The Serfs Are Revolting

Frederich Ebenezer Pump was a clever man. The chairman of the Upper Wallop Serf Club, he invented a device consisting of a pipe with a piston and operated by a handle which enabled the serfs to draw water from wells.

Used all over the world the village pump has been the centre of community life since time immoral. Often the place where important matters of local interest are discussed but also where young damsels meet dirty old men under cover of darkness, the village pump has been the subject of a plethora of songs (mostly of the bawdy variety).

Frederich’s great, great, great, great, grandson’s, cousin’s, uncle’s, husband’s, great, great, grandson, Cornelius Archibald Pump, was tinkering around in old Frederich’s garden shed one day when he came across a design for a rotating centrifugal water pump which old Fred had thoughtfully put aside until the electric motor was invented some 2 centuries later.

This pump has become a ubiquitous design. It has an inlet and an outlet pipe and uses a rotating wheel (an impeller) with fins or vanes which uses centrifugal force to throw the water outwards with such force that it can push it along pipes. This clever device is used these days to mow down crowds of serfs when they are severely lacking in the gruntle department and become somewhat revolting.

Water pumps are little heroes in our homes, they are generally very reliable working without attention often for years on end. They are inexpensive but an essential component in the systems that make our lives comfortable. Of course, these days pumps are driven by electric motors and, in addition to the rotating impeller, have several additional components to improve their performance:

A capacitor is a clever little device that collects electrical energy then, when it has enough, it releases it in a zap of extra energy. Very useful as ice breakers at parties, capacitors are used to give a burst of extra energy to get things going. They are widely used on pumps, air conditioners and fluorescent lights. On electric motors, they give an extra burst of power to overcome friction and start them turning. Normally cylindrical about 2 cms diameter and 8 cms long with a wire coming out of one end the capacitor is usually mounted inside a small cover on the outside of the electric motor.

Pressure Switches
Many of the water pumps we use have two pressure switches which sense the water pressure in the pipes and switch the pump on and off.

Normally the water in your household water system is pressurised. If you turn on a tap, the pressure in the system is released, this releases the water pressure on a pressure switch which then switches the water pump on. The pump will run until you turn the tap off and the pressure of the water in your pipes increases back to a to maximum pressure at which point, the pressure operates a second switch to turn the pump off. We can adjust the settings of these switches to increase or decrease the water pressure in your pipes.

Pressure Tanks
Most pumps have a steel pressure tank attached which has air inside it, the air being contained in a rubber bladder. Water is not squishy like air and so the tank performs two functions, it stores pressure so the pump doesn’t need to switch on and off all the time and it provides an air cushion in the water system to absorb shocks when taps are suddenly turned on or off. Pressure tanks vary considerably in size from small ones that simply protect the pump to very large ones that can store large volumes of pressurised water, very useful if you have an unreliable electricity supply.

To learn more about pressure tanks go to

Common Problems
The most common problem we find with water pumps is “cycling” (often known as the “Balinese water torture”) the pump continually switching itself on and off. This is usually caused by leaks in the water system (such as running toilets), badly set pressure switches or by damaged pressure tank bladders.

For a list of water pump problems and how to solve them see the article at

Plumbers and Electricians
While problems in your water system can result in high water bills, they can also leave you with very high electricity bills. Finding and solving such problems may require a combination of both plumbing and electrical skills and an understanding of how the two interact.

Such problems are often beyond the ability of the average tukang who may tend to react to the individual symptoms rather than looking at the MEP systems as a whole to track down the cause. Failed attempts can be both frustrating and expensive.

Previous “Fixed Abode” articles can be found subject indexed on our website at Opinions expressed are those of Phil Wilson. He can be contacted through the website or the office on 0361 288 789 or 08123 847 852.

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