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Troubleshooting Pool Pump Breaker Trips: A Guide

Pool pumps cause so few problems that we tend to take them for granted, leaving them to work when the timer switches them on and expecting them to keep on pumping water around the filtration system without missing a beat. So, when you go away for a few days and return to find your pool green and murky, it’s an unpleasant shock. You discover that your pool pump has tripped the breaker, but why?

Pool pumps trip the breaker on the circuit board for two basic reasons: firstly, there may be an electrical problem involving the motor, the wiring, or the board. Or alternatively, it could be the result of a mechanical issue with the pump and its peripheral attachments, such as the impeller.

I’ve known pool pumps that last fifteen years without giving any problems. The average lifespan is eight to twelve years, so when they stop working, it’s often a bit of a mystery as to what’s gone wrong. Diagnosing the problem of the pump tripping the breaker is quite simple, and the repair is often uncomplicated as well, so let’s examine the various possibilities and their remedies.

Why Pool Pump Trips Breaker

There are mechanical reasons why the breaker trips when the pool pump is switched on, but the electrical issues are more common and easier to fix.

Electrical Reasons For Pool Pumps To Trip The Breaker

Electricity and water don’t go well together, but at least some of the electrical issues are caused by wear and tear issues rather than water.

Check For A Faulty Breaker

The NEC (National Electrical Code) now requires that Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (GCFI) breakers be fitted to all pool pumps, but they are more sensitive than traditional ones and tend to trip more often. A bad breaker may trip from noise, variable speed pumps, and even some lighting controls in what is called nuisance tripping. If your breaker is tripping for no apparent reason, try replacing it with a new one.

The Capacitor May Cause Breaker To Trip

A capacitor stores energy and uses it to start the pump motor when it receives current. A failing capacitor will make a humming noise but won’t deliver power to the motor and may cause it to trip the breaker. Capacitors last 7 to 10 years, so if yours is that old, it should be replaced.

Water Or Moisture May Be The Problem

Although the pump drives water through the system, the motor must remain completely dry, and any moisture or water coming into contact with an electrical connection or component will cause a short circuit and trip the breaker.

If the tripping occurs after rain or after irrigating the garden, the pump needs to be allowed to dry out completely and then covered more effectively (allowing for ventilation at the same time.)

Wiring Issues Will Cause Tripping

Poor connections, corroded terminals, and old insulation of wiring between the pump and breaker will cause leakage of electrical current, and the GFCI breakers will trip.

You can clean terminals, tighten connections, and check the wiring after ensuring that the current has been switched off, but any major electrical repairs need to be handled by a certified electrician.

The Motor Windings May Be Shorting Out

As the motor ages, the insulation around the copper windings breaks down, causing the current to short across the winding instead of traveling the entire length. This, in turn, causes the motor to draw more current and the breaker to trip.

The only solution in this case is to rewind or replace the motor, depending on its age and condition. With a motor older than five years, I recommend a replacement as the most cost-effective way to solve the problem.

Mechanical Reasons For Pool Pumps To Trip The Breaker

While the tripping of the breaker is an electrical issue, some of the causes are mechanical in nature, and all of them involve overheating of the pump.

A Clogged Pump Will Trip The Breaker

When debris gets past the filter and the skimmer basket, it can partially block the suction section of the plumbing, forcing the pump to work harder and inevitably overheat. That debris can find its way into the impeller, preventing it from spinning freely and again causing extra strain on the motor, leading to a breaker trip.

The solution is time-consuming but simple and effective:

  • Firstly, clear all the baskets of trapped debris.
  • Then, clean the filter, whether it’s a sand, DE, or cartridge type.
  • Loosen all the plumbing couplings and remove any trapped debris before flushing out the pipes.
  • If there’s debris jamming the impeller, use a wire probe or small screwdriver to gently get it out.

Improving the flow through the pump will cool it, reduce the current needed, and hopefully prevent it from tripping the breaker.

Worn Bearings on The Pump Motor Will Cause A Breaker Trip

Worn pump bearings create friction, make it harder for the motor to spin, and create heat.

Usually, this is a problem on older motors, which is why they are more liable to cause the breaker to trip.

The only remedy for an older motor is to replace it, but if the bearings have worn prematurely on a motor less than five years old, it is worth getting new bearings fitted.

Diagnosing And Remedying The Cause

If the pool pump triggers a breaker trip as soon as it switches on, you can be almost certain it’s an electrical issue. If, however, the pump runs for a while before tripping the breaker, that is more than likely to be caused by a heat build-up, and that’s a sign of a mechanical problem.

While the mechanical repair is usually something the home handyman can attend to, the electrical problems should be left to a professional to sort out. Apart from being dangerous for the do-it-yourself enthusiast to attempt, a home repair could negate any warranties on pool equipment, and it is a given in most states that a certified electrician attends to repairs of this nature.

Conclusion

When a pool pump repeatedly trips a breaker, the breaker may be faulty, or there may be an electrical fault in the pump or other components that draw power through the breaker. Conversely, a mechanical problem may cause a heat build-up in the motor and that dreaded breaker trip. It’s relatively easy to fix the mechanical failure, but diagnosing and repairing the electrical faults is best carried out by a certified electrical professional. Good luck!