Trouble drawing brine

Discussion in 'Water Softener Forum, problems, installation and r' started by Mastiff, Dec 7, 2013.

  1. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    I have an Autotrol 255 based system and it's been having trouble drawing brine. The symptom is that the air check at the valve sucks the ball down right away and nothing sucks in. I've found that if I submerge the line to the salt/brine tank directly in the brine and bypass all the floats and check valves in the tank, it functions happily. I have removed, cleaned and inspected the float system in the tank and it seems to be in working order, though I'm a little confused as to how the design is intended to work.

    It looks like when the float is to the top, the valve is completely closed. To draw brine, the system would have to fight against the float... don't know if that makes sense. Part of the situation is that the brine tank has a lot of extra water since it isn't drawing but must be adding more water every cycle. So the float is fully submerged at this point.

    If anyone has any insight on things that can go wrong with the float/valve setups in the tank and what to do about, that would be great. Interestingly, my manual says that no check valve is needed in the tank, since it has one on the main control valve anyway. Does that mean I could just stick a plain tube straight into the tank and be done with it? The thing in the tank has an air check, but also the float which would help prevent overflowing the tank if there was a malfunction. I think I'd want to keep the latter.
  2. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    The float valve on the side of the brine tank should not float normally. That is to prevent the tank from overflowing in case of a problem, which you appear to have.
    [​IMG]
    Does your clear air check valve housing have water in it, but the ball sinks anyway? I would think that would mean that your ball is bad.
    Does the clear air check valve housing have air in it during brine draw? I would suspect an air leak in the hose to the brine tank, or at the brine float. It could be something else I guess.

    Yes, you could just stick a plain tube into the tank, which is how mine is set up. However it may be the case that having the float valve saved you from getting brine on the floor due to overflow. So maybe just do it as a test/workaround. I should probably add a brine overflow preventing float valve.

    I am not a pro.
  3. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa DIYer, not in the trades

    Messages:
    4,003
    Location:
    NW Ontario, Canada
    As Reach4 said, it sounds like you are describing the refill float, not the brine draw float. The float on the brine draw at the bottom of the brine well would open when up and close when down.
  4. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    No, it normally floats but sucks down to the bottom in brine draw mode.

    Right when the draw cycle begins, the ball sucks down and there is maybe 3/4" of brine above it, the rest is air. The suction is clearly holding the ball down. The reason I don't think air leak is because if I put the tube directly in the brine it works fine. It's like there's too much restriction somewhere.

    Yeah. My setup is outside, so it wouldn't be a catastrophe, but still best avoided.
  5. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    If the problem were a restriction, you would not get air above the ball. In normal operation, you should only get air above the ball once you have sucked out the brine, and the dip tube is sucking air. I say air leak-- probably at the float valve in the tank. That is the only thing between your tubing and the surface of the brine.

    Being outside, I would probably get rid of the float valve in the tank. As I said, mine has worked fine in the basement with no brine tank float -- so far.
  6. mialynette2003

    mialynette2003 Member

    Messages:
    738
    Location:
    Ocala, Florida
    The checkball is not needed if there is an aircheck in the brine tank. The system will work with both but no need. Sounds as if it is drawing air at the saftly float assembly. Check the connections.
  7. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    Yeah, there are two things which are hard to describe in words. I'm not sure if all these things are built the same. Mine is like a J at the bottom. All the flow has to go through the short up part of the J. The big float, when topped out, completely seals the top of the J by pulling up. Inside the assembly the big float pulls up is a check ball, so if there is no water/brine, the whole assembly goes down and the check ball falls down too, sealing everything up. If the big float is down but there is some water (brine), the check ball goes up, allowing brine to flow through holes under the check ball. In my case, the float is topped out, so the thing is totally sealed, except to the extent that there is enough suction to pull the float down a little and open things up. So it's much more restricted than an open tube.

    How about the injector screen? If that's blocked, maybe less suction? I know everyone says air leak, but there's not much above brine level now. I will double check.
  8. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    If your theory does not explain how air gets into the clear housing on the side of the Autotrol before you have finished sucking in the brine, you need a different theory. A blockage could explain not drawing brine, but it would not explain drawing air.
  9. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    Is it definitely drawing air? I could see bubbles in the line that are not moving. The little canister is about 50% brine by volume when the ball comes down, maybe it's vacuum (there are some bubbles when it starts)? If it was drawing air, wouldn't the 3/4" of brine above the ball eventually suck in? I'm not confident either way, just throwing out ideas.
  10. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    I presume that the transparent cylinder is full of water initially, and then shortly after brine draw cycle starts, it has enough air in it to drop the ball so that it closes the bottom to prevent further sucking. The air came from somewhere.

    Since that air does not appear when you put the hose directly into the brine, it seems less likely to be a leak in the hose or the fitting at the top of the hose. I guess you could imagine a tiny leak in the upper hose that only sucks air when the bottom is closed off. You could test for that by plugging your hose with your finger (maybe dipped in water to guarantee no air getting around your thumb) and doing a cycle. In the absence of an air leak, I would expect the transparent cylinder to keep water in it through the whole brine draw cycle while you block the bottom of the hose.

    I am fairly confident that the Autotrol is not drawing enough of a vacuum to expand those little air bubbles in the cylinder even 4x ( would correspond to vacuum of about 22 inches of mercury) let alone 40x.
  11. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    Can you explain how the brine tank filling is supposed to work? I ran two full cycles with all the junk in the brine tank removed (just straight pipe, though there is some sort of flow restrictor at the bottom which I left in) and I'm not sure what to think... The brine draw cycle on my softener is over an hour long. Is it supposed to suck the liquid completely out of the brine tank during that time (at which point the check valve kicks in)? Then during the refill stage, does it meter a specific amount of water back in, determined at the valve, or does it rely on the float to get the right amount of water? The refill cycle is 13 minutes long if I recall, which seems like a long time. I wonder if I didn't have the flow restrictor in tube, if too much water would go in. Or if too much water is already in there. Thanks for the help.
  12. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa DIYer, not in the trades

    Messages:
    4,003
    Location:
    NW Ontario, Canada
    The brine draw cycle is long enough to ensure all of the brine is sucked up and then the ball is supposed to close to prevent it sucking air. The brine well should be completely empty at the end of the cycle.

    The brine fill is timed and the flow is limited by an orifice (BLFC).
  13. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    That seems long. The extra time after the brine has been sucked in is the "slow rinse" phase
    Yes.
    The first one; there is a metering oraface that is supposed to dispense some amount of water per minute.
    There is a thing that I have seen called a button. So if it is supposed to deliver 0.25 GPM, 13 minutes should deliver 3.25 gallons which corresponds to disolving 9.75 pounds of salt. You might see a label indicating the value, but 9.25 pounds of salt is a reasonable value.
  14. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    Thanks guys. I assume the flow limiter you are talking about is up in the valve/controller area, so the thing down in the tube in the brine tank is extraneous? It consists of a little ball that can move to either end of a little tube it is confined to, and is stopped at either end in such a way that there is still a little room for water to pass. I guess the purpose is to have a different amount of restriction for drawing brine vs. refilling water.

    The good news is that the water is soft again and the system seems stable. I think everything got out of whack because there was way too much water/brine and all the floats and check valves were responding to that. I'm inclined to leave that stuff out at this point since it just adds a bunch of new failure modes.
  15. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    See http://www.pentairaqua.com/Files/KnowledgeBase/ItemDownload/en/br1018075.pdf I am thinking part 8 on pages 14 and 15 is a variable control for how much water gets injected rather than a fixed control that many controllers have. Page 12 discusses setting that salt dial adjustment.
    I think things were out of whack because you were not drawing brine.
  16. Mastiff

    Mastiff New Member

    Messages:
    28
    Location:
    Tucson AZ
    The thing I was trying to describe is down at the bottom of the draw tube in the brine tank. It's some sort of flow restrictor, but I don't understand it's purpose since this all seems to be taken care of in the controller.

    But why? I never found anything wrong. The tubing to the brine tank was cracked before this all started, and after I replaced it, it never recovered until I bypassed all the floats and checks and stuff in the brine tank. All that stuff is in good working order.

    I guess it doesn't matter anymore though, thanks for the help.
  17. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    2,302
    Location:
    IL
    That gadget at the bottom of your brine tank is needed by most softener controllers, but not yours and not mine. Ours have that ball in the clear housing. See posts 3 and 6 on this thread. It would stop the flow out of the brine tank when the brine is exhausted. It is not intended as a restrictor or metering device. Actually, it does serve as a screen too. Probably you should have some kind of screen at the bottom of your tank, but if you don't get junk in your brine tank, you are probably ok. I have not seen the bottom of my brine tank yet.

    I agree that it is now moot, and I am glad your system is working well.
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