Rural Water Systems – Power

Your water system should have a back-up power source, such as a generator.  If the pump in your well can’t run, you only have what’s in your pressure tank(s).  And the power will probably go out when you’re just a few psi above the low setpoint of the pressure switch.

Ideally, the generator would be large enough to serve everything at your ranch, which means 15 to 20 kW in size.  A smaller unit, say 10 kW, might require some load shedding before startup.

You’ll have to install a transfer switch to prevent back-feeding the power company.  It can be manual or automatic.


If your generator can carry the full load of your ranch, the transfer switch can be automatic, along with startup of the generator.

A manual switch lets you reduce load before starting the generator.   The sequence might look something like this (power already out):

  1. Move lever on transfer switch to neutral position
  2. Open main breaker from power company
  3. Reduce load as needed (e.g., open breaker to water heater, turn off A/C units)
  4. Start generator and let it run a minute or two to warm up
  5. Move lever on transfer switch to generator position

At this point lights should come back on, the refrigerator should run, and your pressure tanks should refill when the low setpoint is reached.

When power is restored (numbers appear on face of electric meter), the sequence might be:

  1. Move lever on transfer switch to neutral position
  2. Allow generator to run a few minutes to cool down
  3. Turn off generator
  4. Restore loads
  5. Close main breaker from power company
  6. Move lever on transfer switch to power company position

Load has now been transferred back to the power company.  If your generator has a fuel tank, top it off so you’ll be ready for the next outage.  Keep several five-gallon containers of fuel on hand and store in a safe location.

One way to keep electric demand low (and get by with a smaller generator) is to have ‘fired’ appliances, such as your water heater, furnace, cooktop and clothes dryer.  Fuel can be natural gas (if available at your location) or propane.  A stove that burns wood or pellets is another option.

A ‘poor man’s version’ would be to install the transfer switch at the panel that feeds the pump and connect a portable generator there.  Allow 2 kW for a 1 HP pump, 4 kW for 2 HP pump, etc.  It won’t power anything else but at least your horses will have water.  The UV unit in your treatment system will be inactive, and the softener will not regenerate if it has electric controls.

Always make sure the exhaust from the generator is routed to a safe location.  Never run it inside an occupied space such as a house or barn.

You can buy a trickle charger for the battery in your generator to make sure it’s ready to go when you need it.

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