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WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WELL CHLORINATION & DISINFECTION
WELL FLOW RATE
WELL WATER PRESSURE DIAGNOSIS
WELL YIELD IMPROVEMENT
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
How to prime the well pump & how to diagnose & fix repeated loss of well pump prime: this article describes how to prime a water pump to restore water pressure to a building. Page top sketch courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.
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First Let's Correctly Identify The Type of Water Delivery Problem You've Got
Before we get into details about how to prime the well pump, or diagnosing why the well pump keeps losing its prime, let's make sure we're tackling the correct problem:
If your water pump is a two-line jet pump and if it's running but there is no water delivered to the building, the problem could be that the pump has lost its prime. This pump needs to send water down into the well (and through a special valve at the end of the water pickup-pipe in the well) in order to bring water back to the building.
See WATER PRESSURE LOSS DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR for help in determining why you have no water or no water pressure in a building. If the diagnosis determines that you need to re-prime the water pump, the instructions are provided in this article.
If your water pump is a submersible unit the pump is located down in the well itself. In this case if you have not got water pressure, the problem may be with the pump or the well itself, but it's not a loss of prime - submersible water pumps are self-priming.
If your water pump is a one-line jet pump, it is sucking water from a shallow well; you probably don't need to do so, but the instructions below show how to prime the well pump and they should work equally well for either a one-line jet pump or a two line jet pump.
If your water pump keeps losing prime, a shallow well jet pump well line could have a bad foot valve (in the well) and so be losing prime. A leak in the well line can also lead to loss of prime. If priming the well water pump using one of our methods shown below seems to fix the problem but soon the well pump loses prime again, your plumber will want to check for a bad foot valve in the well or a leak in the well piping between the well and the building. If this is the case continue reading this article for diagnostic suggestions.
If we have no water pressure, absolutely no water in the building water supply piping, and no water in the water pump, we've lost prime and the two line jet pump may be unable to bring water back from the well.
Of course other problems can cause loss of water pressure, but if the problem is lost prime in the well pump, below is the procedure for restoring water pressure in the building. We discuss various causes of loss of water pressure at WATER PRESSURE LOSS DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR.
But where a two line jet pump is installed, you may have lost prime at the pump. The pump motor will run but no water is delivered. If this happens it is possible to re-prime the pump with water from another source.
Check valves installed at the proper location at the pump and perhaps elsewhere can help prevent loss of prime on this system. (Other problems that can give the same symptom include internal damage to the water pump, a well that has run dry, or a piping leak between the well and the building it serves.)
Watch out: If your 2-line jet pump (or other above-ground well water pump) loses prime and cannot draw water from the well, don't let the well pump keep running as you may burn up the pump motor or damage the pump internal parts. Take the steps outlined next.
If your water pump is in the building and the pump keeps losing its prime, a shallow well jet pump well line could have a bad foot valve (in the well) and so be losing prime.
A leak in the well line can also lead to loss of prime. If priming the well water pump using one of our methods shown below seems to fix the problem but soon the well pump loses prime again, your plumber will want to check for a bad foot valve in the well or a leak in the well piping between the well and the building.
If you keep losing prime at the water pump where a two-line jet pump is installed, it's possible that a check valve at the pump or more likely at the foot valve in the bottom of the well needs to be replaced. But there could be other causes of repeated loss of pump prime.
For example, a leak in the well piping inside the well can permit water in the piping and well pump to siphon backwards out of the well pump (and even the water pressure tank) down into the well when the pump as stopped.
Don't aggravate your plumber: remember to listen to your plumber. If you are too "directive" in telling the plumber what to do, s/he may do exactly what you ask even though s/he has a better idea of where the problem lies.
Carson Dunlop's sketch at left shows how a foot valve works and where it is installed. Replacing a foot valve in the well requires that the well be opened and the well piping be pulled out to permit removal of the old valve and installation of a new one.
After replacing the foot valve or well piping you should shock the well and well piping since you've probably contaminated it by laying your well piping and parts on the ground (and foot valves at the plumbing supplier are not kept in s
Readers of this document should also see WATER TANK TYPES
Before assuming that a water problem is due to the well itself, see WATER PUMP REPAIR GUIDE an specific case which offers an example of diagnosis of loss of water pressure, loss of water, and analyzes the actual repair cost. sterile containers).
We discuss how to shock a well at WELL SHOCK / CHLORINATION PROCEDURE
5/25/2014 Reader G.V. wrote:
My water is pumped from the well in the adjoining canyon to the big, black storage tank level with the house.
Thence it is pumped into a smaller pressure tank which shoves it the house faucets and shower at an acceptable pressure. That pressure tank was the one I replaced after decades of use because its mechanism went bad.
[Click to enlarge any image]
The new one is correctly installed, fittings and connections show no water leaks yet, when the pump turns on because we have used up about 15 gallons of water in house or garden. That water is replenished without any noticeable gap in the flow.
BUT: Even though we may not use use water for a while, water is lost which makes the pump come on needlessly. The mystery is that no water is actually lost because the level in the big storage tank is NOT lowered. That means, the new pressure tank may be faulty in that it signals that water has been taken out of the new pressure tank but was not really used and is looped BACK into the storage tank ad infinitum unless we turn on a faucet, do a wash, shower or do dishes.
That's the best way I can explain it. Have now posted this conundrum in shorter version to a forum where I found similar complaints. Thus I suspect the new pressure tank may not respond to any water being used, causing the pump to run because the water has mysteriously drained. required.
I don't know where else to look because the pump s working fine. Of course, I can have the local plumber come and look at it but for $ 50.- , which would be wasted if in fact I would need to get another tank under the warranty.
So in the meantime, we control the pump from our breaker box in the house. Every time that we need water, we kick the breaker on for a few minutes in the knowledge that another 15 gallons is available for about 5 minutes without the pump motor coming on because the unused portion of water has been siphoned back from the smaller pressure tank into the large storage tank.
I'll add that I have tried a possible solution by shutting down the water supply to the house, thus disconnecting the flow completely. That did not mitigate the loss of water pressure in the Flotec.
Reply: shut off house water and watch for loss of prime
Shutting off water into the house eliminates a clandestine leak such as a running toilet. (we assume for now that's shutoff valves actually shut off fully).
That's why I suggest what means is a leak in well piping or a bad check valve at the pump or a bad foot valve in the well.
Reader follow-up: should I install an additional check valve?
That is the only location I have not tested. Is there a way to see if the check valve allows a back flow into the storage tank?
The Craftsman manual shows the check valve as being screwed into the pump housing but it does not have groves or "wings" to use a tool to unscrew it. Also, how could it have gone bad? Movable parts? A spring?
Would it be easier to install a one-way valve in the 1-1/4 inch intake pipe just outside the pump body?
Reply: pump check valves can fail; don't install multiple check valves
You pose an interesting question for which I don't have a good answer, though I suspect an experienced plumber might have something to say.
Check valves can fail due to wear but more often due to debris accumulation on the valve seat or on occasion mineral deposition.
I suspect that when in doubt the plumber just replaces the valve at the pump, as that's easier than testing it.
If you can get the valve off we could try (really you could try but I'm interested) inspecting it for obvious trouble, cleaning it and watching what happens.
I can't tell from your photo whether this is a 1-line or 2-line jet pump.
I am reluctant to add additional check valves without more research. Some pump systems specifically advise against multiple check valves (that can lead to operating troubles) while in other installations I see that they're in use: at the pump and of course in the well at the foot valve.
Reader follow-up: Sears Craftsman 1-Line Jet Pump Check Valve Installation Details
Per Google it seems that there are "universal" check valves on the market literally for a song while the Sears one is almost $ 50.- shipped.
I had been waiting for your reply before disconnecting the pipe from the pump housing and unscrewing part 12A (circled in blue) but don't know if that will show me anything. I spent much of last night reading everything you have written about mine and other people's problems my head is spinning :-) .
I have very soft well water and use one filter at the well pump and a second one on the storage tank and a third one in the fridge for drinking water. Everything is clean and dirt clogging is not present.
The tire pressure gauge reads 38 lbs. on the new pressure tank, pump kicks in at 28 and cut-out is 44. Tell me if that is within bounds.
Yes, I read too that one should not have any more valves than one but thought that an additional one-way outside the pump would be OK since the internal (12A) doesn't seem to be doing its job. I don't mind scratching the part that my finger is indicating. It has no grooves and thus I thought it's not removable, but the schematic seems to show that it is.
And - yes - it is a ONE LINE installation, typical shallow well, since it sits right next to the water source (the well and its pump is about 200 feet away and is in perfect condition). I control it from a timed switch outside the front door. The well itself is only about 7 feet deep and sits partly in a small creek which runs about 9 months of the year. The shallow aquifer is in the bottom of a canyon.
Will await your further opinion.
Reply: Procedure for distinguishing between a water pump check valve failure and a leak in well piping or foot valve
Sorry about spinning your head (makes me think of those horrible horror movies). I would welcome any suggestions about how to make our information more clear, easy to find, navigable.
Typically the well repair company will observe loss of prime, replace the above-ground at-pump check valve, and if prime is still lost they'll next pull the well piping and replace the foot valve.
If problems persist people start looking for a leak in the well piping anywhere along its route, tackling the more accessible areas first of course.
To do some detective work on your own first try these steps:
Inspect the above-ground or at-pump check valve
You should be able to unscrew and inspect the check valve. Look for
What I've been thinking about without the thrill of a perfect solution is how one can tell the difference between a leaky check valve at the pump above ground and a leaky foot valve or a leak in well piping.
A leak in well piping sometimes can be heard if it's in the well (not if it's in the buried segment),
Check for water leaks out of the well piping or foot valve
Where it's troublesome to inspect the well piping entirely, which is usually the case, I might try this:
This is a bit of a crude approach but might work.
Check for air leaks into the well piping or at the water pump
Keep me posted. DF
I may have confused you by bringing up my well pump installation but it serves only to supply water to the storage tank and my problems arise from that part of my system.
The well merely fills the tank near the house and works flawlessly. Its foot valve is only 7 feet down and is unobstructed.
Thus the storage tank and the new pressure tank located together are really the source of my water since I may just as well have a water truck come to my piece of land and pump water into the large 2500 ga. tank.
... we have reliable water which for the past 35 years we have had without interruption. So she puts up with having to flip the breaker whenever we need running water in the house. I have a line running to the garden directly from the well so in that regard we're OK but it's not filtered and is not as pressurized as water out of the tank near the house.
OK so if we are confident that there is no hidden well piping leak (which I grant as a temporary assumption) we're left with returning to the question of accurate problem diagnosis.
We are talking about intermittent well pump cycling on when you don't expect it to, and we assumed a problem with a check valve or piping because you were sure that no water was being draw from the system on the "house" side of the pump and tank.
Are we sure the well is losing prime?
Alternatively if the well pump was left running for a long time it would be no surprise if it's impeller assembly was damaged. If that occurred the pump would run but not deliver water at proper pressure.
I have two pumps, but it's not the well pump we're discussing but the one next to the storage tank.
The former is far away from the latter and transports water to the storage tank with its own, separate system, which is where I have the problem.
I'd double check that you can successfully fully turn off water to your building.
Step by Step Diagnosis of Repeated Loss of Water Pressure: no water in the morning traced to pump leak: fooled by bad pressure gauge
Reader Question: I have found your web site to be very good and straight forward on problems and solutions but haven't found a solution to my problem yet. Let me explain our problem.
The pump setup is a single pump with two pressure tanks (about the size of a swimming pool filter) located on the 2" discharge line via a cross and then the 2" line runs to the house. The pressure regulator on the pump is the same one as shown on your web site. The problem is during the day the system works just fine but every morning when we get up there is zero water at the house.
If you go down to the pump and look at the pressure gauge it is reading right at 41 psi. The regulator is set to come on right at that pressure and go off at ~51 psi. Don't really understand why this is happening. When you open the valve at the house that should relieve the pressure on the line unless the head pressure is to great to allow the pump to come on?
This same system has worked great in the past but has developed this problem. We have changed the regulator out a couple of times thinking that was the problem but it wasn't. I just today changed the set pressure so the pump to where it comes on around 48 psi and shuts off at 60 psi. If you have any ideas I sure would like to know. - C.D. 8/4/2014
Reply: is the pressure control switch accurately sensing tank pressure? Is the pressure gauge working?
When you changed the pressure control switch, did you check for evidence of debris in the water supply that might have clogged the switch sensor port or the tube that conducts the water pressure to the bottom of the pressure switch?
When you go down to the pump in the AM when there is no water pressure at the house, if you "tap" on the switch box itself will that turn on the pump?
[I asked these questions because it doesn't add-up for there to be good pressure at the water tank but no pressure in the building unless there is a blockage or total loss of connection between the pressure tank and the building - Ed. ]
There was nothing in the line looked clean. Haven't tried tapping on the switch to see if that would kick the pump on. Always just manually close contacts.
Reply: check for a pump control that is shutting off the pump due to no water from the well
Also, some controls include a circuit that shuts off the pump if the well is running low.
But probably diagnostic is that you see water pressure in the pressure tank -
If this is an internal bladder tank, its possible that the bladder is burst and sticking to itself or not letting water in the tank or out of it. OTOH if you see tank pressure varying then I'm wrong in that guess. IF the gauge is on the tank that'd tell us something.
[The "due to no water in the well" was a clue here. I should have added "due to lost prime" - Ed. ]
Reader Follow-up: the well is not running out of water
We can't have a well running low problem because we have two big storage tanks ~6000 gals the pump is feed from. A complete separate pump system is filling the storage tanks. I can't answer the question about pressure on the pressure tanks because we don't have a gauge on them. But to test the system we have a block valve just down stream of the pressure tanks before the line heads to the house and in the discharge line we have a 3/4 hose bib. So all I have to do to test the pressure tanks is close the block valve and use the hose bib to bleed water of the pressure tanks and they seen to have plenty of pressure. If that makes sense to you.- C.D.
OK so we see how confused I can get by e-text.
Yes the bleed-to-confirm water pressure makes sense. IF you are getting water out of the tanks they're not blocked. Besides for large tanks such as yours there would not be an internal bladder design. But you might encounter such a problem if you had a pump and bladder type pressure tank at the house end of the system.
Water at house is only going through a water softener. So there are no bladders there.
Reply: look for a leak somewhere in the water system
or there is a leak
[I was thinking of a leak in the well piping, but I should have considered a leaky foot valve (loss of prime) or a leak elsewhere - Ed.]
Reader follow-up: checking water pressure, checking pressure gauge
I will let you know if raising the pressure has any effect on the problem. If the water pressure is off at the house the ranch foreman will check the gage to see if there is pressure and then he is going to open the hose bib and see if the pump comes on then.
Thanks for trying to help me fix this problem.
Reader follow-up: found leak in well pump body & a faulty pressure gauge
I believe we have determined the problem or in this case a couple of problems. What we found was the pump case actually had a small crack that during periods of none use (overnight) would allow the pump case to drain and then the pump would lose prime. The system has a sensor on the pump to shutoff the pump in case the pump looses prime so that was why the pump would appear not to start only after sitting overnight. Also the pressure gage was faulty and would not read less than 41 lbs, oddly enough that was the pressure where the pump should have started. So all those problems together was making it appear to be something else and that kept us looking in the wrong places.
Reply: pressure gauges: false friends?
That bad gauge threw us off the scent.
I'm was also confused that you said you opened a valve at the storage tanks and had plenty of water, BUT depending on the tank and piping arrangement, that might be true at those storage tanks even when water pressure in the tanks was not sufficient to push water uphill to the point of use.
Repeated Loss of water pressure: lessons learned about gauges, pumps, leaks, and well pump prime
Continue reading at WELL PIPING CHECK VALVES or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: can I use an above-ground check valve instead of a foot valve
This was very helpful and describes exactly what my problem is. One question tho. Could I forgo the foot valve and put in a check valve to save money? - Frank Hobbs 6/22/11
Frank experts recommend replacing the foot valve but indeed I've occasionally seen people limp along for years without pulling the well piping to replace the foot valve by instead installing a check valve at the pump. I THINK that the chances of this repair working are better if your well is not deep.
In other words, your idea might work, but there is a reason that people use foot valves at the bottom end of well piping - the valve in that location is more reliable at preserving well prime.
And watch out - don't install multiple check valves.
Question: I can't get jet pump pressure up past 40 psi.
i have replaced a footvalve and a blown-out nipple at my pitless adapter. ( the well was not pitless - I dug a serious pit to do this! I have replaced the jet pump and pressure tank during the process. I checked for leaking toilets and piping leaks. The well suction line holds pressure now which was the origonal problem but now I can't get the jet pump to pressure up past 40 psi?
The pressure control switch cut outs on this system are 30 [pump on] and 50 psi [pump off] Any ideas would sure help! - Greg 4/10/12
Reply: check for a damaged pump
When a pump keeps running and we don't think that the problem is loss of water in the well itself, I suspect that during the prior well problem the pump itself was damaged - a bushing, bearing, or impeller; on occasion low voltage or bad pump motor will leave a pump running but weak.
However, a second possibility is a leak in well piping large enough that the pump just can't reach cut-off pressure. However if yours is a one-line jet pump, if there were a leak in the well piping or a bad foot valve, the system would not hold pressure when the pump was off. Therefore my first guess is the more likely explanation.
Question: how do I restore well prime after cutting both lines of a 2-line jet pump?
I have cut the two lines to a well pump and need to know how to get prime back. - Danny 7/18/12
Sure Danny, please just scroll down to the article links at the end of these comments and you'll see where to start - with the article titled WATER PUMP PRIMING PROCEDURE
Question: shallow well, F&W 2hp pump, pressure does not rise when pump turns on
I have a shallow well with F&W 2hp pump. The pump switch is set at 25-45. The pump shuts off at 45 but when it drops to 25, it turns on but does not rise. I have installed a new air tank (broken bladder), pump switch, and pressure gauge. My plumber replaced all piping on the pull side of the pump including a new check valve and eliminated an elbow. All ports on the pump are taped. House side seems secure.
Each time it cycles down I found I can get the pressure to rise by cutting the power to the pump by going through 4-5 cycles of an on/off sequence of 5 sec on- 5 sec off (assisting prime ???) Is there something else I might try before I turn to the well-foot valve etc ? Thank you - Dick 9/6/2012
Question: shallow well, loses prime when well sits unused over night
The comment [above] from Sept 6, 2012 sounds extremely similar to our situation. Shallow well that is legally grandfathered to exist, but no professional plumber can legally service it. Pump switch is set at 30-50 and correctly shuts off at 50. Anecdotally, it seems that if water is used soon after (within the next hour or two), the pump will correctly cycle back to 50.
Reply: check for a leaky foot valve or a leak in the well piping
Dan the suggestions right on this page are a good place to start, beginning with check for a bad foot valve
Most often when a well and pump are capable of delivering good water pressure and flow, but prime is lost when the well sits unused, there is either a bad foot valve (or some one line jet pumps use a check valve right on the pump), or there is a leak in the well piping.
Question: shallow well loses prime unless we keep the pump operating frequently by leaving a trickle of water running
I have an almost identical problem as Dan...shallow well nobody will work on and will pump fine for days if I let a trickle of water flow in the tub so the pump has to come on every half hour or so. If I don't have water flowing for a couple of hours the pressure stays constant (even for days) but just cycling the pump doesn't get it to work. I have to open up the pump prime fill nut a slight bit to let the air excape then tighten it and turn on the pump, then repeat this 5-8 times until enough air has been purged out to get water to flow. There is a check valve in the pipe on the suction side of the pump and I've tried to test for air getting in at one of the hose clamps. I don't understand how air can be getting into the system at the foot valve...isn't it like a straw where you hold your finger over the top and the water can't flow out of the bottom, so air must be getting in somewhere where the line is above the water level?
Reply: tricks for finding and fixing a "hidden" leak in plastic well piping: check the connections
From your description it sounds as if you have a one line jet pump.
On a one line jet pump the air-leak in to the system can be at any connector above water, as when the pump is running it is "sucking" on the well pipe between the pump and well bottom.
(Dec 4, 2012) David said:
You've given me what I hope is a good idea...if I heat the poly as I tighten the hose clamp it may conform better and seal off any air from getting sucked into the line which allows the water the line to fall back into the well. I think the reason the system pressure doesn't drop is that the check valve near the pump inlet is keeping water under pressure from getting back through the pump and back to the well, so the air leak is probably on the well side of the check valve (I wondered if the check valve brass casting might be porous and allowing air in).
I will try to improve the hose clamp seal (there are two clamps at each hose connection) and report back the results.
I have once or twice found a cast-brass valve or check valve with a defect or leak, others of course can be cracked by mis-handling or freezing. And we found one with a "hidden" pinhole leak in the casting of a new check valve.
If you don't have extra length to cut and re-make the plastic well line fittings, try adding a 2nd hose clamp at those fittings.
Question: got the foot valve up using a car jack
(Dec 13, 2012) jason said:
i had a similar problem. with bad water pressure. it was the screen at the bottom of the well. i used a car jack and chain to jack the well up out of the ground and put a new screen on. sledge hammered it back in the ground.
Thanks for the comment; indeed a clogged well screen will result in reduced or loss of water flow - a problem that might me mistaken for loss of pump prime. The difference would generally be that if there is a loss of pump prime there will be no water provided by the pump at all - as if the well has run dry. Typically when a well screen is clogging, that clog does not go from no-clog to full-clog in one instant; rather water flow declines constantly over time.
(Mar 7, 2014) Sandra kelly said:
Hi there we are at our wits end 2 plumbers and no fixes we have a single line pressure system at our home well approx 25 ft deep newer flex lite pressure tank 22 gal @ 38 psi new pump put on I woke up from a nap in the afternoon and no water but seemed fine in the morning although dogs water dish showed rust in it later on installed a new 1/2 horse pump all lines checked up top but will not take a prime water up to the top of the pipe from well but it will not fill the pressure tank. Jumps to 40 psi on pressure gauge then drops. Could it be the foot valve or a leak in the well line? Any advice would be appreciated we are desperate thank you
Sounds like a well piping leak or a bad foot valve.
(Mar 10, 2014) Sandra said:
Thank you I was going to take the line apart up top and try to put a snake down just to check for freezing at the point where the line exits. The cabin but I will have to do that tomorrow my tools have disappear ed into someone else's told box once I tsee iif that is the issue the next step will be digging down to the well unit sealed non accessible unit which is now going to be changed for future access we'll pull the line and replace it
Thanks for the follow-up and the kind words. Your questions or comments help us see where to work on the website.
Question: can we get water from the well without using a water pump?
4/23/14 baremau said:
someone says that we can get water from the well without using the water pump
That would be true if the well were an artesian well - that is a well that delivers water to the surface by its own hydrostatic pressure.
See ARTESIAN WELLS, Well Spools - for details.
Question: lost pump prime traced to debris in the pump impeller
(June 14, 2014) Ken from Lakefield Ont. said:
I lost the prime on my pump and tried everything to correct the problem when a neighbor suggested I may have debris in the IMPELLER CHAMBER.I scoffed but went ahead and took the CHAMBER apart.. Sure enough I found about 7 small pebbles at the bottom that stopped the impeller to spin freely and create the pressure needed. Reassembled the chamber and like magic the water pressure zoomed to the normal range. Apparently I had cleaned the well and diturbed the small pea gravel on the bottom and it sucked the unwanted debris into the system. Just my 2 cents.
Thanks for posting such a helpful tip.
Next time you have reason to pull the well piping, check the screen on the foot valve to stop admitting debris into the pump impeller.
Question: shallow well pump keeps losing prime
(June 23, 2014) Anonymous said:
I have a shallow well, it is 18 feet. I have replaced everything but the pressure gauge on the well pump. my problem is I plug in my pump and it wont build pressure. When you unplug it to reprime the pump is full and sprays water out when you unscreew the plug for priming. I have replace the pump, the bladder tank the foot valve and the line going into my well. I know I have plenty of water in my well. When you unhook the line to the well from the pump it stays full of water, could i have gotten a bad foot valve
A bad foot valve would be losing prime or would be preventing water from entering the piping system when the pump runs. Your case sounds more as if water is not entering the pressure tank. Perhaps the bladder is stuck to itself?
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