Solving Common Well Pump Problems, part 1

This Blog Is About Wells. And that is a deep subject. Sorry, old joke.

Actually, it’s about well pumps because they use electricity, and Early Bird covers all the bases when it comes to electricity. Now you’re thinking, “No one has a well today. Come on, this isn’t Lassie.” (For you kids, Lassie was a dog on a black-and-white TV show whose owner Timmy always fell into a well and Lassie would bark at Timmy’s mom and she would say “Timmy fell in the well?” and they’d rescue him).

The truth is, however, all kinds of people still have wells. According to the 2015 US Census American Housing Survey, over 13 million households use private wells for drinking water. Even if you’re not one of those 13 million, it’s always good to know stuff. So, this blog is about well pumps.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate private wells or provide recommended standards. If you do have a well, you’re pretty much on your own. At least, you were on your own–until now! In the next two blogs, we’re going to cover the three most common well problems and how you can fix them. In this blog, we’ll go over the most common well problem of all. Here’s what you should do if you can’t get any water from your well at all.

Problem #1: No water at all

The good news is you can probably fix this problem yourself. First, be sure the power switch on the pump is “on.” If it was switched off, turn it back on. That might just do it! See? We said you could fix this one! If that doesn’t do it, check the electrical box next. If the circuit is flipped or the fuse is blown, flip the circuit or replace the fuse. Your pump will probably start working again.

If the circuit or fuses are fine…

…You should turn the power to the well pump OFF at the electrical box. That will help keep you safe when you check for other possible reasons you have no water at all. Remember, you’ll have to turn it back on to see if you’ve solved the problem after making fixes.

Next, check the well’s double-pole circuit breaker to see if that hasn’t tripped. If it has, reset it. If the breaker keeps tripping, you probably have a bad well pump. To fix that, you’ll need to call a pro.

Checking the pressure switch

If you still haven’t found the problem, check the pressure switch. You’ll find this switch mounted on a 1/4 inch tube near the pressure tank. The pressure switch senses when the water pressure has dropped so it knows when the tank needs more water.

To check the pressure switch, remove the cover and bang a screwdriver handle against the tube below the switch. Seriously! Smacking the tube will jar the electrical contacts. If that starts the pump, then the problem is with the pressure switch.

Checking the tank

Before you replace the switch, test the tank to make sure it isn’t waterlogged. To do that, depress the air valve on the top of the tank. If water ‘pulses’ at the spigot, you have a waterlogged tank. Unfortunately, if your tank is waterlogged, you’ll have to replace the whole thing. Obviously, you don’t want to replace the switch if you’re just going to end up replacing the whole tank.

Replacing the pressure switch

If you don’t see water at the air valve, you can replace the switch. To do that, first label and then remove the wires to the old switch. Unscrew the pressure switch. Call a plumbing supply store near you to see if they have a replacement switch in stock. If they do, bring your switch to the store and buy the exact same model. Buy some pipe dope or Teflon tape while you’re there, too.

When you’re back home, coat the tubing threads of the new switch with the pipe dope or Teflon tape. Screw on the new switch so it sits in the same orientation. Reconnect the wires.

Replacing the pump controller

If it’s not the power, the pressure switch, or your tank, then you need to replace the pump controller. Careful here. Since there’s no way to test the controller, you might be replacing a good one. Replacing a pump controller is easy, however, and it’s often your last shot at avoiding a service call. If you’ve already replaced the pressure switch and the pump still won’t start, you should replace the pump controller.

See that pump control cover? Remove the screw at the bottom and lift it off the box to disconnect it. Go buy the exact replacement. Snap the new cover onto the old box. If you buy the same brand it should snap right in, and you won’t have to rewire. Then start the pump.

If you’ve tried all this and you still don’t have water, then it’s time to call in a pro.

Well, here we are: the end of a blog about well pumps. We’re not finished with your well pump just yet, however. After all, we have two more problems to address. You may not think well pumps would require two blogs but–as we wrote–wells are a deep subject. Check out part two here.