Dear Angie: How do we determine if we need a new well pump? Our water pressure was decreasing over several months. Then, the other night, we came home to no running water at all. The pump's circuit breaker seems OK. — Sue M., Westerville, Ohio
Dear Sue: The first thing to do when you have no water is to shut off electrical power to the pump and to your water heater. That will prevent possible additional damage.
Then, it's time to discover the source of the problem. Your best bet is to contact a reputable, experienced well contractor. Your well pump may be the most likely suspect, but there could be other reasons for your dry spell.
You mentioned that you experienced decreased water pressure. That's one sign of a possible problem with a well pump or water tank. Here are others:
■ Dirty water
■ Loud or odd noises
■ Air "spitting" from the faucet
■ Unusually high electric bills (which may indicate a pump having to run continuously to maintain water pressure)
Meanwhile, anything that puts a strain on the well pump can cause it to fail prematurely. Among situations that can lead to pump failure:
■ The expansion tank losing pressure. The tank is a closed container for the pump to fill with water. As water fills the tank, the air within becomes compressed, usually through an air-filled vinyl bladder, until pressure is high enough to trip the pressure switch. When someone opens a faucet, air pressure in the tank will squeeze the bladder and force water out. When enough water is used to lower the pressure, the switch turns the pump back on and the cycle repeats. If the tank loses its pressure (its "pre-charge," which comes with the tank from the factory), the pump must work overtime to keep the tank full.
■ A power outage. Unless the well pump has a backup power supply, such as a battery or a backup generator, it will usually stop working if you lose your electricity.
■ Failure to tackle repairs. Common well pump repairs include replacing the pressure switch (about $20 to $40 plus a service call) or replacing the tank ($250 to $500, plus installation costs).
It's a good idea, well experts say, to schedule an annual inspection. Such a service should cost $100 to $120.
Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at email@example.com.
MCCLATCHY NEWS SERVICES