Those of us who at all remain connected to the main power grid run the very real risk of having no water following an electrical crisis event, whether man made or natural. That back up generator you intend to switch over to after a power failure will not fire up your well if the pump and/or the pump control box is already fried.
Unless you have not only food, but several thousand gallons of water in a buried cistern (with a hand pump) all the storage supplies in the world will count for naught within only a few days without safe and readily available water.
Even those who are totally off grid may have enough electrical “antenna” exposure via their wiring system to render their well useless. (There are conflicting opinions whether relatively “short” runs of wiring, such as those under the hood of a vehicle, or as part of a solar/wind generator array, might be susceptible to high-altitude EMP bursts, but why not prepare to
be “on the safe side” of the question?)
But what is not in much question is that the hundreds-of-miles of “virtual antenna” which comprises our nation’s power and phone transmission lines will act powerfully upon anything connected to them — perhaps to include your home and vital water well. Even a fence line may constitute a fatal conductor to have your hand resting on should one be so unlucky as to be in
contact with it during the initial main pulse (or pulses if follow up bursts are part of the strategy.)
And although a hugely powerful solar flare event is possible — and would likely produce a similar result — my bet will always be on the “human factor” rather than cosmic “coincidence.” (That is, the more likely scenario would be a daylight deployment of high altitude EMP weapons (which would be largely invisible/unnoticed by most people) which could then be blamed on whatever a treasonous government felt was in its best interest. They could swear it was a “natural” event, or they could hop up and down in a froth with false-flag accusations against a Muslim or other fall-guy nation — and who would be able to dispute them? They might even proclaim the grid failure to be the work of “home grown” terrorists supposedly using conventional explosives or suitcase nukes against key points in the grid. Since only government-controlled media would likely be broadcasting (if at all) after such a devastating event, we’d have to take their word for whatever they affirmed — no more Internet or phones or local stations to counter with the truth (assuming it could even be discovered amid the chaos.)
All of which brings us back to the “mission critical” protection of the homestead water well. Fortunately, a fairly inexpensive “fix” is available for the problem, little more than a few feet of wire, a power relay, a small electrical enclosure box (available at Home Depot) and a modest bit of know-how. Most electricians and most well service companies could do the whole job within a couple or hours, or for those of you who are more technically proficient and adventurous, you could do it yourself with some careful study and appropriate safety measures.
Now before we get started with the details, let me suggest (as others have done in previous posts) a couple of “superior” alternatives to be considered. Perhaps the simplest and most reliable long term answer would be to remove the submersible pump (or surface mounted jet pump) and install a Brumby pump. (Several YouTube videos show how to build your own, very inexpensively!) No wires, no motor, and no moving parts at all down in the well hole to wear out!
Yes, an air compressor somewhere on the property would be required (and could be protected in the same manner as outlined herein) but in comparison to the challenges of protecting/removing/replacing/servicing pumps tens or many hundreds of feet deep, the Brumby approach really can’t be beat! Also, the air compressor can do double duty, i.e. power air tools, aerate ponds, et cetera, and should it ever break, they are far easier to come by (and/or repair) than a deep pump or jet pump. Moreover, the air compressor can be hugely oversized (if that’s all you could find) and still do just fine, whereas a submersible pump must be properly sized both electrically and in physical dimension, etc.
With the Brumby design there are various considerations regarding overall well depth, actual depth to the water level within the well, etc, but even if your particular configuration would make a Brumby pump problematical, you could still easily construct or purchase a positive displacement style air/water pump that would likewise dispense with motors and wires down in the well, yet still have great simplicity and reliability and ease of repair. There also exists at least one brand of lever-action mechanical pump able to handle a couple hundred or so of depth with no problem. I can post more on these alternatives in a subsequent post, if some readers indicate an interest…
Okay, let’s start with the relay, widely available, but not likely to be found in a Home Depot or Lowe’s etc. The links below show two variations of the same relay, one with a 120 VAC energizing coil, and the other with a 240 VAC coil. They also are available in other coil and contact voltages, but for now these will suffice for purposes of illustration. What we are trying to do here is walk through the general logic and a couple of “typical” installations — as they say, your own mileage may vary, in which case any competent electrician will nevertheless understand these instructions sufficiently to adapt the principles to your own circumstance.
Most home or small ranch well pumps either run on 120 VAC or 240 VAC single phase power from the main circuit breaker panel. Almost always the pump will have its own “dedicated” breaker that sends the power on to the pump equipment room, where most often the supply conduit first goes to a manual disconnect box with a lever on the right side which can be pulled down to cut
power so as to safely work on the wiring.
Often (but not always) the output wiring of the disconnect box then goes directly to the pump pressure switch, which will not send the power any further unless the system pressure drops low enough to require more water. If the switch does shift due to low pressure, then the power is switched either directly to the pump down in the well, or in many cases instead is sent first to a pump control box which may contain such additional items as perhaps a start relay, capacitor(s) and other associated items, and from there on down to the submerged pump.
Specifically, for a standard 240 VAC set-up, what we’ll be doing is removing the two wires that normally go from the pressure switch to the pump (or to its control box) and let them hang momentarily. We will then cut two new pieces of same-gauge [and color] wire and connect them from the just-vacated terminals of the pressure switch up to the two terminals of our new 240 VAC relay coil. We’ll also jumper two short wires from those two coil terminals to the two “normally open” terminal connections of the relay, typically abbreviated and molded into the adjacent plastic as “no.” (Again, for those without sufficient technical know-how and familiarity with safety precautions it would be best to pass these instructions on to a qualified professional.)
This new relay is commonly termed a “double pole, double throw” arrangement whereby it is essentially two switches or relays in one. No power will flow through the relay unless it is energized by its built-in magnetic coil via the pressure switch wiring, as described.
The two “moving contact” parts of the relay (mechanically linked to each other but electrically isolated) each have their own separate terminals marked as “common” or the abbreviated letter “c” molded into the adjacent plastic. The two wires that we removed earlier from the pressure switch and left dangling will now instead be routed individually to these two terminals
marked “c” or common.
However we also want to protect the pump from any possible high voltage surge that might come into the home from an outside event. High voltages can “bridge” or arc across even a normally “off” switch or relay contact, so to counter that we will use the “normally closed” contacts on the new relay and run wires from those two terminals to the well casing (or other suitable
What this means is that whenever our new relay is off, and the pump is not running, the pump is always connected across the new relay to an earth ground, such that even if high voltage does try to bridge the gap between contacts in the relay, the arc will be forced to encounter an easy and relatively safe path to the earth. It’s still “possible” for some of the voltage to divide and go down the wires into the well, but those wires will also be effectively “cross-linked” or shorted to each other via the normally-closed common wire connections to the well casing, and therefore the pump windings will be much less prone to damage.
If the pump system happens to run on 120 VAC instead of 240 VAC, it is still very likely to have a disconnect box and pressure switch, but in this instance usually only the black (or “hot”) wire is routed through through the pressure switch, leaving the white (and green) to continue uninterrupted to the pump and/or its associated control box. For this system we would have selected a relay whose coil also runs on 120 VAC (per the links) and we would slightly modify our new wiring procedure accordingly.
What we’d do in this case would be to find a way to cut and splice an added length of white wire into the white wire that goes in and back out of the disconnect box (via a wire nut) and connect the other end of this new white wire to one of the relay terminals marked “coil.”
The black wire coming out of the pressure switch and going to the pump or its control box is the one we will now remove from the pressure switch terminal block, letting it hang loose for the moment. We’ll cut a new length of black wire (same amperage size as the one removed) and run it from that just-vacated terminal on the pressure switch to the other “coil” terminal on our new relay. We’ll also jumper a short piece of black wire from that same coil terminal over to one of the relay terminals marked as normally open or “no.” At this point our new relay coil terminals will have a black wire and a white wire, respectively.
The normally open and normally closed and common terminals on the new relay are “paired” individually and separately to either the right side or left side of the relay, so either by following the metal strips and contacts visually, or by using a test meter set on ohms, we need to make sure that whichever of the two “no” or normally open terminals we selected for placing our black hot wire from the pressure switch, we then locate the matching “common” terminal associated with the “no” terminal having that black wire.
That common terminal will then need a new piece of black wire running from it back down to the “hanging” black wire that we had earlier detached from the pressure switch. We’ll wire nut them together or otherwise reconnect them safely. Thus when the disconnect switch restores power to the system, what now happens is that when the pressure switch senses low water pressure and clicks “on” it will send power up to our new relay coil (turning the relay on) and via the jumper from the black coil lead to the normally open terminal the power will now go across the relay and out the “common” terminal over to the pump, or its control box, thus running the system until pressure builds back up again.
As with the 240 VAC arrangement however, we still must protect the pump from EMP surge, so we finish the project by finding the normally closed terminal associated with our other two wires (common and normally open) and connecting it to our well casing or other equivalent earth ground.
Thus in either instance, whether 120 VAC or 240 VAC, while the pump is off, it’s internal wiring will always be connected to a direct earth ground connection, instead of being vulnerable to a surge which could instantly burn it out like an old incandescent light bulb that goes “FLASH” and gone before one can even blink!
Now some of you sharper readers will have already noted that the protection outlined above will not help if by unhappy chance the pump is actually running to recharge the pressure tanks or re-fill the cistern [at the moment] when the EMP burst occurs. Sorry folks — there really isn’t much of a fix of any nature (that I’ve yet come across) for that rare instance.
Fortunately however, most deep well pumps run for only a small fraction of each day, so the odds of being “hit” during those moments is fairly remote, but still possible. (Thus the recommendation to use a Brumby or mechanical lever pump or have a full back up of all major components and the capability of hauling the entire array out of the well and re-installing it all — not usually an easy job for amateurs!)
Nevertheless, for only a hundred or so dollars in parts (plus perhaps paying a professional for wiring it all) you will have increased the odds tremendously in your favor, since the alternative is to leave it as is, always at total risk of being fried should an EMP or flare event take place (whether the pump is running, or not!)
I’d be happy to provide a clearly-depicted wiring diagram based on your particular system, plus a suggested parts list, for anyone interested. Contact me via e-mail.
Here is one source for the aforementioned relays. (An online search will show other similarly-rated items):
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