One of the hurdles to living off the grid is having a clean water supply. One of the very best ways to address that issue is with your own well.
When deciding on a location for your off-grid homestead, check with your local geological survey office to find out if the soil conditions there will allow you to install a well. Once you know you can dig a well on your land, here are some tips for actually driving or drilling your well.
Before You Start
First, decide if you want to drive or drill your well and check with your local building department to see if a permit is required. If a local utility company provides service to properties in the vicinity, check with them and make sure no underground service lines cross your property and, if they do, determine their location before you start digging.
Determine if there are any sewer lines, old cisterns, or septic systems on the land. Find out what your local building code requires as far as distance or setbacks for a well from any of these structures. If your local code doesn’t address this specifically, you should dig at least 50 feet away from them to avoid contaminating your water supply.
Selecting A Good Location
Your well needs to be in a place with a higher elevation than any sewer lines, cisterns, or septic systems. Also, check for soil quality. Never build a well in a marshy, wet area. Water is found in sandy layers trapped between layers of coal. You will have to go deep enough (usually at least 30 feet but better water is usually deeper) in order to find water.
Driving a Well
The less expensive, but more physically demanding, way to dig your well is to drive it. However, if the soil in your area is high in clay content, you may find it difficult to impossible to drive your own well and you will have to drill.
Once you have determined that all systems are go for driving your well, this is what you will need:
- A post hole digger to dig a 2-foot deep pilot hole for your well
- A well point – a system of galvanized pipe, threaded together, with a well screen and hardened point on the end
- A post driver – the same type used to install metal fence posts
- Galvanized steel riser pipe in 5-foot sections
- A pump
- A drive cap
- Pipe thread compound
- Pipe wrenches
- At least 30 feet of string with a weight attached to the end
Once you have gathered your materials, you can begin:
- Dig a 2-foot pilot hole with your post hole digger.
- With the post driver, drive the first section of the well point into the hole until about 10 inches remains above ground.
- Add another section of pipe by removing the cap and installing an internally threaded coupling. Replace the cap to protect the threads and continue driving, adding pipe sections as each section has about 10 inches showing above ground.
- You will know you have reached water when you hear a hollow sound when you strike the pipe.
- To determine how deep you are into the water table, remove the cap on the pipe and drop the weighted string down the pipe. When it hits the bottom, pull it back up to see how much of the string is wet. Continue driving the well point until you are sure the entire screen is under water.
- Connect your pump to your well to see how fast it pumps water. Driven wells do not produce as much water as drilled wells but you should get at least five gallons of water per minute from your driven well. If not, removed the pump, reattach the cap on the end of the pipe, and continue driving the pipe.
- Continue to reattach the pump and test the flow as you drive your well in 5-foot increments. Once you have reached a flow rate of at least five gallons of water per minute, you are ready to leave your pump attached and start collecting water.
Drilling a Well
If soil conditions in your area (or physical strength limitations) prohibit you from driving a well on your own, you can either pay a professional to drill the well (very expensive) or you can purchase a kit and drill it yourself.
You can buy a complete well drilling kit from www.howtodigawell.com. This kit uses an air powered motor to drive the well point or bit and that makes it easier to drill through clay and to drill a deeper well. It comes with a video and complete instructions that take you through the process step by step.
The kit will cost you a little over $600 but there are other materials needed that are not included in the kit. You will need a well pump, a small water source to keep the well hole filled with water to cool the drill and the motor.
You'll also need an air compressor providing at least 90 PSI of air to drive the motor and the drill bit and to keep the mud coming back to the surface, so you don’t end up with a big mud hole with your drill stuck in it. If you opt for drilling your well rather than driving it and you go deeper than 50 feet or so, you will need an in-ground pump to move the water to the surface. Make sure you include that cost in your estimate.
A Few Things to Note
Regardless of whether your drive or drill your well, the first 100 gallons of water will be muddy. That should clear once you get past the 100-gallon mark. And never use your well water until you have it tested to ensure that it is not contaminated with any type of chemicals, bacteria or other foreign substances. Drilling or driving a well isn’t that difficult once you know the steps, and the work is well worth the benefit!