Well Pump Running But Not Building Pressure? (6 Common Causes)

You probably rely on your well for constant access to water in your home – so it can be daunting if you suddenly lose your water supply.

Don’t assume the worst in this scenario. In this well pump troubleshooting guide, we’ve outlined the most common causes for a poor or non-existent water flow from your well. This can be caused by a problem with the pressure tank, the pump, pressure switch, leaky water lines, a low water table, or clogged filtration system.

📖 How a Well is Designed

Diagnosing an issue with your well is much easier when you know the basics of how a well is designed. Let’s take a quick look at the main well components and their roles in delivering a constant water supply to your home.

Components of a well water system

Well Aquifer

Without the aquifer, you wouldn’t have a well. A well aquifer stores water between layers of rock, sand, and sediment, tens or hundreds of feet below the ground. The size and depth of the well aquifer depends on how your well was built based on your local geology.

Well Pump

The well pump is submerged in the aquifer and draws water up to your home whenever you need it. Pumps are long, narrow cylindrical devices that supply the pressure tank with well water. Most modern pumps are designed to only run until the pressure tank is filled, which extends the lifespan of the motor.

Pressure Tank

The pressure tank is a large container, usually made from steel, which stores well water within a certain pressure range. The tank contains a bladder that maintains pressure as water is delivered around your home’s plumbing system.

Water Line

Once the pump has pulled water from the aquifer, the water travels into your home through a water line. This pipe is usually made from PVC, or, in old systems, galvanized steel.

Power Supply

Well pumps are supplied by 120 or 240 volts of power. The pump’s power supply is usually located away from the pump, in a crawl space or basement near the well. 120-volt systems have two wires, while 240-volt systems have three wires.

🚱 Well Pump Runs But No Water: Common Causes

Now we know the basic setup of a well, let’s look at some of the most common causes of a running well pump but no water.

Most Common Reason: Pressure Tank Problems

There are several issues with your well pressure tank that could cause your water supply to run low (or completely run out). These issues include:

  • A ruptured bladder tank
  • A rusted or leaking tank
  • A sediment-clogged tank

A well pump slowly building pressure, or a pressure switch clicking on and off, can both be an indication of issues in your pressure tank.

To diagnose a well water pressure tank issue, use a tire gauge to check the air pressure. Attach the tire gauge to the test valve at the top of the tank and take a reading.

If the pressure seems normal, take a closer look at the pressure switch. Remove the cap and use a torch to look at the wiring. If you notice burned, frayed, or corroded wire, you’ll likely need to replace the pressure switch or carry out a repair. Electrical jobs can be dangerous, so call a qualified professional if you’re unsure.

A faulty check valve on your pressure tank may also cause your pump to run without holding pressure. A check valve prevents backflow and maintains pressure inside the pump. If the valve becomes faulty, it may affect the pump’s ability to hold pressure, reducing the flow of water into your home.

Well water pressure tank

Issue 2: Faulty Well Pump

The second-most common reason for a well pump that’s running without producing water is a faulty or failed well pump.

If you have hard water or a lot of sand or sediment in your water supply, the lifespan of the pump may suffer. The impellers in the pump may continue to spin, but the pump will be unable to pull water up through the well. The power lines leading to the pump may also become corroded or broken, affecting pump power.

Signs that your well pump is faulty or failed are:

  • Low water pressure
  • Constantly running pump
  • A pump pressure switch that constantly switches on and off
  • No water
  • Water escaping around the pressure tank

Your pump’s water pressure inlet may also become clogged, affecting the pump’s ability to build pressure. Minerals, silt, and other debris may block your pressure inlet.

How Often Should a Well Pump Cycle On and Off?

A well pump should only kick on when the pressure in the water tank falls below the minimum PSI. The typical run time for a well pump is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes. You should only notice the pump cycling on while you’re using water, or just after.

Your pump may short cycle – rapidly kick on and off – if the pressure tank has lost air or is damaged or leaking.

Issue 3: Pressure Switch Problems

At the base of the water pressure tank is the pressure switch. This switch is attached to the tank with a T-fitting, just above the water line that leaves the tank and enters your home. Water flows into one side of the T, and out of the other side.

The pressure switch is responsible for shutting the pump off, stopping water from entering the tank when the upper pressure limit is achieved. Once the water pressure drops back to the lower pressure limit, the pressure switch triggers the pump to switch back on, allowing more water into the tank.

Usually, pressure switch problems are linked to the pressure tank itself. However, isolated problems can still sometimes happen.

Check to see if the switch is turning on and firing the pump properly. If it isn’t, the pump control box likely has a problem. If the switch won’t switch off, or is continuously clicking off and on, the issue is most likely with the pressure tank.

Well pump pressure switch contacts

Issue 4: Leaking Water Lines

A leak in one of your main water lines can cause the pump to run too much and the pressure tank to constantly switch on, increasing your monthly spend on electricity.

You should be able to easily spot a leak inside your home or at your pressure pump. You can diagnose an underground leak inside your well casing by manually filling the pressure tank until you hear the switch click, then closing the valve that delivers water into your home.

If everything is working as it should, the water should sit in the pressure tank indefinitely. If there’s an underground leak, the switch will click back on after a few hours, telling you that water is leaving the system at an earlier point.

Issue 5: Low Water Table

Your well will have a certain capacity, and if this capacity is exceeded, your water table may drop so low that the pump is unable to properly draw water through the system. The pump will still operate as normal, but it’ll have little or no water to pump.

In the short term, you may be able to resolve this issue by limiting your water usage or being more careful with what you use your well water for. For instance, could collect rainwater to water your lawn, rather than using water from your well?

Your best long-term solution will likely be to hire a contractor to drill deeper into the ground to tap into a bigger water supply. This is an expensive job, so check with a local expert whether there are any more affordable fixes, based on your specific problem.

Dry water well

Issue 6: Clogged Water Filtration System

Your entire well system might be working as it should, but if a water filtration system downstream of your pressure tank is entirely clogged, it could greatly reduce the flow of water into your home.

Filter media has a limited lifespan. Once it surpasses this lifespan, the media will typically become so clogged with sediment and contaminants that water will be unable to pass through the pores.

Check your user manual to find out when you should replace the filters. Make timely replacements to prevent your filtration system from affecting water flow from your well.

📝 Tips for Resolving a Working Well Pump With No Water

Depending on the issue you’re dealing with, we’ve shared some of our top tips for resolving a problem with your well’s water delivery.

  1. First, switch your water filtration system to bypass mode. If the issue is corrected, you know that the filtration system is the cause. Replace the filters to resolve the problem.
  2. Next, if you suspect that you’ve used more water than usual recently, shut off the breaker to the well pump. Leave it for a few hours, then turn it on. Does water start running?
  3. If you notice water running, you’ll need to hire a professional to install a low water switch and/or remediate your well. This switch will protect your pump from outages if you use too much water.
  4. If no water is running and you haven’t had any power surges, the pump’s capacitors may need to be replaced.
Well-pump inspection

🚫 How to Prevent Low Pressure In a Well System

Once you’ve resolved an issue with a lack of water in your well system, you probably don’t want it to happen again. We’ve shared the best ways to prevent low pressure in a well water system below.

Don’t Overuse Your Water

If low water pressure is caused by overusing your well water supply, the problem will continue to recur for as long as you overuse your water.

Try not to use your well water for any large jobs, like watering your lawn or filling your pool. Be especially mindful of your water usage during periods of drought, especially if you have a shallow well.

If you’re not sure how much water you can comfortably take per day from your well, contact your local well contractor and ask for a well inspection.

Get Your Well Serviced

The average well owner doesn’t know much about their well pump controls, pump motor, foot valve, or any other technical component of their well system. That’s okay – it’s not your job to be an expert on your well – but it’s important to get your well regularly serviced by someone who is an expert.

A professional well contractor can inspect your well and check that everything is working as it should. They’ll share their own pump troubleshooting tips and let you know if you need to make any pump repairs.

You should get your well serviced annually for cleanliness, mechanical problems, and the presence of certain contaminants. If you have any concerns about your water pressure, speak to your contractor during the inspection.

Water well maintenance

Perform Well Maintenance

Your well pump, pressure switch, pressure gauge, foot valve, electric motor, and other components won’t last forever.

A failed foot valve, a worn motor, or an old pump may all affect your well’s ability to produce water. Your well contractor can detect these issues during a service and let you know when it’s time to replace or repair various components.

Properly maintaining your well won’t only prevent issues with the well’s ability to pup water. It will also extend the lifespan of your entire well water system, reducing your long-term spend.

🧠 Well Pump Working But No Water: FAQs

Why is my well pump running but not pumping water?

If your well pump runs but doesn’t pump water, there could be air in the pump house (especially if you have a submersible pump), a clogged water filter, faulty valves, a damaged pump, a leak in your piping or a broken water line.

Why is my well pump not building pressure?

If your well pump starts and runs but doesn’t build pressure, there may be damage to bearing, impeller, or seal, or a faulty check valve. Debris or scale clogging the impeller, a failing bearing or seal, and a broken impeller blade will all make the pump run with no buildup of pressure.

What to do if water pump has no pressure?

If your pump runs with no pressure, check in the control box for a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker, defective motor, broken wires, or a jammed or broken impeller. If you notice an issue with the electrical contacts for the pump, you’ll need to hire a professional to fix them for you, which should resolve the issue with pressure.

How long does a well pump last?

A well pump lasts for between eight and 15 years with good maintenance, depending on the quality of your water. Keep an eye on the pressure tank, the pressure switch, and the power control box, and make repairs and replacements when needed.

How often should a well pump be replaced?

Most people need to replace their well water pump every 10 or 20 years. Look after the pump and conduct regular inspections and maintenance to reduce the frequency of replacements required. Well water pumps are expensive, so the longer you can use your pump before it fails, the better.

What maintenance do well pumps need?

Well pumps themselves don’t need any specific maintenance. However, the pump pressure switch, power control box, and pressure tank will need to be checked and maintained as necessary.

Small well pump troubleshooting jobs, like buying a new pressure switch, can add years of life the pump.

How do you reset a well pump?

You might need to reset your well pump if it has been affected by a power surge or a power outage. To reset your well pump, follow these steps:

  1. Cut the power to your pump and shut off the breaker
  2. Locate your pump’s cut-off switch
  3. Remove the cap and carefully clean the electrical contacts
  4. Return the cap and switch the power and breaker back on
  5. Pull and hold down the leaver under the cut-off switch’s cap
  6. Lift the lever to reset the pump

How do you get rid of an airlock in a water pump?

To get rid of an air lock in a water pump, open the main tap and the air locked tap, then allow the pressure from the water in your main pipe to force air from the airlocked tap. Let water run for a couple of minutes, then switch off the taps (switch off the air locked tap first).