How to Drive a Shallow Well.
I like simplicity and redundancy. Even though I have city water I wanted to have a back up water supply. I use rain collection barrels for the garden, but that doesn’t help me wash the car or take a shower without adding a pump. During an emergency, like a broken water main, I could still flush my toilets, but I would have to carry buckets of stagnant water through my house. The real down fall is that the rain barrels can only be used during warm weather. They will freeze during the winter. I have thought about moving a couple barrels into the basement for the winter or going to underground storage, but that’s another project.
I live a few hundred yards from a river and a lake. I saw several old fashion pitcher pumps in some backyards while walking the dog around the neighborhood. I saw too many of them to just be ornamental. They must have been in use at some point. I spent a few hours doing some research online. I found very little DIY well information. Most of it was about commercial well drilling. I did find an article about how to make a well point from steel pipe. I felt that the time required to make one out weighted the cost of a store bought unit. I also learned that shallow wells have successfully been driven into the ground where there’s a high water table and few rocks in the ground. We have some clay here, but not too many rocks. I found some information about well driving caps that would screw onto the pipe and allow the pipe to be driven into the ground with a sledge hammer, but I could not find an affordable one.
My local Home Depot had a sand point on the shelf for $70. It connects to 1 1/4″ galvanized pipe. I picked up the point and enough pipe and fittings to get started. The selection of pipe was limited so I had to get sections from 3′ to 6″ long. I didn’t have room overhead to drive full length 10′ sections of pipe.
I would have liked to install the well in my basement, but the ceiling is low and I wanted to have an electric pump. The garage made a better location. I was already doing some work in the garage and I had an area where the concrete floor was removed. Also the noisy electric pump would be better located in the garage. The open floor was behind the door and close to two existing pipes that connected the basement to the garage. The connecting pipes were old rusty pieces of 3/4″ steel pipe. It would need to be replaced if I was going to use it
I dug a hole in the garage until I reached the pipe. I cut it and removed as much as I could. My hole was only about 12″X12″, so I cut out a 10″ section of pipe with my saws-all. I went into the basement and attached a new 10′ length of galvanized pipe to one of the old pipes. I drove about 12″ to 14″ of new pipe toward the garage. I returned to the garage, cut the freshly exposed old pipe and repeated the process until I had a shiny new pipe connecting my basement to the garage.
I used that 12″x12″ hole to start the installation of the well. The sand point was about 3′ long. I connected it to the first length of pipe using Teflon sealant. I made a sacrificial driving cap by screwing a standard pipe cap to a short pipe nipple. I used a standard coupling to connect the nipple to the end of the pipe that was about to become my well. As I drove it into the ground the cap would mushroom and finally crack. I replaced it when it cracked. The home made driving cap would slowly unscrew itself from the well. I had to stop every few minutes and make sure it was tight. Driving the pipe while the cap is loose can damage the threads on the well pipe. Eventually the short nipple and even the coupling from the drive cap would crack or mushroom and need to be replaced, but they out lasted many of the top caps. It didn’t take too many caps to get the job done, but I would have used a driving cap if I had one available.
Driving the well was exhausting work. I have a small 110v jack hammer. I welded up an adapted from a damaged bit that allowed me to use the jack hammer to drive the well. I made better progress with the sledge hammer, but the jack hammer gave my shoulders a needed break without stopping the progress of the well. When a new length of pipe was added I had to stand on a step ladder until It was driven down a few feet. Some times the pipe seemed to fall into the ground, moving several inches from just one blow. At other times it barely moved and I thought about stopping at that depth, but I really wanted it to be as deep as possible. Maybe I hit a small rock that needed to be pushed out of the way or maybe it was some hard packed clay. Either way, I stuck with it and drove the pipe past the obstruction.
I checked for water every 5 feet or so by dropping a weighted string down the well. At 12′ it came back wet. I thought about stopping there because driving the well by hand was such hard work. I didn’t want it to run dry during a drought. I decided to continue driving the well until it reached 25′ because that was the limit of the shallow pumps. It took 3 or 4 days of part-time, back breaking hammering to complete the well.
When it was done I added a check valve to help keep the well primed. I installed a tee so I could add a pitcher pump along with the electric pump. The pitcher pump needs to be isolated from the electric pump by a valve or else it will become pressurized and leak. I plumbed the electric pump to the pipe that feeds to the basement and added a hose bib in the garage. I wrapped all of the exposed pipes and the well tank with electric heat tape for protection in the winter. In the basement I connected the well to my outdoor hose bibs, but not to the rest of the house. I have not had the well tested, so I don’t want to cross contaminate my drinking water. At some some point I would like to test the well to know weather or not I could feed the house from the well if needed during an extended outage. I also have back up power to run my well pump during a power failure.
I now have a year round back up water source for only about $400. It can supply pressurized water to the garden and to the toilets with a hose during a water failure. I made a solar water heater for my camper, so I could even get a warm shower while the water and power are out, as long as it’s not winter of course. My blog has the details of the solar water heater, back up power and my other projects. There are several pictures attached to this article, click the icon in the photo to view all of the pics.