For any off-the-gridder or survivalist, having a safe, adequate, and reliable source of water is just about as basic as it gets. Water independence is the clear goal for all who want to be prepared for all contingencies, and digging your own well is the obvious way to set yourself up in anticipation of a time when utility companies can no longer be relied upon to supply vital services to their customers.
But digging a traditional well is not the only option. There is another type of well that is perfectly capable of providing sufficient supplies of fresh, clean, potable water to meet the needs of most households, especially if at least a degree of water conservation is practiced. Driven-point wells are a convenient and affordable alternative, and in most instances they can be installed without the use of expensive or complicated equipment, which can make them an amazing project for the hands-on type who prefers the do-it-yourself approach.
Even though driven-point techniques have been in use for a long time, many are still not familiar with all the particulars of this kind of well. This is a pity, because driven-point wells can be the perfect answer for those who are determined to take every step possible to become self-sufficient and independent in all aspects of their lives.
Installing a Driven-Point Well: The Basics
Driven-point wells are constructed from narrow steel pipes that are pounded straight down into the ground until they go deep enough to pass through the water table. The process starts with a two to three foot long piece of pipe with a sharp, screened well-point tip on the end that facilitates easy movement through the earth. In most cases a hole will be augured out to make pounding this initial length of pipe in easier, and water may be poured into the hole to make the earth even softer. A hand-held post driver can be used in many cases to begin driving the well-point, although when a little more force is needed it may be necessary to use a motorized machine with it tripod and pulley set-up that will lift and drop a heavy driver down on top of the pipe over and over. The most efficient way to pound the well sections into the earth uses a long thin driver that actually goes inside the pipe and hammers down on a metal extension located near the bottom of the well-point. This greatly decreases the force applied to the pipe itself and reduces the chances of it becoming bent or warped by the driving process.
The well-point section contains a reinforced screen that will allow water to enter the pipe while filtering out sand, gravel, and other types of particulates. The top part of the section is threaded, so that when it has been driven far enough into the earth a second section can be inserted and coupled with the original, allowing the driving process can continue, with more sections of pipe being added until water has been reached. The final section of pipe installed should rise about 12 inches above the earth, in order to protect the well entrance from contamination by runoff (although a threaded cap will need to be screwed onto the top as well if the pump and water discharge system will be offset). The simplest way to determine when water has been struck is to continuously pour water into the pipe as it is being driven in to see where it goes. Once water stops leaking from the pipe through the screen and starts backing up, this probably means that water has been found. Theoretically it could also mean that clay or some other kind of insoluble soil has been encountered, but it is usually possible to tell the difference because sandy soil in the area of the water table is soft and allows for easy driving, while dense clay will resist the driving process quite noticeably.
Once water has been found and the driving stopped, the basic structure of the driven-point well will then be in place. Your next step will be to install the pump, water discharge system, and the pressure tank, so you can begin pumping and storing water from your brand new well as soon as possible.
Pumps and Discharge Systems: The Choices
Before choosing a water pump for a driven-point well, it is necessary to know how far below the surface of the earth the water table is on your land. If water can be found at a depth of 20 feet or less, you will need a shallow-well pump. This kind of pump works well with driven-point piping that is relatively narrow, perhaps as little as 1 ¼ inches in diameter. If, on the other hand, the water table is more than 20 feet below the surface, it will be necessary to use a deep-well pump, which is capable of generating enough force to bring water up from a depth of 70 feet or more. In this instance the pipe used to make the drive-point well must be 2 inches in diameter or more, to make room for a jet packer assembly that must be installed inside the pipe to assist the pumping system in its work.
Pump location will determine what kind of water discharge system is required. If the pump is to be placed right over the top of the drive-point pipe set-up, the arrangement will be quite uncomplicated. This is the type of system that feeds the old hand-style pumps that we still see sometimes in parks or at historical sites. Some kind of tank will likely be used to collect the water, from where it can be piped out, carried out, or used to feed a hose if the water is going to be used for the purposes of watering and irrigation.
But if the pump is to be placed at an offset location – which is by far the most common arrangement for wells driven to supply normal household needs – then a more complex set up will need to be installed. The driven-pipe system will need to have a connector called a pitless adapter installed between two of its steel pipe sections. This device makes it possible to connect a water discharge pipe with the well pipe by coming in from the side, at a T-shaped angle, without having to dig a pit down around the driven-point well site. Water can then be diverted perpendicularly from the well to be collected at an offset site, which in most cases will be either directly adjacent to or inside the house. It is illegal to install a driven-point well in the basement, and since this is where most people want their water to be collected offset wells are a necessity for most. The one unbreakable rule with a pitless adapter is that it must be installed far enough below the earth that the pipes of the well are protected from freezing during even the coldest months of winter.
With an offset system, the pressurized water discharge pipe will leave the well at a 90-degree angle and continue in a straight line until it reaches the location of the pump and tank storage site. If the elevations of both sites are equal this is a relatively uncomplicated affair, and the discharge pipe can continue right straight in to the pump and pressure tank. However, if the discharge pipe comes in below the basement or pump house, an elbow will be used to connect another discharge pipe to the end of the original, so that water can be pulled up to vertically by the pumping system.
Location, Location, Location
Driven-point wells require a permeable and relatively sandy sub-surface, otherwise there will be no way to install them without damaging the pipe. Before commencing, you will need to do some research to make sure you are living in an area with soft enough soil for a driven-point system to be used. But even if it turns out you are living in an area perfectly suited for driven wells, there is much more to selecting a well specific location than just proximity to the house. Both state departments dedicated to natural resource management and county authorities are likely to have codes that must be followed when putting in a driven well, and a lot of their restrictions deal with issues related to well location. You will need to find a spot for your well that has a low probability of becoming contaminated with bacteria, nitrates, or any other kind of toxic or dangerous materials that could be transported by runoff from rainwater or melting snow.
The basic idea is that driven-point wells should be sited at the highest point that is practical on any given parcel of land. The top of the pipe must also rise at least 12 inches above the ground, and when the pump and water discharge pipes are located underground the top must also be covered with a sealed cap or tight concrete seal to make sure no contaminants can fall into the pipe from the sky.
Sources that could possibly contaminate a well via rainwater/snow melt runoff include:
- Sewer pipes and septic holding tanks
- Retention ponds or sludge disposal sites
- Water spouts or other runoff pipes
- Storm sewers
- Animal yards
- Buried fuel tanks
Each individual state and/or county will have specific regulations about how far your well must be placed from these sources. This is one instance, however, where government regulations are pretty much based on common sense, and in some instances you might want to locate your well even farther away from potential contamination sources than the law requires.
After a well has been installed, codes require that the water pumped up must be tested for bacteria before the well can be officially put into use. This can be done through the state or with a private laboratory, but once your well water has been certified bacteria-free it should be safe for drinking – provided, of course, that no other contaminants are present, which is why locating a driven-point well away from possible sources of toxic runoff is vitally important. As long as your well has been driven down at least 20 feet below the surface, you should be safe from contamination, but if your well has been placed at shallower depths you really should have the water thoroughly tested for any and all possible contaminants before you even think about drinking it. Generally speaking, driven-point wells between 10 feet (the minimum depth in most states) and 20 feet below the surface should probably be reserved for outside uses such as irrigation or cleaning.
Once a well has been installed and the pump is up and working, you should test your system out to see how much water it is producing. A minimum capacity of at least four gallons a minute is recommended for household use, but 8-10 gallons a minute is much better if you plan to have a well that can meet all of your water-use needs. A larger pressure tank can be installed to compensate for low-producing wells, and one of the neat things about drive-point wells is that you can actually increase capacity by installing two or more parallel wells that can be coupled together and hooked up as a unit to your pumping system.
Before being put into use, driven-point wells will need to be disinfected with a chlorine solution of about 100 parts per million, and the well will need to be flushed out afterward to make sure all traces of the chlorine have been removed. Collecting your water sample for the bacteriological test is the final step, and once you have gotten your results back and your well has been verified safe you will need to file a final report with the Department of Natural Resources in your state to let them know that you have dotted all of your ‘Is and crossed all of your ‘Ts.
Driving Your Way to Water Independence
Installing a driven-point well on your land may require a permit, so you should check all DNR and county regulations carefully before planning out your well and possibly submitting your application. But once you have formulated a plan that can meet your water needs while taking into account all the unique characteristics of your parcel of land, everything from that point on should be smooth sailing. Driven-point wells are an ideal choice for those who love to take on challenging home improvement projects, and there are plenty of materials available online that can give you the complete rundown on what kind of equipment and materials you will need to install such a well on your own personal homestead. As long as you are diligent in your research and detailed in your planning, putting in a driven-point well should bring an end to your dependence on your local water utility, giving you the water independence you may someday need in order to make it through the difficult times ahead.