Informational Guide

How To Tell If Your Well Pump Is Bad?

Well pumps can last for years, but sometimes they go wrong. Learn how to tell if a well pump is bad and what you can do to about one here.

by Matt Moran

Well pumps are not as common as they once were, but they are still used by millions of people around the world. They allow you to access clean, fresh water that's deep underground, using various mechanisms to pump it to the surface. This can then be directed into your home as a reliable and efficient water source.  

The best well pumps should work for years, but if things start to go wrong, it can impact your water supply and cost you a lot of money to replace. If you can spot the tell-tale signs that your well pump is bad, then you can act early and help resolve the issue. This guide will show you how to tell if a well pump is bad and what you can do to remedy the situation.  

It’s important to know what causes a well pump to fail because this will help you know when to look for signs it’s gone bad. Here’s a quick breakdown of the common causes: 

Age Of The Pump  

Many people think that well pumps are built to last forever, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. A good quality well pump should last 15-20 years, and after this point, the chance of it going bad increases year on year.

Remember, it’s not just about the quality of the pump, it’s about the installation, and if your well pump isn't fitted correctly, then it may not even last a decade. If you have an ageing water pump, you should check for signs it’s going bad more often.  

Poor Water Quality 

Water is different in every location, and this is influenced by the geography and environment you draw it from. Minerals in your water can, over time, have a detrimental effect on your well pump and break the internal mechanisms, which can eventually lead to pump failure.  

Some water will have higher levels of bacteria too, which can damage the components within the well pump. If you live in an area with poor water quality, then you’ll need to be more vigilant for signs the well pump has gone bad.  

Dry Well 

Your pump is designed to work in water, and if the water level drops too low, it can cause the well pump to burn itself out as there is no water to draw. If you live in areas with droughts or very dry summers, you may need to consider restricting the amount of water you use.  

This will help ensure you have the water you need on a day-to-day basis and help to protect your well pump.  

Tank Running Out Of Water 

Your pump is only designed to run for a certain amount of time, which varies from model to model. Pumped water is stored in a tank, so you and your family have ready access to it, but if the tank keeps running out of water, then your pump will need to work harder and more frequently to keep it filled. This is a common issue if your water pump is too small and can impact the lifespan of your well pump. 

Lightning Strikes 

This is actually more common than you think, and thousands of well pumps are struck by lightning every year. This jolt of energy damages your pump and can stop it from working entirely.

If you live in an area that's prone to storms, then you'll need to be aware of this risk and keep an eye on it. Remember that it could take a few days for the damage to your well pump to become apparent.  

dark lighting strikes

How To Tell If Your Well Pump Is Bad (Signs & Symptoms) 

Now you know the main causes that a well pump has gone bad, it’s important to understand how you can tell if it’s not working correctly.

Some signs are more subtle than others, so you need to be vigilant for any sudden changes in performance. Here is a quick breakdown of the tell-tale signs that your well pump has gone bad: 

1. Low Water Pressure 

If your water pressure suddenly starts to drop, it could be a sign that minerals have clogged your pipes, that the valves are sticking, or that your well pump is beginning to fail.

You’ll be able to tell if the pressure has dropped because water will only trickle out of the faucet or shower head and not flow as you want it to. It’s important to check your well pump because it might not be drawing enough water to give enough pressure.  

2. Well Water Sputtering 

If the water is spluttering from your taps when you turn them on, it’s a clear sign that something is wrong with your well pump. This happens because air has been drawn into your pipes and can lead to damage throughout your whole plumbing system.

This might mean that your well pump cannot reach the water and may need to be installed deeper, or it could mean there’s a crack somewhere in the pump or pipes that is allowing air in. 

3. Dirty Water 

If your water suddenly starts to come out a different color, or it starts to smell, then you’ve got real issues. This means the well pump is sucking in a lot more than water, and it’s contaminating the whole water supply for you and your family. 

This is usually caused by sand and silt, which can build up in the well pump, and it may also mean that your filter isn’t working. Sand, and other impurities in the water, can cause havoc with your well pump's internal mechanism, so you need to get it sorted as soon as possible.

Remember, if your water looks strange, then you should not drink it. Get it tested and get professional help if needed.  

4. Well Pump Running Constantly 

Your well pump is designed to work in cycles so that it doesn’t continuously run and put too much strain on the device. If it starts to run more frequently, it could be a tell-tale sign that the check valve has malfunctioned and water is flowing back down into the pump.

It could also mean there’s a crack somewhere in the pipes. Either way, you need to get to the bottom of the problem quickly.  

5. Problem With The Pressure Tank 

If your pressure tank is clicking, it usually means there’s a problem with the pressure switch. This means that air is leaking into the tank, and your pump is turning on more frequently to help balance out the issue. This puts an undue strain on your pump and can cause long-term issues with your well pump.  

6. Loud Or Unusual Noises 

This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to dismiss random plumbing noises. If your well pump starts to make different sounds, then it’s usually a sign something is happening that shouldn’t be. Check on it sooner rather than later so you can discover the issue early.  

7. Higher Electric Bills 

If you notice a spike in your electricity bills, it generally means your pump is working harder and coming on more frequently. All the symptoms we’ve discussed here will cause your pump to do this, and if the bill is higher, you should really check on the pump.

It’s worth scheduling regular inspections to make sure your pump is working correctly because even though this may cost you, it can actually save you money in the long run.  

See Related Article: How Much Does A Well Pump Cost?

Blue Well Pump Outside

How To Troubleshoot & Fix A Failing Well Pump 

If you spot a sign that your well pump is failing, then you need to get to the bottom of the issue. Half the problem is not knowing exactly what’s broken, so we've given a step-by-step guide of how to test the well pump to see if it’s one of the common issues. If you do know what the issue is, then you can jump straight to that step:  

  • 1
    Check The Power Source 
    This may seem like an obvious one, but make sure the power to the well pump is on. You should start by checking the switch next to your pressure tank is on, and then make sure the circuit breaker hasn’t been tripped. It is fairly easy to reset the circuit breaker, but if it keeps happening, it's a sign that there's another issue with the electrics, and you may need professional help.  
  • 2
    Check Your Pressure Switch 
    This is one of the most common issues with a well pump, and it’s important to check it thoroughly. This switch will be located near your well tank on a ¼ inch tube, and if it’s not working, then it means there’s no control for the well pump to tell it to switch on or off. Remove the cover and bang a screwdriver into the electrical components. If there’s a spark and it starts, then you have a bad pressure switch.  
  • 3
    Replace The Pressure Switch (If Needed) 
    If the switch is bad, then you need to replace it. You’ll need to remove the wires, remove the old switch, put the new switch on, and then reconnect the wires. There are some other temporary fixes you can put in place, but you need to replace the pressure switch as soon as possible.  
  • 4
    Replace The Pump Controller 
    Your pump controller has the capacitor inside which starts your pump. If this is damaged or broken, then your pump won’t come on at the right time, and therefore it won’t operate correctly. The pump controller should be in a small box near your pressure tank. You can unscrew the cover to the pressure tank and lift out the controller. Next, get an exact replacement and reattach it in the box, replacing the cover once you’re done. Some well pumps have the pump controller fitted inside the tank, and if this is the case, you’ll probably need professional help.  
  • 5
    Check The Air Valve 
    The air valve in your tank helps regulate the amount of air in the system, controlling the pressure. You can check the valve to see if there is any water in there. Take a small screwdriver and depress the air valve to see if any water comes out. If it does, then it usually means your tank is waterlogged, and you’ll need to replace it.  
  • 6
    Rock The Tank 
    You can also check the well pressure tank by rocking it slightly from the top. If it doesn’t move at all, or if it's clearly top-heavy, then it means the tank is waterlogged. You'll need to replace it as soon as possible.  
  • 7
    Consult A Professional 
    If you still can’t find the problem, then you may need professional help (You can find free quotes from your area by filling in the form below.). They should be able to detect the issue fairly quickly and easily and give you advice on what to do next.  All the above steps will help you test the well pump to diagnose the issue. You may be able to sort it there and then, but it should at least give you a good idea of what is wrong so you can fix the problem without having to replace the whole pump.  

People Also Ask (FAQs)

How do I keep a well pump from freezing in winter?  

In some parts of the world, it can be tricky to keep water flowing in winter because of the freezing conditions. You will need to insulate your well pump so that frozen water doesn’t damage your system. We have a full guide here on how to keep your well pump from freezing 

How fast should well water replenish? 

Well water shouldn’t take more than 24 hours to replenish. If it’s consistently taking longer and you have prolonged time without access to fresh water, then you may need to install your well pump a bit deeper.  

How do I reset my water pump? 

To reset your water pump after an outage, you need to turn the lever to auto and hold it until the pump turns on and the pressure gets to the right level. 

How often should your well pump turn on? 

This depends on the individual cycle of the pump, but it should not run continuously. Many pumps are 1 minute on, 1 minute off, so there are likely 500-700 cycles a day.  


Conclusion

Well pumps, like any other piece of home equipment, are not made to last forever, but if you look after them and maintain them properly, then you can get a good 15-20 years from them.

Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the tell-tale signs that your well pump has gone bad and given you more information about how to diagnose the problem.  

Matt is a freelance writer, English graduate, & keen traveler from the UK. As a specialist plumbing expert, he enjoys writing about everything there has to do with at-home plumbing products & related problems. When he isn’t writing, he’s usually drinking coffee or planning his next adventure. In his spare time, he also runs his own blog all about digital nomad life.

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