The (Next to) Last Chapter on Pitless Adapters
If you have read my last several articles on pitless adapters, I hope you got the feeling that I believe in these devices strongly. I think the pitless adapter, which eliminated unsanitary well pits here in the North, has been one of the great advances of our industry in the last 50 to 60 years. It’s in good company, along with:
- The submersible pump, which led to much higher capacities and simpler installations.
- The captive air tank, which led to far fewer service calls and improved customer satisfaction with water well systems.
- And, finally, the rotary rig, which allows us to drill more footage in a day than we use to in a week.
As much as I like pitless adapters — and they usually provide easy access to a submersible pump or drop pipe — not every pitless worked as it was designed and some were really not very well thought out. When pitless adapters first became required in our area, we were still drilling 2-inch wells and we used some on 2-inch wells. At least one of these caused us some problems. This unit was of the large O ring type with a spool suspended from the top. In fact, the top of the “riser” pipe inside the pitless was bolted to the outside pitless pipe with three or four bolts like a companion flange or flange-type pipe. Now, the riser pipe for this 2-inch pitless was itself 2½-inch pipe. That size of pipe is one of the weakest metal pipes made, in that it is the smallest pipe threaded at eight to an inch. This coarser thread leaves little metal at the base of the thread and, therefore, the pipe is really weaker in physical strength than, say, 2-inch pipe, which has 11.5 threads per inch. At least, that is my experience.
In any event, my father and I installed this 2-inch adapter on a well we drilled for a new home. Quite a few years later the homeowner called and said he was out of water — or at least close to it — and he thought he had a small pond in his back yard where the well was. Upon digging the thing out, we found that the upper 2½-inch pipe above the pitless body had broken, probably by frost action. Here in the North, when ground freezes it will heave up and we thought that is what broke the upper section. We devised a couple of clamps and some steel bars and were able to pull the upper pipe back to its original length and the pump then worked. I think we left the dugout area open as we did not have a water-tight joint on the upper pipe. We advised the homeowner of this situation and he agreed to a 4-inch well with a far different type of pitless.
We had also worked on other brands of pitless adapters that did not use threaded 2½-inch pipe and, while they were more durable, they too seemed to leave something to be desired.
I think the small dimensions of a pitless adapter for a 2-inch well restricted the flow of water through it and, as many of these were used on deep well pumps, good flow to the ejector was critical to good operation of these pumps. Nobody around my area has drilled 2-inch wells for a long time, at least that I am aware of, so the disadvantages of these small pitless adapters are just a bad memory.
In the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the 3-inch diameter well was fairly popular in my area. I don’t think I ever saw in the field a 3-inch pitless adapter. All the installations that I ever saw on a 3-inch well used a 4-inch pitless adapter connected to the well casing with a 4-inch–by-3- inch reducing coupling. This worked just fine with one possible exception: If you were called to work on a well you had not drilled, you might think you were working on a 4-inch well only to find that it was actually a 3-inch. Thankfully, this did not happen many times and, except for the surprise, a 4-inch adapter on a 3-inch casing worked just fine.
Of course, we had some really strange designs in the early days of pitless adapters — many of which did not work too well. I remember one so-called pitless that terminated above ground. Supposedly, all this required was for the installer to dig a shallow trench into a basement — I mean 6 inches to 18 inches deep — and put the water line in this. Of course, here in Michigan this is right in the frozen ground zone and the line was supposed to be tapered downward toward the building. The principle, as I understood it, of how this thing worked was that bleeders in the drop pipe inside the well would drain the system subject to freezing and, as it is pretty hard to freeze air, the system was freeze-proof. Installation, of course, was really easy in that there was no digging around the casing and only a shallow trench had to be dug — a much easier installation than a standard pitless.
The only one of these that I saw “in the flesh” was in a supply house and it had failed due to frost breakage. I guess it didn’t work in this area of the country and this design was only around for a very short time. And then we also had some special or unique designs that were developed by individual drilling contractors. One of these was used in another part of Michigan, and I will call it a “driller’s special” to protect the family name of the contractor(s) who used them.
In this method, a Tee was placed on the casing below the frost line; it could have been a full sized Tee or the branch could have been somewhat smaller than the run. A straight line of pipe was run into the basement — this, in effect, being a branch of the casing. Another Tee was placed in the drop pipe to correspond with the Tee in the casing. The drop pipe was lowered so that a smaller pipe coming out from the basement in the branch line could be threaded into branch of the drop line Tee. I think this required two people, but I guess by using a pump hoist and getting the drop pipe Tee lined up, exactly one person could make the hookup. For service, the pipe into the basement was unscrewed and the pump and drop pipe could be removed. I understand this system was approved by our state health authorities and I do have to say no part of the casing, be it horizontal or vertical, was under vacuum. This design seemed like a lot of extra work compared to a commercial pitless, but I understand it was used by at least one contractor for many years — successfully too.
Readers, this article is being written right in the middle of November and, as I look out the nearest window, the grass is still pretty green. We have had no snow, save for a few wet flakes a few days ago. Lawn mowing is thankfully over for the season and local farmers are finishing the corn harvest. Firearms deer season opened three days ago and, from the looks of the local buck poles, hunters are doing a good job of thinning the herd. In Michigan, this season runs to Nov. 30 and I hope they harvest a whole lot of them, as our horned friends have torn parts of my lawn to shreds digging for grubs. Oh yes, you will read some more about pitless adapters from me next time, as I still have at least one type to write about, so this will not be my last chapter on pitless adapters.