Air leak at valve stem in bladder-type pressure tank

Discussion in 'Pumps and Tanks Well Forum & Blog' started by thomas_callahan, Oct 18, 2004.

  1. thomas_callahan

    thomas_callahan New Member

    Messages:
    9
    I've got a WellXTrol WX202 pressure tank. I'm not sure how old it is because it came with the house that we bought about a year ago, likewise for the well age, depth, HP, etc. (although I'm trying to track down that info now). Recently we woke up with no water pressure -- the pressure switch died and I had a plumber replace it.

    After replacing the pressure switch, he pointed out that the pump was short-cycling badly because the pressure tank wasn't working properly--the pump was coming on for 5-10 seconds and the pressure gauge was rapidly jumping from 30-ish to 50-ish, then the pump would shut off for maybe 20 seconds while the pressure dropped rapidly, then repeat. He quoted me about $600 to replace the pressure tank -- something that is just a massive expense for me having just bought the house and with two kids under two. So I started researching. The bladder is intact, by the way -- nothing but air comes out of the valve stem, there is condensation only on the bottom 1/2-1/3 or so of the tank, the top of the tank makes a nice 'ping' when tapped, the bottom a dull thud.

    First, I pumped the air pressure in the tank back up with my bicycle pump to stop the pump from short-cycling -- this works just fine but only lasts about two weeks. I've been recharging it this way every other weekend.

    Then I tracked the problem down -- I poured dish soap over the tank and eventually noticed very small bubbles. It's a VERY slow air leak that comes directly out of the tank where the valve stem goes through. They come right through the paint, there is no visible hole. It takes 5-10 seconds to make a pea-sized bubble, which then slides to the side and a new one starts.

    So what I did was scrape off the paint for about 1/2" around the leak and on the side of the valve stem. Then I sanded it to roughen the surface. I shut off the power to the pump, drained the water from the lines, and then bled all of the air out of the tank using the valve stem to eliminate the pressure on the leak. I used a metal patch material (can't remember the name but it's a gray single-part substance about the consistency of toothpaste or caulk that I got at Home Depot that specifically listed patching tanks and claims to withstand up to 75psi) and put a patch directly on the spot that was leaking and covering all of the paint that I had removed. I let it cure overnight (double the 'time to max strength' they recommend), then in the morning pumped the tank back to 29psi using my bike pump, turned on the water, and adjusted the pressure switch until the pressure gauge in the line on the house side of the tank indicated about 31/51 on/off pressures.

    I thought everything was cool -- the on-off cycle times were much longer than before (roughly 1.5 min. on, 7 or 8 off with a garden hose running at a decent rate) and I couldn't find any air leaks. But then just as I was cleaning up I decided to try one last patch test and found that the leak was back, just at the edge of the patch -- it had found a way under the patch on the side of the valve stem. I am assuming that the patching material I tried didn't bond well to the brass (I assume it's brass) of the valve stem, and since the hole is so small it's not even visible, I assume that no patch material made its way into the actual hole which would reduce its effectiveness in the first place.

    So my question is -- can anybody recommend something that would be better to try? I want to give this one more shot before I replace the tank.

    I found some 2-part epoxies that seem like they might be a better idea than what I tried, something called Synth-Steel that is designed for fixing pipes. Problem is this is an air leak, not a water leak. Would some other type of epoxy be able to hold in that air maybe? I'm almost thinking bike-tire patch epoxy (and maybe even the rubber patch itself) although I have my doubts as to whether that epoxy would stick to anything but rubber.

    Thanks for any advice anyone can give.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2004
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,324
    Location:
    New England
    Does the air valve screw out? It may not be sealed well. If it is a pipe fitting, then taking it out and then putting on some pipe dope and (maybe) teflon tape may seal it. Could it be leaking from the threads that hold the valve in place?

    It could also be that there is a gasket/washer/nut holding the valve in place. If so, can you tighten the nut?

    Was there any rust under the paint? You might have some pin-holes.

    I'm not a pro, just trying to help with some ideas. Maybe someone else can help. Although, answering these questions may make it easier to find the real solution.
  3. Deb

    Deb Plumber

    Messages:
    200
    Location:
    Idaho
    Deb

    There is no product that will do what you want. No matter what any kind of advertising claims, there is simply not a mending product that will seal a leak under pressure--actually most of them will not seal a leak not under pressure. However, this is not a fixable problem.
    You have a misconception about the way the tank is put together and I am having a bit of trouble trying to say what I want to so it is understandable. The air valve is connected directly to the bladder--kind of like innertube valves in older vehicle tires (old enough to remember the days before tubeless tires?). If you are loosing air, it must be where the air valve connects to the bladder. This is not directly connected to the metal tank. Unless the internal part of the valve (which is replaceable) is leaking, there are no fixes.
    However, this is something that needs to be dealt with. If you have a deep well, pump replacement could be really expensive. Pressure tanks are not that expensive. It sounds like you may have the basic knowledge needed to do this job yourself. If you feel able, post back for specific instructions and recommended materials.
    Deb
    The Pipewench
  4. thomas_callahan

    thomas_callahan New Member

    Messages:
    9
    Thanks for the responses!

    OK, first up -- jadnashua's questions:

    No, it's not threaded. The product brochure says "Stainless steel air valve is brazed in position rather than mechanically threaded to prevent loss of air pressure...". So no to the next question also, no nut or anything. And no rust, at least not visible on the outside. The bottom 2 inches of the skirt at the bottom is rusted (very damp basement) but nothing on the tank itself. It seems most likely that the brazed joint between the tank and valve stem has failed somehow.

    Now, Deb's:

    Thanks for the advice. First, though, I didn't try to fix it under pressure, I know there's nothing that will fix that -- although I'd like to be the guy who invents whatever will do that! I had both air and water pressure completely drained. Or did you mean that no patch will hold once pressure is reapplied?

    I understand about the valve and bladder being directly connected, like a bike tire. Makes sense, but unless I'm mistaken that's not the situation in my tank. I attached an image to this thread from their product literature that seems to show the diaphragm and liner only on the bottom half of the tank, with an o-ring sealing them both to the sides around the middle of the tank, and the text says "unique positive hoop ring seal secures diaphragm and liner for added strength and reliability". Did I make a terminology mistake? Is my tank not a bladder-type but a diaphragm-type or something? It could be that their diagram just doesn't show the rest of the bladder/diaphragm but that's not how it looks.

    But at any rate, you're right, a well pump replacement would be very expensive so I do want to get this fixed properly. And I am very willing to do it myself -- I'm pretty experienced with soldering pipe, PVC cutting, gluing, etc. -- I swapped out a shower stall with a bathtub, replaced a toilet and kitchen sink, and have fixed a couple of leaky pipes in this house.

    Is it really as simple as it looks -- cut the old one out, one pipe connection, turn the water back on, and then check the cuton/off pressure like I did when I attempted the repair to my current tank? The WellXTrol papers say stainless steel connection, how do you connect that to copper? I've been reading about WellMate tanks which are made of a composite of some sort so they won't rust and they claim better drawdown performance -- and it seems like they're a little cheaper. Too good to be true or is this really the next great thing? And bigger is better as far as reducing strain on the pump, right? So a 30 gal. tank would be better than my current 20 gal. -- longer and less frequent pump on cycles? And finally where do I get one? This isn't the sort of thing the local hardware store/home depot is going to have, is it?

    Thanks again for the advice!

    Attached Files:

  5. Hube

    Hube New Member

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Ontario
    Thomas; As Deb has said; "pressure tanks are not too expensive or too difficult to replace". This is true.
    It seems like this old tank is your immediate problem.
    Just a note of information; Your old existing 20 gallon tank actually holds only approx 6 gallons of water. A 30 gallon tank may give you perhaps 8 gallons.
    this is a somewhat confusing to the average diy person. Some tanks that HD, or Lowes have are listed as 80 gallon, yet only hold approx 12-14 gallons of useable water. So be careful in your choosing.
    A tank in the 40 gallon range with approx 10-12 gallons of useable water ,imo, would be your best approach.
    Good luck Hube
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2004
  6. thomas_callahan

    thomas_callahan New Member

    Messages:
    9
    Thanks, I do understand about the capacity ratings -- most of the space in the tank is going to air to create the pressure.

    And something I meant to ask in my last post -- what about the local building inspector -- do they get involved for something like this? My contractor friend would say (for a homeowner) not to worry about building permits and inspectors unless you're adding new plumbing runs and/or electrical circuits or doing structural or exterior finish work -- but I'd like someone else's opinion.
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,324
    Location:
    New England
    I think that, technically, yes, replacing something like that officially requires a permit. In some locales, a homeowner can legally do this; in others, he can't. Now, the consequences of not doing it may not be big (would be if you were licensed and didn't and got caught, at least in some places). I don't know this for sure...somebody else will probably say thathas real-life experience.
  8. Gary Slusser

    Gary Slusser That's all folks!

    "After replacing the pressure switch, he pointed out that the pump was short-cycling badly because the pressure tank wasn't working properly--the pump was coming on for 5-10 seconds and the pressure gauge was rapidly jumping from 30-ish to 50-ish, then the pump would shut off for maybe 20 seconds while the pressure dropped rapidly, then repeat. He quoted me about $600 to replace the pressure tank -- ..."

    This guy is a modern day crook and IMO needs someone to adjust his thinking and the way he does business. His $600 to replace a residential well pressure tank (WX-202 etc.) proves it beyond any doubt. You can buy all that type tanks you want for about $200 at retail.

    But the real bad part of this is the fact that you seem to be saying that the pump is short cycling so quickly and that itty bitty air leak you're attempting to stop isn't sufficient to cause rapid repeated pump runs. Especially after you set the captive air pressure properly. So if you aren't using water in the house and the pump runs, you have a water leak somewhere. And waking up to no water seems to say the pump was wanting to run during the night...

    So to check this out, turn on your water until the pump comes on and shut off the water. Watch the gauge, if it falls shut off the water to the house and watch the gauge for a few minutes. If the pressure holds the leak is on the house side of the tank, like a toilet running somewhere. If the pressure falls with the house side shut off, then the leak is on the well side of the tank. Usually the chack valve in/on the pump outlet. But it could be a fitting or the pipe, or the orning on a pitless adapter.

    I've never heard of any inspector or permit need for a homeowner anywhere to repace his well pressure tank!! I couldn't live anywhere that was required and IMO, there is absoultely no reason for such nonsense. And anyone that proposes that type requirement has some finiancial interest in it being required.

    When you properly size a pump pressure tank, you want a minumum of 60 seconds off between pump runs for up to 1.5 hp motors and 120 seconds off for larger hp motors. And going with a too large pressure tank is a real problem if your well can't provide the volume of water the new BIGGER is better tank requires to shut the pump off. Too large allows the water to warm up more than a smaller properly sized tank. Going too large can cause water quality problems you didn't have before and they may not go away once they start. Then you need water treatent equipment. The cause is due to pumping the well down lower than it is accustomed to and increasing the volume and velocity of the recovery water needed to bring the static water level back to where it wants to be plus that extends the well recovery area while enlarging the 'cone of depression'. Etc. etc... Plus the larger tanks cost much more while taking up a lot more space so beware of who is saying larger is better....

    Gary
    Quality Water Associates
  9. Hube

    Hube New Member

    Messages:
    156
    Location:
    Ontario
    Note; a pressure tank that can provide approx 8 to 10 gallons of water is in no way oversized for the normal and average household.
    And in order to obtain this 8 to 10 gallons of "actual useable water", a tank of approx 30-36 total gallon size will have to be installed. Remember, most of the tanks overall capacity is air. Hube
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2004
  10. Gary Slusser

    Gary Slusser That's all folks!

    Hube, assuming your note is due to my bigger isn't always better comment. That wasn't directed at anything you said, it is a caution and reality with many wells; especially rock bored wells. And the household size doesn't have anything to do with the size of the tank; it's the well.

    Gary
    Quality Water Associates
  11. thomas_callahan

    thomas_callahan New Member

    Messages:
    9
    I agree completely -- and the fact that he didn't even suggest pumping it back up to minimize stress on the pump until I could get it replaced, or make any effort at all to figure out why it wasn't working even though he had already pointed out that the diaphragm was intact reinforces that. He's definitely not getting my business again. I only used him because I couldn't get my normal guy on the phone and was sort of in a panic thinking my pump was shot.

    It was taking two or three weeks for the air leak to reduce the volume of air in the tank enough to make the cycle change noticeably. Once I drain and refill the tank to original specs, it lasts another two or three weeks before the pump starts into the shorter cycles again. It must have taken many weeks for the volume to drop low enough to cause those very short cycles, I just hadn't noticed (although apparently my wife had been hearing the clicks of the pressure switch, she just didn't know that it was anything bad so she never told me... now she tells me about every little noise the house makes).

    And even after that two or three weeks it's still running about a minute on, one to two minutes off -- once set up correctly again it's more like 1:15 on, 4 off with the kitchen faucet at full stream. Obvisouly with something like the garden hose on full force (which I never do anyway) it's got a shorter off time and longer on time but even then it's about 1:30 on, 2 off. There's definitely no water leak anywhere in the house and with the house water off the tank never cycles and the pump never runs.

    In fact, the patch I mentioned trying has actually worked. I went to check on it and did the soap test and found no bubbles. I watched it for almost an hour. I've checked it every other day or so for two weeks now and there are no air bubbles or drop in pressure at all. I'm still going to replace the tank just to sleep better at night, but it did work.

    I figured that what I might do is call the building official in town and ask about the code requirements and let him bring up that if he wants -- I'm planning on a pretty large addition in a year or two and would hate to get on this guy's bad side. It's a small town but with lots of additions and renovations going on, and a single-person building official's office, so from what my neighbors are saying the mere fact that I bothered to check in with him first and find out the code requirements, and as long as I can converse coherently about plumbing with him, he won't bother with an inspection or permit. If I say something like "copper -- that's the white pipes, right?" it might be a different story... because if I'm reading it right, the state rules technically require a permit and inspection to do ANYTHING, even fixing a leaky pipe or swapping out a toilet. Obviously that's not how it works in practice though.

    Thanks for the advice everyone -- now can anyone tell me how to get my wife to stop using so much water? I swear she uses 100 gallons washing the dishes! Have to get a dishwasher!
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2004
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