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7 Things You Better Learn & Know Before Digging A Well

7 Things You Better Learn & Know Before Digging A Well

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Water is one of those commodities that many people take for granted. Like electricity or natural gas, a lot of us are accustomed simply to flipping a switch or turning a knob or lifting a handle, and there it is. It may be that we have not had occasion even to wonder about the manner in which it traveled from its source to our homes. It is provided by a municipal or for-profit entity, and all we have to do is pay the bill.

In most truly rural locations, people are on their own for water. Typically, that means having a private well. If you have never had to be responsible for water accession, the idea of doing so can be a little daunting.

If having a private well is new to you, following are a few basic facts about owning one that might be helpful to know before you take up homesteading or country life.

1. It is possible for a well to run dry. While there are different well-drilling technologies, different climates, and different demands for water, no well is completely infallible. When that happens, homesteaders are likely to be on their own. When piped-in water fails, the onus is upon the water company to rectify the problem. When a private well fails, it is the owner’s problem.

That said, it is uncommon for good quality wells to fail or run dry. Wells which are shallow, dug (as opposed to drilled), makeshift, poorly sited, or located in an arid climate are more likely to have problems than those which are deeper, professionally drilled, or in an area with a high underground water table and ample rainfall.

2. Well water is not tested unless the owner tests it. Again, in this age of having certain aspects taken care of for us by experts, it is easy to forget that rural living does not include all the same benefits. Out in the country, the only way we know what is in our water is to have it tested.

In my region, the process is simple and inexpensive. It amounts to picking up small plastic jars from a nearby commercial laboratory, following instructions for filling them at the kitchen faucet, and returning them to the lab. If you are unsure how to proceed where you live, ask your county cooperative extension, your municipal office, a state official or even a professional realtor.

3. Water can be contaminated by fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or naturally occurring substances. Residue from a myriad of sources, from commercial crops to livestock to landfills to your own landscaping practices, can seep into groundwater. In addition to external contaminants, geology can play a large role in water quality. Toxins such as arsenic and radon are common in my region, and homeowners need to be diligent in determining levels of dangerous elements in their well water.

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Many toxins are treatable. Some are as easy as adding chlorine, and others require extensive mitigation equipment.

If you are purchasing a property with an existing well, be sure to test the water before you buy the property. If you are planning to build a well on property you already own, have the water evaluated as you proceed.

4. Additives are not present in well water unless the owner adds them. This can be both a benefit and a drawback to having your own private water source. You can control any chlorine or other chemical elements in your water, but you do not have the advantage of having what many consider to be beneficial additives. Some dental professionals say that children raised in impoverished rural areas have two strikes against them—not only the reduced access to dental care, but the lack of fluoride in drinking water. Other science suggests fluoride treatment is more of a risk than a benefit. The takeaway is simply this: Make sure you know what you are and are not getting in your water, and if there is something of value missing, be proactive about attaining it elsewhere.

7 Things You Better Learn & Know Before Digging A Well

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5. The cost of creating a well depends greatly. Primarily, it rests upon the type of soil, the presence or not of ledge below the surface, and the type of well that is best for your geography. For example, a high water table — meaning that underground water stays close to the surface — and soft sandy soil can mean that a simple point well can serve nicely. These conditions are also more conducive to dug wells than are harder soils with a higher concentration of clay and ledge. For the latter, a well probably needs to be drilled with professional equipment, especially if the best reliable source of water lies deep below the surface.

6. Do not forget codes and regulations. Many areas have strict codes regarding the location and type of wells which can be created. You may or may not need a permit for your well. Check with your local authorities before you start to dig.

7. Well water travels from the well to your faucet by way of a pump. Homesteaders who are on the grid often use an electric well pump, which can be situated either inside the well itself or closer to the interior plumbing of the home. In-well pumps are more labor intensive and often more costly to install, while interior pumps are noisier. Interior pumps cost more to run, as well, since the act of pulling water takes more energy than pushing it.

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If you have an electric pump, you will lose the ability to draw water when the power goes out. If this is your situation, it is important to keep ample water on hand for possible outages. It is a good idea to keep a supply of clean water in sterile glass jars for human consumption, and larger amounts of water in plastic barrels for flushing.

Having a hand pump on your well, as either a primary pump or for use in emergencies—is an even better idea. If you can afford to add one to your existing pump setup, you are likely to someday be glad you did.

As an aside, not all rural water supplies rely upon a well at all. Some homesteaders and off-gridders successfully use nature’s power to provide them with water, utilizing such resources as rainwater, natural springs or other water bodies and harnessing gravity to move the water to where they need it. If you can get reliable water year-round without a well, go for it!

Among the many positive aspects of having your own well is the fact that you are not in danger of suffering from someone else’s bad decisions. You can be in charge of making sure there is no lead in your pipes and no contaminants in your groundwater. On the other hand, when something does go awry, it is your responsibility to correct it. But until something happens, there are no monthly bills for water, no unwanted chemicals, and often a far better taste. Once you become accustomed to the unique rewards and responsibilities of having your own well water, you will likely agree that living with a private well is worth what it takes to do it right.

What would you add to our list? Share your well water tips in the section below:

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  1. I enjoyed your article on having your own Well & tips. Where can i purchase a hand pump to put on my Well if the power goes out ?
    Thank you. Peaprincess.

  2. It was over two thousand dollars to have a sturdy cast iron hand pump put on our well, but worth it…. We heard from the well drillers that we were one of the first in our area to install one, and many more have gone in since. I think a lot more people realize that water is life than ever before.

  3. “Some dental professionals say that children raised in impoverished rural areas have two strikes against them—not only the reduced access to dental care, but the lack of fluoride in drinking water.

    While some “dental professionals” may still be making this claim (and I’d have to question their ‘professionalism”), I’m horrified to see this printed here. There is more than sufficient evidence that putting fluoride in the drinking water has no benefit and significant health risks. When I questioned my children’s dentist about how this helped my children back in the early 80’s, he choked and turned his face away before admitting it was of zero benefit.

    Consider these quotes from the very government agencies that promote fluoridation:

    14) NIH-funded study on individual fluoride ingestion and tooth decay found no significant correlation. A multi-million dollar, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study found no significant relationship between tooth decay and fluoride intake among children. (Warren 2009)
    19) Children are being over-exposed to fluoride. The fluoridation program has massively failed to achieve one of its key objectives, i.e., to lower dental decay rates while limiting the occurrence of dental fluorosis (a discoloring of tooth enamel caused by too much fluoride. The goal of the early promoters of fluoridation was to limit dental fluorosis (in its very mild form) to10% of children (NRC 1993, pp. 6-7). In 2010, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 41% of American adolescents had dental fluorosis, with 8.6% having mild fluorosis and 3.6% having either moderate or severe dental fluorosis (Beltran-Aguilar 2010).
    “22) Fluoride may damage the brain. According to the National Research Council (2006), “it is apparent that fluorides have the ability to interfere with the functions of the brain.” In a review of the literature commissioned by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), fluoride has been listed among about 100 chemicals for which there is “substantial evidence of developmental neurotoxicity.””

    There are 50 well-documented reasons/studies at the site these quotes were taken from that you can read for yourself by simply googling the Fluoride Action Network. If you don’t believe them, there are several other sources for this same information.

    Bottom line: If you’re drinking water from a well without all the chemicals and junk that’s being put in the public water supply, you just might live a much longer, healthier life.

  4. The SimplePump ( is installed at 150′ in my 222′ well. At 200′ I have installed a standard 3/4 hp 220v 1 phase electric pump. The SimplePump easily slips past the Pitless Valve at the top of my well. During Hurricane Sandy we here in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania were out of electricity (and gasoline) for nine days. The Simple Pump was worked by my Wife and I for 15 minute intervals, pumping directly into my pressurized tanks. Four 15-minute intervals in the morning were enough to provide all our water needs for the entire day; toilets flushed, (cold) showers were available, all our water needs. Total cost of the SimplePump (including a plumber) was $2,000. The Plumper connected the SimplePump into our pressure tanks by installing an underground “Curb Valve” (normally used to connect city fire hydrants to the main water feed). When we want to use the SimplePump to fill our pressure tanks, we simply throw the Curb Valve 90 degrees, and begin pumping the six-foot handle.

  5. I have been thinking about putting a well on my property for a few months. I just like the idea of pumping my own water for my family. It never occurred to me that because wells are run by pumps, you would lose water during a power outage. I will definitely have to install a hand pump as a backup in case of this event.

  6. I am planning on hiring someone to dig a well but I need to know more about how they work. I didn’t realize that the water in wells can be contaminated by fertilizers and pesticides. I need to make sure it is safe to drink from. Thank you for the tips, this is really helpful.

  7. I like that you point out that the cost of the well depends on the where you want to install the well and what the conditions are like. I can see why this would be important to know if you can’t go above a certain price limit. It seems like it would be a good idea to get an estimate from an expert on what the price would be should you place the well at a certain spot. This will probably help you gauge how much you can expect the cost to be.

    • Forgedthroughflames

      Excellent point. My in-laws bought a 15 acre parcel in the high desert for a great price that was perched atop a mountain and offered breathtaking panoramic views of the desert valley below. However, it didn’t have a well, or access to municipal water. The average price quoted to put in a well turned out to be around 70K. OUCH.

  8. These are some great things to consider before installing a well. We should be prepared for the process of getting our own well created and how it can benefit us in the future. It’s empowering to feel more self sufficient. However, we should keep in mind a good well drilling service that can provide assistance when we need them.

  9. I like that you recommend to learn about any city codes and regulations before digging a well. I can see why this would help prevent any legal complication from happening. You could even ask someone who lives in your area and has a well what they know about wells. They could provide some insight that could benefit you.

  10. You mentioned that cities will have codes and regulations on wells, and you should make sure to work with a service that is aware of those. My friend has been wanting to get a well drilled somewhere on his property, but didn’t know exactly how he would do that. I’ll advise he discuss the local code with the contractor, so he can go forward confidently knowing that they will do everything as it should be.

  11. It’s good to know that the cost of drilling a well depends on the type of soil. My husband wants a water well drilled on our property. For the most part, it doesn’t sound as hard as I imagined it would be.

  12. Do ALL wells need pumps? There are a few lucky people that have artesian wells where the pressure forces the water out of the ground. These wells are rare but they do exist.

  13. i didn’t realize that the overall cost for a well depends largely on the type of soil that exists where you want your well. My wife and I are thinking of having a well dug for our home, but we didn’t have any idea of how much it would cost. I’ll look into having a drilling company come out to let me know just how much it will cost us based off the soil present on our property.

  14. A friend of mine has been considering drilling a well on his property, but he wasn’t sure how he would benefit from it. I love that you say that you can actually control if there is chlorine or other chemicals in the water! It would be nice to know that you will be able to get healthy water from your land as well.

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