a long day of work. Well water with low pressure may be safe to drink, but it sure isn’t fun to shower in.
Here I have gathered information you can use to ensure you have adequate water pressure in your water taps.
Ideal Water Flow Rate and Pressure
Two common terms that are often discussed while handling water plumbing systems are water pressure and flow capacity (flow rates). Water pressure is generally referred to as the absolute pressure in the pressure tank and measured in pounds per square inch (psi). It directly affects faucets, taps, and showerheads.
On the other hand, the flow rate is the volume of water pumped by the submersible motor and is measured in gallons per minute (gpm). It’s an intrinsic property of the well pump, and you can’t adjust it.
For an average family of three to four people, consider the ideal pressure to be 35–55 psi with a flow rate of 5–8 gpm.
How to Test Water Pressure for a Well Water System
Water pressure fluctuation is common in countryside households that depend on a private well for the primary water source. Sometimes, opening multiple faucets slows the flow of water and may even stop it entirely.
These are the telltale signs of reduced water pressure in your plumbing system. But you don’t need to work on intuition alone. Fortunately, you can check the water pressure yourself and see if it’s below a certain limit.
Get a pressure gauge. You can buy one from a supermarket or an online store. They are fairly cheap and long lasting. Get one the size of your outdoor faucet or hose bib. You may require a multi-adapter fitting if the sizes don’t match.
Turn off all the faucets, taps, shower heads, and water sprinklers in the house. In short, stop the flow of water everywhere in the house.
Attach the gauge to the outermost faucet, which is closest to the well system (pressure tank). In most cases, it’s the hose bib.
Leave it there for a few minutes and keep an eye on the readings. You are looking for a pressure reading greater than 35 psi and lower than 70 psi. Anything lower than 30 psi needs attention. Most pressure tanks have pressure switch factory settings of either 30/50 or 40/60 psi. If the pressure is lower than expected, click here for possible solutions.
A 30/50 psi system means that when the pressure drops to 30 psi, the pressure switch sends a signal, and the well pump kicks on. The well pump continues to extract water until the pressure in the tank reaches 50 psi, also known as cut-off pressure.
What Causes Low Pressure in the Well Water System and How Do You Fix It?
Sudden pressure drop in well water could be due to a variety of causes, but the following circumstances are the most common issues faced by homeowners.
1. Faulty pressure well tank
Most of the time, a faulty pressure tank is what causes a drop in water pressure. Check the air pressure in the tank but first turn off the power. A typical tire pressure gauge would do just fine for this job. Keep in mind the pressure should be 2 psi less than the cut-on pressure of the tank.
Meaning a standard 40/60 psi pressure tank should have at least 38 psi of air pressure. Anything less than that would result in low water pressure.
Suppose low air pressure is the actual problem. All you have to do is hook the pressure tank with an air compressor and charge the compressed air until it reaches the required pressure. Once done, your water system will be good as new.
Sometimes damaged pressure switches also give false readings and disturb the system.
If that’s the case, replace the pressure switch, which is fairly cheap and can be found at any supermarket.
Changing pressure tank settings
You can actually change the default settings if you have pressure that is too low. Most tanks have a 30/50 psi setting, but sometimes this pressure is not enough for adequate flow around the house.
To change the setting, remove the cap and find a nut attached to a spring. By tightening (clockwise) or loosening (anticlockwise) the nut, you can increase and decrease the operating pressure.
A rule of thumb is that one complete turn equals 2–3 psi. So, to change from a 30/50 to 40/60 psi system, simply rotate the net 3½ times in a clockwise direction. This will increase water pressure in the house.
If changing the pressure setting doesn’t solve the issue, the problem might be in the pressure switch, pressure tank, or blockage in pipes.
2. Leaky air fill valve
Another quick diagnostic you can do is check for any leakages. Even the smallest leak may drop the water pressure. The main areas to look out for are joints, bents, and valves. The air fill valve, which is used to charge air in the tank, is a perfect place to start. Use soapy water to check for any air leakages within that region.
If by any chance, water starts leaking through the air fill valve, then you’re out of luck. Most probably, the diaphragm in the pressure tank is ruptured and needs replacement. This usually happens when the tank is too old.
3. Clogged pipes
Groundwater is full of sediments and minerals that are otherwise not present in city supply water. If water quality is not kept under check, it can easily build debris and limescale in the pipes, obstructing water supply.
To check if this might be the case, examine faucets and showerheads. Usually, a showerhead clogged by limescale is a telltale sign of similar deposits inside the piping system.
Taps and faucets can be easily cleaned, sometimes fixing the problem. Cleaning the whole piping system is rather difficult, and I recommend having your pipes inspected by a licensed local plumber for this.
Use a water softener treatment system to prevent hard water from blocking your system. This also brings us to the next problem.
4. Water treatment systems and filters
Water treatment and filter systems make water safe and healthy but need routine maintenance. Most filtration systems have filters that clog up after a certain time, requiring frequent replacement. This can seriously hinder the flow of water. The process is easy, and you can even do it yourself.
Water treatment systems are more complex but need less maintenance. They are usually installed at the entrance point of water systems and can directly affect the flow of water.
Treatment systems like water softeners may require a salt solution change several times per year, depending on the type of system you get. A regular inspection would alert you of any sediment buildup in the water softener or its adjacent pipe system.
1. Installing booster pumps
Sometimes the problem isn’t in the system. Rather, the water consumption has gone up. This might happen if the family gets bigger or the weather gets too hot.
At times, low water pressure only occurs on the second floor, which is a good indicator that the well pump struggles to work against gravity.
All of this can be solved by installing a water pressure booster pump. They are easy to install and affordable. Look out for a pump that has a built-in pressurized tank. It’s more convenient and gives stabilized pressure.
2. Installing a constant pressure system
Constant pressure systems are also becoming a popular choice among homeowners. It’s a system attached at the point of entry of the water system. Its job is to maintain constant pressure in the tank, just below 1–2 psi of cut-off pressure.
As soon as you open a faucet and water pressure drops the slightest, generally 2 psi, this constant pressure system sends a signal to the well pump, which turns on and starts the flow.
However, this system is not as energy efficient. The well pump has to work continuously to maintain pressure during usage, and runs for higher pump cycles. They cost around $1,000, which is not cheap.
3. Bigger well submersible pump
Okay, this is a last resort if all else fails. Replacing the smaller well pump with a higher flow capacity well pump simply means more flow rate (gallons per minute) and an increase in pressure. Submersible pumps are actually quite expensive, and you may need to contact your local well contractor for this.
High Pressure in Well Water
Having too much pressure is rare and can be due to faulty pressure settings. Make sure to keep the cut-off value of the pressure tank below 80 psi.
High pressure can seriously harm appliances and burst the plumbing system. It’ll also overwork the well pump and make it run for a continuous cycle.
Low water pressure can be a real bummer. Now that you are well aware of the possible problems that could cause low pressure in the well system, it’s easy for you to identify the culprit.
Be sure to go through all the diagnostic checks I pointed out above before buying new pumps and pressure tanks. Sometimes a simple fix goes a long way and saves you tons of money.