It's opening season in DMV and I can't help but notice increase of phone calls about problems with pool pump and also on a daily we swap more than usually this time around. As happy as we are to answer every phone call and hop on a face time to try to remotely help you in diagnostics, I'm hoping this post can help you prior to phone call.
It's normal after being shut down for an extended period of time, pumps may experience a range of problems including failure to prime, failure to start, unexpected shutdown and worrisome noises resulting from degradation of components.
Here are some few common issues found with pumps that do not seem eager to come out of hibernation.
Pump will not turn on
A pump that does not turn on, or make any noise when turned on, has a problem starting. This is not the same as a pump that runs but does not draw water. This is also different than a pump that turns on but then turns itself back off in that that the electrical supply seems to be working, but the pump is unresponsive.
Pump turns off
A pump should not turn itself off - any pump that does that requires further investigation. A pump can potentially turn itself off after extended periods of running, but this issue can also manifest as soon as the power is switched on. The pump may make noise briefly before turning off, or it may be instantaneous.
Pump does not sound right
There are few different conditions that could result in a pool pump that just does not sound quite right. These can include a motor that sounds like it cannot raise RPM (struggling) and can often include squealing, screeching or metallic humming noises that indicate worn components in the motor. Pumps can also exhibit a violent shudder and/or shake, resulting in distinct change in how the motor sounds. This may repeat itself in a cyclic rhythm.
When you're having trouble getting a pump going, start by figuring out where your issue fits in the above descriptions. From there, we can begin to formulate potential causes.
What to do when the pump will not prime?
So you're opening a pool for the season, but the pump is giving you problems. You have identified that the pump will turn on and run - and it's not turning itself off. The problem: the pump will not prime. This is by far the most common pump issue owners and pros will encounter in the spring. There are several reasons why this might happen, but if you take your time and check of these one by one, you will most likely find the problem.
Priming the pump
Priming the pool pump simply means adding water to it. This is normal process for any pool pump that is located at higher elevation than the water level in the pool. Every time you stop the pump that is located at a higher elevation than the water level in the pool. Every time you stop the pump and open the normally closed-loop plumbing system, the water in your suction pipes will gravity drain back to your pool.
In order to prime your pool pump, you need to manually add water to it to help it draw water up through the suction lines. When you first open your pool for the year, it will usually take more effort to prime your pump than normal. If you are used to adding a bucket of water to your pool pump and turning it on, or maybe not priming it at all during the regular swimming season, it could be that your pump just needs more water.
Normally the pipes to your pool will not be completely dry. Even if the majority of water drains back to the pool, you will probably still have some water trapped in the lines. But when you first open the pool for the year, the plumbing lines are bone dry on the inside. During opening season, it's normal to prime a pump three times as much as you normally would during the mid-season.
You should add water to your pump, usually two gallons of water or so at a minimum, close the lid and turn the pump on. Let the pump run up to five minutes. If the pump has not picked up the prime by then, shut it off to avoid overheating and add another two of three gallons of water to the front of the pump before trying again.
Repeat this a minimum of five times before you give up. That means a minimum of 10 gallons of water poured into the pump, coupled with a total of at least 50 minutes of (supervised) run time to allow the pump to try to work through it. If you have completed these steps and the pump has still not primed, you can be confident you've tried all the normal steps and can move onto exploring other potential causes.
Other sources of priming trouble:
Make sure the water level is at least halfway up the skimmer mouth and NOT below the mouth of the skimmer.
Check the skimmer: Did you remove the Gizzmo or winterizing plug used in the off-season? Also make sure the weir door is not stuck.
Also ensure you have removed the return port winterizing plugs.
Check your suction-side and return-side manifolds to be 100 percent sure you do not have a closed valve dead heading the pump.
If you have a sand filter, be sure to check the filter head and set it to the "filter" setting (not "closed" or "winter").
If you have a cartridge filter, be sure you have not reversed the in and out pipes when it was put together.
Double check that the pump lid gasket is lubricated and seated correctly on the pump housing.
Quite often, O-rings for valves and unions fall out during winterizing. Make sure the pump is not missing any.
Check the plastic winterizing port plugs on the bottom of your pump; they may be loose or leaking. Tighten carefully to avoid breaking them.
See if a suction-side leak has developed during winterizing. If you have any threaded connections, these should be checked and redone.
If you need to test for suction leaks, try running a garden hose over the suction side manifold and fittings while the pump is running. If a leak is present, the water from the hose should temporarily resolve this just long enough for you to notice the pump working for a moment. (You can also sometimes get similar results with plastic bags, which will get sucked into any leaks on the suction side of the pump.)
If you have gone through each of the above steps and still cannot identify why the pump will not prime, then there are only a few possible reasons left. When a previously reliable pump is unable to prime in spring, it is far more likely that the plumbing lines are compromised... usually via a leak that was either introduced or worsened over the winter. The only way to be absolutely certain is to pressure test the suction lines and determine if they are leaking. If you have a crack or break in the suction lines anywhere, you are going to have a pretty hard time getting the pump to prime... if at all. If you have gone through all of the steps above and your pump still will not prime, you are most likely looking at a blockage in the line or more commonly, a leak.
At this point, just about every pool technician will try to force water through the skimmer suction with a garden hose. While putting some water under pressure down into the skimmer suction might help, be aware that you do not want to cover the suction hole with your hand. You can feed the hose a few inches down into the suction port opening, but avoid making a seal with your hand around the opening as the suction power from the pump is dangerously strong. If the pump were to pick up prime while you are covering the suction port with your hand, there could be enough power in the pump to cause you to become stuck and very seriously injured. There is a product called a "priming plug". This allows you to attach a garden hose to a winterizing plug and force-feed water through the suction line all the way to the pump.
What to do when the pump won't turn on?
So, you flip the switch (or breaker) and find pump doesn't respond in any way. No shaking, humming, no sound of any kind. It doesn't trip the breaker or do anything notable at all. What now?
In this case, there are only a few possible causes. The total lack of symptoms is actually the biggest symptom itself. Most of the troubleshooting for this specific problem involves testing the electrical voltages in various places. If you do not understand electricity, are afraid of it or are not qualified to safely test electrical values, you should certainly not attempt to diagnose electrical problems with a pump. (if you fall into this category then you are limited to turning the pump on at a switch. If that doesn't work, you can try investigating the electrical breaker that supplies the circuit for the pump for any obvious sign that it is off (for the winter) or has tripped out for some reason. If the answer is not obvious to you, you have reached the end of what you can safety troubleshoot yourself then your next move should be to contact an electrician of reliable handyperson who can check your voltages for you.)
At this point, you either have a pump problem or an electrical problem, and you need to be able to test voltages to know which you are dealing with.
When testing the electrical system, you want to verify that you have power every step of the way. The circuit should leave the main electrical panel from the home and travel out to the pump location, where often you will find another box, breaker or switch of some kind. If you can test at the pump and you have no power, test at the next closest junction to see if you have power there. if not, keep working backwards towards the main electrical panel until you find the place where the electricity stops. You could have a bad wire or connection somewhere, or potentially some damage to your electrical service from rodents. If you can test and have line voltage all the way to your pump, but your pump still will not make any noise, or move, then you have reached the end of how far you can troubleshoot this pump problem. In this case, your next step is to call your technical support. If you explain there is voltage reaching the pump but the pump remains unresponsive, they should be able to advise specifically what the problem and repair solutions are. You most likely will find yourself replacing the motor at the least, of the entire pump at most if the pump is not young enough to warrant swapping the motor. If the pump is under five years old consider new motor. If the pump is over five years old, upgrading may very well be the best plan.
This concludes troubleshooting common issues. In my next post, what to do if pump turns it's self-off.