Building the Secondary Side

The secondary side of a trickle system requires more equipment than the primary side because more needs to happen than on the primary side. Main components of the secondary side include:

Food-safe water storage tank: A 200 to 300 gallon tank is a good size for a typical household. If you can’t carry one big tank down into your basement, then several smaller tanks work just as well.

Pump and pressure system: This part of the system draws water from the storage tank and  delivers it to your taps and fixtures. A jet pump is perfect for this part of the system

Float switch: You need something to tell the primary pump to stop pumping when the storage tank is full, and this is where a float switch comes in. I list specific options later on, with strengths and weaknesses for each one.

Choosing a Storage Tank

There are three things you need to consider when choosing a tank for your trickle system: size; composition; and intended location.

Your tank should be sized to hold about as much water as you’ll use in a typical day. So how much is that? In tests I’ve conducted, a household of five people doing washing and showering and regular living can easily use 200 to 300 gallons a day. So a typical water storage tank should be 200 to 300 gallons. You could go larger, but you could also go smaller. It really depends on the flow rate of your well. The faster a weak well refills, the smaller the storage tank you need. Also, realize that the largest water demand you’ll probably have will come during summer when you’re irrigating gardens and weather might be dry. If this is part of your plan, size the tank to handle this kind of peak load.

Not all plastics are safe for storing drinking water, so you’ll need to choose a food-safe water tank carefully if  you’re going with plastic. You could also pour a concrete tank in your basement or underground. Do you live in a climate that never gets colder than freezing? Green or black above-ground storage tanks are available that meet FDA and NSF specs for drinking water. Don’t use light coloured tanks for above-ground storage. Any sunlight that gets into the tank will cause green scum to grow. You need light-free water storage for above-ground applications.

QUICK TIP: Water for Survival

When disaster strikes or a long-term power failure happens, having hundreds of gallons of water stored in your holding tank could become a very valuable thing. Where this amount of water might only last the average household a day or two in normal use, it can last weeks when used economically for drinking and frugal washing during a prolonged disaster.

Secondary Pump and Pressure System

Since the pressure pump is drawing water from a tank that’s very close by (maybe even with a water level that’s actually higher than the pump itself), it’s in no danger of losing its prime. Go ahead and use any kind of pump and pressure tank that’s handy for you.  In fact, if you’ve already got a jet pump or piston pump on your weak well, connect it to the secondary side of your trickle system. Chances are excellent that the holding tank will never run out of water during use, but if you’re concerned go ahead and put a pump-saving automatic shut off system on your secondary pump, too. It’s cheap insurance.

TECH TIP: Longer Pump Life, More Even Water Pressure

Water well pumps last longest when they switch ON and OFF as infrequently as possible, and this is usually related to the size of your pressure tank. The bigger the tank, the longer your pump stays ON filling it up and the less often it needs to work. By contrast, smaller tanks trigger frequent ON/OFF cycles because they fill up and empty out more often while water is being used. But even if you’ve got a lot of room for a big tank, all that wasted space is still a pain. And if a smaller space demands a small water tank, then frequent switching could easily cut pump life in half.

More than 25 years ago this problem was solved by an engineer named Cary Austin. His small, Texas firm makes a simple valve called a Cycle Stop. It minimizes pump switching and makes water pressure from pump systems a whole lot more even. To understand how it works you need to understand how most private water systems operate.

As I’ve mentioned before, the heart of every private water system is the pump, and it’s controlled by a pressure switch. When water pressure in the system tank drops below a preset level – typically 40 pounds per square inch (psi) – the pressure switch energizes the pump that then delivers water to the tank. As water accumulates in the tank, internal pressure rises to a preset maximum – typically 60 psi – then the pump turns OFF. Back and forth, back and forth like this.

Besides being hard on the pump, all this switching ON and OFF means that the water pressure you experience at the tap or shower varies quite a bit with ordinary use. Pump-killing switching and inconsistent water pressure are the two main problems that Cycle Stop eliminates.

Cycle Stop maintains a constant 50 psi of water pressure output as long as any fixture in your house is turned ON and drawing more than 1 gallon per minute. No more onning and offing for your pump, and no more varying water pressure. The pump simply keeps running as long as the water does, delivering a perfectly steady 50 psi.

I installed Cycle Stop in a water system I put into my own backwoods tiny house with no room for anything other than the tiniest water tank. The real-world performance is excellent, there are no electronics or fragile parts to break, and the valve extends pump life by reducing current draw and switching frequency. It also delivers very consistent water pressure at taps. All in all, I really like the Cycle Stop. I’ve never seen anything else that does the same job in this simple way.