Building the Primary Side

Turning all this theory into practice in your home depends on specific pieces of hardware connected together in a certain way. Whether you hire a professional to install the necessary equipment, or do the work yourself, you need to understand exactly which parts are needed and how they work together. In fact, most plumbers have never installed anything like a trickle system, so you’ll probably have to guide any plumber with the basics.

Almost every weak well already has a pump drawing water from it (or trying to), and you can use this pump in some part of the trickle system.  The key is a small piece of electronics that senses when the pump runs dry and shuts off the power instantly for a preset period of time before automatically turning the pump back on again after water has returned. This piece of electronics is key. Tailor the length of the shutoff period to suit the recovery rate of your weak well. Have it adjusted to switch back ON after a decent amount of water has flowed back into the well.  This could be a few minutes or hours.

You’ll also need a submersible pump for the primary side of your trickle system, and there are two reasons why you must not use anything else. First, submersible pumps are the only kind that can never lose their prime. That’s because they actually sit down in the bottom of the well. If there’s any water in the well at all, a submersible pump is always ready to push it upwards into your house – even if the pump did run dry earlier on. A jet pump or piston pump, on the other hand, is different. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s very susceptible to air pockets, in part because it’s located above ground. If you made the mistake of using a jet pump on the intake side of your trickle system, and it happens to suck in a little air before shutting down as your well runs dry (and it almost certainly will), then the pump won’t be able to draw water again. You’ll have to reprime the system manually before the jet pump can pump. That’s a huge and unnecessary pain and it destroys the whole purpose of the trickle system. If you’ve got a jet pump on your weak well now, that’s no problem. You can use it on the secondary side of the trickle system that you’ll learn about later. Just don’t try to use it on the primary side.

Another reason submersibles are perfect for the primary side of a trickle system is that they’re very easy to shut off automatically when the well runs temporarily dry – as weak wells do regularly. This is key. Controls are available that sense changes in electrical current draw that happens when the pump runs dry, immediately shutting off power to the pump before damage can occur. You can dial in a preset amount of time that’ll elapse before the pump is re-energized, depending on how fast your well refills. There are a handful of options for automatically switching your primary pump ON and OFF depending on the flow rate of your well. Coming up next are the models of controls I recommend, with a description of their strengths and weaknesses.

Note: The online purchasing world is constantly changing, but here’s the best way to find the control products you’ll need. If you live in the USA, Amazon.com is generally the best source for the products listed below. If you live in Canada, Amazon.ca may also carry them. Same goes for other countries in the world with their own version of Amazon sites. Look there first. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on country-specific Amazon sites (or if they hit you with crazy-high prices just because you don’t live in the USA) do a Google search with the product name and model number, followed by the name of country where you live.  This is the best way to find suppliers local to you.

Cycle Sensor 1PH1-2HP –$255USD

This is the Cadillac of automatic pump protection devices. It automatically shuts off your primary pump as soon as the well runs dry. But unlike the other options below, the Cycle Sensor also protects the pump against rapid cycling ON and OFF. Rapid cycle protection is perfect for the trickle system because it shuts down automatically if water doesn’t come back at all in a weak well. This rapid cycle feature offers an added level of protection for your pump.

Franklin Electric Pumptec 5800020610 water pump protector – $260CDN/$190USD

Made to control pumps from 1/3 HP to 1 1/2 HP, at both 230V and 115V. This wall-mounted unit replaces the entire control box of a submersible pump. Allows for a delay of 3 to 90 minutes after dry-run shut off.

Franklin Electric Pumptec QD 5800070600 water pump protector – $140USD

Made to control 1/3 HP to 1 HP 230V submersible pumps, this little unit fits inside the very common Franklin-style control box. I’ve used this unit at my own place for more than 15 years and it works flawlessly.

PumpSaver Plus 233P- $195USD


Similar to the Pumptec 5800020610, but with a weatherproof enclosure for outdoor applications.
For 1/3 HP to 1 1/2 HP 230V pumps, both two and three-wire style pumps.