At the center of any and all controlled bodies of water are the pump and motor. If they don’t perform efficiently, the function and ability of the other components are futile. Keeping the health of the pump and motor in optimal condition is the first concern in maintaining a well-oiled machine connected to that giant hole in your backyard. We can rely on our ears and eyes to determine its health, and potentially assist us in troubleshooting and diagnosing common issues that could cause a breakdown of water circulation, which can wreck havoc on water quality and inhibit the growth of odor, algae and other unwanted traits (more on this here).
Here I will let you in on a few tricks of the trade on how you can effectively maintain a healthy pump and motor condition, and you don’t even need any tools. Although your pool maintenance worker, if you are lucky enough to have one (it is recommended), should be keeping a watchful eye on these things, it is imperative that you are able to recognize basic signs of trouble, as it will most certainly come in handy when something goes wrong the day your guests come to visit for the weekend.
But first, an elevator speech on pumps and motors...
The pump and the motor are two separate things. The pump is the housing unit that actually causes the water to flow, and the motor is the device that converts electrical energy to mechanical energy, driving the pump. The pump cannot work without a motor, and a motor is, well, just a motor. Pool and spa pumps operate through the principle of centrifugal force. Essentially they leverage the creation of a vacuum that starts the suction of water with varying
options for the pressure outward represented by RPM (rotations per minute) and GPM (gallons per minute).
Using Your Eyes and Your Ears
Luckily, employing a basic awareness can help keep your pump in good working order. And guess what? No tools or special skills are needed.
A few simple observations can be made anytime you are in the yard, to stay ahead of any potential problems with your filter or feature pump.
What you should LOOK for:
The pump motor should be dry, the motor vents should be free of leaves and other debris, the pump should have no visible leaks, and the strainer pot should be clean.
What you should LISTEN for:
Upon start-up, the pump should have a steady, normal hum with no laboring, grinding, or squealing noises.
What you should FEEL for:
The motor should feel warm (not hot) and have no major vibrations.
What To Do When...
In most realities, you trust a pool maintenance professional to regularly evaluate and maintain the health of your pool. It will likely only be in those unfortunate circumstances when you realize the pump won’t prime, or you hear an unbearable noise coming from your equipment set that you decide to ‘peek under the hood.’ For this scenario, the following are the most common failures, with recommended “next steps” that can help you troubleshoot an easy-fix issue or determine if you need to call your trusted service technician. Note, however, if your equipment is under the manufacturer’s warranty, it is advised that you contact your service provider or builder prior to attempting any repair, as you could potentially void your warranty.
THE PUMP WON’T PRIME
Failure to prime is a common culprit for a pump malfunction and is usually not a defect in the equipment whatsoever. When a pump has ‘lost prime,’ it means the vacuum required to move water through the pump is not being fulfilled. Here are some basic priming instructions to ensure a proper suction before hiring a service technician to investigate.
**IMPORTANT! Be sure to turn off any pump relays prior to attempting any maintenance that requires you to open the pump lid. When in doubt, turn off the pump's circuit breaker. When in doubt about which circuit breaker to turn off, turn them ALL off. You will not do any lasting harm to your equipment by turning off the circuit breakers; you will, however, lose your fingers if they are caught in a spinning pump impeller.
1. Water Level - Confirm that the pool has enough water to supply the pump. Sometimes, an inch or two more water in the skimmer can make a difference in the hydraulics of the system due to factors like distance or elevation between the equipment and the pool.
2. Obstruction - Determine that the main drain and the skimmer throat are free of leaves, debris, and other obstructions. Next, confirm the basket within the strainer pot has been cleared of any debris.
3. Secure the Lid - Confirm the lid to the strainer pot has been securely shut. If the pump continues to fail to prime after all the above has been fulfilled, it is recommended you call your pool service technician to further investigate if there are any small leaks in the O-rings or cracks in the pot or lid and repair or replace them.
THE MOTOR WON'T START
Occasionally when your pump won’t start, you will find the circuit breaker tripped or in the off position. Often times the solution is as simple as resetting the breaker, and away you go. If resetting the breaker doesn’t rectify the problem, or the breaker immediately trips, then you have another issue that needs to be addressed.
In single-speed pumps, the most common cause for a failure to start is a bad start capacitor. With computer-driven variable-speed pumps, the issue can be more complex. Very often, there is an automation programming error that is interrupting the operation of the pump, a damaged communication cable, or a drive unit failure resulting in a no-start condition. In any case, failures of this nature need to be called to your pool professional for repair.
THE MOTOR HUMS BUT DOESN’T RUN
If this happens, it is most likely the result of a seized motor drive shaft bearing or a failed start/run capacitor. Seized motor bearings can cause the motor to overheat and, in some cases, even catch fire. The best practice is to turn the circuit breaker to the pump off and call your pool equipment professional.
THE BREAKER TRIPS
Aside from the possibilities covered above, a circuit breaker can be tripped by a loose wire connection, bad ground, water intrusion, electrical interference from other pieces of equipment, or a number of other causes. Occasionally a breaker is simply defective and needs to be replaced. In any case, it is recommended that a service technician is hired as dealing with live wires could be of serious concern, especially when dealing with water.
THERE ARE LOUD NOISES OR VIBRATION
Corroded motor bearings, a damaged impeller, diffuser, drive shaft, or cooling fan are all possibilities for a pump exhibiting excessive noise or vibration. Any and all of these potential problems should be addressed by a qualified technician.
Although there are a lot of factors in ensuring the proper hygiene of your pool equipment, when something malfunctions, you can be empowered by learning what to look for, and, most importantly, by recognizing when a DIY method is not a recommended approach. A licensed and experienced service technician is always the correct choice if and when you are unsure of how to approach a mechanical problem. I have personally seen many pool owners step over a dollar to pick up a dime in attempting DIY repairs that end up costing them more in the end. Naturally, these systems have a domino effect with the potential to result in damage down the pipeline if done incorrectly. It can save you money (or pay, depending on how you look at it) to have someone who can guarantee their work be the ones to touch your equipment last.