Seasonal or portable pumps are something you may have to deal with when you’re away from municipal water supplies. Irrigation pumps, a water system at your seasonal cottage, fire pumps – these are all examples of portable pumps that need to be filled with water before they can start pumping. Trouble is, people everywhere struggle with the priming process for electric household pumps. It’s often difficult to get the entire pump casing and intake line filled completely with water. If significant air exists in either of these places, your pump simply won’t move water. I’ve primed plenty of seasonal and portable water pumps over the years, and I developed a technique that’s effective enough to transform this messy, tiresome seasonal labor into a few minutes of easy work.  All you need is $20 worth of plumbing hardware and a small, portable hand pump. Here’s how it works.

The traditional approach to priming involves hauling buckets of water by hand and pouring that water down a small hole in the top of the pump until the entire intake line is filled.  A much better approach uses a collection of metal fittings spliced into the intake line as close as possible to the end that sits in your water source. These fittings include a shut-off valve and a place to connect a hand pump that draws water from whatever source you’re tapping into, and pushes it all the way up the main intake line and into the water pump you’re priming.  Open the priming valve, connect your hand pump to the fittings, fill the intake line with water delivered by your hand pump, close the valve, remove the pipe and put the intake line in the lake, river or well. That’s it. After you’re done, simply turn your water pump ON and it works because the intake line and pump are now filled with water.  No need for buckets, funnels, wet floors or super-human patience.

Even the smallest, most backwoods hardware store carries the fittings you’ll need to install an easy-to-use priming system. For years we hooked up a hand-operated marine bilge pump for the job, and it worked beautifully.

Not a plumbing kind of person?  Don’t worry. Start by watching the video up next. This will give you the basics. Next, print the drawing here and take it to any hardware store. They’ll give you everything you need based on the image. Thread the fittings together with teflon tape wrapped around the joints to prevent leaking, then splice the assembly permanently into the intake line of your pump. Is it made of black polyethylene pipe? Most seasonal or portable pump systems use this kind of pipe for intake lines. You’ll find a hacksaw is perfect for cutting the black pipe to make the splice.  Soften the plastic with a propane torch, insert your fittings into the black pipe, then tightened two screw clamps over each connection while the plastic is still warm.

Before you prime using this system, open a tap near your main water pump to let air escape as the system fills with water from the bottom up.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll never cease to marvel at how a simple idea and a little bit of inexpensive hardware can make such a big difference.

VIDEO: Easier Pump Priming Explained