Fixing Pump Problems

Eighty percent of pump problems can be fixed in minutes, saving you further inconvenience.The pump can be called the “heart” of the pond. Without it, the relaxing, rushing sound of the water over the rocks would not exist. The fish and the filtering bacteria in the biological filter also depend on the pump to provide fresh, oxygenated water.Most quality pumps should get you at least three years of maintenance-free service of re-circulating the water in your pond, so how can the pump not be working? Odds are the pump is actually fine. As a pond owner, there are a few things you can do to help detect, and hopefully fix, the problem before you call the installer or return the pump to the merchant from which you purchased it. Eighty percent of pump problems can be fixed in minutes, saving you further inconvenience. The following troubleshooting steps will help you quickly identify, and hopefully solve, the problem with a failed pump.


Proceed with the following actions until the problem is found.

    • First of all, is the pump receiving water? This sounds like an obvious question, but it’ s not an uncommon problem. Water evaporates and, if not replaced, the lack of it can affect the operation of the pump. In this situation, the pump may actually be running, but just not receiving enough water. A lot of times you can actually hear the “hum” or “gurgle” of the pump when this is happening.
    • Make sure nothing is blocking the flow of water to the pump. Large boulders, debris blocking the front of the skimmer opening, a clogged skimmer net, or clogged skimmer filter can reduce the flow of water. If you have a skimmer, make sure the water level is 3/4″ below the top of the skimmer opening. If the established water level is lower than this, the pump may suck the skimmer dry, causing the thermal shut-off to activate. The thermal shut-off will deactivate once the pump cools back down. The proper water level will then need to be established.
    • The pond is too small for the stream above it. The lowest pond must be large enough to supply enough water to start the circulation of the stream and/or waterfall. Once the pump is started, it may be necessary to add a few inches of water to the lower pond in order to account for the water used to feed the stream, pipe, and waterfalls. Lower ponds that are designed too small may not be able to supply enough water to start the streams/waterfalls. This will cause the water in the pond to drop below the opening of the skimmer upon the initial start-up, and starve the pump of water.
    • The pump may be vapor-locked. This term sounds complicated, but it simply means that air is trapped inside the pump. Pumps are designed to push water, not air so when an air bubble gets trapped, the pump becomes vapor locked. When this happens, the impeller is spinning, but water is not being pushed. Listen to see if you hear the hum of the pump. A vapor-lock can be fixed by tilting the pump, allowing the air bubble to escape from the intake.
    • Is the electrical supply operating properly? Premature pump failures can occur due to a faulty electrical supply. For example, using an extension cord, especially one over 25-feet long, may cause irregular power to the pump. This can cause performance problems with the pump, and possibly reduce its lifespan. Check to make sure all electrical connections are functioning properly. Verify that a certified electrician installed and tested the electrical while the pump was running. Oftentimes, GFCI circuits are set too sensitive, causing them to repeatedly trip the breaker.
    • Check the electric box to see if the ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) has tripped. The proper electrical setup for the pond should include a GFCI outlet. A GFCI is a safety device installed to protect people from receiving a shock in the event of an electrical malfunction and will shut the power down if it senses a problem. GFCIs are very sensitive and can sometimes trip during a thunderstorm or a power surge. It is also very common for outside outlets to be electrically connected to other rooms within the house, such as the bathroom. Many times, the combination of the pump running on the pond and someone using devices like a blow dryer in the bathroom can overload the GFCI and trip the breaker. Ask your electrician to make sure the electrical outlet for the pond is dedicated to just the pond.
    • Unplug the pump and disconnect the union fitting found at the top of the pump connection. The water will back-flush from the biological filter back into the skimmer. This will help flush out any debris that is clogged along the length of the pipe.
  • (Reference above images)Pull the pump out of the skimmer and inspect the intake on the pump for any lodged debris. Some pumps are capable of handling solids and debris up to about 5/8″. On some occasions, debris may become lodged in the housing of the pump. This could stop the impeller from turning, restricting the flow of water, and eventually causing the pump to stop operating properly. Thoroughly check the pump intake, including the area above the impeller where small debris, such as gravel, may be trapped. Plug in the pump after inspecting it for debris, and see if the impeller spins.
  • The impeller may fail to spin when the pump has been out of operation for a period of time (such as over the winter). Try to assist it by using a screwdriver or similar tool to give it a little kick-start.When the pump begins to operate, let it run for 5 to 10 seconds. Unplug the pump, wait a few seconds, and plug it back in. The impeller should begin to spin without assistance this time.
  • If you still have no luck, bring the pump over to another electrical outlet, specifically one that contains a GFCI breaker, and see if the pump operates. This will tell you if the pond’ s electrical supply is bad, or if there is something internally wrong with the pump. If the pump trips the GFCI, then it is likely that there is something wrong with the pump, and it should be replaced. If the pump runs without a problem on the second outlet, you’ ll want to have a qualified electrician come out and check the pond’ s electrical setup.

newwinpump4A problem with your pond’ s pump doesn’ t always mean the pump is ready to be replaced. It doesn’ t mean you have to wait for warranty repairs or for your landscape contractor to pay you a visit. Familiarizing yourself with a few simple technicalities will help you fix the problem yourself and your pump could be running normally in no time at all.

Source: (C) 2006 Pond Lifestyles


Issue: Pump Hums but Pushes Very Little Water

Possible Cause: Impeller may be seized by debris

Troubleshooting: Unplug and remove the pump from the pond and inspect the pump intake to ensure there is no debris restricting the impeller. Remove any debris, like rocks or sticks, which may have become lodged around and above impeller.

While the pump is still out of the pond, lay it on its side and plug in the pump to see if the impeller spins. If the impeller does not spin, use a screwdriver or similar tool to kick start the impeller.

Possible Cause: Pump may be air-locked.

Troubleshooting: Air has gotten into the impeller chamber. Tilt the pump while it’s in the pond to allow air to be released from the chamber or remove the pump from the pond and re-install, ensuring that the impeller chamber is flooded with water.

Issue: Pump Pushes Very Little Water

Possible Cause: Plumbing clogged with debris.

Troubleshooting: Disconnect the pump from the pipe. This will allow the plumbing to drain. Clogged debris may back-flush out of the plumbing and into the pond during this procedure. Inspect the plumbing to make sure no debris is lodged inside.

Issue: Pump Is Not Running

Possible Cause: Poor electrical connection, tripped breaker, blown fuse, or other interruption in power supply.

Troubleshooting: Check to make sure all electrical connections are working and that a qualified electrician installed and tested it. Note – Long extension cords may cause voltage drop at the pump and the amps to rise above maximum level. This can cause the pump to heat up and burn out the motor.

Issue: Pump Operates Intermittently

Possible Cause: Not enough water in the pond.

Troubleshooting: Most pumps must be submersed in water to operate properly. Low water levels may cause the pump’s internal thermal shut-off to activate. The thermal shut-off will deactivate once the pump is cooled down. The proper water level must be established in the pond for the pump to work properly.

Possible Cause: The pond is too small to support the volume of water needed for the stream.

Troubleshooting: The pond must be designed to provide enough water to the stream and waterfalls for proper circulation. When the pump is first started, it may be necessary to add a few inches of water to the pond in order to account for the water used to feed the stream and waterfalls. Upper pools and “check” dams in the streams are also very effective at holding water upstream when the pump(s) are not operating. Ponds that are too small may not be able to supply enough water to start the streams and waterfalls. This will cause the water in the pond to drop below the opening of the skimmer upon initial start-up and starve the pump of water.

Just Enjoy!

Remember, your pond should not be an endless source of frustration and confusion to you. If you continue to have problems with your pond, regardless of the troubleshooting steps you performed, it may be time to call in the help of a professional.

But please, don’t consider routine, general maintenance to be a burden on you. After all, how many tasks do you get to perform in the warm sun, with the sounds of frogs and birds all around you, and your friendly koi nibbling at your fingers? And how often are you tempted to take your shoes off and dip your toes in the bathtub when you’ve been cooped up in the house washing windows? Not often. That’s why you installed your pond. Enjoy it!