Pump Tank (System) Troubleshooting
This is the process
I go through when troubleshooting a septic pump tank
Steps 1-5 are good
troubleshooting steps before calling a septic installer.
1) Flip the
breaker. In other words, turn the breaker off and turn it back
Now go check to see if the pump is working again.
Sometimes that is all the system needs.
You got a electrical surge, or a momentary short, and it tripped the breaker.
If the pump starts
working then the breaker trips again, you have a real
electrical problem. You probably need to call the septic guy first—to do some
troubleshooting, and I'm afraid the answer is also going to be “call an
You might be paying both tradesmen to get this one fixed.
Of note, there are
some septic guys that will do electrician-type work on
pump systems, but they are not supposed to—unless they are also licensed
electricians. It is on my list to sit down with the North Carolina electrical
board to get some clarification on the demarcation line for this matter. I will
post on the topic and put in a link to the Q&A when this is done.
2) If your problem
is not fixed, turn the breaker off.
gases are explosive.
Do not smoke near a septic tank.
Additionally, faults in wires in the pump tank can ignite gases.
breakers and switches creates sparks.
If your control panel was not installed correctly the gases from the
tank can make their way into the control panel through the electrical
conduit and ignite (rare, but possible). The conduit should have had a
sealant placed inside it by the installing electrician to stop the migration of
It never hurts to make sure the breaker is off and to let your pump tank air
out well before flipping the breaker back on again.
3) Examine the area
around the septic and pump tanks for snakes
(copperheads) and spiders (black widows). Next examine the area for
obvious reasons why the pump might not be working. Did a yard
maintenance worker cut a line? Is a electrical wire disconnected? Is
something not plugged in? Once the problem is fixed turn
the breaker back on. Did this fix the pump?
If not, turn the breaker off again.
4) Go to the pump
tank and unscrew—usually, or lift off the concrete lid.
Examine the area inside the pump tank for snakes and spiders.
Be wary of walking away from an open pump (or septic) tank. There have
been instances of people leaving the lid off a tank momentarily and kids
falling in. Think about it: if you are messing with a hole in the ground and
young kids are watching, the moment you walk away they are going to walk
up to see what you were doing. It is the nature of children.
5) Get something
with a hook—I use a 5-Iron golf club, and lift each of your
3 (or 2) pump floats; you can also use a garden rake. Make sure none of
them are tangled with each other or other equipment. If they are all
floating freely—or now that they are
floating freely, cut the pump back on at the breaker.
Is the system fixed? If not, cut the breaker off again.
6) Now might be a good time to call me... 828-447-5184.
I work weekends primarily.
I have homes in three locations across the State.
For pump systems I stay within two counties of:
Waynesville (Haywood County)
Washington (Beaufort County)
say you live in Dare County. Dare touches Hyde and
touches Beaufort County. So, you are in my service area.
7) Note: You are supposed to be a certified septic installer to work on a
pump system in North Carolina.
If you are willing
to (or are going to!) work on your system, the
following articles are a good source of information:
Troubleshooting Pumps: The Pump Motor Doesn't Run
Pumps: The Pump Turns On, But There's No Water
Troubleshooting Pumps: The Pump Runs Continuously or Cycles Too
Troubleshooting Pumps: The Pump Makes A Lot of Noise
You will need an electrician's multimeter to perform some of the
troubleshooting steps in this section.
To remove the septic pump, you will have to unscrew the pump from the
pipe at the top of the pump chamber.
If there is not an simple PVC disconnect installed on the pump at the top of
the pipe, the installer was uneducated (or a slacker).
You will now have to cut the PVC pipe to get the pump out of the tank.
Now, install a coupling like should have been there in the first place.
7) Look for the manufacturer and model number on the pump itself.
Download manual for the pump.
Follow the directions in the manual to troubleshoot the pump.
You may need to call the company's tech support.
Did this fix the problem?
If not, cut the breaker off again.
8) Look at the
control panel (the box with the switches and counters inside).
Find the make and model number.
Now go to the internet and download the manual.
Follow the troubleshooting procedures in the manual.
You will need an electrician's multimeter to do some of the troubleshooting.
Call the company that manufacturers the control panel.
Get tech support on the line and go through their troubleshooting
9) If you require a replacement pump, get the pump's
manufacturer to tell
you which make and model of pump to
buy. You can change pump
manufacturers as long as the fittings are sized correctly. As with most
things, you get what you pay for. I tend to shop by warranty for pumps.
It is easier to let the manufacturer size your pump than to do this yourself.
I do not size my own pumps.
I call the manufacturer and give them the elevations, distance to the
drainfield, tank size and any other information they need.
10) Replace the
lids on all the tanks.
An aside: As a
homeowner in North Carolina you are not allowed to repair
any part of your septic's pump system.
I didn't make the rules. I am just passing the information along.
In this State repairing a pump system falls under the category of Grade II
You are also not allowed to repair a pump for a business for which you work.
Again, Grade II installer.
The septic laws are
different from other trades' homeowner rules in this
You can do your own plumbing for your home in North Carolina.
You can also do your own electrical work in your own home.
It is what it is.
Serving the Inner & Outer Banks
Charlotte & the Foothills
Western North Carolina
Figure 1. Sarratt Septic service area map. https://en.wikipedia.org
/File:North_Carolina_counties.gif. Reprinted from Wikipedia
Commons, October 11, 2019.