January 18

“What do they mean by that”? A terminology guide for the residential well owner.

Have you ever been in a conversation, without really understanding what they meant, because of the “jargon”.  It happens in many businesses, but as a homeowner, you need to know what folks are saying about your well, given that it is a critical and daily-use system for your family. We educate and protect our Members against sudden well failures and being without water, but if you’re not familiar with the lingo, we offer a short tutorial of terms

  • Basic Terms
    • Ground water – water located below grade (and frost line) resulting from transmissivity of water through the soil, transported by permeable soil and aquifers
    • Well Reserves – amount of water stored in the well – calculated as 1.5 x [well depth – static water level]) for 6” casing
    • Static water level – number of feet below grade level to which water comes to rest, when well is not in use
    • Well Flow – amount of water extracted based on demand
    • Well Yield – amount of water going in to the well (re-charge) at given levels of usage (expressed as gpm)
    • Well Type – Can be Drilled/Bored, Hand Dug, Stick, or Driven. Anything other than a drilled/bored well is older less reliable technology, and should be avoided.  New wells will always be drilled to an average depth of 200-300 feet
    • Well Permit – most states require only licensed contractors (Master Well Drillers) to drill new wells, and a permit is issued to such licensees. They are required to report back on Completion to provide basic information, since placement and drilling means have regulatory constraints (e.g., as to their location in relation to house, roads, septic areas, etc.).
    • GPM – gallons per minute
    • Depth – number of feet from grade to bottom of well
    • Rock Well – this is a well drilled through initially through layers of soil until the well hole reaches solid bedrock. This well will be fed by water bearing aquifers, which are essentially gaps or cracks in the consolidated bedrock, that supply water to the well via gravity and natural water pressure (via its weight)
    • Alluvial Well – also know as a sand well, this is a water bearing hole drilled initially through layers of soil, and ultimately into softer, frequently unconsolidated layers of hydrogeology. These wells are typically found in coastal areas and near larger bodies of water, where bedrock is found much deeper underground. Water seeps more generally through porous terrain, but must be screened to eliminate/minimize particulates in the water.
    • Drawdown – the level below grade to which the water in the well naturally recedes when the well is in use.
  • Well Parts & Components
    • Well System – a set of natural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing components which collect water in the well hole and deliver it to the house at a set pressure. It begins with the well boring (hole) and ends at the Pressure Tank.
    • Well Casing – this is the steel or PVC material that you can see sticking out of the ground at the top of the well boring/hole, which provides access to service the well, and seals it from surface contaminants via a well cap.
    • Jet pump – an above ground electrical pump used to draw (“sip”) water from a shallow(er) well as a result of a vacuum created, which is usually located close to the pressure tank.
    • Submersible Pump – an electrical pump lowered into the well which pushes water to the surface and through lateral pipes to the house using impeller to propel the water to the house.
    • Aquifer – notably, one of the most mysterious components of a (rock) well; these are fractures in the hydrogeological rock formations, allowing water to travel for miles from surface water sources to your well.
    • Well Completion Report – a detailed report prepared by the driller upon completion of the drilling that provides information regarding the depth, location, and details of the initial production of the well.
    • Pitless adapter – this is the connection that the pipe down to the well pump (sitting hundreds of feet below ground) makes with the lateral pipes bring water from the well to the house. It is installed to be water-sealed, but must be used to “pull the pump” – remove the pump for replacement.
    • Pressure Tank – this is the large® tank typically outside of the well (can be in basement, crawlspace or well house) that contains the well water and delivers that water to the internal plumbing system. This device regulates the function of the pump in delivering water to the home.
    • Control Box – as the well system uses electricity to power the pump, the control box creates the interface between the well system and the house’s overall electrical system. Largely considered optional until several decades ago, this part is not found on many older systems, and should to be considered a concern.
    • Pressure Switch – this is the “on/off” switch for the pump, triggered by the water pressure being held by the Pressure Tank. AS the pressure declines from water discharge to the house, the tank calls for water, and the pressure switch calls for water by turning on the pump.  When adequate pressure is sustained, the tank turns off the pump via the pressure switch.  This is why performance of the tank is critical.
    • Pressure Gauge– this is a diagnostic device (typically a round dial attached to the water line near the pressure tank) that measures the pressure of the water at the tank in PSI (pounds per square inch) can be observed to move when water is being discharged. As the pump delivers water, the gauge increases; when water is discharged, the gauge decreases in terms of PSI.
  • Advanced Terms
    • Supplemental Storage System – a series of electronic, plumbing and storage components (PVC) used to store additional water outside of the well for “Peak Water Usage” periods.
    • Peak Usage Periods – times when the flow exceeds the yield, thereby Drawing Down the water level in the well, and potentially exhausting water supply in “Reserves”
    • Hydrofrac – process that attempt to rehabilitate the well and increase yield by injecting high pressure water, which cleans out and creates additional fractures in the rock well.
    • Cycle Time – a test of the communication between the Pressure Tank and the Well Pump, and functionality of all components in between; it is measured in seconds between when the pump turns on (at low pressure), fills the tank, and then discharges all water (the “cycle”).
    • Constant Pressure Systems (CPS) – submersible pumps typically run at a fixed speed to achieve the targeted flow in gallons per minute. Constant pressure pumps run at variable speeds and pumping rates fluctuate to maintain the set pressure, regardless of the flow demand.  These CPS systems are characterized by much smaller pressure tanks, and no pressure switch.  Rather, these systems rely on a transducer (a spark plug shaped device) to measure and vary the pump speed to maintain that constant pressure and flow.  They are gaining popularity, despite being more expensive systems, and are present in approximately 10% of residential applications.

Don’t be confused, or unable to participate in conversations about your well, especially when you are negotiating repair costs with experts.  The more educated you are as a buyer, the better the deal you will get from your service provider.  And think of how you will impress everyone at that next neighborhood or office holiday party!!


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