How Does a Pressure Switch Work?

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Pressure gauge used with pressure tank

The Gauge

Pressure gauge used with pressure tank

Without a pressure switch and gauge, the pump would run every time someone opened a water tap and dropped the water in the holding tank or pressure tank even a little. The pressure gauge in most residential systems is set to a maximum of 50 pounds per square inch (PSI) and a minimum of 30 (PSI). When the pressure in the tank drops to 30 PSI, the switch activates the pump in the well and allows more water to flow into the system. When the reading on the gauge reaches 50 PSI, the switch kicks off.


The Switch

The pressure switch is wired to the pump control box. It generally is grounded to one of the GND studs in the control box. Wires run from the L1 and L2 studs in the control box to terminals on the pressure switch (usually 2 and 3). The terminals at 1 and 4 connect to a fuse box or other power supply. The switch is usually also grounded to the fuse box ground bar.

Switch Operation

Pressure switch controlling cistern pump

The switch is passive, requiring no manual operation by the owner. Water pressure does it all. When the pressure drops, the normally open contacts close, completing the electrical circuit and activating the pump. When the set pressure is reached, the contacts open again, turning off the pump.


Some switches in the water line work with a diaphragm pressing against a piston and spring inside the unit. The spring pressure is set by an adjustment screw. Sufficient pressure on the diaphragm keeps the switch "off." When the pressure drops, the switch activates.


Susan Bolich

Susan Bolich is a full-time freelancer of both non-fiction and fiction, published in venues as diverse as "Horse Illustrated" and the "Army Times." A graduate of Eastern Washington University, she spent six years in Europe as a military intelligence officer. Her degree in history and widespread travel experience provide a bottomless well of things to write about.