Solutions can be found to oil in well

The Associated Press The Associated Press The Associated Press
Friday February 09, 2001

Q: About two years ago, the submersible pump broke in our 185- foot deep well. We had the pump rebuilt, but our well water took on an oily smell and began leaving a film in the toilet. We thought the condition would eventually clear up but it hasn’t. The pump rebuilder claims that oil from the broken pump contaminated our water, and can offer no solutions to the problem. Is there anything we can do short of drilling a new well to get clean water? 

A: It sounds as if you have a “weak well” rather than a “strong well.” In the latter case, the water level doesn’t rise and fall and, consequently, if oil gets into the well, it floats on top of the water and doesn’t get down to the pump. In a weak well, the water level rises and falls frequently and so the well components become coated with oil. 

Since the oil condition has lasted for two years (an exceedingly long time, when you consider that there is only about a half cup of oil in the pump) and, under normal use, it should take only a few weeks to flush out the oil, it’s possible that the oil is from a leak in a buried fuel oil tank. I suggest you have a water sample tested to determine if the contamination is fuel oil or lubricating oil. If it’s fuel oil, you’ll have to find and repair the leaking tank. If it’s pump oil, you should check further to see if the water is contaminated with PCBs, known carcinogens. Apparently, some well pump motors made before the mid-1970s had starting capacitors that were immersed in an oil that contained PCB. Possibly your old pump was one of these. 

Removing oil from the well is difficult and not a do-it-yourselfer job. It should be handled by a professional pump installer or well driller. 

Q: We get some rough winters and we have a problem with water leaking down through our ceiling when the snow starts to melt. We’ve had to retape and repaint our ceiling every spring because of this. Interestingly enough, our roof doesn’t leak at all when it rains. Is there a way we can correct this situation? 

A: Sounds to us like your water leakage problem is caused by an ice dam – a common situation in the Northeast. Ice dams begin when a layer of snow next to the roof melts. When this water freezes, a dam is created, which causes further melted snow to accumulate in a pool. Roofs are designed to shed water, not to protect against standing water, which eventually works its way down through the roof and your ceiling. Removing the snow from the roof is the best solution. The next best alternative is maintaining a “cold-roof.” The way to do this is by over-insulating the ceilings and having abundant ventilation in the attic. This will keep the heat in your home from warming the roof, and will keep the roof-deck temperatures lowered to the point where snow won’t melt. Heating tapes along eaves and valleys can also help, but ice dams may form farther up the roof giving you the same problem. 

To submit a question, write to Popular Mechanics, Reader Service Bureau, 224 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.