Simple DIY Well Pump Systems

Back in April of 2022 I installed this cast iron manual pitcher shallow sand point well. This is the same technology that was used 200 years ago. Prior to installing this, I had been hauling my water onto my off grid homestead from town, a 15 minute drive away using several 5 gallon water Jerry cans. Anyone who has ever had to haul water on-site knows that this is no way to live, and so I was excited to get this simple well installed. I had never installed a well before in my life, but I had done enough research to know that, as long as the ground conditions were favorable, it was at least possible for me to do it myself with only simple hand tools, and a lot of effort.

The location that I chose for the well was based on the convenience of being close to the site where I wanted the garden to be. There was no "water-witching" or "dowsing rods" or "divining magic" necessary to find the location for my well. Instead, I simply relied on my understanding of physics, nature, and an observation of neighboring water features. There are ponds on the golf course property to the east, and there is a stream that flows on the neighbor's land, so I knew that there was some chance of being able to tap into the water if I went deep enough.

I built a tripod using 12' long 4" diameter logs that I cut from the forest, then I attached a pulley to the top and ran a rope through. This was the main mechanism that pounded the fence post pounder down onto the sandpoint.

The sandpoint itself is a metal tube with mesh holes along the sides of it, and a solid spike at the end. This sand point is forcibly driven into the ground by hitting it with a fence post pounder (or a sledge hammer, etc.) Once the sand point is deep enough, water can flow through the mesh.

1-ΒΌ" diameter well pipes are attached one piece at a time as the sand point is pounded deeper and deeper into the ground. The deeper, the better. If the pump is being installed in an area that freezes, drill a small weep hole in the well pipe below, the frost line. This small hole will slowly let water drain from the pump and the portion of the well pipe that is above the frost line. The small weep hole flow rate should be low enough that it does not compromise the pressure that the pump is pulling from the surface.

After almost 20 feet of pounding the sandpoint down, I must have hit a big rock because I wasn't able to go any deeper. Fortunately, it was enough, because I had already hit water.

The manual pitcher well itself is installed on the end of the pipe, but not before a ball valve is installed. The ball valve is closed when the pump is not in use, which keeps the water in the pump and prevents the pump from losing prime. During winter, the ball valve must always stay open, since keeping water in the pump will cause it to freeze, expand, and break the pump. During winter, you just have to re-prime the pump each time, possibly after blasting it with a propane torch to melt any little bit of ice that still formed in the pump.

It takes about 5 minutes to fill a 5 gallon bucket of water manually. That may sound like a lot of work, but compared to my previous method of driving into town to fill my water jugs, this was much better, and it meant I could stay on the land indefinitely without the hassle and time of making water deliveries.

Manually pumping all of the water needed to keep 2 people alive and clean in an off grid homestead is a great way to build up those arm muscles without a gym membership. However, in 2023 when I expanded my garden, this method was not viable to provide enough water for irrigation. So I tried a few electric pumps that were branded as "shallow well pumps" but they did not work for this application. Necessity is the mother of invention, so I decided to build my own solution inspired by the classic "oil Derrick pump jack" design.

I built an arm mechanism out of scrap wood, attached it to a cheap ryobi drill to power it, and after a bit of trial and error, the prototype worked. I now had a "semi-automatic" well pump system, which allowed me to greatly expand the size of my garden, all while saving my arms from exhaustion. I use the ryobi powered well to fill 5 gallon buckets, and dump them into a 55 gallon barrel for storage. I am still prototyping ways to more efficiently transport the water to the crops, for now I am using one of the electric pumps that was originally supposed to be to pump up the water from the well, and I am instead using that electric pump to pull water from the 55 gallon barrel and running it through a garden hose, which goes to the crops for irrigation.

In the future, a more ideal solution would involve the water from the pump immediately going into the 55 gallon barrel, and then an electric pump would automatically push the water through a drip irrigation system on a preset schedule. But for now, such an efficient automatic irrigation system is just a dream for the future. Little by little I am evolving the infrastructure of this little off grid farmstead. I am grateful for how far I have come, but there are still so many improvements to be made.