This article is for those of you who get your water from a well, which brings the unique challenge of pulling water up from a deep and skinny hole in the ground. Doing that can become very interesting if you do not have electricity. We try to focus on good, long-term solutions. This is particularly true when it comes to such an important necessity of life as water. And so most of our training focuses on exactly that--setting up a water system that will enable you to have a good supply of running water in your home without that system being dependent on the power grid or any other utilities.
But we do realize that some of us might find ourselves in unexpected situations at a time when we may not be able to set up an excellent water system. Or perhaps the budget is super tight at the moment and you need to do the best you can without much money. In such a situation, being able to improvise and set up a make-shift system that will enable you to get water out of a well could be a life-saving skill.
Although it would be far better to set up a good system if possible, it never hurts to have the knowledge of how to develop a quick and easy emergency method for getting water out of a well. And even if you do have an excellent water system set up for your well, it is very wise to have a back up. Things can go wrong. Something can break. Your submersible pump can fail. Your alternative energy system could go down. This is why we must have a back-up method of pumping water from our well.
In this article, you are going to learn about numerous options for getting water out of a well when you don't have power.
The "well bucket"
Starting with the simplest and least expensive possible solution. You may be familiar with a "well bucket". It is basically a 3-5 foot pipe (usually +- 4 inches in diameter) with a check valve in the bottom and rope tied to the top. You let the well bucket down the casing in your well using the rope. When the bottom of the bucket hits water, the check valve open, allowing water to enter the bucket. Once the bucket has enough water in it, the bucket may be pulled up the well to the surface. As this happens, the check valve closes, thus keeping the water in the bucket. Once out of the well, the water may be poured into a bucket and carried to your home or wherever you need it.
The well bucket is usually made out of PVC pipe, the check valve may be located at a hardware store or super store such as Home Depot, etc. Be sure to find a flapper type check valve. Ordinary check valves require a certain amount of pressure to open them and the amount of pressure exerted from the bucket resting on the water in the well may not be enough to open some of these standard valves. But a flapper type check valve is very light weight and requires very little pressure to open. You can make your own very easily, but commercial versions of the well bucket may be found. One source is Lehman's, which sells a metal variety.
So with this well bucket, if all else fails, you can still get water out of your well, right? Unfortunately it is not quite that simple with a small diameter (6") drilled well. Here is a bit of explanation so you understand what is going on here...
A Little Caveat
This caveat is referring to small diameter (6") drilled wells, not large diameter (i.e. 24" or 36") bored wells. You see, right now, if your drilled well is in use, it has an electric pump of some sort in it. Unless it is a very shallow well, it probably has a submersible pump that sits near the bottom of the well and pushes water up through a pipe to almost the top of the well. Before it reaches the top, though, this pipe turns 90 degrees, exits the casing, and heads toward your home underground. The reason it exits the well several feet underground is so that the pipe will not freeze.
Depending on your climate, there will be guidelines for how deep water pipes must be buried. At that depth, the water pipe coming up from the submersible pump exits the well and heads toward your home underground. Now here is the problem. It is highly unlikely that a well bucket will be able to slide past all of the pipe and electrical wires coming up from the submersible pump.
So, in order to use your well bucket, the pump would have to be pulled out of the well. And if you have ever pulled a submersible pump before, you realize that it can be quite a job, perhaps even requiring some sort of mechanical device to hoist it (such as a boom or you could fabricate a tripod above the well and use a come-along). Then the pipe has to be cut or unscrewed (depending on what type of pipe) every so many feet so that you have manageable sections to deal with. Needless to say, it can be a big job if heavy pipe is used, and/or it is a deep well. Are there any solutions that don't require pulling the existing pump? Yes...
Home-made emergency hand pump
If your static water level is fairly shallow, you could even make your own emergency hand pump. Basically, in its simplest, most rudimentary form, this is a small PVC pipe with a foot valve (a one-way valve that allows water into the pipe but will not let it back out) on the bottom. The length of the pipe would be several feet longer than the depth to your static water level. All you do is let the pipe into the well and once the bottom reaches the water level, you forcefully push down on the pipe and pull up. And then you push down and pull up...and then you push down and pull up...and keep doing that until water starts coming out of the top of the pipe. When you forcefully push down, the foot valve allows water into the pipe.
Then when you lift the pipe it closes, keeping all of that water in the pipe. When you push down again, it allows evens more water in the pipe, raising the water level inside the pipe. As you continue doing this, the water level keep raising until water starts flowing out the top of the pipe, where there is a garden hose connected that allows the water to flow into a bucket. See picture for a sketch of the different parts required and where they go.
Deep Well Hand Pumps
A much better emergency backup would be a full-fledged hand pump such as the systems carried by Lehman's , The Simple Pump , and the Bison hand pump. These hand pumps fit along side your current pipe and wire in most wells, meaning that you would not have to pull your current submersible pump in order to install or use them. It is simply a necessity that every well have a backup hand pump!
Even if you have an independent system using an efficient submersible pump powered by solar panels or an alternative energy system. Every well needs a hand pump! Most deep well hand pumps are reported to function with static water levels down to 200 (depending on how much energy you are willing to exert!). If your static water level is not terribly deep, your hand pump may even be able to not only push water out of the well, but also on up to a cistern where it can gravity flow into your home. Some may even be able to pressurize a household diaphragm tank. This, of course depends on which pump you use, how deep your static water level is, etc.
The Lehman's cast iron hand pump and the Bison stainless steel hand pump are both very stout and heavy-duty. While the Bison pump is capable of pumping from static water levels as deep as 300 feet, the Lehmans is limited to 200' and is best suited for wells with shallower static water levels (perhaps 150' or less).
If your well's static water level is deeper than 150', your main options will be the Bison hand pump and the Simple Pump. As mentioned earlier, the Bison Pump is a very sturdy pump, but the materials that the Simple Pump is constructed with are not as heavy-duty. Both of these pumps are capable of pumping from a static water level of 300 feet! The Simple Pump has the advantage of versatility. A 12 volt DC motor may be used to motorize it with power from a battery bank or solar panels, and it may also be configured to pressurize the current diaphragm tank (pressure tank) in your house.
At the end of the day, water is a basic necessity of life. Make sure you have redundancy and preferably a non-electric way to access it.