Circulation Pump Troubleshooting and How to Fix Them

Rachel Cherem

Written By Rachel Cherem

Published 04/18/24
Circulation Pump Troubleshooting and How to Fix Them

Appliance woes leaving you and your family cold? Liberty Home Guard will help you shake the chill. This boiler circulator pump troubleshooting guide will walk you through how to identify and resolve the problem afflicting your plumbing or hydronic heating system.

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What Is a Circulator Pump?


A circulation or circulator pump is a common component of residential heating and plumbing systems. As its name suggests, a circulator pump uses a motor to generate pressure to maintain an adequate and constant flow of heated water throughout a plumbing or heating system. 


The water in the system is heated by a boiler or other heat source, and then the circulator pump aids in distributing the water throughout the building. This can result in hot water flowing from the tap when a circulator pump is integrated into a plumbing system. But a circulator pump is also an essential component of a hydronic heating system. In this case, the heated water in the self-contained system flows through pipes to supply warmth to heat exchangers before circulating back to the original heating source to be warmed again.


Your boiler, plumbing fixtures, heat exchangers, and pipes may be in fine working order, but if you’re dealing with a circulator or circulation pump not working, your water or heating appliances won’t come up to proper temperature. This can have financial implications as well since your boiler or other heat source will still be consuming energy even if you don’t feel any of the benefits.


Identifying Common Circulator Pump Issues


An obvious symptom of a malfunctioning circulator pump is a lack of heating, but heating and plumbing systems are complex, with multiple components that can develop issues of their own. So, how can you pinpoint the circulator pump as the culprit for your temperature troubles? Here are some other possible symptoms to look out for:


  • Sporadic or Inconsistent Heating Depending on the nature of the malfunction, a faulty circulator pump could result in no heating whatsoever, but another possibility is inconsistent heating. Heat might come to your plumbing or heating appliances only sporadically, with no obvious rhyme or reason, or only certain appliances may get warm. Radiators nearer to the boiler and circulator pump, for example, might feel reasonably warmer than those at the far end of the system.


  • Water Leaks Pooling water around any home appliance is always a cause for concern. Even a small amount of water on or beneath your circulator pump suggests a faulty internal component.


  • Sputtering Water A circulator pump should be predictable in its sustained flow of water. Listen for hisses of air, rushes of water, or intermittent flow. If you are hearing or otherwise sensing an inconsistent flow within the system in concert with heating problems, your circulator pump is the probable culprit.


  • Excessive Noise Strange and unusual noises from pumps and other home system components is always a sign to attend to your maintenance checklist. Grinding, clanking, hissing, clicking, groaning, creaking—these are noises that should get your attention and may suggest a problem with your circulator pump.


  • Hot Circulator Pump Your circulator pump should aid in the distribution of heat throughout your home, but the component itself should not be hot to the touch. Localized overheating suggests something is wrong.


  • Cold Water Flow Adjacent to the Pump Water pipes that lead from the circulator pump should feel warm due to the pump forcing hot water through them. If your boiler or other heat source is generating hot water but the pipes coming from the circulator pump are cold, the pump itself is probably faulty.


Step-by-Step Troubleshooting Process


Now you’re knowledgeable of the symptoms that faulty pumps can exhibit. So, how to test a circulator pump that is on the fritz? Here’s Liberty Home Guard’s troubleshooting guide to get the hot water flowing once again.


If you’re hearing strange noises…


  • First identify the probable source of the noise. Is it coming from the circulator pump itself or somewhere else in the system?

  • Grinding or grating noises localized to the pump indicate a likely problem with the circulator pump’s motor or mechanical components. Shut off power to the pump and consult your product’s documentation before inspecting yourself. Otherwise, reach out to the manufacturer or other professional to have the motor inspected.

  • Hissing, gurgling, rushing water, or other noises around the system’s piping and plumbing could be due to an airlock. If air is introduced to the system, the flow of water will be interrupted. Resolve an airlock by first setting a towel or bucket beneath the circulator pump to catch possible water spills. Then switch off the power to the pump’s circuit before adjusting the bleed screw or valve (tip: consult your user’s manual or product manufacturer for easy identification). Loosening the screw will bleed, or release, air from the system. Retighten the screw or valve and see if that resolved your issue.

  • High-pitched noises within your system could also be the result of blockages. If bleeding air from the system doesn’t resolve your problem, there could be an obstruction because of gunk or mineral buildup. In this case, it’s best to have a professional clear the lines.


If you’re seeing leaks or pooling water…


  • Leaks on or near your circulator pump can result from loose or corroded fittings. First, try to determine where on the pump the water is trickling or dripping from. This can help you pinpoint which fitting, joint, seal, or gasket you need to attend to.

  • If you have a good idea of where the water is escaping, use a wrench or other appropriate tool to tighten any mechanical fittings. If there are visible gaskets or seals, inspect them for signs of warping or corrosion.

  • If you can’t determine the source of the leak, check all mechanical fittings to ensure they are tight and secure. Next, check the gaskets and seals to determine if any need to be replaced. These wear over time and may require periodic replacement. 


If the circulator pump is hot to the touch…


  • A hot circulator pump suggests an overworking motor. Power down the circuit supplying electricity to the circulator pump before inspecting. Consult with your product’s manufacturer or a professional to determine if the motor needs a new part or if it should be fully replaced.


If you notice sporadic heating…


  • Intermittent, sporadic, or insufficient heating could be the result of a few problems. If only one tap or appliance is affected, the problem very well be what that piece of equipment and not your circulator pump. If multiple system components are affected, first check the pump’s settings to see if the system needs to be recalibrated. 

  • If the pump’s settings are correct, there could be a problem with the pump’s propeller, motor, or other internal component. Contact the manufacturer or a professional repairperson.


If you notice a total absence of heat…


  • No heating whatsoever means the pump is either without power or the motor or circuitry has failed. Check the power supply and ensure the circuit is receiving power. A circulator pump not turning on usually means the unit needs to be replaced.


Preventative Maintenance Tips


As always, a little maintenance goes a long way. Regularly monitor your pump for signs of wear and tear. Look for corrosion and moisture. Swap out gaskets, seals, and nuts that are past their prime.


Keep an eye on the pump’s pressure and rate of flow. Excessively high or low pressure will lead to inefficient operation or even a malfunction, so checking the gauges every week or so is a good idea.


And, as always, consider protecting your circulator pump by including it in your home warranty policy. If a mechanical component fails, you can have the situation attended to without breaking the bank. Discover more about Liberty Home Guard’s protection options by calling (866)-700-5422.

The Best Home Warranty Service

There's a reason Liberty Home Guard was rated the #1 Home Warranty Service by U.S. News and World Report for 2021, 2022, and 2023. Check out our services.

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