Are you ready to get down, dirty, and drill a well by hand?
A well is a man-made hole that’s dug into the ground to retrieve water.
With about 30% of the world’s freshwater found in underground aquifers, it’s advantageous for both home and landowners to consider digging a well.
About 13 million American homes have water wells that provide usable water to the property.
If this sounds like an appealing option to you, this blog will discuss the best ways to drill a well by hand and everything you must know to do so.
Let’s get started.
1. You should consider all of your options before you default to drilling a well
Having a freshwater supply is an appealing option.
However, there are important considerations you should factor into your decision to drill a well by hand.
There’s quite a bit of research you’ll need to conduct to determine if a DIY project will work for you.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you get started.
What will the well be used for?
Drilling a well by hand is more appropriate for wells that will be used exclusively for irrigation or landscaping.
This is because contamination is less of a concern if the water isn’t going to be consumed by humans or animals (although you should still ensure your well is properly tested, especially if you will be eating vegetables and fruits grown with the water).
You will also need professional equipment to drill a well that is large enough to meet all of your household needs.
So if you are drilling a well to supply your domestic water, you should strongly consider hiring a licensed company or consultant to help design and install the well.
Keep in mind that many jurisdictions may require a licensed well installer to drill the well anyway.
What is the nature of the soil?
Wells are not easily drilled by hand when the groundwater supplies exist under layers of rock.
Although the process isn’t impossible, it is certainly more difficult than if the water is located under softer material, such as sand.
What is the depth of the groundwater supply?
The depth of groundwater supply can vary greatly from region to region, so you can’t rely on what you read online to determine this.
Some areas may have groundwater just a few feet below the surface while others may have water hundreds of feet below the surface.
Drilling a well by hand will be significantly more difficult if you have to go hundreds of feet down.
That said, you should keep in mind that finding acceptable water typically requires going at least 30 feet down in order to avoid contamination.
Where does surface water flow naturally on the property?
You will want to install your well away from the area where rainwater naturally flows.
This is because rainwater will pick up bacteria and contaminates from the ground and can contaminate the well water.
Do you live in a marshy or wet area?
This is a no-go for wells.
Is there a seasonal variation in the water levels?
The water table is often not static throughout the year.
You’ll want to make sure that you check the water table beneath your land over an extended timeframe.
You don’t want to find out that you are only able to draw water at certain times of the year.
Also, be sure you plan for droughts!
Is your land a candidate for a driven or drilled well?
We’ll only discuss how to drill a well by hand in this blog, but wells can also be driven or dug.
Generally speaking, hand-drilled wells can go down to a depth of about 15-20 feet while power-drilled wells can go much deeper.
Do you need a permit for your local area?
This is common because quality drinking water is a matter of public health.
Is there a septic system nearby?
Most jurisdictions require a minimum distance between a well and a septic system leach field.
Before planning your project, you will want to know the location of all nearby septic systems (including your neighbors).
You will also want to contact the county to research the minimum required distance from any septic system to your well.
Do you have to keep existing utilities in mind?
Depending on how rural your land is, you may need to contact your local utility company to check if there are any existing underground service lines that you would cross while drilling a well by hand.
Do I need a fire-fighting reserve tank?
Fire trucks only carry a limited amount of water.
So you may want to have an extra water reserve on hand in case of an emergency.
If you do this, you should also coordinate with your local fire department to make sure you have the necessary hook-ups required for them to access the water.
How much would it cost for you to drill the well?
Typically, drilling a well costs (at least initially) more than connecting to a public water supply.
There are also risks of not finding enough water or water of sufficient quality.
When you calculate the cost, you’ll need to factor in the cost of pumping the water continuously and maintaining the well.
Am I even allowed to drill my own well?
Each county and state will have its own regulations on well drilling and, in some jurisdictions, you may be required to have a licensed well-driller drill and install your well.
Be sure to check your county’s local regulations before starting a DIY project.
2. You’ll need specific information on the land
Before you can drill a well by hand, you’ll need to know the specific location of the property where the well will be drilled to obtain well records through your state’s geological survey.
It’s also possible to obtain these records through your state watermaster.
Here is the information you’re seeking:
This information is important to have because it will tell you if previous wells have been drilled on the property as well as the depth and if water was found.
This is crucial information for you because it can help determine if the water table can withstand another well being drilled.
You can also look at geologic and topographic maps to discover the general location of aquifers and the rock formations in the area.
Surface features and elevations can be used to plot well locations and determine if an area will have enough groundwater to make drilling a well viable.
Having all the information ahead of time will ultimately make your well drilling project more successful.
One important note is that most hand drilled wells tap into aquifers that are at the depth of the water table.
This means that they are “unconfined aquifers” because all of the material above them are porous.
Confined aquifers are more difficult to drill into.
3. You’ll want to talk to a well drilling consultant or company
You’ve done your own independent research, but don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional.
A consultant or a professional hydrologist can help you get more detailed information on how to drill a well by hand on your particular property.
If you decide to hire a company instead of drilling the well by hand yourself, then you should consider asking the following questions first.
Are they licensed and insured? Do they have adequate liability and worker’s comp insurance to protect you?
Are they reputable? Can they provide you with references and reviews from previous clients?
What’s in the contract? What will they provide you in writing and what do their services include?
Is their equipment in good condition?
Will they submit well logs?
What kind of guarantee do they provide?
Do they disinfect the well? If so, how will they do it?
You should also discuss the following questions together…
Where can you drill? You’ve spent quite a bit of time researching this, and your well drilling company should support your findings and provide additional expertise.
How can you prepare your land in advance?
What type of well do you need?
How much water do you need?
Even if you’re planning on keeping this a DIY project, it is helpful to talk to a consultant just to reinforce what you’ve already learned while researching.
4. You’ll need to apply for permits
Remember the permits mentioned above?
Chances are both your local municipality and your state will require that you obtain permits before you drill a well by hand.
Get the required paperwork taken ahead of time, so you’re in the clear legally.
You don’t want to be lagging behind in this respect.
5. You’ll want to purchase a DIY well-drilling kit
Alright, after all of the research and paperwork, you’re ready to get started drilling.
Drilling a well by hand can be a bit tedious, and as a result, most people will pay a professional to do it.
However, if you’re prepared for the challenge of this DIY project, then go ahead and purchase a well-drilling kit. Here’s one example.
This kit includes most of the tools and materials except for the PVC piping that you’ll use to form the permanent well tube.
The tool in this kit uses an air-powered motor to drive a rotating bit that loosens up the soil.
When this is mixed with water, it is sucked up through the hollow tubing as a slurry while the bit burrows further down into the Earth.
In addition to the PVC piping, you’ll need to purchase a permanent well pump.
You may also need a submersible, in-ground pump that moves the water to the surface if you go deeper than 50 feet.
6. You’ll want to drill the well away from any potential contaminants
Drilling your well away from any potential contaminants is an important step in this process.
You’ve already determined the best location on your property for your well.
However, you should also keep in mind other factors like animal feedlots, buried fuel tanks, waste disposal, and septic systems.
All of these elements can pollute groundwater, and you definitely don’t want that if you may be consuming it.
Wells should be drilled in locations where you can easily reach them for maintenance.
They should also be located at least 5 feet from building sites.
Check your local and state regulations about how far your well must be setback from the road and from the buildings.
Your area may have additional locations or restrictions that you may need to adhere to.
If you’ve hired a well drilling company, they should be familiar with these regulations.
However, if you’re going to drill a well by hand, then you’ll need to know these regulations yourself.
One potential contaminant that you may forget about if you’re drilling your own well is soil.
A great tip is to have a tarp that you put your soil on.
You can dig out the soil, keeping the first soil that comes out on the bottom and the last soil to come out at the top.
This way, when you put it back, you’re not putting any new contaminants near the water.
Finally, when drilling your well, it’s important to remember that your first 100 gallons of water will be muddy.
However, once you pass this mark, you should obtain clear water.
It’s also important to disinfect the well after drilling it (this is a requirement if the water is going to be consumed).
Also, keep in mind that you should test your well water at least once a year moving forward.
And finally, be sure to pest-proof your well.
You don’t want critters to sneak into your water source!
7. You’ll need to decide how you want to dig your well
This is where it gets highly dependent on your land, research, and expertise.
Wells can be drilled, dug, or driven out, so there are a lot of different ways to go about well building.
As we mentioned, this article focuses on hand-drilling a well with an auger.
Step 1: Start digging
Use a hand auger to get the hole started
Put the soil aside on a tarp to reduce contamination
Step 2: Insert the pipe into the hole
1. Drill tiny holes in PVC pipe
2. Put a cap on the bottom of the PVC pipe to reduce sediment
3. Add a foot valve so water can come up but not go back down
4. Put PVC pipe in the hole
5. Use pea gravel to fill in some of the holes
6. Pack dirt around the pipe (in the same order you took it out)
Step 3: Connect the pipe and the pump
1. Add an adaptor to connect the pipe and the pump
2. Start pumping (remember – it will be muddy!)
Step 4: Create a base for your well
Don’t leave your well as a pipe sticking out of the ground! Give it some stability by pouring concrete around it.
Drilling a well by hand is a complicated process when it’s your first time.
You’ll have to get to know your land well and understand whether or not the process has been attempted on your land or in your area previously.
Fortunately, your state’s geological survey and watermaster should be able to provide this information.
When in doubt, you can always discuss your options with a local well-drilling consultant, or you can hire a well drilling company to do it on your behalf (especially if the soil conditions are difficult or the water table is deep).
Keep in mind that many jurisdictions will require a licensed well-driller to drill the well for you.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.