How to identify problems with your well pump system in the Napa Valley (Is my well pump bad?)

Owning a well means that you are your own water provider! There are a number of problems that you can face; ranging from running out of water to issues with your pressure tank, booster pump, well pump, storage tank or electrical system. Contact Oakville Pump Service, a reputed well pump service and repair company in Napa if you suspect you are having one of these issues. OPS has qualified technicians available 24/7!

If you suspect your well pump is bad there can be several potential reasons:

Is there electricity?

There may not be electricity supplied to the pump that provides water, this is always the one of the first items on our technicians checklist. A circuit breaker may be tripped, a fuse blown or loose, or even insects in the pressure switch- a small grey box which turns the pump on when water is used. If you have some minerals in the water, they can occlude the small pipe that connects to the pressure switch and keep it from working properly. Always use appropriate safety precautions when working with electricity, or defer to a properly trained technician if you don’t have the training or equipment to work with electricity safely.

Is the water “shut off” for some reason?”

A valve may be shut off or, if you have a water filter, the water filter may be plugged with particulate matter or not working correctly. Locate a faucet near the well pump equipment (before any filters) and see if there is water available there. If there is, it is time to locate the filter equipment or any valves that supply water and see if they are plugged or turned off. If you find valves turned off, please be careful before turning them on, they may be turned off for good reasons!

Is there water in the storage tank?

Many water systems consist of a well pump that fills a storage tank and then a small booster pump that pressurizes the water for use at the house, irrigation, etc… The storage tanks are usually pretty large, usually 4+ feet in diameter and anywhere from 3 or 4 feet tall to over 12 feet tall. These tanks are frequently made of plastic, cement and sometimes metal with a hatch at the top for inspection purposes. Is this storage tank full or empty? If it is full, the problem is likely NOT the well pump, but rather a problem with the booster pump that pressurizes from the storage tank. If this tank is empty, then the problem is likely with the well or the well pump.

Is the well pump working?

When our technicians find an empty storage tank or no water supplied to a house from a well pump, they check to ensure there is electricity to the well pump equipment, that float switch that turns the well pump on and off is working correctly and that the well pump turns off and on appropriately. If the well pump is not turning on, we narrow the problem down to an issue with the float switch, the control box that powers the well pump, a wiring problem in the well or a problem with the well pump. In most cases, the problem is “on the surface” with the problem being with the float switch or pump control box. These problems can be addressed quickly and inexpensively with components that our technicians carry in their service trucks.

Problems in the well.

In some cases the problem is “in the hole” to use a bit of pump technician slang. Most well pumps are installed in a well, often several hundred feet deep in the Napa Valley area of California. A pipe and wire go down to the pump to supply electricity to the well pump motor and bring the water to the surface from the well pump. To diagnose a problem “in the hole” we supply power to the pump and see if it runs, if it runs we look to see how much electricity it is using and how much water is coming out of the pipe at the top of the well. If the pump is using electricity but no water is coming out, the problem can be a worn out pump mechanism or the pipe that connects the well pump to the surface is broken or damaged. If electricity is supplied to the well pump but there is no water we check to see how much current is being used. If there is no current being used, the problem can be with the wire that supplied power to the well pump or it can be a problem internal to the well pump motor. Our technicians carry instruments to check the wiring and see if the power wiring to the well pump is shorted to ground or is disconnected somewhere otherwise known as an “open” circuit. In some cases the technician is able to get the pump to run, but will note that it is running very inefficiently - using a lot of power and pumping very little water. This often happens with pumps that are wearing out or plugging with mineral deposits. While it is possible to “limp” along in these situations, it typically means high electricity usage and the well pump should be scheduled for replacement.

How is a well pump replaced?

In some cases when the wells are shallow and the equipment is not heavy, well pumps can be pulled out of the ground by 2 men pulling the equipment up out of the ground with their hands. In most cases well pumps are pulled out of the ground with a pump derrick or crane in 20’ segments and the pipe is removed and the wire coiled. This process is repeated until the well pump is completely removed. The technicians will be inspecting the pipe for corrosion, holes or other damage and inspecting the wire removed from the well for nicks, cracks or deteriorating insulation. When the problems have been identified and new equipment installed appropriately, the process is repeated in reverse with the well being chlorinated and flushed at the end to ensure a sanitary installation.

Booster Pump Problems

If you have a storage tank it is very likely that you will also have a booster pump that pressurizes water from the storage tank and supplies the water to the house, irrigation, etc… This pump is typically ~12-18” long has a round motor on one end with an electrical supply wire and the other end has 2 pipes that connect it to the storage tank and the plumbing to the house. This pump turns on if water is being used and turns off when water usage stops and the pump has stored sufficient pressure in the pressure tank. Problems with the booster pump often come from pressure switches that are not working properly. Pressure switches can have burned electrical contacts, insects in the electrical contacts or plugged pressure sensor port. In some cases, booster pumps do not run because of a float switch in the storage tank that tells the booster pump to turn off in the event that the storage tank is low/out of water. If the tank is full of water and the float switch has failed, the booster pump will not run. The most common problems with booster pumps are noisy bearings or low pressure or flow output. These problems are typically the result of extended periods of operation and maintenance is necessary. In some cases low flow or pressure are caused by air or debris that has entered the booster pump and impaired its ability to pump water. The air should be vented out and the pump properly primed and any debris in the pump inlet/impeller removed. The source of any air or debris in the pump should be identified before putting the system back into operation. Oakville Pump Service has a full supply of booster pump and booster pump parts available to affect repairs in short order. Other issues with the booster pump include leaking around the shaft seal, while not an emergency, this problem will require the pump to be removed from service for a period of time to affect the proper repairs. It is recommended to replace the motor bearings when the shaft seal is replaced as moister and the wear and tear on the shaft seal have often damaged the motor bearings as well.

Pressure tank problems

Pressure tanks are tanks typically painted blue or white. Some of them silver/galvanized in appearance. They range in size from about 6” in diameter and height to 30” in diameter and about 6 feet tall. It is important to note that pressure tanks, in spite of their name, DO NOT MAKE PRESSURE, they simply hold pressurized water. Pressurized water is provided from either the well pump or the booster pump and fills the pressure tank. Pressure tanks work by having a bladder filled with air that pushes against the water as the booster pump or well pump fill the pressure tank. When the well pump or booster pump turns off, the air pressure in the bladder pushes on the water and can push the water back out of the pressure tank. This is helpful because it means that the well/booster pump does not need to turn on for every single toilet flush or hand washing. If the power is off, it means that you have a few toilet flushes, maybe even a shower or two before the pressurized water in the pressure tank runs out, but this depends entirely on the size of the pressure tank! Problems with the pressure tank happen when the captured air in the pressure tank leaked out or is at the wrong pressure. These problems exhibit as quickly fluctuating water pressure or the water turning off completely for a second or two and then coming back.

Rapidly fluctuating water pressure often comes from a water logged pressure tank. Water logged is a term used to describe a pressure tank that has no air charge in it. When water is used from a water logged pressure tank the pressure in the tank drops quickly and the well/booster pump turns on. When the pump is turned on the pressure in the system increases rapidly and then the well/booster pump turns off. This process where the pump turns on/off/on/off/on/off quickly is called rapid cycling. Rapid cycling kills pumps! Turn off the power to your pump and get your pressure tank serviced or replaced.

To see if the pressure tank is working properly turn off the power to the well/booster pump and turn on a faucet letting all the water pressure out of the system. When water stops flowing or slows to a trickle, use a pressure gauge to check the bladder pressure on the pressure tank Schrader Valve. This pressure it typically set anywhere from ~28 PSI to 68 PSI. “What should it be set at?” You may be asking. The pressure tank works in conjunction with the pressure setting of the pressure switch or pump controller. If your water system uses a pressure switch, the pressure tank should have about 2-3 PSI less than the turn on pressure of the pressure switch. For example: Your pressure switch is set to turn on the well/booster pump at 30 PSI to refill the pressure tank and it turns off at 50 PSI. This means the pressure tank should have 28 PSI in it with the pump off and the system water pressure drained to 0 PSI . While the water pressure is drained from the system, rock the pressure tank slightly. It should be light/empty feeling and you should not hear any water sloshing. Sloshing water and/or a heavy pressure tank mean that the pressure tank is due for service or replacement. If the pressure in the pressure tank is 0 with the system pressure drained and at system pressure at zero it means that there is a blown or damaged bladder in the pressure tank or a problem with the Schrader valve on top of the pressure tank that is used to fill and check the pressure tank. You can try to refill the pressure tank through the Shrader valve, but it is likely that the pressure tank is due for replacement. Oakville Pump Service carries a full line of Well X Trol Pressure tanks with excellent warranties and great performance!

Many well and booster pumps have a modern method of control that can vary the speed of the pump to match the water demand. These are often called constant pressure systems or VFD’s. These types of systems typically have much smaller pressure tanks and use a pressure transducer. The pressure in the pressure tank for these types of systems is typically set about 15-20 PSI below the pressure set point of the pump controller. Example: Your pump controller has a pressure set point of 60 PSI, the pressure tank should have an air precharge pressure of 30-35 PSI.

If you need expertise to fix your well pump, look no further than Oakville Pump Service, Inc. Our company provides varied residential and commercial water solutions at highly competitive pricing. Call us today at 707-944-2471.