One of the few advantages of owning a private well pump is that it gives you some freedom of accessing clean water without worrying about water contamination. Another benefit of a private well is that it lowers your monthly costs of accessing clean water as compared to using municipal water. Although you’re bound to enjoy myriad benefits, one thing most people tend to forget is maintaining their well pumps routinely to keep them in good shape. So, in an attempt to answer the question of “how do I know if my well pump is bad”, this comprehensive guide will take you through several key warning signs of a struggling well pump and how to troubleshoot them.
Now, a high-quality well pump can last for a very long time without maintenance. However, a small problem such as an issue with the switches, the pressure tank, and the pump itself can cause a major problem that can affect the amount of water running through your faucets. So, with that in mind, this guide will now try to troubleshoot some of the common problems to ensure that your well pump is up and running.
How Long Can a Well Pump Last?
This is one of the most common questions most homeowners ask when trying to predict the life expectancy of their well pumps. However, though, the life expectancy of most well pumps ranges anywhere from 10 – 15 years for a residential 3-wired pump and 8 – 13 years for a 2-wired pump. Although this is just an estimation, several variables can affect the life expectancy of your well pump such as the ones we’ve analyzed just below.
- Duty Cycle: The duty cycle is basically a measure of how frequently a pump operates. Some residential homes will require the pump to operate for just a few hours a day while some will need the pump to be operational throughout the day. With such statistics, it’s clear that a pump working frequently will wear out faster than one operating for just a few hours.
- Water Sediment: Well water sediments such as sand, silt, and algae can have a serious impact on the longevity of your well pump. That’s because such sediments act as abrasive that cause serious wear on your pump’s bearings and other moving parts.
- Water Well Yield: This is another factor that can affect the longevity of your pump. Before shopping for a pump, it’s always advisable that you first consider the amount of water in your well before installing a pump to avoid an early malfunction.
- The Motor: Generally speaking, the more horsepower a motor has, the more powerful it really is. This simply means that a pump with a 2HP motor will typically outlast one with a ½ HP motor performing the same workload. Another factor you need to consider is the bearings and the specific manufacturer of your pump as they too can influence its longevity.
- Installation: Sometimes, you may have done your homework well but fail to identify a professional contractor to do the installation for you. If you miss on this point and get someone with a limited understanding of the proper placement of the check valves, the filters, and the electrical wiring, then you’re likely to lower the longevity of your pump.
5 Warning Signs With Your Well Pump and How to Troubleshoot Them
1. Low Water Pressure
In most cases, well pumps don’t just break down on the spot. The process is usually gradual and it mostly begins with an underperforming pump. One of the notable signs that indicate a struggling pump is a low pressure in your faucets, showers, and other water outlets. This is usually evident when you open two or more outlets simultaneously. For instance, water pressure in the shower might plummet when someone flushes the toilet or opens water in another tap within the house.
How to Troubleshoot this Problem
When it comes to troubleshooting issues related to low water pressure, one thing you need to understand is that this problem is caused by several factors. Some of these factors include a defective pressure switch, a failed pressure tank, clogged piping, clogged/stuck gate valves, malfunctioning pressure regulator, and clogged showerheads and faucets.
So, to troubleshoot each of these issues, you’ll need to hire a professional contractor who will fix each problem independently. For the case of the plumbing fixtures, your contractor will have to take out a section of the pipe to inspect the interior for any signs of orange sludge, sediments, or iron bacteria clogging caused by hard water.
If there’s any buildup of the aforementioned scale or sediments, your contractor can use vinegar or citric acid to remove them or replace the piping and the affected faucets altogether. For the case of clogged gate valves, the best remedy is to replace them with new ones. However, if the underlying issue is mild, cleaning them can be a better alternative.
For the case of the pressure tank, all you need to do is to test the air fill valve with a gauge to check whether the pressure ranges from 30 – 50 PSI. You can decide to adjust the pressure in the tank to turn on at 50 PSI and off at 60 – 70 PSI. However, you need to ensure that your pump and the well’s yield will not be affected and can provide an adequate water supply.
2. Cloudy/Muddy Water
Another common sign of a failing well pump is when you suddenly notice muddy water running out of your taps and shower. In most cases, such water contains silt and sand sediments. If you see any of these signs, then it’s a clear sign of serious wear on your well pump and needs immediate troubleshooting before it can worsen off and cause serious clogging and premature replacement of your pump.
Now, what causes pumped water to appear cloudy? Just like in our previous case, cloudy or muddy water can be caused by a variety of factors. One of them is setting your submersible pump too low near the bottom of the well.
Another cause is corrosion or degrading of the well screen thus preventing it from blocking sand and silt from being sacked by the pump. Another cause is installing a highly powerful submersible pump, which consequently sucks water alongside sand and muddy sediments from the surrounding aquifer.
How Do You Troubleshoot this Issue?
Depending on the severity of the situation, your contractor may decide to add new steel, iron, or PVC plastic lining (a well screen) to separate the sediments from the groundwater. However, if the well casing is too old and impossible to repair, a new well may be the only remedy.
Another alternative is to add either a centrifugal sand separator or a filter screen with a flush valve just above the ground before the water gets to your home’s plumbing system. In the case of the centrifugal sand separator, centrifugal force is used to separate the sediments from clean water where sand, grit, and sludge are slung through a separator wall into the ground while clean water is passed through a vortex locator into your home’s plumbing system.
The filter screen on its side works by trapping all the sediments which are then flushed out by opening a ball valve just below.
3. Skyrocketing Electricity Bills
Another common sign that can indicate your well pump is going bad is when your electricity bills start to creep up month after month without any apparent reason. Another sign that goes hand in hand with skyrocketing electricity bills, is when your pump operates continuously. Now, there are two main explanations for this issue.
One, your pump might be malfunctioning due to age or wear caused by sand and grit. Two, your pump might be blocked with sediments such as sludge, sand, grit, and iron bacteria that might cause it to overwork to meet the high demand needed by the pressure tank.
Since the pump is already overwhelmed and unable to meet the high water demands, you’re likely to notice frequent on/off cycles as it strains to pump more water to meet your daily demands. This, in the end, leads to high power usage hence abnormally high electricity bills.
How to Fix this Issue
To fix this issue, you’ll first need to inspect the plumbing fixture and most specifically, the iron pipe that runs from the pump underground to the wellhead. You also need to inspect the o’ring in the slider coupling assembly as it can cause water leakage back into the well. This leakage is what causes the pump to keep turning on and off frequently.
On the other hand, clogging of the main iron pipe from the pump to the wellhead is what causes your pump to overwork hence consuming a lot of power to pump water to the pressure tank. The pressure switch and the check valve will also need to be inspected to ensure that they’re working perfectly.
Something else your contractor will have to inspect is the size of the pump. You see, if you’re using an oversized pump, then it will generally consume more power to operate a motor with higher horsepower. On the other hand, using an undersized pump means that it will have to overwork (hence use more power) to meet the daily water requirements.
4. Well Pump is Pumping Out Air
Another sign of an underperforming pump is when you open your faucets and what you hear is hissing sounds. Other times, your faucets may blast out a mixture of air and water when opened. If you’re experiencing any of these indicators, then your water table in the well may be rapidly dropping below the well pump forcing it to suck in water and air simultaneously.
Another possible cause is a failed bladder on your pressure tank that is causing air to leak to the outside. Another possible cause is severe leakage on the main drop pipe that connects the pump to the wellhead due to corrosion and cracking. Once this pipe is cracked and severely damaged, what follows is that air is sucked in causing the faucets to spit a mixture of air and water.
How to Fix this Issue
To troubleshoot this problem, you’ll first need to inspect the pressure switch and the check valve to ensure they’re not damaged. Secondly, inspect the pressure tank by first turning off the pump and opening a faucet. Use a tire pressure gauge to inspect the pressure on the tank to see whether it’s ranging at 40 PSI when off and around 60 PSI when on. In case pressure reduces, then the bladder may be damaged.
To check whether the drop pipe from the pump to the pressure tank has a leakage, simply pressurize the pressure tank by running on the pump then turn it off while still closing all water outlets in the main house. When you’re done, use a pressure gauge to check the water pressure and see whether it will drop. In case it does, then it simply means you’re losing water somewhere through a leakage.
5. Pump is Running Continuously
It’s better to have less water running through your plumbing lines than to have excess water dripping constantly. Not only is it a huge waste of water, but it also leads to a huge electricity bill in the end. But, what are the causes of water dripping continuously? Now, one of the main culprits here is severe leakage somewhere on the plumbing fixtures.
Another culprit may be a malfunctioning check valve. You see, the purpose of a check valve is to ensure pumped water doesn’t stream back to the pump (due to gravity) after it’s pumped into the pressure tank. So, if the valve is damaged, then it means the pressure tank switch will have to keep switching the pump on to refill the tank causing a continuous flow of water not forgetting the continuous running of the pump. Another possible explanation is a puncture in the pressure tank that might be causing it to lose captive air pressure.
How to Fix this Issue
So, the first step of fixing this problem is by checking the status of the pressure switch to ensure that it’s working perfectly. Remember, the pressure switch is the one that’s tasked to monitor the water level in your pressure tank. It does this by sending an electrical signal to the pump notifying it to turn on or off depending on the level of water inside the pressure tank. So, once it’s clogged, it won’t register any charges meaning the pump will continue to run and pump excess water.
Secondly, you need to check the valve and repair it in case it’s damaged. As we discussed earlier, the check valve prevents water from streaming back into the pump. In case it’s damaged, then water will keep streaming back into the well leaving the pressure tank empty. This in return, will cause the pump to run continuously in an attempt to refill the tank.
Finally, the pressure tank might be the culprit. Here, you’ll need to conduct a comprehensive inspection of the air pressure by using a tire pressure gauge.
Other than the issues we’ve highlighted just above, many other indicators can signal you when your pump is struggling such as bad tasting water, clicking noises in the pressure tank, and dissolved gasses and bubbles in the water. Thankfully, this guide has managed to discuss the most common issues most homeowners are facing with their well pumps.
So, if you’re the one we’re talking to, then you should conduct regular inspections of your pump and your private well to prevent a buildup of some of these problems. As you can see, most of these problems are recurring meaning they can originate from a simple leakage and buildup to a major pump problem not forgetting high power usage that can lead to skyrocketing electricity bills.