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PLUMBING SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
AGE of PLUMBING MATERIALS & FIXTURES
AIR DISCHARGE at FAUCETS, FIXTURES
ANTI SCALD VALVES
ANODES & DIP TUBES on WATER HEATERS
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEPTIC
BACKUP PREVENTION, SEWER LINE
BACKWATER VALVES, SEWER LINE
BATH & KITCHEN DESIGN GUIDE
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CHEMICAL ODOR SOURCES
CHLORINE IN DRINKING WATER
CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater
DEPTH of SEPTIC TANK
DRAIN & SEWER PIPING
FAUCETS & CONTROLS, KITCHEN & BATH
FAUCETS, OUTDOOR HOSE BIBBS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOR DRAIN / TRAP ODORS
FLUSHOMETER VALVES for TOILETS URINALS
GAS PIPING, VALVES, CONTROLS
GALVANIC SCALE & METAL CORROSION
HARD WATER - SOFTENERS
HEAT TAPES, Heat, Insulation prevent Freeze-Up
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
LEAD IN DRINKING WATER, HOW to REDUCE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MIXING / ANTI-SCALD VALVES
MUNICIPAL WATER PRESSURE IMPROVEMENTS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS IN WATER
ODORS, SEPTIC or SEWER
ODORS SEWER GAS in COLD WEATHER
ODORS, SULPHUR SMELL SOURCES
ANIMAL or URINE ODOR SOURCE DETECTION
PIPING IN BUILDINGS, Clogs Leaks Types
PLUMBING FIXTURES, KITCHEN, BATH
PLUMBING NOISE TRANSMISSION CONTROL
PLUMBING VENT DEFINITIONS & CODES
PLUMBING VENT DEFECTS & NOISES
PUMPS USED in BUILDINGS
PUMPS, WATER REPAIR
RELIEF VALVE LEAKS
RELIEF VALVE, TP VALVE, BOILER
RELIEF VALVE, TP VALVE, STEAM BOILER
RELIEF VALVE, WATER HEATER
RELIEF VALVE, WATER TANK
REPAIR BURST LEAKY PIPES
METHANE GAS HAZARDS
SEPTIC SYSTEM INSPECT DIAGNOSE REPAIR
SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
SWEATING (CONDENSATION) on PIPES, TANKS
TOILETS, INSPECT, INSTALL, REPAIR
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WATER PRESSURE LOSS DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
WATER PUMPS & TANKS
WATER SOFTENERS & CONDITIONERS
WATER SOURCE ALTERNATIVES
WATER SUPPLY & DRAIN PIPING
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE LOCATION, USE
WATER SHUTOFF VALVE, WELL PUMP
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Guide to pony pumps and drill pumps: this article describes small portable pumps such as pony pumps and electric-drill-operated pumps that can be used to pump water or some other fluids.
We use pony pumps to service or repair heating systems and plumbing systems and to empty water tanks; some portable pumps may be used to transfer other fluids from or between storage tanks or other reservoirs.
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Pony Pumps, Transfer Pumps, & Other Portable Pumps Used for Plumbing, Heating, or Other Building Maintenance & Repair Tasks
A "pony pump" is a small electric utility pump whose inlet side can be connected to a water (or other liquid) source such as a water tank and whose outlet end is typically connected to a length of garden hose to deliver the emptied water to a floor drain, sink, or an outside location.
Pony pumps are used in a variety of plumbing and heating service calls such as
Shown in our photo is a Wayne transfer pump; other models and alternatives are at Where to buy a pony pump or drill pump.
A common use of pony pumps or transfer pumps is to empty a water tank or hot water tank at which the tank drain is below a suitable floor drain or sink, meaning that we need to "lift" the water from the tank to a drainage location.
The pony pump use procedure at a water heater that was located too low to use a floor drain or sink is described at DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater.
Watch out: be sure to match the pony pump specifications to its intended use. For example, flammable liquids cannot be safely pumped by most pump models without danger of a potentially fatal explosion or fire, and corrosive liquids such as acids will destroy pumps whose internal working parts are not designed for that application. Don't even think about using a transfer pump designed solely for water to move gasoline or other flammable liquids.
In a pinch, some models of sump pumps can also be used as a transfer pump - see PUMPS, SUMP PUMPS.
Drill powered transfer pumps can work attached to both line-cord powered drills and battery-operated electric drills, though depending on the pump and application, the battery time may limit the use of battery drills.
Drill pumps have the advantage of low cost compared to a self-contained pony pump or transfer pump, but typically drill pumps also have a lower pumping capacity in gpm and lower lift capacity.
In matching the drill powered transfer pump to your requirements, be sure to review Variation in Actual Pony Pump, Transfer Pump, or Drill Powered Pump Performance found below.
Shown in our photo is the Jabsco electric drill pump; other models and alternatives are at Where to buy a pony pump or drill pump.
The answer is that you need to choose a pump that matches your application. For emptying an aquarium you don't need a lot of pumping power. And you should not need a very powerful pump to force water through an air-bound hydronic heating system, since the fact that nearly all of the heating pipes are already full of water means the pump does not have to have enormous lift capacity.
For rapid emptying of water tanks or water heater tanks, or for most pluming and heating applications, you'll want a self-powered transfer pump not a drill-operated pump.
And for emergency sump pump use such as emptying out a flooded basement or for using a nearby pond to water lawns and gardens, you'll need a higher capacity self-powered electric transfer pump.
The Little Giant™ MPFVK115 Portable 115 Volt Non-Submersible Steel Transfer Pump is one that we have used successfully in this application. The company's image (left) includes spare impeller parts, gaskets, transfer hose, and a sump pickup element.
This is a non-submersible transfer pump made of stainless steel, operating on 115 Volts, and rated for 365 gallons per hour, produced by manufacturer Little Giant. Part No. MPFVK115. You can purchase that pump from plumbing suppliers or online at Amazon.com.
Watch out not to confuse gallons per hour with gallons per minute when choosing a portable pump or transfer pump to meet your needs. 356 gph equals about 6 gpm - six gallons per minute (which is not bad). To empty a 40-gallon hot water tank at 6 gpm will take a bit under 7 minutes.
Watch out also to look at the total lift capacity of the transfer pump you are considering. If you need to lift liquids to a height above the pump's maximum gph pumping rate and lift capacity, expect the pumping time to be longer, or in the worst case, not to work at all.
Conversely, a typical low-cost drill powered transfer pump such as the Wayne utility pump transfer kit (dpftk1) described at our buying guide below is low cost (under $20. U.S.) but pumps at up to 150 gph (about 2.5 gpm) - 2 and one half gallons per minute (which is fine for small jobs). To empty a 40-gallon hot water tank at 2.5 gpm will take about 16 minutes.
Thanks to reader David Gould for discussing pump requirements (2010);
Watch out for "up to" promises in any advertisement. In advertising law, a manufacturer who promises "up to" some performance level has to deliver that performance in perhaps ten percent of cases, so your actual pump performance will vary depending on
Here I had not yet hooked up the pump but you can see the white pump body and the washing machine hose needed to hook it up to a tank drain. (This pony pump use procedure is described at DEBRIS in WATER SUPPLY, Water Heater)
To connect a pony pump to the drain on a water pressure tank or to the drain on a water heater, we use a washing machine hookup-hose (double female hose fittings on its ends) to connect the pony pump inlet side to the tank drain valve. The pony pump outlet side is connected to a garden hose that is terminated at a floor drain, plumbing drain, or outside the building at a suitable location.
When draining or pumping out a water tank or hot water tank you'll find the job much faster and easier if you provide a way to let air into the tank as it is being emptied. See AIR INLET VALVE, WATER TANK for suggestions.
Watch out: both pony pumps and (lower capacity) drill pumps are available in a variety of models, prices, and pumping rates in gpm. But regardless of the pumping capacity, many lower-cost pony pumps and most drill pumps are not designed to be run "dry" - running the pump dry for more than 10-15 seconds may damage the impeller assembly.
Our photo (left) shows the basement window out of which we routed our drain hose fed by the pump.
Watch out: when you are finished pumping water out of the water heater (the pump sound will change because it's running dry) quickly turn off the pump so it's not damaged, and also quickly close the drain opening at the bottom of the water heater tank so that you don't siphon back water from the garden hose into the water tank.
It's not a catastrophe but we're trying to spill as little water into the basement as possible.
With the hose removed you can open the water heater tank drain valve again to see if you really successfully pumped all of the water out. If you didn't you may spill a bit.
We graded ourselves a "C" on step as we spilled water.
For inaccessible water tanks or water heater tanks that are not properly installed and lack a tank drain the most effective means of getting most of the water out of the tank in this circumstance would be to use an available tapping on the upper tank to insert a tube and use a pony pump or drill pump to pump water out of the tank, through a hose, to outdoors or to a nearby drain.
When circumstances demand tank replacement or when there is an opportunity for any other reason, I'd either relocate these tanks to an accessible area or provide easier access (in one such case we made an openable floor panel).
Our photo (above left) of a horizontal water pressure tank was provided courtesy of reader Doug Mehak.
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