At the camp we generally all have some form of water pump system to bring water either from a well or from the lake into the cottage. Most of these pumps are either piston pumps or centrifugal jet pumps.
In most situations these water pump systems have something called a “foot valve” which is located at the end of the water line that sits in the well or the lake. I wanted to title this post, “A Foot Valve Primer” but I thought that was too “cliche”, so I settled for “What is A Foot Valve?”
What Is A Foot Valve?
Foot valves are a type of “check valve” which are intended to allow water to flow in only one direction. These are devices attached to a water line that only open in one direction.
In the case of cottages and camps, foot valves allow water to be sucked by the water pump from the well or lake to the cottage but don’t let the water drain back down the waterline and back to the lake. Notice the directional arrow on the footvalve shown to the right. That’s the way the water flows.
If it did, chances are you water pump will lose it’s prime, and you won’t be able to get any water when you turn on the tap. Instead of water in the line you will have air which will stop it from pulling water.
Priming a pump in it’s simplest term, is replacing the air with water allowing a vacumn or suction action to occur which brings the water from it’s source to the cottage.
When the pump is turned on, generally when you open a tap or flush the toilet, the water is pulled in through the foot valve into the waterline toward the pump.
When the pump shuts off, the suction ends, but the foot valve stops the water from draining back to the lake or well. If it did, air would get into the line, the water wouldn’t pump and you’d have to prime the pump.
Foot valves are made from various materials, metal, usually brass, bronze, PVC or plastic. Because of that prices run the gamut from $7 to $30 or more. I recently put a PVC footvalve on my water line replacing one that was made of brass. So far the PVC has worked fine.
Foot Valve Sizes
Foot valves come in a couple of sizes, depending on the size of the water line you use. Most centrifugal pumps use a 1 inch waterline, so you need a one inch foot valve. Older piston pumps usually used a 3/4 inch water line, so if you are still using a piston pump at the camp, you need a foot valve to fit the smaller diameter hose.
Because your cottage plumbing system depends on the foot valve to be working, it’s important that it works. Also, because they are usually located in the lake or the well, it’s just as well to get a good one that will last so you are not troubled by it.
Also because the foot valve is located at the bottom of the well or out in the lake, it is often the last thing we think of when we don’t get any water. That’s unfortunate because it is usually the easiest part of the plumbing system to fix.
The foot valve attaches to the end of the water line, usually with a male adapter that is shoved into the water pipe and clamped. The footvalve is then screwed to the end of the adapter. Like everything these days, there are variations on that theme, so you may find something in the hardware store that is a little different connection.
If some day you arrive at the camp, turn on the water, the pump comes on, but you don’t get water from the tap, one of the first things to check is the foot valve.
What Goes Wrong Troubleshooting
Although they are usually trouble free, they can get gummed up with mud if they are allowed to sit on the bottom of a muddy lake. Foot valves have a screen over the pump but if it gets damaged, dirt and mud can enter the valve causing trouble.
Sometimes the valve will suck up some small sand and bits of gravel that can stick in the valve and not allow it to close and seal properly. If that happens the water will eventually drain out of the water line and pump.
Rough water and wave action can disturb the foot valve, and sometimes the seal can loosen where it fastens to the water line.
Clean It Up
These are pretty easy fixes. In the case of gravel or mud getting in the valve, take it off the pipe, remove the screen covering and clean it out the screen and the inside of the foot valve. A tooth brush will clean it up quite well. Make sure the valve is opening and closing properly, it should snap back into place.
Once it’s cleaned up and provided it appears to be closing properly, attach it back to the water line. You will probably have to re-prime the pump at this point, because you will may have lost water when you removed the valve from the hose. (If you keep the end of the line up when you remove the valve, you may not lose the water.)
In the fall when I disconnect the water I remove the foot valve from the water line and put it inside for the winter. I usually clean it up before I put it away and dry it off.
Fasten It In The Lake
There are a couple ways of placing your foot valve in the lake. I use a cement block, fastening the foot valve to the block with wire. I position the block in the lake so that the valve is above the bottom, not sucking water, and potentially mud, from the bottom of the lake.
Some folks attach their foot valves to a piece of wood, with an elbow attached to the valve pointing it down into the water. They anchor the wood floatation in place in the lake, and the valve and float stay on or close to the surface.
This type of placement ensures the pump is pulling water from the top half of the lake and will help keep the pump from pulling up silt and mud from the bottom into your water system.
I don’t know which is better, which ever suits you I guess, as long as you ensure it is anchored well to resist waves and wind action. I try to position my footvalve so that it is pulling from below the surface but above the bottom, about mid point.
In a dug well, the foot valve can be attached to the water line and dropped into the well, although I think some folks attach a weight to ensure the valve goes down into the water and stays in one place.