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How To Get Well Water Without Electricity

well water no power

Considering that most disasters can cause serious disruptions in the water supply and the importance of water for survival, putting in a well is a great idea. Of all the possible sources for water, having a well on your own property is the most secure source you can have. Even so, if the grid goes down, that water could be out of your reach, if you don’t take the right precautions.

There are two basic types of wells — shallow wells and deep wells. Shallow wells are usually limited to about 25 feet or so. Many “homemade” wells fall into this category. While they might not provide water that is as good as what you can get from a deep well, they are much easier to install. They also have the advantage that the water can be drawn out of them from a pump on the surface, which draws the water out by suction.

Deep wells can’t use a suction pump to draw the water, simply because nobody can build a pump with enough suction to draw the water that far up a tube. Instead, the well has a waterproof pump at the bottom of the well casing. This type of pump can work with pumps that are quite deep.

Both of the types of pumps I just mentioned are electrically powered. Today, this is the most basic type of well pump there is. However, those electric pumps won’t do much good without electricity. In order to get water out of your pumps in a grid down situation, you’ll either need some source of electricity or you’ll need a pump that is powered by some other means.

Of course, if you are producing your own electrical power from either wind turbines or solar panels, you will be able to operate your well’s pump, even if there is no other source of power available. All you would have to do is to disconnect the pump from its normal source of power and connect it to your own power in order to keep it going. This is even a case where the high cost of running a generator would be justified. However, if you don’t have any electrical power production, you’re back to square one, needing another way to draw the water from your well.

Check Your Water Level

Let me tell you a secret here; even if you have a deep well, with a pump at the bottom of it, the water level in your well may not be as deep as you would expect. Wells are often drilled much deeper than necessary to find water, because the water that can be found deeper is usually better water than what can be found up close to the surface. In other words, even if you have a well that’s 300 feet deep, the surface of the water might only be 25 feet below ground level.

Harness the power of the sun when the power goes out…

It’s easy to check how close to the surface the water in your well is; all you need is an empty pill bottle and some string. Put a few pebbles or metal nuts in the pill bottle to give it some weight and tie the end of the string securely to it. Just don’t put enough weight into it to prevent the bottle from floating. Start letting the string out, lowering the pill bottle into your well. When the string goes slack, you’ve found the water.

Mark the point on your string where the pill bottle hit the water and pull it back out. Measuring how much string you had let out will let you know how far the water comes up in your well casing. Keep in mind that drawing water out of the well lowers the level of the water in it. So if you had just been running the water, your normal water level may be even higher.

The Old Standby – the Manual Well Pump

If your water level is 25 feet or less below the surface, then you can use a manual well pump to draw water out of it. You’ve probably seen these; the squeaky cast iron pump that was used in the Old West (and other places). You can still get them today for a fairly reasonable price.

The electric pump your well has in it won’t prevent you from using a manual pump of this type. If your well is a deep well, it will probably have a four inch well casing. Besides the water, the only thing that is taking up space in that well casing is the power cord and the hose that is carrying the water to the surface. There’s enough room for the suction hose for the manual pump. If your well has a two inch casing with a surface mounted pump, you’ll probably need to pull out the suction pipe in order to put the hose for the manual pump in it.

Build an Emergency Pump

There are a number of designs around for homemade well pumps, generally made out of PVC pipe. These all work either by positive displacement (the water in the well taking up the space of the piston) or vacuum (creating a vacuum source to draw the water up the hose or pipe). Of the two, a positive displacement pump will draw water from a deeper level than a vacuum pump will; however a vacuum pump is easier to build.

There are two keys to making any type of vacuum pump. The first is having a couple of check valves. These allow water to flow through in one direction, while blocking it from flowing in the opposite direction. The direction through which the water will flow is marked on the side of the valve. The purpose of the check valves is to ensure that water which is pulled up out of the well doesn’t go back down. The other important key is a good seal for the piston which creates the vacuum. If the piston doesn’t have a good seal, you’re going to waste a lot of energy pumping, for very little gain.

well water Thicker seals work better than thin ones, as they can’t fold out of the way from pressure. With deeper pumps, multiple seals are especially useful, as they will do a better job of ensuring that the pressure can’t make the seal fold, letting air slip by.

The easiest way to make a vacuum pump for a well is a “T” configuration, with the T lying on its side so that the vacuum section is offset to the side of the line of the well. This needs to be between the two check valves, so that the water can be drawn up the pump’s suction tube on the suction stroke and then pushed out the end of the pump on the return stroke.

Both check valves must be pointing in the same direction, that of moving the water up out of the well as indicated by the arrows in the drawing. The suction tube can either be plastic pipe or flexible tube. The thinner the tubing’s overall diameter, the easier it will be to use, but the bigger the diameter, the more water it will draw on each stroke; however, the pump will be harder to operate. For most people, 3/4 inch PVC pipe makes a good pump.

The main PVC pipe diameter, for the suction tube, check valves and outlet don’t have to be the same size as the plunger tube and rod. Since the plunger tube and rod determine the volume of water drawn per stroke, it would make sense to make them slightly larger than the suction tube.

The plunger rod pushes a rubber seal or piston in and out of the plunger tube. This needs to be a snug fit for the pump to work. While there are many different places you can cut the rubber for this seal from, I have found that the inner sole from an old rubber sandal works well. Likewise, the rubber from a flip-flop can be cut for a seal.

well waterThe plunger rod needs to be slightly smaller than the inner diameter of the plunger tube, so that it can move freely. However, it should not be much smaller, as it needs to support the seal. A hardwood dowel works well for this. Attach the seal to the end of the plunger with stainless steel screws so that they won’t rust. The excess plunger rod can function as a handle or you can attach a handle to it.

When the plunger rod is retracted, it creates a vacuum in the pump, drawing water out of the well. The upper check valve will ensure that none of the suction is wasted into the air, while the lower check valve will keep the water from returning back down into the well. Be sure not to fully retract the plunger rod from the pump, or the suction will be lost and the water will spill out the open end of the plunger tube.

Pushing the plunger rod back into the tube causes the water to be pushed up past the upper check valve. Since the lower check valve will be closed, none of the water will return back down the well.

This simple pump will allow you to get adequate water from your well, even without electrical power. You will want to be cautious with your water usage, as it will take time to draw enough water to fill a bucket. Nevertheless, you will have a pretty much limitless supply of water, as long as you take the time and energy to operate your pump.

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22 comments

  1. Will the vacuum pump in the diagram be able to pump water from a well that is 300′ deep?

    • Bump for Andrew’s question….

    • A vacuum pump doesn’t create a force; it removes air, and thus air pressure, from the well pipe. The water is then pushed up the pipe by atmospheric pressure acting against the surface of the well water. At a typical atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch, the column of water in the pipe can rise no more than 33.9 feet when using a vacuum pump.

    • The article just showed you how to find the “static” water level. That is the only distance you need to draw from. I have a 285 foot well but the water level is within 18 feet of the surface. We bought what is called a pitcher pump from Ace Hardware, and the pvc pipe and check valves. We could then pump the water into buckets or tubs.
      We also had a small pump that could pump it from the tubs to the house with a garden hose. We used this when our pump died on us and the well man couldn’t get to where it was until the ground dried out in late spring.

  2. With the rig as shown, when the electric pump is turned on, the water pressure will try to eject the plunger. The plunger pipe should have a PVC ball valve right next to the well head, so that it can be turned off and on as needed.

  3. We’ve been very happy with our Simple Pump on our deep well.

    http://www.simplepump.com/

  4. George Bauernschmitt

    We mounted a Bison Pump (hand pump) in our laundry room above the utility sink. This well-made stainless steel pump hooks directly to the line coming into the house from the well pump. When the electric is out, which is often in the PA woods, I simply turn 2 valves and pump away. Don’t even have to go outside, and we set it up to pressurize the well tank (bladder) if we want to. Very happy with this family run pump manufacturer located in Maine. http://www.bisonpumps.com

    • Is the hand pump between the well and the well pump? Is one valve to turn the water flow to the hand pump and the other to stop the flow to the well pump?

      thanks for any info.

      jim

    • George what model pump is this this is what i been looking for to install in my home. Can’t find any information please email or give me a call 270 585 1308.

    • Hmmm…. so you put your pump inside the house by a utility sink. It is “after” your pressure tank?
      We have a pitcher pump to use when our well pump died on us but didn’t know we could have had it inside. I’ll have to ponder this one. Do you have any photos or drawings of your set up? I’d love to see it.
      I live in the forest in Wash. and the power normally goes out many times during the winter.

  5. Good article – would like to remind folks that plan to use backup electric that many well pumps run on 24V DC, so take that into account. Most small solar systems are running with 12V DC, but some folks are going with 24V these days. Some pumps can be converted or are dual voltage. I plan to convert my deep well pump to work with my backup solar generator (at 12V).

  6. I saw no mention of a venturi pump. The venturi has no moving parts. below the housing is a short single diameter piece of tubing connected foot valve. The top portion of the housing is collected with two pipes of different diameter tubing. to I don’t know the depths from which it can draw water, but I have used one @ an old residence. It functions with a pair of different diameter tubes leading into the well. a foot valve is positioned below a cast venturi housing. the foot valve keeps both tubing columns of water full when at reat. When power is applied to the pump, it pumps water down into the well through the smaller diameter tubing, through the venturi valve and up to the pump. The excess volume is ported off into the feeder line providing the volume difference between the two tubes. I don’t know the power necessary, but I have seen bare pump housings with a standard 1/2″ keyed shaft that would accept any number of pulley types. To rig a stationary bicycle to a ‘V’ belt the width of a skinny racing bicycle wheel mated to a matching ‘V’ belt pulley on the pump could provide a significant amount of water pumped into a storage tank for gravity feed distribution with a standard amount of biking time contributed from each member of a household. The sprockets of a 21+ speed bicycle apparatus being adjusted to meet the power supply of each individuals capacity.

    There are other possible combinations of muscle popwer su

  7. This article mentions the vacuum pump and a positive displacement pump but it only tells you how to build the vacuum pump. I have a deep well so the vacuum won’t work. I also don’t have $1500+ to buy any of those mentioned above. Any suggestions?

  8. Thank you for writing this. These are very good strategies for getting water from your well when there is no electricity available.

  9. If you want an easy solution for a FULLY assembled inexpensive hand well pump that is usually half the cost of the above brands, check out Gunslinger Well Pumps.

  10. Keep in mind that it is just as important to understand the volume of water you have in your well and if it is running dry. We have battery and solar powered sonic water level meters that sit atop your well to measure how much water you have in your well so you can conceive and not run out. Well Watch 600

  11. We have two simple pumps on different wells. .. water level between 140 and 200 feet. They work very well.

  12. Note that this pump design allows very elegantly for a VERY simple and set of PAIRED pumps to be symmetrically located and using a common plunger with a seal on BOTH ends of the plunger. This is just two identical pumps using the same plunger, and the completed device looks kind of like the letter “H”, with the cross-piece being the plunger. The person doing the pumping is placed between the two pump systems…could be setup kind of like rowing a boat…even using two people with one on each side of the common plunger (although, I would probably “play” with attaching a dirt-simple rotary to linear motion converter to the plunger).

    Each stroke of the plunger will thus push water out of one of the pump outlets (which could be joined by “T”-fitting to a single output pipe), while simultaneously drawing water from the well in the other pump. On the reverse stroke, the in/out of water is switched between the pumps.

  13. I didn’t know that well were dug down to 300 feet sometimes. If I had a well then I would want to know that it would last for a very long time. I think that if I was going to get a well then I might want to hire a professional to help me find where would be best.

  14. I like the idea to regularly check the water level in your well. I want my family to have a constant source of clean water. Maybe I should consider having a water well pump installed.

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