The Only Pool Pump Troubleshooting Guide You’ll Need

Written By Timothy Te

26th January 2021

A pool pump, no matter what brand it is, will eventually run into trouble because of the combination of heat, vibration, and moisture. These three factors coupled with daily use will eventually lead to problems that will need to be troubleshot down the line. And as a shameless plug, this is why pump warranties are as important as the features of a pump when considering a pool pump purchase! Now, with that out of the way, let’s proceed with the guide!

Pool Pump Power Problems

1.1 Pool Pump won’t power up

You flip the switch and instead of the comforting (and sometimes annoying) roar of the pump, you’re greeted with silence. Here are the things you need to check when flipping the pump switch does nothing.

  • Check the breakers - They might have tripped during the night or during your previous cleaning schedule.
  • Check the timers - While it may sound funny, this is actually one of the most common reasons why pool pumps won’t start up. Check if your pump timer is set properly and that you’re within the operating times.
  • Check the wiring - For some reason, rodents love chewing on wires. Turn off the breaker first and check all of the electrical connections going to and from your pool pump.
  • Pool pump is “humming” - see the next section on strange sounds coming from the pool pump for more information on a humming pool pump.

If everything checks out and your pump isn’t still powering up then it might be time to avail the warranty on your pool pump or to get a new one from Mr Pool Man’s online pool shop!

1.2 Pool Pump Immediately Shuts off after turning on

You turn on your pump, it slowly hums then roars into life and after a few seconds, nothing, eerie silence. A problem like this is usually indicative of an overload in the electrical system or a failing capacitor.

  • If your pump was just recently installed then this is definitely a voltage problem and unless you’re confident in your electrical skills then it’s better for a licensed electrician to check and replace the wiring.
  • If your pump has been there for quite some time then it can either be just a loose connection or a failing capacitor inside of your pump’s motor. For a loose connection, tightening the wires should do the trick. If tightening up the connections didn’t do the job then you can check our guide on why capacitors fail here.

1.3 Pool Pump Randomly shuts off after a few minutes

The pump is working properly, you’re about to jump into the pool, and all of a sudden your pump suddenly shuts off. If this happens, the first thing you should check is the motor itself. Be careful when checking because it might be super hot. If it is hot, then that’s indicative of your pump’s motor overheating and that’s your pump’s thermal overload protecting your motor from overloading. To fix it, scroll down below to our section dealing with an overheating pool pump.

Another reason could be if you’re not using a dedicated switch or timer for your pump and it’s wired directly to your breaker. Circuit breaker switches are not designed to be used as on-off switches and they will wear out faster than normal. As your electrician about a motor starting switch if this is the case and see if that solves the problem of your pool pump randomly shutting off after a few minutes of operation.

Strange sounds coming from the pool pump

If you’re a longtime pool user, you probably would have gotten used to the sound of your pool pump by now and any deviation from the “normal” noise will be quite noticeable.

2.1 Humming sounds coming from the pump and it won’t turn on

There can be two reasons for a pool pump to hum and not start properly. One problem is easily fixed and one will require tinkering with your pool pump, so let’s hope that it’s the first problem and not the second one.

  • Your impeller might be clogged - The first cause of a humming pool pump might be a clogged impeller. There will be times where there’s enough debris caught in your impeller that the jumpstart that your pump needs can’t be achieved. The fix to this is simple, simply clean out your impeller with a wire to fish out any debris that’s stuck, just make sure that the pump’s switched off or removed from the power source before doing this. If this fixes things then you’ve dodged a pretty big bullet!
  • Your impeller isn’t clogged and it’s making a humming noise - This is a sure sign of a capacitor problem in your pool pump. Think of your pump’s capacitor as akin to a car battery. The capacitor gives the engine that jolt of power to get it starting and running. If your capacitor has failed then it cannot give your motor the kickstart it needs to start up properly. Check out our detailed guide and explanation on why pool pump capacitors fail.

2.2 Screeching or roaring sounds coming from the pool pump while operating

Another problem that pool owners face is loud (not normal loudness) noises coming from the pool pump. There are different kinds of loud noises that commonly happens to pool pumps with problems and here’s what each of them means.

  • Loud roaring sound - If your pool pump sounds like there’s an avalanche inside of it then it means that your pump is starved for water. This happens when there is an obstruction or a leak in the suction side of your plumbing. Check your pump baskets and skimmer baskets for debris and your pump lines and this should take care of this problem.
  • Pulsing / Cavitation sound - This is related to the first problem. A pulsing sound coming from your pump is also known as pool pump surge. We have a detailed post explaining what pool pump surge is and how to deal with it here. 
  • Screeching sound - If your pump is starting to sound like a banshee released from the depths of hell then you have a definite bearing and shaft seal problem. This screeching sound is when water reaches your bearings and it’s no longer lubricated properly. We have guides on how to replace your pump bearings here and how to replace your pool pump’s mechanical seal here.

2.3 Loud “vibrating” noises coming from the pump

Vibration in your pool pump is normal to a certain extent because of all the moving parts but only to a certain extent. If it starts to become noticeable or louder than usual then you may need to check the following things with your pump.

  • Uneven base - Your pump should be on a level surface. Water, wind, and the vibrations coming from the pump itself may cause the base of the pump to shift slightly. If you notice that the pump’s position has shifted then it’s a pretty easy fix.
  • Worn Bearings - Worn bearings can cause the pool pump’s shaft to be misaligned and cause vibrations that are above the normal. See the previous section on how to replace worn bearings.
  • Cavitation - Your pool pump sucking in excess air may also cause excessive vibrations to your pool pump due to the varying speeds that your impeller spins at.

It is very important to reduce vibrations as much as possible because vibrations can cause damage not only to your pool pump, but to all of the plumbing attached as well. Vibrations can loosen your couplings, and if the vibrations reach a certain point, they can even affect the other components of your pool pumping/filtration system as well.

Pool Pump Flow Problems

Ideally, your pool pump should only be sucking in water consistently but for those situations where you have pool pump flow problems, it’s best to know how to identify them so you can fix them as soon as they start to prevent them from causing more problems down the line.

3.1 Pool pump is sucking in air

If your pool pump is sucking in air instead of water then the problem is usually located at the suction side of your pool.

  • Check water levels - This is the number one culprit for a pool pump to suck in air. Your pool’s water level should go up at least halfway of your skimmer levels. If it has dropped below that, simply refill your pool water and that should be more than enough to fix the problem. You can also get an automatic water leveling device to ensure that your water level is where it should be at all times.
  • Check your skimmer and pump baskets - Full skimmer and pump baskets can impede the flow of water and cause your pool pump to suck in air instead of water! Make sure to empty them every few days to ensure the unimpeded flow of water to your pump.
  • Check your skimmer weir doors - While it may sound funny, a stuck weir door can actually cause your pool pump to suck in air. Simple enough problem right? Door won’t open, no water passes through to the skimmer! Believe us, we had a problem like this at one time, everything looked to be alright, the water level was fine, and the skimmer baskets were clean. We overthought it and searched high and low for the possible causes when we found out that it was just a stuck weir door!
  • Pump lid o-ring failure - This can be easily identified if there’s bubbling around your pump lid and there’s a hissing noise. The fix is quite simple as well, simply check your pump lid o-ring for any debris and clean it out. If the pump lid o-ring is damaged then a replacement is in order.
  • Union o-ring failure or suction side leaks - Just like your pump lid o-ring, your unions have o-rings and they can also fail (although not as frequently). This causes air to get sucked into your pump along with the water. Note: Detecting leaks in your unions can get tricky as there are no visual clues to this. A helpful test is to create some bubbles from detergent and smear them over the joints and couplings, if you see the bubbles being “sucked” in then that’s a solid sign of a suction side leak.
  • Clogged intake lines - If everything else fails, then the only possible culprit is a clog somewhere in your intake lines. There are many ways to fix this and we’ve outlined them all in detail in this guide on how to unclog your pool lines.

3.2 Water flow from the pool pump is low

Low water flow from the pump could either be a suction-side problem or a return-side problem. We’ve already covered suction-side problems in the previous section so you can check those. If those don’t resolve the issue of low water flow then it’s time to check the pressure-side of the pump for any obstruction.

  • Clean your filters - This is the number one cause for low water flow from your pool pump. Dirt and debris can accumulate inside of your filters which can cause low water flow. Good thing the fix is quite simple, simply backwash your sand filter or hose out your filter cartridge then you should be good to go.
  • Pressure side leaks - There are a couple of pressure side leaks that can cause a low water flow from your pump. The first type is visible or aboveground, which can be identified by, well, water around the pipes coming from your pool pump. This is easily fixed by some creative plumbing works. The second type of leak or an underground leak is a lot tougher to fix. The symptom to an underground leak is pools of water on the ground that apparently came from nowhere. Fixing this type of leak will require the help of a professional. So remember, low water flow from the pump + puddles of water from seemingly nowhere = call the help of a professional. Click here for more information on how to determine if your pool has a leak.

3.3 Pump basket does not fill up with water

This is a very simple problem that can cause a lot of headaches down the line. If you leave your pump in this condition then it can lead to cavitation, surge, and even to your pump’s motor burning out. The fix is actually quite easy, all you need to do is to prime your pool pump and you should be good to go. Now if you’ve successfully primed your pump but the water in your pump basket compartment still drops and you’re back to square one, check your pump lid’s o-ring for debris or damage.

Miscellaneous Pump Problems

Here are some other pump problems that don’t fit into the other categories and can be considered symptoms or warning signs of bigger problems to come.

4.1 Pool pump loses prime

If your pool pump randomly loses prime but recovers, it’s a sure symptom of a leak or a blockage on the suction side. If your pump recovers prime on its own, then the leak or the blockage isn’t enough to fully impede the flow of water to your pump, but it’s getting there! Unlog your pool lines, check your pump lid o-rings for damage, check for leaks, and ensure that your water levels are where they’re supposed to be!

4.2 Pool pump is running hot

Pool pumps generate heat but they should never run too hot! How hot is too hot? Well, at full load, you should still be able to touch the motor end of the pump without burning yourself. Take note, touch, not hold. But once it gets to the searing hot point, then there’s definitely something wrong with your pump. Here are some possible causes of a searing hot pool pump:

  • Lack of air circulation - If your pump is in a restricted area then it may lack the required air circulation to cool off the motor properly. Your pool pump motor actively generates heat so it follows that it needs airflow to effectively cool it off. Check the area around your pump for obstructions and make sure that there’s enough airflow around the pump area.
  • Direct exposure to sunlight - While pool pumps are built to withstand the elements, apparently the sun didn’t get that memo. Direct exposure to sunlight can raise the temperature of surfaces by up to 20 to 30 degrees! Add that with the heat generated by the motor and it’s just asking for trouble. Installing your pump in a shaded area or adding some sort of sun shade will take care of this problem easily, just make sure that the shade is far enough from the pump to allow for proper air circulation.
  • Pressure and suction side blockages and leaks - We’ve gone over pressure and suction side blockages and leaks multiple times in this article already and any blockage or leakage on both ends will make your pool pump work harder than it normally does! So take an overheating pool pump as a symptom of a blockage or leak somewhere.
  • Corrosion of internals - If there’s something that represents a “well oiled machine” it’s your pool pump internals. Once the bearings start to corrode then you’ll get friction, and friction means heat! If your pump is properly shaded and you have proper air circulation/ventilation around your pump and you’ve ruled out any blockage, then the final thing to check would be your pump bearings. Don’t forget to check out our guide on how to replace your bearings here if you come across this problem.

4.3 Pool pump is leaking

Now this is different from the leaks that we’ve discussed earlier. If water is leaking from the pump itself then you have a very big problem on your hands. The most common pump leak is from the connection point in between the pump body and the motor. This signifies a failure on your mechanical seal. Failure of the mechanical seal, if you’re lucky, will just cause water to leak to the ground beneath your pool pump. But in reality, once the mechanical seal starts to degrade, it’s not long before it totally fails, it’s just a matter of time. Once water bypasses the mechanical seals and flows into your pump motor, it’s game over. So if your pump itself is leaking then don’t delay, replace your mechanical seal immediately!

Extending the life of your pool pump

Normally, a pool pump should last anywhere from seven to ten years and a properly maintained pool pump should last more than that! To extend the life of your pool pump here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Keep the pump cool by ensuring proper ventilation and shading in and around your pump area.
  • Make sure that your pump lid o-rings are always well lubricated and free from any debris so they can create a proper seal for your pump basket compartment.
  • Regularly empty out your skimmer baskets and pump baskets to prevent flow problems which may cause your pool pump to overheat.
  • Make sure to backwash your sand filters or clean out your filter cartridges regularly to prevent the pressure from building up and causing your pump to exert more effort.
  • If something doesn’t sound or feel right, investigate immediately and don’t ignore the problem and hope that it will go away by itself. Small symptoms are usually a precursor to a bigger problem with your pool pump.

Conclusion

Sold out

Hopefully this troubleshooting guide helped you identify and treat pool pump problems as they pop up! While we suggest that you try and fix minor pool pump problems, anything major like a mechanical seal failure or a motor burnout, you should also take into consideration your pump’s age. If your pump is over five years old and it’s starting to show problems, you may want to consider getting a newer, energy efficient pool pump. Our reasoning for this is simple, time makes fools out of us all, and your pool pump is no exception. Once parts start degrading, it will only be a matter of time before the other components will start to fail as well. Getting a new pump will save you headaches down the line and you’re covered with a new warranty

Do you have any questions about this topic or the featured products? No worries, we're here to help! Drop us a question down below and we'll get back to you ASAP.

Happy swimming :)

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Written By

Timothy Te

Pool Guru at Mr Pool Man

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