A Slight Diversion ~ I Play Plumber At The Rental House

First, this site has been down a lot for the past two weeks. I have been on tech support many times. We finally came to the conclusion that there was a conflict in the WordPress software that I use to write this blog. More specifically, the problem seems to be one of the plugins that enhance the software. So I have disabled most of the plugins and will be adding them back in one at a time to see which one I am allergic to. So please bear with me as I sort this thing out. Thanks.

There is progress on the big roof. Slow but sure. The rain has arrived and is making up for lost time with a vengeance. So some days I can’t weld, and others I can weld some.

I also had to take three days away from the job to install a new well pump at the house that we rent. The pump would cycle, cycle, and cycle even when no water was being used. The electric bill was astronomical for several months.

Our landlady is elderly and lives several hours away. If we want something done here, it is best to just do it ourselves. On day one, I tried to fix it. I Googled and figured that water was leaking out the bottom of one of the two pipes that go 90-feet down into the well. I removed  the pump house roof so that I could pull the pipes up and out of the well, then pulled the pipes. I replaced the suspicious-looking check valve at the bottom of the larger pipe and replaced the pipes down into the well. I had to stop several times to repair the pipes as they were old and fragile. This took three trips into town for parts and three trips to my shop for tools. Nothing changed, the pump still cycled. I also noticed that the pressure tank was full of water; normally it has an inflated air bag inside of the tank, but I couldn’t pump air into it. Obviously the bag had rotted and the tank needed to be replaced. This could mean that the pressure relay wasn’t responding correctly. That night and the next morning we showered at the new house.

Pump houses can be dangerous places. The gardener at the last house that we rented told me to always check for snakes before I enter the structure. It is a nice, dry hangout for them. Here is the pump house:


About two years ago the roof blew off of the pump house. Armando and I installed a new one, which made removing it to run the pipes much easier. Everything at this house is antique and falling apart. Touch one thing and two other things break. I wouldn’t want to be the next renter.

In addition to snakes you need to watch for stinging/biting insects. In the next photo are two nests; the larger is home for biting flies that love to swarm and bite your head, the smaller is a mud wasp nest:


I tried, but I’m not a pump guy, so early on day two I called Hector, a plumber from town. He came shortly later. We pulled the pipes again, no small task because the pipes were filled with water and were very heavy. Although I did it myself the first time, this time it took the Hector, Armando, and me. No wonder I struggled the first time! He diagnosed that the foot valve at the bottom of the pipe (different from the check valve) was shot and needed to be replaced, along with the pressure tank. We agreed that I would seek new parts and that he would return the next day at 2:00 p.m. sharp.

I headed down the mountain to the pool and well supply store in Coronado, I told my tale of woe and intrigue and showed them the foot valve that I had brought with me. Three people retreated to the office with the foot valve and pulled out many reference books. They also called many suppliers who all promised to get right back to them. They called again and again, and kept checking the books for the part number stamped on the foot valve. As I waited many hours, six to be exact, the verdict was in. The foot valve was discontinued. None existed.

And because the foot valve is matched to the pump, the still-working pump was now unusable. Here is the antique pump:


The manager worked up a quote for me. $1,500 for a new pump, pressure tank, control module, pump-protection module, wire, and a few other odds and ends. I asked her if she would be so kind as to call our landlady, Carmen, and explain the situation. I speak almost enough Spanish and Carmen speaks some English, but I knew this would be a tough go because she doesn’t like to spend money on the property. The manager called Carmen and led her through the story, three times as is customary in Panama, gave her the price, and told her that I would do the labor at no charge, saving her many hundreds of dollars. Several calls later, as Carmen needed to consult with family, she gave her blessing to the project. I said that I could buy the parts but that I needed to be reimbursed right away. The deal that we struck is that I would front the money. We would deduct two-month’s rent, meaning that I wouldn’t have to pay for the next two months. And finally, Carmen owns a bakery that makes deliveries here to El Valle every week. The driver would stop here at the rental house the next delivery day and pay me the balance. Deal. I figured that even if I didn’t get reimbursed, I could pull the equipment and use it as a backup at the new house.

So after eight hours in the store, I left loaded down with the same system that I installed at our new house.

The third day I knew that Hector would arrive at 2:00 that afternoon. There was a lot I could do myself, so I got to work at 6:00 a.m. sharp. I gutted the old system from the pump house, mounted the control boxes on the wall, drove into town and bought a hundred feet of new pipe and fittings and 100-feet of polypropylene rope.

Back at the house I glued the pipe sections together, assembled the submersible pump to the motor, connected the wire to the motor, and attached the pump/motor assembly to the bottom end of the 100-feet of pipe. I tied the rope to the motor as insurance in case the pipe should break. It was now about 2:30. No tech yet.

Cynthia and I lowered the motor into the 4-inch well pipe, followed by the 100-feet of pipe, the wire, and the rope. At about 90-feet I tied the rope to one of the roof rafters, thereby suspending the pump off the bottom of the well.

Still no Hector, I connected the pipe to the pressure tank and to the house plumbing. Still no Hector, I went to the new house, made a diagram of how I had wired the control boxes to the breaker panel, returned to the pump house and proceeded to wire the system. It started to rain so I re-installed the roof panel, cleaned up my mess of tools. Still no Hector. Here is my installation:


The mess in the background is from previous repairs and the current install. I left it there as evidence that I did something.

You can buy a sanitary cap for the top of the pipe to keep possums and insects out of the well. I couldn’t find one so I took a regular four-inch PVC pipe cap and drilled holes in it. I sealed the openings with plumber’s putty. I also installed a universal joint for easy removal of the pump the next time:


It was now 6:30 p.m., nearly dark, and the moment of truth had arrived. It was time to flip the breaker, a nerve-wracking proposition because if I wired anything incorrectly I could fry the pump or one of the control panels, and that would be on my dime.

I rechecked all the wiring, and even though I am not superstitious, for the drama of it I crossed my fingers, and flipped the breaker.

The appropriate lights lighted on the pump protection panel. The pressure tank filled and triggered the relay, thereby shutting off the pump. I opened a faucet.

And water flowed.

P.S. On Tuesday, Carmen’s bakery truck driver stopped at the house. We exchanged the receipts for a big wad of cash. Hector still hasn’t returned.

That’s all for now. See you on the roof!

7 thoughts on “A Slight Diversion ~ I Play Plumber At The Rental House

  1. As a retired architect now living in Coronado, I would be interested in your 25 cent tour of the container house.

  2. Sra. Carmen is the luckiest landlady in Panama to have you as tenants.
    (Still catching up on the blog posts. haha)

    • Hi Jim, Thanks for your comment. Yes, and she knows it!!! She has asked us to find another couple just like us. But I’m afraid finding the next tenant will have to be up to her as we are barely tolerating the condition of this place. Example: in many places the wooden ceilings are eaten down to the paint layer by termites. If you touch the paint to clean the ceiling, your finger goes right through! And the front door no longer opens because the house has settled, crushing the frame down onto the door. I can go on…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.