Priming a pool pump can sometimes be a difficult process. If there are any deficiencies in the pump, the installation, or the plumbing lines themselves then this will make it much more difficult to prime your pump - maybe even impossible.
Pool pumps are centrifugal pumps and are referred to as "self priming" which is a misnomer. The pumps require manual priming to make sure the pump has water running through it. Running a pool pump without water will cause it to overheat and likely fail. Self priming refers to a pump that is able to evacuate air from the system. A swimming pool pump is able to draw air, however they are much more effective at moving water than air.
Fill The Pump Resevoir With Water
The process of priming a pool pump begins with adding a full strainer basket of water to the pump. You then tighten the lid on to the pump, ensure all the valves installed on the system or in the open position, and turn the pump on.
Below Grade Pump Installation
If the pump is installed at a lower level than the water level in the pool then the pump will be filled with water as soon as you open the isolation valves. This instantly primes the pump as the weight of the water level in the pool pushes water through the plumbing lines and directly into the pump.
Above Grade Pump Installation
For a pool pump installed above grade after you turn the pump on you will need to wait for anywhere from 60 seconds to 5 minutes while the pump attempts to lift water from the pool all the way to the pump. The higher the pump is installed, and the longer the plumbing run from the pool, the more difficult it will be for the pump to prime.
If after five minutes the pump has still not picked up the prime then you should turn the pump back off, open the lid and fill with water again. Repeat this process up to three times before engaging in further troubleshooting of the system. Be sure to not let the pump run longer than 10 minutes if it has not picked up prime as this can cause damage to the pump.
Air Leaks Prevent Pump Priming
If the pump will not prime and you have repeated the process of filling the pump with water a few times, then there may be another problem with the system. The most likely thing by far is that there is air entering the system somewhere. The leak can be anywhere in the plumbing system from the threaded pump suction connection all the way back to the pool skimmer and main drain.
If any changes to your filtration system have been made then you will want to review these changes to make sure that there are no potential leak areas. New plumbing connections could potentially be leaking. You should also check and be sure that you are not missing O-rings in any of your valves or unions, and that the winterization plugs on your pump are all installed properly with gaskets in place as well.
Lubricate Pump Gaskets & O-Rings
Finally the pump lid and O-ring need to be inspected to make sure that they are sealing properly around the pump manifold. Gaskets or O-rings that are cracked, broken, flattened or misshapen should be replaced. You should lubricate O-rings and gaskets every time that you touch them with a silicone based lubricant. Do not use petroleum based lubricants like Vaseline as this will cause the gasket material to degrade.
The final place to inspect for leaks is the manifold where you thread your plumbing connections into the pump. If you use the wrong thread based sealant or overtighten these connections you can put a crack into the manifold which would prevent the pump from priming.
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