If you’re on well water, it can be a great thing, until your well pump is not working. Well pumps can stop working for several reasons. The most common one is when the power goes out.
When the power goes out the electric well pump stops working and so does your well water. Do you have a backup plan if your well stops pumping?
Well Water Can Be Wonderful
We love our well water. It’s drawn from 250 feet down, is great tasting and not “hard” at all. No fluoride or chlorine to worry about, no water bill, except for the nominal electricity cost for the pump. And up until one unfortunate last Friday, we were fairly used to the idea that whenever we turned on the spigot handle, it would always be there.
Our first well and Franklin well pump lasted 25 years before it finally went out. Then in the next year and a half, it stopped working once more. The first time it was the pump, which did a great job for 25 years. The second time it was installer error, but we’ll get to that later.
Obituary: Well Pump Dies at Age 25
All of a sudden, no water! It was a holiday weekend coming up and no water to drink, bathe in, wash, or flush. Dang!
Out of this unfortunate circumstance, we were fortunate to have our subcontractor plumber come out and with our help (we promised to act as assistants since he was coming on a holiday weekend without his), we had everything back to normal by Saturday evening. Whew!
We weren’t caught completely flat footed. We had some back up water stored, like the Reliance 6 gallon containers and a “Water Bob” storage container half filled and nesting in our hardly used bathtub (we favor showers :-)). Those work great and we had enough to flush, and sponge bathe, and wash a few dishes.
You an read more about indoor water storage containers in this article. Meanwhile, back to the well… which on this particular long weekend, was more of a wishing well!
The Well of Our Imaginations
Now wouldn’t this be a lovely way to decorate the inner well casing! A beautifully constructed and crafted timber and stone well house.
Our Actual Well
So wells aren’t pretty unless you make them more ornamental like that dream well house above. But ours is not that visible where it is, mostly hidden behind some evergreen bushes.
Watch out for black widow spiders tend to hang out in places like our well.
Roughing it With Stored Water
For drinking water and coffee, we melted ice cubes first, rather than use our stored water, even though it’s potable. No big deal, other than feeling a bit grody by the second day from not showering. “Sponge baths” are better than nothing, but of course nothing beats a hot shower.
Overall, our interim preparation for a well pump not working was reasonable but we gave ourselves a C- because we could definitely use some improvements. As it was, we were about 30 hours without running water. If it had been a regional power outage for an extended period (like several days to a week or more), our prepping would get more of D- or maybe even an F.
We were not as prepared as we thought! We tend to gear up preparations when we know storms are coming, but…. BUT, preparedness means being prepared for emergencies and most emergencies come without warning.
Planning and Prepping
Now that our well situation is fixed, it’s too easy to slip back into the “normalcy bias”. You know… where we just presume that what is will continue to be and no anomalies or “black swans” messing with the normalcy. It’s too easy to relax into everyday life and comforts, and to lose the lesson.
Solar Well Pumps
So while this event is still fresh on our minds, we’re looking into backup strategies to get well water even if the power (or just the well pump) shuts down, such as a solar well pump.
We now have a few options on our wish list, however, it would be the cost of the well pump plus the labor cost of a plumber to install it. If you’re a good DIYer, you might be able to do it, but at the depth of our well, and not being on friendly terms with plumbing, we’d rather turn that task over to a pro.
However, we’ve found one company that engineers a solution for all kinds of homesteading and off-grid water needs: RPS – Rural Power Systems, and their solar well systems for a well as deep as ours would run between $1,600-$3,000.
Check On Solar Tax Credits
Yep, it’s expensive and I whistled at that price. BUT… freedom is priceless, and solar well pumps are an off-the-grid investment. There may be tax credits available for this investment as well, so something to check on. In NC it appears to be an 80% tax credit. You can check your state solar tax credits here.
If you have knowledge and experience of solar systems for wells, please let us know. We’d be glad to add it to this article.
Rain Barrels for Water Storage and Gardens
For cheap DIY water barrels for rain harvesting, you can buy inexpensive food grade 55 gallon drums or modify, used wine barrels. If there's a winery in your area you can likely get a real wooden wine barrel for a discounted price. We got some from a local winery for $50 each, then retrofitted them with a spigot.
Where to Find Used 55 Gallon Drums?
We get this question whenever we share on this topic on social media. You can sometimes find cheap 55 gallon drums on Craig's List. A Gardens All Facebook community member said they buy them for $5 from Pepsi, so if you have any of these locally, you can check there first. Similarly, other food manufacturers and wholesalers may have these, so just check around with food and beverage companies in your area.
Of course you can buy rain barrels and new 55 gallon drum barrels locally, such as at Home Depot and Lowe's Home Improvement stores. Currently, our Sam's Club is selling them for the lowest prices we've seen for new ones. But, if you don't have access to any of these, you can also get rain barrels on Amazon, in just about any style to suit you.
The rain barrels with the two spigots would be more convenient as well. You can buy them that way or retrofit your own.
You can also get kits to connect your rain barrels to a soaker hose system directly for your garden.
For adapting 55 gallon drums (food grade) for water storage, you might also need a siphon pump.
We connected our rain barrels to soaker hoses in our upper garden for drip irrigation and it's working fine. Although it can take some tweaking in rain barrel elevation ratio to arrive at an optimal flow rate.
Here's more on rain barrels and a comparison of wooden versus plastic rain barrels.
Water Storage for Cooking and Drinking
Thankfully, when our well pump stopped working, as indicated earlier, we were prepared with a couple days of stored water. You can read more on the in-home water storage containers we used here, and also in this article water storage barrels.
We also keep a few spring water gallon jugs on hand that we keep filled for watering plants, and that water is also drinkable.
Treatments and Filtration
For filters and treatments to make water safe for drinking, there's a vast array ranging from the personal use like the "Lifestraw". Next, there's intermediate systems like the Katadyn and on up to the large "family size" ceramic filters like the Berkey water systems.
Up next, well pumps for when your well pump is not working and needs replacing!
Our plumber, David Caudle, placed in a Franklin 2HP 20 gallons per minute submersible pump. For most situations 1HP would suffice, but since our well is deep, AND it's servicing two homes, ours and my mother-in-law's next door, we went with a 2 horse power. Our last Franklin lasted about 13 years, so this is the second time we've installed a new one in 25 years.
Grainger's Dayton well pump gives you some heftier horsepower and gallons-per-minute if you need more power and flow.
We love our well water, and are so grateful to not have to be hooked into the highly treated city water! We don't have to strain it, or treat it, and it's already in storage gallons, with gallons of it available every day.
We've drunk our well water straight from the tap for 25 years with no more treatment than a well filter. We did use a Britta filtered water pitcher, for a year to try it out. We thought it might help reduce mineral deposits build-ups that can occur in coffee machines and tea kettles, but we didn't really notice much difference, so when our Britta cracked from an accidental drop, we didn't bother replacing it.
So what about all that lovely water? How to access well water when the power—or pump—does go out?
After searching around, we found that unless you happen to own an artesian well,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artesian_aquifer you'll have to devise some way to pump the water up to the surface. And of course, given the developments and improvements on the old farm-style hand pump, there are several options.
The cheapest backup system for about any well is this DIY "bucket" made from PVC pipe, a rubber ball, and rope. Here's a video of how it's done.
Waterless Well Pump - Emergency Well Pump System
Creative DIY'ers could rig up a windlass with a crank to raise the bucket more easily.1
How About Solar Well Pumps?
You might ask—as we did—what about solar? Could not a solar Photovoltaic (PV) system be rigged to a pump?
It looks like there are some very pricey options for deeper wells and we're still looking into how many panels it would take to power a solar system for our deep well. Same goes for wind power.
If any of you out there have personal experience with solar or wind generated well pump power, please let us know, so we can be better informed and share it here. You can send us an email or post a comment on the Gardens All Facebook page.
Human Powered - Hand Pump Well Pumps
Back to the human powered devices, this Handy Well Pump on Amazon serves wells down to 150 feet. Similar units are available with installation videos and guidance from makers like the "Freedom Water Pump".2
Top of the line models tout adaptability to solar, wind, and conventional as well as the ability to tie in directly with the house plumbing.
Though it's expensive and challenging to prep for any and all contingencies, availability of fresh clean water has to be a high priority.
Availability of fresh clean water has to be the highest priority when it comes to preparedness.
We live in the country because we like the fresh air lifestyle, and in particular, enjoy our own forested habitat, garden space, and having our own water supply. Not having water for a brief interval proved to be a temporary inconvenience. But it was enough to shake us out of our comfort zone and begin seeking better ways to prepare for future incidents that might be more serious and last longer.
Our Well Pump is not Working AGAIN!
So... like we said in the beginning, our well did go out a second time, in just 19 months after the last major "heart replacement surgery" when we got a new pump.
I turned on the faucet, and noticed the water pressure was unusually low. Uh-oh. I shouted to the family to not run the water, then turned it on again while running the water into a pitcher. Sure enough, before that gallon pitcher was full, the water stopped. Our son, Nikolai, had been showering so most of the last of the water in the pipes had already run out. Again..?
This is too familiar and not so long ago. "How can our well have stopped working again, and so soon?!" (Asked in an incredulous... 'because it shouldn't be true.. surely it isn't', kind of tonality).
Wells Don't Usually Run Dry
Of course the "well" didn't stop. Wells don't usually run dry. It's typically that the power is off or the well pump is not working, but this time it wasn't the well pump either. It turns out that because the last plumber used flexible black poly pipe instead of the stiff PVC of our first installing, that created a critical issue, especially given the depth of our particular well.
It was the Wire This Time
What happened is that with the vibration of the well pump, and other seismic underground tremors (according to the plumber), the wires were chafing against the bedrock. The effect was a sanding of the Romex wire's outer covering over the year and a half until it finally wore through to the bare wires, which then broke.
No more electricity to the pump. No more water.
It was a Saturday evening around 7pm. Fortunately, the well guys were able to come and fix it on Monday afternoon. So we were without water for basically two days, and we clearly weren't prepared for that with enough on hand to keep the toilets filled and get "sponge baths" or "bucket baths", Indian style.*
*Years ago, my wife and I were living as volunteers at an orphanage in India for 3.5 months. We were lucky to have an indoor bathroom. It had a sink, a toilet and an open floor area with a drain and a spigot. All Indian bathrooms have a plastic 3 gallon bucket with a plastic pint measuring cup with a handle, for hanging on the bucket. So you fill the bucket with water, (ours was cold water only) and pour the water over you with the cup to bathe and rinse. We called that "cold water bucket baths", which still use more water than a "sponge bath", where you're just washing off with a damp washcloth. That's the trip by the way, where we met and cared for the infant who became our daughter.
We're most grateful that the plumbing crew was able to make it out so quickly. AND... we're grateful for once again having the opportunity for a "fire drill" on how prepared we are, (or were not!) so that we can improve our planning and preparedness.
Once again, we invite you to comment on our Facebook page and share your own situation and experience in this vital matter of obtaining clean fresh water.
May you have abundant gardens and always be prepared.
SEMPER PARATUS... ALWAYS PREPARED!
G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson