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Ask Angie: Shutting off well pump is a good idea during long absences

Angieslist.comDecember 15, 2012 

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Angie Hicks

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Dear Angie: I recently bought a home with well water. I have always lived where city water was available, so I'm getting used to dealing with a well and pump, and have some questions.

I travel a lot and am sometimes away from home two weeks at a time. I worry in the winter about water in the house freezing and bursting pipes. Would it be wise to turn power off to the pump at my electrical panel circuit breaker or would the pump be damaged if left unpowered for weeks at a time?

For now I'm turning the water off at a main valve, but that leaves a run of pipe in the basement of about 15 feet that could burst and cause damage. — Jim W., Mechanicsville, Va.

Answer: It's smart that you're being proactive and thinking about this in advance. I think, because you are unfamiliar with your system, it's a good idea to have a consultation with a reputable well system specialist in your area who can educate you on the ins and outs of your system.

That said, as long as the heat in the house is not turned off — and you don't lose power while you're gone — your pipes should not freeze and burst. But I understand your trepidation. So, my advice is to shut off the breaker to your well pump — make sure it's the right switch and dedicated only to the pump and not something else — and the isolation valve on the supply line when you are not in the home for more than a few days. This is a good safety measure to take any time of year that you are gone for an extended period. In the event of any type of leak, the house won't flood and suffer potentially catastrophic damage.

By shutting off the breaker, there should be no harm to the well pump system, provided the pump system is in good mechanical working order. However, you also should shut off the power to the water heater. In rare cases, a broken water line can siphon water out of the water heater, causing damage to the unit.

One last bit of caution before shutting off the well pump system: first, make certain there is no requirement for water during your absence, such as make-up water for your heating system, such as a hydronic system. If so, the water pump should be left operational. If you're not certain about your system requirements, talk to a reputable heating and cooling specialist in your area.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.

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