14 January, 2018

Bubbles in the Pool

Finally! After many months of tracking it down, at long last, I've solved the mystery of air bubbles entering the pool from the returns as they're called. These are the jets that shoot water back into the pool from the filter.
Bubbles From a Return
When something has gone wrong, air bubbles appear and come into the pool from those same jets.

If the bubbles are coming into the pool from anywhere other than the spa jets (where you want bubbles), the bubbles are an indication of something amiss.

Bubbles anywhere else in the pool means the pump is pumping not only water but air through the system as well.

This causes problems in several areas, the pump, the filter, and the piping. Decreased filtering because of excess air can lead to water quality problems, and potential safety hazards, like the possibility of the filter rupturing, in my case, a sand filter with a large tank.

There are basically two sides to the pool pump. The suction side and the pressure side.

A Hayward Pump Example
The suction side draws water from the pool, from the pool skimmer, vacuum cleaner, or the pool floor drain, for example. The pressure side returns water to the pool from the filter.

The dividing line between the suction and pressure sides of the pump is the impeller.

Before water gets to the pump, the pool pipes are under some vacuum pressure or suction, and any gap or hole in a pipe, fitting, valve, or gasket, such as an O-ring, will suck air into the pipe or the pump. I don't know how much vacuum pressure the suction side is under, but on the pressure side, it is usually anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds.

Any leak that begins on the pressure side of the pump will generally, be relatively easy to find because it will leak water. I've found that pressure side leaks are much, much easier to track down and solve.

An air leak will probably be visible in the pump strainer cover, which is a transparent cover for that very reason so you can look for the presence of air bubbles.

There's a whole bunch more to troubleshooting pool air leaks. Generally, you would start with the easiest causes and work your way on from there.

The threaded pipe entering the pump might just be sucking air. I just removed mine and put a good twelve wraps of Teflon tape on it before re-threading into the pump body. I made sure it was tight by using my pipe wrench to ensure it was really tight. This fitting can be an ongoing source of leakage, as it is really susceptible to vibration or other problems.

There's a little drain plug in the front of the pump right near the bottom. It's easy to overlook this when checking for air leaks. There's also a drain plug at the back left side of the pump housing body, but that's actually on the pressure side of the pump, so it's no worry in this instance.

Leaks can also develop from worn diverters, ball valves, couplings or unions. Control valves from the skimmer, main drain, or vacuum cleaner might be in the wrong position. Incoming valves might have worked loose. The strainer cover might not be tight enough. It has a large O-ring that might be stretched out of shape or missing.

I've read that there is a way to check for air leaks overall on the suction side, by pressurizing the system from the skimmer, using a Drain King at the skimmer, and a plug in front of the pump. I've never done that. They're sold to unclog household plumbing, so it's an idea to keep in mind if you've reached the end of your rope, bubble-wise.

It can drive you crazy tracking down an air leak. I chased my air leak for at least several months. Before that, For years, I had an intermittent air leak that showed up, then went away of its own accord after a while. Try troubleshooting that.

I finally found my air leak this morning. It was a combination of the threaded pipe enting the front of the pump and the little drain plug at the front near the bottom. Once I re-wrapped the Teflon tape on the threads and tightened the drain plug - no bubbles. Life has suddenly become good again. Now all we need it for Mother Nature to stop refrigerating our air and we'll be back in the pool in no time.

11 January, 2018

Belize's First Tsunami and Warning

Dianna and I had already gone to bed. I slept through it. Dianna was awake enough to hear our roll-up doors rattling. She said it sounded like wind blowing against the doors, only there was no wind.

Our dogs, the neighborhood's dogs, and all the dogs as far as we could hear, all went batsh*t barking their heads off.

Dianna and I were looking out the bathroom window to see what the ruckus was all about. We saw Denis and Vivien outside, walking around the driveway. They heard us holler ineffectively to the dogs to quiet down.

Denis called over to us, asking if we had felt the earthquake. He said Vivien felt the couch move, and he saw their lampshade moving erratically. They were all excited as this was their first earthquake. We told them we hadn't felt a thing.

After that Dianna and I went back to bed, being the seasoned earthquaker's that we are, coming from the northwest. Instead of sleeping right away, I got on the intertubes to see if I could find any information on the earthquake, such as intensity, epicenter, etc. Naturally, I couldn't get anywhere to check that out.

About that time, my phone rang. It was Mojan, our Internet Service Provider (ISP), wanting to know if we had felt the earthquake. It was a surprise to us that he called us, but we didn't quiz him on that. Maybe he wanted us to let him know if his tower was still standing or something. Mojan said he thought it was his kids waking up and making a racket, but then he heard all the dogs in his area of Corozal going berserk. He lives in the Sant Rita area up by the Belikin distributor.

Shortly after that, I got a Facebook message from Vivien saying she heard the earthquake was a 7.8 and wanted to know if there was any danger of a tsunami. I guessed from our experiences with the Nisqually earthquake of 2001 in Olympia, Washington, at the time, it was called a 7.8 or 7.9 earthquake. In the years since then, the level apparently was refined down to a 6.8.

With the damages from that earthquake as a guide, we assumed that the earthquake here in Belize was not very close to us. We initially had no indication of direction though and assumed that the quake had been centered in Guatemala or Honduras, as those areas are where most of the earthquake activity around here seems to come from.

When Vivien asked about a tsunami, I assumed then the earthquake had probably occurred out in the Caribbean Sea somewhere. We also have had a fair amount of experience in tsunami preparation and training up in the northwest. I said with a 7.8, that a tsunami was unlikely. Maybe if it had been like around an 8.5 or 9.0 or so. Shows what I know.

With that, Dianna and I went to sleep. It wasn't until the next morning that we found that, yes indeed, there had been a tsunami warning issued. But since we didn't have the radio turned to Love FM, and don't have cable TV, a warning was non-existent.

Earthquake and Tsunami Warning - Image Courtesy USGS
Apparently, around nine PM the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC) in Palmer, Alaska, had issued a tsunami alert for all land areas within a 620-mile radius of the earthquake's center. The warning stated that the first tsunami wave could reach Belize by 10:30 PM. 

Belize City sent fire trucks out sounding their sirens to alert the city's population. Apparently, one is supposed to instinctively know to tune in Love FM, which serves as the country's emergency alert station. Not that that would have done us any good up here in Corozal.

The earthquake was believed to have been centered near the Great Swan Island off Honduras. This would put the earthquake about 300 miles from Belize.

Belize coastal waters did recede after the earthquake. In the case of hurricanes and tropical storms, this is not an unusual occurrence. For the waters to recede for no apparent reason, is disconcerting, to say the least.

In Corozal, our caretaker Carlos, told us the following morning when he came to work that local Corozal police had been trying to chase people away from the waterfront and encouraging them to head for high ground. He also said that a line had formed at the One Mall gas station of cars trying to get some gas (most local folks normally only keep a few gallons in their cars at any one time). That was short-lived as One Mall closed shortly after the earthquake. Carlos also said he heard that the Corozal Fire Station had sounded its siren in an attempt to warn people. None of us down this way heard that at all.

Channel 7News said that in Belize City "the streets were desolate and the air was tense." A few minutes before eleven PM, the tsunami warning was terminated and NEMO gave the all clear for residents to return to their homes. We got none of the warning messages or information at the time.

It turns out the tsunami, such as it was, ended up being forecast for 28 centimeters - about eleven inches. Almost laughable, but it just as easily could have turned out to be like Aceh, Thailand in 2004. A tsunami like that would have rolled over our cayes like nothing was there, and would have likely caused severe damage to Belize's mainland coastal communities. The NTWC said that a wave with a maximum height of 1.2 inches was recorded one a sea-level gauge at Carrie Bowe Caye, east of Sittee River in southern Belize.

Around midnight, water was returning slowly back to the shore and everything was soon back to normal.  There was no major tsunami in any of the countries within the threat zone.  In Honduras, water went out 10 to 15 feet from the coast and did not return to regular levels until the following morning. 

So, we lucked out big time. For a first-ever tsunami warning for Belize, the government agencies, NEMO, the National Fire Service, Belize Police, all performed well. the warning was issued, inadequate for sure, but still, the proper responses were made.

One thing that was apparent was the lack of an effective and functional warning system. Not just for tsunami, but for any large emergency or disaster. I suggested via Facebook, the following morning, that the Government of Belize (GOB) and NEMO should embark on instituting a warning system incorporating both of Belize's mobile telephone systems, Smart and Digicell, so that, in the future, when a warning is issued, it automatically goes out over the cell system's to warn the maximum number of people possible. A very brief message of what has occurred, and what to do, should be sent out and probably sent out repeatedly during the event, and an all-clear issued repeatedly for a time at the end of the event.

08 January, 2018

Now What?

Saturday night, I'm sound asleep.
Nelson Surveying His Domain
Nelson, our boy cat, frequently wakes me up about this time, about eleven o'clock, when I've developed a really good snooze.

In his mind, his food is not correct. Not necessarily that he's out of food. The level of food could be low. Or, in the case of his wet canned food, it might just need my 'fluffing' it up to make it more appealing to him. Or, as it often is, he's just looking for reassurance that there is adequate food in the bowl.

He seems to rely heavily on my judgment in these matters, especially late at night. Just sort of a casual consultation, you might say. And, it wasn't like I was doing anything anyway.

That was the situation Saturday night. He comes into bed and sits beside my head, meowing softly until I wake up. Sometimes, he just wants to say hi. My waking up and scratching his head is enough to make him happy and he goes off somewhere to sleep.

Other nights, he's awakened me and lets me know that it requires my attention by gently putting his paw on my forehead, cheek, or nose until I tell him that I'm awake and actually begin throwing off the covers and getting out of bed.

Such was the case Saturday. I had to get up and go check the food. So, off we went to the kitchen. Me in my starkers and he in his extremely soft fur coat. He was right. The wet food supply was low and could definitely use topping up. So that's what I did. I added about a half can to his bowl and got some on my fingers in the process.

Nelson, of course, disappeared sometime while I was topping up his bowl. He went off to find a comfy place to sleep, his mission being completed.

I turned to the kitchen sink to rinse off my fingers so that I could head back to bed. Only one thing. When I turned on the faucet, no water. Not even a sigh of receding water in the pipes. Nothing. Uh oh.

We've had things like this happen before. Once, I went out to our parking area and the hose faucet there had snapped off, PVC piping being PVC, it had degraded because of constant exposure to UV light. Fifty-some pounds of water pressure became too much and it just snapped apart, shooting water straight up about eight feet into the air. That was an easy fix and resulted in my new policy of trying to paint every piece of exposed PVC piping we have, and there's a lot of PVC piping around here.

The other time, very similar scenario with no apparent cause, and after an hour or so, the well-pump decided to start working again. We never found anything that pointed to a cause or even an effect.

Back to Saturday night. I woke Dianna and told her what was going on and that I was going to go and check it out. I put on my cargo shorts and Crocs, and grabbed my flashlight, and went out to survey all our outside piping, expecting the worst. I looked around the pool, checked inside the pool pump house, all around our house, followed the main line along and into the raised planting bed, all around the Mennonite house, over to the new storage shed, which has a utility deep sink, and finally over to the well pump house beside the main gate. Nothing.

I listened at the door of the well-house. No sound. By now, I'm accompanied by all three dogs (they're sensing an adventure beginning), and by Nelson and Noel, two of the three cats, who, by the way, frequently accompany me when I head up to the gate. Whether its to take trash to the bin, which is just on the other side of the well-house, or to greet whoever might be at the gate. So they thought something entertaining might be happening too. I had forgotten to bring my keys with me, so I headed back to the house to retrieve them, accompanied by my retinue. 

After grabbing the keys and opening the well-house door, I looked inside, always being careful not to step on the odd gecko, frog, toad, or snake that might be hiding inside. No such visitors tonight. But, no activity in the well-house either. Not a sound. I tapped the pump a couple of times with my flashlight. I hadn't realized how much it looked just like my pool pump. I also tapped the pressure switch. Nothing. I flipped the two circuit breakers that control the gate motor and lights, the well-pump, and the lighting inside the well-house. The gate motor and lighting all worked as normal.

Nothing for it at this time of night. I headed back to the house and got back to sleep. I thought about calling the plumber, but it wasn't anything that couldn't wait until morning.

In the morning, I used some bottled water from the fridge to make coffee, and I retrieved a bucket of water from the pool to use for flushing toilets.

At about 7:30 AM, I called Eddie the Plumber. He's the most knowledgeable plumber I've found down here. He's definitely the go-to guy for anything plumbing emergency related. He said he could reach our place about 9:00 AM. I thought that was outstanding, and for a Sunday too.

Meanwhile, Vivien had come down to say good morning. She and her husband, Denis are visiting, staying in the Mennonite house. They too are affected by the water problem. In fact, they actually noticed it about 7:00 PM, Saturday evening when Denis went to take a shower before going to bed. They figured we'd notice it too and so didn't panic and went to bed. Denis helped me supervise Eddie during the repairs.

When Eddie showed up I showed him the well-house. He looked over the pump and zeroed in on the pressure switch. Eddie took the cover off of it and immediately found the problem. Half of the switch contacts had disintegrated.
Pressure Switch Broken Contact

You can see, from the photo at left, that all is not quite symmetrical inside the pressure switch. The contacts on the right side, where the pointer is pointing, are missing. They weren't missing when Eddie first removed the switch cover, but they had separated into about four or five tiny pieces and when he removed the switch, they fell out and disappeared in the driveway gravel.

The broken contact brought the whole water operation to a complete and total standstill. I didn't think to check the pressure switch, as I wrongly assumed that there couldn't be anything wrong in there. I had assumed the problem had to be with the water piping, or the pump itself, probably because of just recently having rebuilt the pool pump. Well, live and learn.
Corrosion on Contacts
This is something to keep in mind that will more than likely occur every few years, because of corrosion, like at left with the contact points, but more likely, material degradation due to plastic becoming fragile and brittle in this environment.

Everything breaks down here. Metal, wood, plastic. It doesn't matter what the material is. It all breaks and breaks down eventually. This switch lasted about seven years. I'll know what to look for next time.

While Eddie was disconnecting and removing the defective pressure switch, I headed up to Lano's Hardware and got a new switch. I was glad they open for half-days on Sundays. Being without running water definitely changes your lifestyle.

You might think it would be prudent to have a spare pressure switch on hand just for such a contingency. What you can't forget about is the environment here. Even though something is in storage, even if it's protected from exposure by boxes, wrappings, etc., it's still going to be affected by the environment. The high humidity and high summertime heat will conspire to destroy even the most well-protected piece of equipment.

Right after Eddie finished hooking up the switch, he turned the circuit breaker back on and immediately we were treated to the familiar humming of the well-pump. Life was quickly returning to normal.