Why Your Well Water Pressure Tank Can Feel Empty (Troubleshoot Guide)


Your well water pressure tank stores pressurized water supplied by the well pump and makes water available for you to use. Ideally, it should feel or sound hollow at the top where the air is trapped. At the bottom, it should sound dull, like a light thud because that’s where the water is.

Your well water pressure tank feels empty because you have a faulty pressure switch which is causing air to leak or giving wrong signals to the well pump. It could be due to the loss of electrical power to the pump or its control, a damaged well pump, or failed pumping if the well is dried out or clogged with sediments.

In this article, you’ll find possible explanations to why your pressure tank feels empty, how to test if your pressure tank is losing its strength, and the resulting effects of a bad pressure tank. You’ll also find insight on the average lifespan expected from your pressure tank and how much time it should take to get filled up.

4 reasons why a well water pressure tank feels empty

1. Pressure is at the low setting

As you use water in your home, the pressure in your pressure tank gradually reduces until it reaches the cut-in pressure which indicates that it needs a refill. The cut-in pressure is the pressure your pump turns on at, usually 30/40psi and sometimes 50psi. 

If the pressure switch isn’t set to activate the well pump that will supply water, then the tank will feel empty.

2. Faulty pressure switch or water pressure regulator

The pressure switch is the part of the pressure tank that alerts the pump to supply water once it reaches the cut-in pressure. If the pressure switch is faulty, water will not be promptly supplied to the pressure tank. When you check out the water pressure gauge at the bottom and by gently shaking, you may be confused as to why the pressure tank feels empty despite showing high pressure, exactly or above the cut-out pressure.

3. Loss of electrical power to pump or a faulty well pump

Sometimes your pressure switch may be working perfectly and the problem is from your pump. The well pump doesn’t run without electricity, so if there’s a damaged, overheated or burnt connection or wiring to the pump, and the stored pressurized water is exhausted, your pressure tank will feel empty because the pump would be incapable of supplying water.

Likewise, if the well pump is faulty from old age or damaged parts, it won’t function properly and won’t supply water to the pressure tank.

4. Problem with the well

This is often diagnosed by a technician. Water is pumped directly from the well, so if there’s an issue with the plumbing work, electrical current consumption, water content (dry or frozen due to the weather conditions), and/or sediment content, it could manifest in the form of an empty pressure tank.

If this is the problem, usually you will hear the pump running and there will be energy consumption, but the efficiency will be significantly low. And that could cause the pressure tank to feel empty more often than not.

Your pressure tank should only feel empty when you’ve intentionally drained out all the water to test for the air charge and the tank. In this case, it should be light enough for you to wiggle gently, and there should be no water sloshing sounds 

Keep in mind that your well water pressure tank should not feel full either. This would mean that it is waterlogged and has no air charge in it. The effect of this is that pressure drops fast when you use water, and the well pump is forced to work more frequently than it should. If this happens, you should either get your tank serviced or completely replaced. 

Sometimes your water pressure tank might feel empty whereas it isn’t – a 20gallon tank is typically “full” when it has 5 gallons of water in it with air occupying the other space. The size of the tank and your physical strength influences this. The best way to have a rough or slightly accurate idea of what “empty” means for your pressure tank is to know what it feels like when it’s functioning properly, and to know how it feels when you’ve drained out water for maintenance check. This way, even when it appears or sounds okay, you’ll know if there’s a reason to be concerned.

How long does a well water pressure tank last?

The lifespan of a well water pressure tank depends on certain factors, namely: the quality of water being pumped,  the quality of the tank itself, and the way it serves its owners. 

On average, a high quality well water tank that stores clean water should last for as long as 15 years.  

Based on the well water quality, if your well has sand or rock sediments regularly rubbing against the pressure tank diaphragm, this could create a hole and damage the tank. 

The frequency of cycling could also wear down the tank. Ideally, the pressure tank reduces pump cycling with a layer of air. When you turn on a faucet, the sir expands, the pressure reduces, and at a point, the pump turn on the refill the tank and restore the pressure. If this process happens too rapidly or frequently, the pressure tank bladder could get damaged.

With proper maintenance and monitoring, your well water pressure tank would exceed the average 15 years.

How long should it take for a pressure tank to fill?

The amount of time it takes to fill a pressure tank depends on the rate of water recharge and environmental conditions like drought or dryness of the well. It also depends on the source of the well water. However, a pressure tank with good pump rate and clean water should get about five gallons of water per minute over a continuous period of two hours. 

How to test if your pressure tank has gone bad?

How to check if your well water pressure tank has gone bad

  1. Disconnect electricity connection to the pump.
  2. Drain the water in the pressure tank by opening a faucet.
  3. Check the pressure on the tank’s bladder from the pressure valve located at the top of the tank. This is the air charge.
  4. The observed pressure should be 2psi lower than the cut-in pressure. Check the low and high settings on your pressure switch for accuracy.
  5. If the pressure is way below the expected level, e.g. 10psi, then you might have a leaking or ruptured bladder on your hands. If it’s very high, that’s also not a good sign.
  6. You can also gently shake the pressure tank after draining it. If you hear water moving, that’s not a good sign.
  7. Call a professional to take a closer look if you notice anything unusual.

Other signs that your pressure tank is failing

  • The pump doesn’t turn off when your water pressure is above the cut-out pressure. The cut-out pressure is the pressure your pump turns off at.
  • The pump doesn’t turn on at the proper cut-in pressure.
  • You observe low water pressure while the pump is running.
  • Excessive rust on the outside.
  • Pressure switch turns on and off rapidly and frequently. 
  • Water comes out from the air valve at the top of your pressure tank
  • The pressure reading fluctuates wildly.
  • The top of your tank feels full and cold, and doesn’t sound hollow as it should. Note that air is supposed to be at the top of the tank to exert pressure on the water at the lower level, so if you think the tank is full to the top, then there’s a problem with the water pressure.

What happens when your pressure tank goes bad?

There’s a few things that can happen when your pressure tank goes bad.

1. Water hammer

If you’re familiar with loud bangs coming from your water pipes. That’s a water hammer, and it happens when there’s an abrupt change in water flow or direction. These changes happen when your well water pressure tank can’t maintain optimal water pressure. Water hammer would cause pipe breaks over time.

2. High energy usage

By now, you must have a rough idea of how much your water pump is costing you. When your pressure tank is bad, your well pump can run more than necessary and consume more energy than normal. If you notice a sudden increase in your electrical bills, your pressure tank health is a good place to check.

3. Shortened lifespan of your well pump

Each time you use water in your home, pressure gradually reduces in the pressure tank, and after a set threshold, it activates your well pump. A bad pressure tank would cause the pump to run too often, and wear out more quickly. 

Your best chance at fixing a water pressure tank problem is to ask for professional help, or get a new pressure tank.

Conclusion

Your well water pressure tank may feel empty for several different reasons. Identifying the cause of that emptiness will inform your decision on the next step to take. This article has provided simple ways to check the overall health status of your pressure tank.

If after these tests or checks, you’re still not sure how to proceed, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

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