pump running - no obvious cause

My home has a well with a submersible pump. It has been running every few minutes even though there are no faucets leaking, the toilets don't run, etc. I just replaced the pressure switch that broke (probably because it ran so often!). Could it be the tank (it doesn't leak) or the check valve (the check value is down about 60' near the pump)?
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Tom wrote:

What does the tank pressure gauge show? Does the gauge work? Can you see it pump up and then drain down with water use?
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Speedy Jim wrote:

the gauge doesn't work - it's very old and stuck on 30 pounds or so. The pump runs about the same it used to with water use.
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Changing that gauge is a good place to begin. They are under $10. That way you can see whats going on with the pressure. Next step, look down the well with a bright light and see if you see water shooting out of a pipe.
Obviously be sure a toilet is not running, etc. Shut off the valve to the house and see if the pressure still drops (after replacing gauge).

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Then it started running constantly, providing less and less pressure to the house. The plumber found that the pipe coming up from the pump had split. They replaced the pipe and all is well. Let us know what you find.
Frank
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Frank K. wrote:

I hope it's not that! The pipe into the house runs through the basement floor so it's not accessable.
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Tom wrote:

More likely to be where the pipe runs outside the house or in the well casing. Look for wet or soft spots on the ground in the path the pipe takes to the well.
Pete C.
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Tom wrote:

It sounds like you have two problems.
A leak somewhere.
A tank that is almost totally water logged.
You need to replace the gauge first to really tell what is happening. They are not expensive.
Even with a leak, the pump should run for a significant time before it shuts off. Rapid on/off cycling is almost always a sign of a tank with insufficient pre-charge.
Harry K
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Harry K wrote:

The pump still runs every 2-3 minutes even with the supply to the house shut off so the problem is the tank or a leak. The pump runs the same amount of time as it did when the system had no problem - I would think it would have to run longer if there was a leak (?). Could I replace the tank myself - it's too small for our system anyway.
Tom
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Tom wrote:

Yes, you are correct, the pump should run longer once it starts if there is a leak.
Pre-charge - an amount of air put into the tank to act as a "spring". As the pump runs, it compresses that bubble until system pressure reaches cut-off setting. The normal pre-charge is 2 psi below the cut-in setting. Normal settings would be 30/50 or 40/60 thus a precharge of 28 or 38 psi. Most tanks now-adays have a bladder that keeps the water and air separated.
Replacing the tank: Should be no problem if you have room to work and have done some plumbing. They weigh very little empty so are easily moved. You have one pipe that acts as both in and out that will go through a "T" before the tank. Plus a take-off somewhere for the pressure switch - normally a 1/8" pipe with the gauge and switch attached. That 1/8" riser pipe can be a souce of problems itself in that it tends to plug up with crude and need cleaning out occasionally. Ask at the place you shop for a tank for the appropriate sized tank.
As I said before. Your first step must be to replace that gauge. You are flying blind until you have one that shows what the system is doing.
The check-valve will be a part of the pump (normally).
Re: leakage. That is the only reason I can see that the pump would start repeatedly when you are not drawing water. With a small tank a small leak could cause the problem. It doesn't take long for the pressure to leak down out of a small tank if a trickle is runnig constantly.
Harry K
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If your check valve is located down at the submersible pump, it's possible that it's not preventing backflow (could be stuck open), letting pressurized water flow back into the well as soon as the pump kicks off. You need a pressure gauge to see what's going on, i.e., does the system pump up to shut-off pressure and then immediately start dropping back. If the house supply is shut off and this is happening, the check valve has a problem or you have a hole in the pipe from the pump to the tank.
Harry

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HarryS wrote:

The new pressure guage shows the pressure falling immediately. It takes about 5 minutes to get back to 30#. The tank pressure was low - 20# - might not have been set correctly when installed. I pumped it up to 28# and checked in a couple days and it held. I'm not able to pull the pump/check valve myself so I will have to call in the pros. I hope the line into the house is OK. It goes through the floor of the basement and travels about 15' under sidewalk and flower beds to the well head. I'm sure it's at least 4 feet down because we live in MN where the frost line can go that low! Let's hope it's the check valve. When we moved in 27 years ago there was a check valve in the basement but it was taken out (very noisey) and a new one placed near the submursible pump when I got a new pump about 10 years ago.
Thanks for evryone's help!!
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I think if this has been going on very long and you have a break in the line from the well head to the house, you'd see some evidence of water coming to the surface somewhere. Of course, if there's a break in the pipe below the well head, you won't see anything.
Sometimes (but only infrequently) a stuck check valve can be freed by increasing the pressure on your system and letting it cycle several times. The higher pressure when the pump kicks off is "sometimes" enough to free a stuck check valve. Say if your system is a 20/40 system, kick up the pressure to 30/50 or 35/55 temporarily to see if the valve frees itself. It's best to shut off the water coming out of the pressure tank and going into the house when you're doing this test. Whatever the results of the test, set the pressure back to normal when the test is over. If you're not familiar with adjusting the settings on the pressure switch, it's time to call the pro.
Harry

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