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).
After that, you must test your well water for chemicals, bacteria, heavy metals (such as lead and arsenic), and other foreign substances to ensure it is safe for consumption.
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.
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Erika is a former Affordable Housing Director for the City of New York turned full-time Land Investor. She used to help New Yorkers find affordable housing, now she helps people find affordable land around the US.
Prior to starting Gokce Capital, Erika received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Southern California and a graduate degree in Urban Policy from Columbia University. She worked as both an architectural designer and engineer in New York before joining the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Erika currently lives in the New York Metropolitan area with her spouse, daughter and cat. She is originally from Chicago and still considers herself a midwesterner at heart.
Erika also loves to read, write and travel (fun fact, she has visited all 50 states and more than 30 countries!). Her new book, Land Investing Mistakes: 11 True Stories You Need To Know Before Buying Land, is now available on Amazon.
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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.What water are you tapping into when you drill a well? ›
well is a hole drilled into the ground to access water contained in an aquifer. A pipe and a pump are used to pull water out of the ground, and a screen filters out unwanted particles that could clog the pipe.What time of year is best to drill a well? ›
Many homeowners assume that well drilling during the winter is more difficult because the ground is frozen. However, winter is the ideal season in which to complete this project. Due to the cold, hardened ground, there's much less mud and damage to your yard from tire tracks left by the drilling rig.Can you drink water from a hand dug well? ›
Improved dug wells are lined, covered, and fitted with a secure water lifting device, such as a pump or windlass, to provide safe drinking-water. Unimproved dug wells (i.e. open or uncovered wells) are particularly susceptible to contamination, and should be avoided where possible.How deep should a well be for drinking water? ›
All wells should be cased to a depth of at least 25 feet below ground surface.How do you know where water is to dig a well? ›
- There is a higher water table in valleys and lowlands than on a hill or mountain.
- Surface water sources like streams, lakes, swamps, and puddles indicate sufficient groundwater.
- Abundant water-loving plants show an excellent underground water supply, especially in dry surface areas.
The pumping mechanism is in the pump cylinder and pulls water up by creating suction. Deep well hand pumps can lift water from depths greater than 25 feet.What is the deepest water well dug by hand? ›
The Woodingdean Water Well is the deepest hand-dug well in the world, at 390 metres (1,280 ft) deep. It was dug to provide water for a workhouse. Work on the well started in 1858, and was finished four years later, on 16 March 1862.How do well drillers know where to drill? ›
Hydrologists, experts at locating water, often combine geological, meteorological, topographical and other data to determine likely locations. Services like Seismic Waterfinder use sophisticated sounding and other methods to locate water, and many services combine locating and well drilling.How long does it take to drill a well from start to finish? ›
Depending on the conditions of the weather, ground and water depth as well as drilling conditions, it typically takes 1 to 3 days, sometimes longer, to drill a well. You should keep in mind that these factors vary from one site to another and from one well to another.
A well is said to have gone dry when water levels drop below a pump intake. This does not mean that a dry well will never have water in it again, as the water level may come back through time as recharge increases.How often should I shock a well? ›
Shock chlorination is recommended: upon completion of a new well or when an unused well is returned to service. if annual water test results indicate the presence of bacteria. if a well system is opened for any installation, repair or maintenance.How many years does a well last? ›
1. Does the home have a drilled well, and if so, when was it drilled? The average lifespan for a well is 30–50 years.How long should you flush a well? ›
Run the water to flush the bleach solution out of the well. Monitor the process, it can take 30 minutes to 24 hours or more to flush all of the bleach solution from the well. Use chlorine test papers to verify that the water coming from the outside faucet or yard hydrant is clear of any bleach solution.What not to do with well water? ›
Avoid using, mixing or storing hazardous chemicals, such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, motor oil, gas, weed killer or other pollutants near your well. Do not dump waste near your well or near sinkholes, as this may contaminate your water supply.What happens if you use all the water in your well? ›
Periods of extended over pumping increase the rate at which water travels through the ground immediately around the well drawing in sediment that adds cloudiness to the water and may eventually clog the cracks that are the arteries in your water delivery system thus severing the well's connection to the aquifer.Can I drink the water from my well? ›
Typically, groundwater is naturally clean and safe to drink. Because the soil on top acts as a filter, groundwater is usually free of micro-organisms that may cause disease. However, groundwater can become contaminated if the casings or caps for wells are not installed in the correct way.How many gallons of water is a good well? ›
The Water Well Board suggests that a minimum water supply capacity for domestic internal household use should be at least 600 gallons of water within a two-hour period once each day. This is equivalent to a flow rate of 5 gallons per minute (gpm) for two hours.Do deeper wells mean better water? ›
Water quality in a deep well usually changes more slowly than in a shallow well. That's because groundwater does some mixing as it moves through the aquifer. A spill a mile away from your deep well in the Basin and Range aquifer might be substantially diluted with clean aquifer water before it gets to your well.How deep are most residential wells? ›
Most household water wells range from 100 to 800 feet deep, but a few are over 1,000 feet deep. Well yields can be increased by fracturing the bedrock immediately around the drill hole and intercepted rock faults.
LeakSMART is designed to work with both iOS and Android devices. With this awesome app, you can effectively prevent water damage by stopping leaks as soon as they start.Can you find water anywhere if you dig deep enough? ›
There is water somewhere beneath your feet no matter where on Earth you live. Groundwater starts as precipitation, just as surface water does, and once water penetrates the ground, it continues moving, sometimes quickly and sometimes very slowly.Where is the best place for a well water? ›
It is important to maintain safe distances between a private groundwater well and possible sources of contamination. Whenever possible, the well should be located at higher elevations than surrounding areas and above flood levels to decrease the potential for contamination.What happens if you pump too much water out of wells? ›
Over-pumping not only depletes the groundwater aquifer (or source), but it rapidly increases the rate of corrosion, incrustation, and biofouling related problems. Over-pumping also increases the rate of sediment particles moving toward the well, causing plugging of the perforated area where water flows into the well.What diameter should a hand pump well be? ›
A 1/8” diameter hole is the key to frost-free wintertime operation of your hand pump, and it applies to both deep well and shallow well situations.Can you over pump a well? ›
Ensure your pump is sized correctly and flow controlled so it cannot pull water from the aquifer faster than the rate at which the aquifer is capable of transmitting water. If you do, you will over-pump the well and, over time, this will cause damage to the well and the aquifer.What are the problems with hand dug wells? ›
Water extracted from dug wells often has elevated levels of iron and manganese. The occurrence of arsenic, fluoride and radiological problems is less common in dug wells than in bedrock wells. Dug wells typically have a low pH which can lead to a corrosive condition within the plumbing of the home.What are 4 types of wells? ›
- Dug Well. Dug wells are shallow and they are not the best option for your drinking water. ...
- Bored Well. ...
- Driven Point Well. ...
- Drilled Well.
Typically, they are only 10 to 30 feet deep. Being so shallow, dug wells have the highest risk of becoming contaminated. To minimize the likelihood of contamination, your dug well should have certain features.How do you know where not to drill? ›
Holes should not be drilled directly above, below, or to the side of any electrical switches or outlets. Per the 2018 International Residential Code, electrical wires should be set back no less than 1-1/4 inches from the edge of the framing lumber.
Keep it forward and going clockwise to tighten screws or drill a hole. Toggle to reverse when removing a screw. The rotation goes counter-clockwise in reverse. Put the drill in reverse to extract the drill bit from the hole you just drilled.What comes after drilling a well? ›
Once the well is completed, oil and natural gas are ready to be produced and collected. If needed, a pump jack is placed at the wellhead, and works mechanically to pull liquid oil up the wellbore. Most wells produce oil, natural gas and saltwater. These three resources are pumped and then separated above the surface.What to do after well is drilled? ›
Once the well is completed, we usually like to let the well sit for at least one day. This gives the well time to rest and settle. The drilling process can stir up a lot of dirt and sediment.How many feet can a well driller drill in a day? ›
The nature of the rock can make a big difference, but if it's hard and competent, I'd expect between 200 and 350 feet per day could be achieved. If you're running dual tube, however, it's not uncommon to hit 600 to 800 feet per shift.Do you run out of water when you lose power with a well pump? ›
If you experience a power outage, your well pump will not work. You will continue to use water for a short time, as your system draws the remaining water from the well storage tank. However, once that water is used – you will not have access to fresh water until power is restored.Can you shock a drilled well? ›
You can easily shock your well by adding plain unscented household bleach with a chlorine concentration of 5 to 5.25%. The amount of household bleach used varies with the type of well you have.Does homeowners insurance cover well going dry? ›
Again, if the well runs dry due to a covered peril, which is quite unlikely, you'd be covered. However, the most common cause of a dry well is that the spring used as a water source has run dry. In this scenario, it would likely be due to natural causes and you wouldn't be covered.How often should I put bleach in my well? ›
A well and water system should not need to be chlorinated more than once per year; although dug wells that have never been cleaned sometimes require sequential rounds of disinfection. Aside from when new pumps are installed, many wells never require disinfection.How much hydrogen peroxide do I put in my well? ›
You should generally inject 1.0 ppm of hydrogen peroxide for each part per million of iron or manganese, and 2 ppm of H2O2 for each 1.0 ppm of hydrogen sulfide gas (the cause of rotten egg smell in water).How many gallons does it take to shock a well? ›
One gallon of bleach will treat up to an 8-inch diameter well containing 100 feet of water. If your well is much larger, or if your distribution system is unusually large, expect to use more than 1 gallon of bleach. Avoid direct skin contact with bleach solutions.
Wells have a life expectancy that can vary considerably. While some wells may last 100 or more years, a life of 25 to 50 years is more common.What are the cons of a well? ›
- Hard Water and Scale Buildup.
- Harmful contaminants such as bacteria, lead, and arsenic.
- Pumps need to be replaced every 10 or so years.
- Bad taste.
Low water pressure is usually one of the most obvious signs that your well pump isn't working properly. However, you might also notice fluctuations in the pressure. Other things can also cause water pressure changes, though, so you might need a plumber or well service provider to determine the cause.How long should you wait to shower after you chlorinate a well? ›
Once you have shocked a well, avoid bathing or doing laundry for at least 24 hours, if not longer. The amount of bleach needed to shock a well depends on the size of your well. you need to calculate how much bleach you need.What happens if you put too much bleach in well? ›
According to AskingLot, if you put too much bleach in your well, it can destroy the good bacteria found in the well, which can be a significant problem! The company also says that you should dilute the bleach with water so the pipes do not get ruined.How much bleach should I dump in my well? ›
Calculating how much unscented household bleach is needed to disinfect your well. Dilute 1 part bleach in 10 parts water. Pour diluted bleach down hose to bottom of well. Remove well cap.What happens if you drill a well too deep? ›
In some areas, drilling deeper may not yield sufficient water. Deep aquifers are often saltier and may require costly treatment to use the water. Pumping water from deeper underground requires more energy.Can you drill a deep well yourself? ›
Deep wells can reach depths of 300 feet and beyond and will require professional contractors with drilling rigs and heavy equipment. Unless you're a licensed driller yourself, you'll need to hire a contractor for deep wells.How long does it take to drill a 300 foot well? ›
Residential water wells are typically 100' to 300' deep and 4" to 6" in diameter. Local well drillers or neighbors can give you an idea of how deep to drill. A well takes about a week to install and lasts up to 40 years with proper maintenance and care.How do you tell if a well is deep or shallow? ›
Shallow wells are generally for water less than 25 feet from the surface, and deep wells can go down hundreds of feet. Wells use pumps to draw water up to the surface. Because shallow wells don't have a lot of room, their pumps are above the ground, usually inside a well housing.
Pumps should never be set directly at the bottom of a well. It is usually best to place the pump 10 to 20 feet up from the bottom of the well.What tools do you need to dig a well by hand? ›
Digging a well by hand, using simple tools like a pick and shovel, with a bucket on a rope to remove cuttings, is the oldest and probably the most frequently-used method of getting access to groundwater. Advantages: Making hand dug wells requires only common tools and skills, so it can be done by anyone.How far do you drill a well? ›
Most household water wells range from 100 to 800 feet deep, but a few are over 1,000 feet deep. Well yields can be increased by fracturing the bedrock immediately around the drill hole and intercepted rock faults.How many gallons a minute do you want from a well? ›
5 gpm (two fixtures running simultaneously at 2.5 gpm) is a good estimate of peak demand, for the typical household. Water wells that reliably yield 5 gpm should be able to meet peak and daily needs for most residences. Wells yielding less than 5 gpm, however, are sometimes the only water source available.How far off the bottom of a well should the foot valve be? ›
The foot valve shall be installed a maximum of 25 feet vertical distance below the suction pipe of the pump inlet. The foot valve screen shall not be supported at the bottom of tank or well for best operation efficiencies.How many gallons is a 300 foot well? ›
For example, a 6-inch diameter well that is 300 feet deep contains 450 gallons of water (300 ft. x 1.5 gallons/ft. = 450 gallons).