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How To Install Your Own Off The Grid Well

dig your own well

image credit energyblog.nationalgeographic.com

In olden times, wells were dug with a pick and shovel, with a lot of backbreaking work. Depending upon the location, the well might have to be dug quite deep to provide enough water. That much backbreaking work wasn’t something that anyone would want to do, even though it was a necessity.

Today, wells are usually drilled. A well drilling rig is essentially the same thing that they use when drilling for oil, only a lot smaller. A drill bit is lowered into the well hole on the end of a pipe. The motor, which is above ground, turns the pipe, driving the drill bit. Water is pumped into the hole, in order to flush out the dirt and sand that is being cut loose by the drill bit, bringing it up to the surface for disposal.

The only problem with that system is cost. If you are thinking about having a well drilled on your property, you’d better have some deep pockets. I was going to have one drilled at my home, until I found out the price was going to be over $5,000. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

The laws vary from state to state, but in much of the country, you can still put in your own well. Some states may require a permit, but usually if you’re doing the work yourself, there is no permit requirement. Just make sure that you aren’t paying a buddy to help you, or he would be considered a contractor and fined for working without a license or permit.

While you can put in a well just about any place, you should stay a minimum of 50 feet (or more) away from any septic tank or field lines. Groundwater is common in much of the country, and you can contaminate any groundwater source with an improperly located well (and contaminate any other well that is tapping into the same groundwater source). North Carolina has put together some good information on well drilling that you can find here. Minnesota has put together an information packet for well setbacks from different types of septic systems. Depending on your area, this may be different for your state. Contact your county extension service to see if your state has specific guidelines for well setbacks and adhere to those numbers. The last thing you want is a contaminated water source.

Water is most commonly found in sandy layers, with the best water in sandy layers that are trapped between layers of coal. The ground beneath us consists of different layers of material, which include loam, dirt, sand, rock, clay, and coal. The secret to having a successful well is going down deep enough to find one of those sandy layers, and then finishing off the well. Unless you’re living in a very arid area, you can probably start finding water as little as 20 feet below the surface.

As a well goes down, it will probably pass through several sandy layers, each of which is totally separate from the others. That means that the water coming from each of those layers will be different, with different mineral contents and different salt levels. While you can probably get water from a shallow well, most of the time you will get better water from a deep one. Shallow wells are those that are less than 30 feet deep. Deep wells are typically more than 70 feet deep and can be several hundreds of feet deep.

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I suppose if your groundwater is shallow enough, you could still hand dig a well with a shovel and pick. But for most of us, we’re going to need to go deeper than practical to dig a well. We’re going to need to use some more complicated methods.

Driving a Well

The fastest and easiest way to put in a shallow well is to put in a driven well. This is just what it sounds like, a well that is pounded into the ground, just as a nail is pounded into a piece of wood. This requires using a well point, which is a combination of a well screen with a hardened point attached to it.

 well point

This tends to work the best in soft soil. If you have high clay content in your soil, then it is extremely hard to put in a driven well. Of course, that high clay content also makes it harder to drill a well.

Before the drill point is used, a pilot hole about two feet deep needs to be dug into the ground with a post-hole digger. A threaded cap is screwed onto the end of the well point, without tightening it, to protect the threads on the end of the pipe. The drill point can be placed in this hole and driven into the ground with a sledge hammer. Some people prefer a “slam hammer” of the type that is used for putting in metal fence posts.

When there is only about 10 inches of pipe sticking above the ground, it’s time to add a section of pipe to the drill point. Remove the cap and install an internally threaded coupling. A good Teflon pipe joint compound must be applied to the threads to ensure that the well casing seals properly. Add pipe in five-foot sections, as any longer will put the top too high to be able to drive it. Don’t forget to put the cap onto the new section of pipe to protect the threads.

You can tell when you reach the water table, because you’ll hear a hollow “bong” when you strike the pipe. You can check how far into the water table you are by removing the cap off of the pipe and dropping a weighted string into the pipe. When it hits bottom, draw it back up and see how much of the string is wet. You want the well driven into the water table far enough that the entire well screen is in the water.

While a driven well may not produce as much water as a drilled well, it should be able to produce five gallons per minute of water flow. Connect a pump to the well and see how much water you can get out of it. If it isn’t producing enough, remove the pump, reattach the cap and drive it in a bit further.

At first, your well water will be muddy, but it shouldn’t take long for it to produce clear, clean water. Be sure to connect a check valve below the pump, to prevent the water from going back down into the well. It’s a good idea to have your water tested before using it extensively.

Drilled Wells

Although most well drilling rigs are intended for use by professionals, it is possible to use them yourself to drill your own well. Some rental companies do provide well-drilling rigs for rent, but they are rather rare. However, there is one option for drilling your own well, which is affordable and possible to do yourself.

On the website www.howtodrillawell.com, you can buy a kit for drilling your own well. This kit uses air power to drive an air motor which is down the hole in the well, directly behind the drill bit. While a totally different concept than other well drilling methods, it is quite effective.

Drilling your own 100-foot deep well will cost you about $1,200, not counting the cost of the well pump. The kit available from that website will account for about half of that cost, with the other required materials accounting for the other half. The kit includes an instruction video and booklet, with detailed instructions for drilling your own well.

There is a lot of preparation in drilling a well in this manner. Once again, you start with a starter hole that is made by a post hole digger. In addition, you’ll need to dig a small pool of water, as the well hole has to remain filled with water. This water acts both to cool the drill and motor, as well as to pump the mud back up to the surface for disposal. Without removing the mud, you’ll just end up with a drill stuck down in the ground, without a hole.

To use this air-driven drill, you’ll need to rent an air compressor which is capable of providing at least 16 CFM of air at 90 PSI. The air drives the motor, which in turn drives the drill bit. Expended air acts as the pump to bring the mud back up a one inch PVC pipe, which is attached to the drill motor.

how to dig a well

Diagram courtesy of www.howtodrillawell.com

Drilling a well in this manner is time consuming. To put down a 100-foot well will probably take a couple of days. The exact time depends upon the type of soil you have at your home. However, the finished well will probably produce better quality water than a driven well will.

Once the hole for the well is drilled, it has to be cased. This simply means putting a four inch diameter pipe down the hole to be the well. The first section of pipe is perforated to function as a well screen. A well point is placed on the end of this, to plug the end and guide the pipe through the hole, keeping the well screen from striking the bottom of the hole. The space around the pipe is filled in with pea gravel, with a cement cap to keep debris out of the well hole.

This sort of well requires an in-ground pump, as an above ground pump won’t be able to pull water up from 100 feet below the surface. These pumps are designed to fit inside of the four inch plastic pipe which is used as the well casing. This type of pump is electric, so will require electrical power to be brought out to the well site.

Just like with the driven well, the first 100 gallons or so of water to come out of the well will probably be muddy. This is normal, but you will see it become gradually clearer. Be sure to have the water checked for purity before using.

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47 comments

  1. I already have a well on my property. What I need to know is how to tap into it when the electricity is off.

    • See this article in Mother Earth News:

      Get A Handle On Your Well. (Installing Auxiliary Hand Pump On Well) Larry Pina. #086 P102

    • Get a FloJak hand pump…really easy to pump water even as deep as 150 feet….you can get a lever/fulcrum option that makes it real easy to pump up deep water….the pump has a hose attachment, pressure valve (on the PVC handle model or a hose attachment valve on the stainless steel model )

      You can attach a pressure hose to the pump and then to your house plumbing/pressure tank by attaching the hose to a spigot and pump up enough pressure to take a shower, do dishes, do a load of laundry, cook, water for cooking, flushing toilets, etc……just be sure to watch your tank pressure as your pressurizing your system…..after required pressure is reached just close the pressure valve on the hand pump and the pressure will be contained in your house plumbing (this is for home well/plumbing systems only)…….

      I just can’t say enough about this pump…it’s easy to assemble, install and use…..

      And the best part is if you have a well with a submersible pump already installed, if the well casing is 6″ or larger the FloJak can be installed in the the well with the existing submersible pump….

      I am not affiliated with the FloJak at all….I just bought one, installed it and was amazed at the ease of install and use….

      It has a 25+ year shelf life so you can buy one and have it just in case an emergency occurs…..or go ahead and install it as I did….

      So get a FloJak…the inventer/owner is Corky and he even called me when I had a question about the pump….

      The pump is great, the guys are great and this is the best solution for pumping water out of wells when the power goes out…..

      http://www.flojak.com

      Hope this helps,

      Frank

      • Thanks for the info. I have as good producing well now, in not sure how deep it is, in thinking somewhere around 75-100, maybe more. Would this be a pump to get and store until the SHTF the pull existing well head off and install try to get another well permit and sink another well with the hand pump on it.

        Thanks!

    • My 2 cents:
      Bladder or Tank are both limited by the size of the tank and how much water they hold.
      Hand pumps are a good ‘long term’ solution. I am impressed by what I’ve seen about the FloJak and good that Frank gives a user’s perspective. Growing up on a farm we (almost) always had electric pump. Different neighbors had Hand Pump, Rope & Bucket Manual Lift (I have seen narrow manual lift devices advertised that will fit in 4″ casing), Bucket & Spring House and/or Low Volume Artisian.
      But if you are only concerned with ‘short term’ you might consider a multi-purpose solution with a small solar system with switching to isolate from the grid.

      • As I was growing up I lived on a farm part-time (summer’s) and in the suburbs during the school year….

        As Jim talked about different ways to source water it brought back a lot of memories….we had a dug out well with well house/bucket, a hard driven suction pump well and later a jet pump was installed to supply water to the house….so those are good memories and my experiences taught me how to be self sufficient….

        So as Jim said the best scenario would be to have an existing well with pump and then build/install a solar power backup system with a manual or automatic transfer switch….

        This of course would have to be a very robust system that would supply at least 5-6 times surge power to start most of the submersible or jet pumps that I am familiar with….

        And it’s easier to “push” water up with a submersible pump than to “pull” it up with a jet pump…so a submersible pump will probably require a smaller system but it all depends on depth of water, etc.

        So do a lot of research and it would be possible for this project to be a do-it-yourself’er…..but best to consult a solar professional to put in such a system….

        I’m all about redundancy and back-up systems so IMO for the ultimate emergency water supply system would be:

        1)Electric submersible or jet pump with pressure tank

        2)A solar power back-up system to power pump during an outage

        3)A manual hand pump of some sort like FloJak when sun is not available or it’s been cloudy for days and your batteries are “empty”…

        4)And of course a narrow manual lift device as a last resort (check out Lehman’s, I believe they have such a device/they are an Amish supplier and have lots of cool OTG stuff)….if the worse happens, things do break and parts won’t be available….

        -Of course if one lives on a farm or in the country then ponds, artisan wells are another option…but in that case be sure to have filtration devices, water purification tablets, plain Clorox, a manual water distiller (Survival Still is an option), build a bio-filter from info here on OTG News, Steripen UV treatment device, etc…..don’t ever want to get sick from drinking bad water in an emergency situation so treat and be careful…..

        Be creative, smart and always be prepared….and have backup systems to backup systems…:-)

        And thanks Jim for bringing back those special memories of living on a farm. and the self sufficiency skills I learned….we called it just being prepared, now people are called survivalists and alarmists….jeezzz, times have changed; some for good and some for bad….

        Just be prepared…:-)

      • lol
        you said “solar system”

    • Try the Simple Pump (www.simplepump.com). This is the type of hand-operated pump that is used in many parts of Africa for wells that have no electricity. It is relative simple and inexpensive, yet is capable of lifting water from 300 feet or more. The Simple Pump can also be automated with solar panels and a motor, but can quickly be converted back to a hand pump system when SHTF and the grid goes down. By the way, I am in no way affiliated with Simple Pump, but I am a hydrogeologist and have been very impressed with their system during my research of various hand and solar operated systems. Also keep in mind that this type of pump will not produce enough water for much more than a few houses, so it is not going to be something you can use for a community water system of any size.

  2. To answer Dawns question.Get a cast iron hand pump.They are a bit expensive,along with another plastic pipe that is put in the well hole, but worth every penny.Cheap ones will break.

  3. I wanted a backup manual (hand pump) well on my property just in case the city water supply was interrupted due to various problems.

    So the first thing I did was to search and find a hand pump. I found FloJak….an amazing hand powered pump that will pump water up to 150 feet….

    I “hit” water on my property around 12 feet and drilled the well to 50 feet….

    My FloJak is 15 feet below the static water level and 23 feet off the bottom….

    Requirements are 10-20 feet below static water level and 10 feet off the bottom…..

    The pumping action is really easy since this works on by pressurization and not suction….

    The installation was really easy and the kit comes with everything I needed to install the pump…I got the stainless steel version with the upper handle section being stainless because this is gonna be a permanent installation….

    So check out the pump at http://www.flojak.com ….

    I hid the pump with a fake tree stump I got from D.C. Works, put pine straw around the base and used a “Shepard’s rod” to hang a bird feeder near the tree stump…the tree stump looks absolutely real and the top is concave which serves as a bird bath….

    So now I have a backup water supply and no one will ever know because it’s hidden and looks just like a tree stump with a bird feeder…..

    Check out FloJak and D.C. Works, great products and great people!…..

  4. Is there a way to find out how far down the water is located prior to digging?

    • I contacted a well driller who showed me on his computer not only the boundaries of the below ground water aquifer under my 5 acres, but also, all the different locations where not only he but even his competitors had drilled wells for many of the neighbors in my area. He and his competitors shared their collective data they all documented so as to estimate the probable depth of a possible new well within any given location of their covered area (which I thought was pretty extensive).

      • As Wayne said actual depths in your area compiled in a database…..contact a well drilling company in your area and see if they have such a database…

        Otherwise, the guys who drilled my well said “just gotta drill till we hit water”…..but he had an idea that depths around where I live were around 15-20 feet….we hit water at 12 feet below ground level…so my static water level is 12 feet down (varies according to rain quantities, etc.) and total depth of well is 50 feet….

        A 4″ well has approx. 1 gallon per foot, a 6″ well has approx. 1.5 gallon per foot, etc. so with my 50 foot well I have approx. 38 gallons of water at any time in my well….but as water flows out, water flows in so static water level stays approx. the same….

  5. If you need a serious high volume and high powered shallow or deep well hand pump for the whole family and small farm, check out the new WaterBuck Pump. No other hand pump can compete with this human powered well pump.

    You can have water in your house as you do with an electric pump, and it is so simple an easy to use a grandmother can easily pump 7 gpm from a deep well. An average man can pump more gpm than windmills do. http://waterbuckpump.com/

  6. Okay, I need a little advice here please. I am currently trying to establish an alternate source of drinking water in the event of an emergency situation. On my property there is an old well head of about 2 feet of 2″ galvanized steel pipe sticking out of the ground. It appears as if it may have been hooked up for irrigation at some point in time (not sure how long ago). It is in good shape (not all rusty) and I dropped a weighted line to check water and well depth. It has a 2″ to 1″ reducing elbow on the top so it’s not open to falling contaminants. I hit water at around the 7 and a half foot mark and the weight quit dropping at around the 14 and a half foot mark. I played with it a bit to ensure it wasn’t snagging on anything and could get it to go no further down. When I pulled my line back out, it was indeed thoroughly wet and had no bad smells like sulfur or anything tangible. I squeezed some out into a small vial and it appeared quite clear and a touch of the tip of my tongue to it showed no bad tastes that were noticeable. I live in South Florida where salt intrusion can be a problem, but tasted no salt in the sample. My question is do you think it would be sufficient to attach an old fashioned “pitcher pump” to for drawing up necessary water in an emergency situation and should I retrieve a small sample and take to be analyzed for contaminants and such? Any help and or advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Shallow well, IMO I would have the water tested. Should a person pump out a hundred gallons then test? If potentially left untouched for months at a time, test as is AND after flush??

    • A pitcher pump would be ideal. You can always filter or boil the water. You will be glad you had it in case of emergencies!

      • Thank you. Appreciate the help.

        • Todd, I was living in OBrien, FL and totally dependent on a water well. we started to get stomach issues, and suspected the water. I inquired as to the costs of testig the well water, and they were up near $600 for a comprehensive screening. We had a large farm next door, and a guy that decided to build an animal sanctuary nearby. Both of these neighbors contributd to the water contamination. One by animal feces and urine, the other by pesticides.

          Since your well is so shallow, Take a good look at the nearby surface terrain. Specifically, what is or was on the property? Were pesticides used and still in the soil? Are or were animals free ranging? The poisons and feces remain in the soil, and are washed down into the water table by rain and runoff. God forbid that the previous owners dumped coolant or oil in the area.

          I recommend a full panel of tests before usage. This will be costly!

          Good luck on it!

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  14. I need help. I have a 500 foot well recently had some work done on it. Something slipped 28 feet down and I can no longer put the pump all the way down the hole . How can I drill 28 feet down to clear the obstruction

  15. The site was very infortional and wanting to do this soon

  16. The gentleman in the video is in Foley, Alabama and has multiple videos and instruction pages at http://www.drillyourownwell.com
    I used his method two years ago to put down a well. Using two-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe, I went down 43 feet in about 17 hours of drilling time and have 16 feet of standing water in the well. Not being able to get a truck where I wanted the well, I put a 2X12 between two step ladders to stand on.

    I made the drill bit out of a two-inch iron pipe coupler as I had to cut through several layers of red clay. I made two six-foot sections of hose to connect to the drill head that I could leave connected and used ‘quick disconnects’ to attach hoses to them so that I didn’t have to take time screwing them on and off. These hose ‘extensions’ kept me from having to lift the weight of the hoses when I added sections.
    I also devised a way, using a 45 degree coupler, to keep the water flowing while rigging the next section of pipe to be added to prevent the pipe from ‘sticking’. This also allowed me to leave the rig overnight without it sticking.
    Since the water does all the work, the ‘paddle’ can be moved back and forth with almost no effort. I enjoyed doing it and now have an emergency source of water.
    There are hand pumps that are good down to 150 feet available and are not expensive. One stroke of mine will shoot a stream of water about 10 feet.
    If you decide to put one down like this, I can send you pictures of the improvements I made in the drilling rig. My email is [email protected]

  17. Get an expensive cast iron hand pump. Do not go cheap when water is life! If you do go the cheap route, at least buy two or three hand pump units.

  18. Hi Rich!
    I recently bought a new home in a rather rural area. I have been considering installing a well for part of the home’s water source, and then potentially changing the entire house over to later as a way to save money in the long run. Your article is excellent and gave me some great ideas on how I can get started on supplying my home with well water.

    I think it’s important to research and learn more about these ‘at home’ projects that can be completed by one, or a few people. I really appreciate you taking the time to explain in detail the benefits of making your own off the grid well, and the parts and products needed for the drilling and installation.
    Regards,
    Fitz

  19. I am going to drill a well using the 2″ PVC method but my question is how do I know when I reach water or ample water

  20. How do you know where to drill ?

  21. So- we have an old hand dug well on our property that goes down about 15 feet. This year we have run out of water so I am wanting to go deeper. Is there a way to go deeper with the existing well and what would the best method be? Could you use the air powered DIY kit in this type of situation? We have livestock and 5 people living there- NOT fun to run out of water!

  22. I never knew you could use an air compressor to dig a hole for a well. You tips for actually finding the water table are really helpful. If my husband and I ever wanted to move “off-the-grid,” digging our own well would be a huge plus!

  23. Good tutorial. One thing to consider is that any well you tell the ‘authorities’ about in terms of getting a permit will automatically be registered whether you DIY or hire somebody.

  24. I rented an electric jack hammer that had a flared end fitting to drive the 2″ well pipe. The unit really made fast work setting the well casing. I used a dry bar of hand soap against the well casing pipe as a lubricant which helps if you hit a bed of clay. This worked so well two neighbors asked if I could drive some 1 1/4″ pipe for shallow wells for their garden. Shallow well was <20 ft or less, both hit surface water which was all they needed for garden, their lawn etc. My well went 80' 2" casing with the packer assembly.

  25. Do you haul in water when you are building a house in the woods and their is no water source close by?

  26. I thought it was interesting that deep wells are typically more than 70 feet deep and can end up being several hundreds of feet deep. I like this since that reduces the possibility of pollution should a problem arise with a shallow level of sand. I would have my well dug as deep as possible since I would think that pulling the pipe up would be easier than pushing it further into the ground. Is it possible to put in multiple well pipes into the ground to gather water from multiple layers at a time?

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