Troubleshooting 101: Why Does My Well Water Stop and Start?

Troubleshooting 101 Why Does My Well Water Stop and Start

Experiencing intermittent drops in water pressure can be a common yet perplexing issue for households relying on well water, often leading one to wonder why well water stops and starts. This problem can stem from a range of issues, including malfunctioning pressure tanks or problems with the pressure gauge, valve, or relay setup that is critical for maintaining steady water pressure.

Identifying the root cause is essential, whether it’s a costly pressure tank replacement or a simpler fix like cleaning the pressure switch nipple or repairing a pressure valve. These steps not only ensure a continuous supply of water but can also prevent the need for more expensive solutions like well pump replacement or comprehensive well pump repair.

Identifying Common Causes of Well Water Interruption

When troubleshooting intermittent well water supply, several common causes should be methodically examined to pinpoint the issue accurately. Here’s a breakdown of potential problems and their indicators:

  1. Pressure Tank Issues:
    • Malfunctioning Pressure Tank: Essential for maintaining system pressure, a faulty tank can lead to irregular pressure and frequent pump activation.
    • Waterlogged Tank: Incorrect air pressure in the tank, ideally around 37-38 psi for a 40-60 psi system, can disrupt water flow.
    • Leaking Pressure Tank: Inspect for wet spots around the tank, which suggest leaks that could cause rapid cycling.
  2. Pump and Valve Complications:
    • Well Pump Lifespan: With an average lifespan of 12 to 18 years, signs of failure include no water output, low pressure, or constant running.
    • Stuck or Faulty Valves: A stuck-open check valve can cause over-cycling, demanding replacement since they are generally not rebuildable.
    • Clogged or Worn Pumps: These may surge your electricity bills due to increased power consumption, indicating a need for inspection or replacement.
  3. System Integrity and Maintenance:
    • Regular Checks: Ensure there are no blockages, particularly at the pressure switch, and that the system is devoid of air leaks.
    • Pressure Switch Maintenance: Regular cleaning, especially in areas with black sand, prevents clogging that could interrupt water flow.
    • Professional Inspection: If problems persist after basic troubleshooting, a professional assessment may be necessary to delve deeper into systemic issues or potential replacements.

Checking and Adjusting the Pressure Tank

To ensure your well water system maintains optimal performance, regularly checking and adjusting the pressure tank is crucial. Here’s a straightforward guide to managing your pressure tank:

  1. Safety Precautions:
    • Always turn off the electrical power to the well pump to prevent any accidents.
    • Drain the system of all pressure by using an RC Wurst Tank T Assembly or similar method.
  2. Testing and Adjusting Pressure:
    • Check for Waterlogging: Tap the tank. It should sound dull at the bottom and hollow at the top. If waterlogged, the tank won’t hold the correct air pressure, indicating a need for adjustment or possibly replacement.
    • Measure and Adjust the Air Pressure:
      • Use a pressure gauge on the air valve located on top of the tank to measure the pressure.
      • The ideal pressure should be 2 psi below the cut-in pressure of your pump or pressure switch. For a 40/60 psi system, this should be around 38 psi.
      • If the pressure is too high, release some air; if too low, add air using an air compressor. Wait 15 minutes before rechecking the pressure.
  3. Maintenance Checks:
    • Regularly check the pressure in your tank at least once a year.
    • If adjusting does not resolve issues or if water exits the air valve when checked, the bladder inside the tank may be ruptured and replacement of the tank could be necessary.

By following these steps, you can help prevent issues such as poor water pressure or frequent cycling of the well pump, ensuring a reliable water supply for your household.

Troubleshooting the Pressure Switch

Troubleshooting the Pressure Switch

Troubleshooting the pressure switch is a critical step in resolving well-water inconsistencies. Here’s how to effectively inspect and adjust the pressure switch to ensure optimal performance:

Initial Safety and Inspection:

  1. Ensure Power Safety: Always turn off the power at the circuit breaker before beginning any work on the pressure switch.
  2. Visual Inspection: Examine the pressure switch for any visible signs of wear, damage, or carbon buildup. The switch is typically a small gray box with wires and a pipe attached, located near the well.

Testing and Adjusting:

  1. Contact Check: Confirm that the contacts of the switch open and close properly with pressure changes. If they appear dirty or blackened, clean them using a wire brush or a small file.
  2. Voltage Testing: Use a small electrical test meter to check for AC voltage across the external and internal terminals, and each terminal to the ground, to ensure there are no electrical faults.
  3. Adjustment: Adjust the center nut to set the pressure range and the smaller nut on the left-hand side to set the differential. This ensures the switch activates the pump at the correct pressure.

Final Steps:

  1. Secure Connections: Tighten all electrical connections with a Phillips screwdriver to prevent any power issues.
  2. Operational Test: Replace the cover, turn on the power, and observe the system’s operation to ensure the switch activates the pump correctly at set pressure levels.
  3. Regular Maintenance: Regularly checking and cleaning the switch can prevent future problems and ensure consistent water pressure.

By following these steps, you can maintain the efficiency of your well system and prevent issues related to the pressure switch.

When to Call a Professional

When faced with complex well-water issues that defy simple troubleshooting, it’s crucial to recognize when professional intervention is necessary. Here are scenarios and signs indicating that it’s time to call in the experts:

Recognizing Serious Well Water System Issues:

  • Persistent Pump Problems: If the pump runs nonstop or you notice frequent clicking sounds when no water is flowing, these could be signs of significant mechanical failures, such as a broken water line or a malfunctioning check valve.
  • Water Quality Concerns: Changes in water taste, odor, or color, or any gastrointestinal illness among household members, suggest potential contamination that requires professional assessment and treatment.
  • Unusual Noises and Water Pressure Issues: Strange noises, low water pressure, or the pump cycling on and off frequently are indicators of deeper system malfunctions.

Tasks Best Left to Professionals:

  • Complex Repairs and Installations: Well water testing and treatment, water pump repair or replacement, and well casing leak repair are technical tasks that should be handled by qualified water well contractors.
  • Regular Maintenance and Emergency Services: Engage professionals for routine maintenance, annual inspections, and emergency services to ensure your well system operates efficiently and safely.

Choosing the Right Professional Help:

  • If unsure where the problem lies, consulting a reputable local well-service company is advisable. Companies like Capital Well provide comprehensive services including regular maintenance, emergency repairs, and water treatment solutions, ensuring your well system’s longevity and reliability.


What causes a well pump to repeatedly stop and start?

The well pump operates in cycles where it runs to build up pressure in the tank to a set high level and then stops. As water is used and the pressure decreases to a set low level, the pump restarts to rebuild the pressure. This process ensures a consistent water supply and pressure.

What does it mean when well water cycles on and off frequently?

This frequent on-and-off cycling, known as short cycling, occurs when the water pressure fluctuates significantly. Short cycling can severely damage the well pump by reducing the lifespan of the motor and wearing out the control components due to the constant switching.

What is the most common reason for a well pump to keep turning on and off?

A prevalent cause for a well pump to short cycle is the loss of air charge in the pressure tank. This issue is especially common in older, non-bladder-type pressure tanks. The loss of air leads to rapid pressure changes that trigger the pump to turn on and off frequently.

How can I fix my water pump that turns on and off too often?

The problem of a water pump short cycling is often due to inadequate air charge in the water tank. This issue is particularly prevalent in older, non-bladder pressure tanks but can generally be resolved relatively easily by restoring the proper air charge in the tank.

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