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What to Consider When Digging Your Own Well

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: July 5, 2019
What to Consider When Digging Your Own Well

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A good supply of water is one of the most important things when it comes to long-term survival. Digging your own well was once common. It is no easy task regardless of where you are on the water table. Some sites are more suited to drilling your own well than others.

I want to start out by stressing a few key points before you start digging and then get into some supplies that you might want to consider. If you have to have a deep well I have some tips on getting the best price and keeping yourself from going nuts while your well is drilled.

Remember that it may be illegal for you to dig and use your own well.

Unfortunately, there are some regulations that while well intended, do infringe on your freedom to do what you want with your water. Part of the reasons for this is somewhat understandable. In the old days a lot of people died of water born disease and illness. My great great grandfather died in the late 30s from typhoid from drinking bad water. At the same time we are in modern times and know that drinking questionable water is risky and a lot of people are not going to risk drinking water they have not been reasonably sure is clean. Bacteria issues can come about suddenly.

Untreated water doesn’t work for everyone’s body.

Those that grow up drinking untreated waters from springs tend to not be as sensitive to some waters. My husband grew up drinking spring water and his parents had friends come over that would get ill after drinking it. They were used to treated waters like those found in town.

The little town in Washington I grew up in, Hamilton had an untreated water tank that everyone got their water from. It was basically glacial melt and it was actually very tasty. I remember not being able to stand the tap water when forced to go to the city. Water shouldn’t taste like that.

People live in areas they didn’t before.

People did not choose to live in areas where the water was too far below the surface. People lived near the water table so they did not have to worry about delving 100s of feet for water. Springs were popular sources of water because little if any digging was involved. Wells were shallow.

Be aware of the safety hazards of digging a deep hole.

It is not advisable to attempt a well deeper than 50 feet without special training and equipment. If you are on the side of the mountain like me, forget digging your own. Our well is hundreds of feet which would be completely unrealistic without modern good drilling equipment.

The kits discussed further on in this article are designed for to dig wells in the 25-50 foot range. After that point, pumping water, especially by hand becomes a lot harder.

Finding Your Spot

Deciding where to drill or dig is very important. You don’t want to start digging only to find you did a lot of work and didn’t get any water! Here are some key things to remember when it comes to choosing your spot.

1. Stay away from septic systems or areas where there have been outhouses or latrines in recent times.

The odds of contamination are much higher close to septic fields or any area previously used for human waste. Getting too close can mean that you get water that is high in fecal coliform and can make you very sick.

2. While it may seem sensible to drill where there is standing water, avoid marshy and boggy areas.

For starters, it can be very difficult or near impossible to dig in muck and mud. The chances of getting mucky water are high in boggy areas.

3. Stay away from sewer lines.

While ideally, sewer lines would never leak, there is always the possibility so it is recommended that you stay 50 feet away from any sewer line when digging a well. This is not really a problem of course if you are far enough out that you are considering digging your own well in the first place. A pro well driller will evaluate any area to determine if lines are nearby.

4. Locate your well where the drainage is good.

While you want your well to be low enough for you to be able to hit the water, you don’t want it where all the runoff from your property pools. Choose a bit higher elevation if possible.

Water Dowsing or “Water Witching”

Some people believe in water dowsing and some do not. The idea is that you use two rods stuck out and walk around they will cross where there is water underground. I am just mentioning this to be thorough and don’t want to get into a major debate about superstitions.

Water dowsing is considered a pseudoscience and often scoffed at but I have heard plenty of people profess that this is how they found the location of old wells, septic lines, or a site to dig a well. Some people say that only certain people can use dowsing rods to find water whereas other people the rods won’t cross for.

If this type of thing intrigues you then check out The American Society of Dowsers for more information.

Well Drilling Kits

There are various kits out there that are designed to aid in drilling your own well. I have to say that I have not used any of these kits. The kit below is an option I found that gets reasonably good feedback from customers. I encourage you to explore a lot of different kits before buying. Well drilling is such an individual and site-based thing so that means some kits are going to work better for some than others. Cost can vary a lot based on how complicated a kit you need and the tools and accessories you may need or want.

Emergency Water Well DIY Water Well Kit

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This is a budget-friendly kit includes a hand pump for a 25′ well, a 4″ well screen, 4″ cap and a 7″ water well auger.  Here is a great video that shows you how all this works. They also have hand pumps that allow for up to a 50 ft well.

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The company also sells a large bore kit for those that want the option of using an electric submersible pump and hand pump. You will need to buy pliers, hacksaw, pipe wrenches, PVC primer and cement, parachute cord, well casing, bags of pea gravel and cement and drill pipes is you choose the large bore kit.

Drilling Rig Complete Drilling System

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I think this is a pretty need rig for the DIY but at right around $1,600 it is a bit pricy. At the same time you get a well drilling rig that is gasoline powered and you can use it to drill wells for others. If you are a member of a homesteading or prepper group and a few of you are considering digging your own well, this may be a good thing to pitch in and get. I like the idea of having a machine do the hardest part of the drilling and digging! There are only 23′ of rods included so you may need to buy a few more. There is an option to upgrade the auger power head. I have used augers a lot and quality is really important so it might be worth the extra money to get a better powerhead.

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Lining The Well

Professionally drilled wells are lined with PVC plastic or metal pipe. PVC is the most common. Metal is usually only used by pros in specific situations where they think the casing needs to be tougher.

In the past, people used stones to line wells but those are not enough to keep out dirt and bacteria. Remember that people drank some dirty water years ago by modern standards. Modern wells use a very small hole rather than the huge holes that people used to dig by hand and actually get down in.

Sanitizing Your Well

When you first get a well drilled, the drillers usually chlorinate the well and then you have to run a lot of water through your system to get the smell and taste out. It can be very strong and it takes a lot of running the water to take the smell out. You are not going to want to wash clothes or take showers for a day or two.

This process is important because it means the well lining and pipes are sanitized, so you have the cleanest water possible. After a few days, your local county office may take a sample and send you results.

If you dig your own well you can use bleach or oxygen cleaner to sanitize your well. Personally, I think unscented oxygen cleaner would be best. I understand why pro well drillers use chlorine but it is some pretty harsh stuff.

Oxygen cleaner breaks down quickly after sanitizing and there is no unpleasant odor or taste for days. You are going to need a lot but you can get the main active ingredient in bulk and pour it down your well. 1-2 boxes ( 7 lbs each) of Oxiclean should do it if you have dug a well that is not exceptionally deep. I am talking about more in range with the 25 ft or less I described earlier.

OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover

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Well-Safe Sanitizer Pack

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 For those that prefer to use a product specifically listed for sanitizing wells, Well Safe is a popular choice and easy to use.

Wells require some basic maintenance and monitoring.

If you notice any of the following then it is time to evaluate your well.

Change in taste

This is often the first sign that there is a problem with the water supply. Flavor is important. The taste of your water can depend on a lot of things. Mineral deposits can lead to your water having a different flavor. If a well is new then the flavor may change and then level out over a few days as the well clears and settles.

Debris and aquatic life in water.

Unusual amounts of dirt and debris or even lizards and other aquatic wildlife are all signs that your well or water source needs to be looked at. A casing can become cracked over time. Seismic events like earthquakes can lead to the land shifting somewhat and causing structures like well casings to become cracked so things can get into the main water supply.

Having your water tested or testing yourself is important with any new water source. Even if the well has been in use awhile before you move in, you should consider testing.

You can get your water tested so you know what minerals are in it. This will also allow you to determine if there are any elevated levels of bacteria. If you have a well drilled by a professional, this is often already built into the cost of the permit you got to drill in the first place. They can be a bit slow in testing so you might have to remind the agency in charge or your well driller. Private testing can be done through an environmental service but that can cost a bit. You can buy kits to test your well water at home for faster results.

Watersafe Well Water Test Kit

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This test kit allows you to determine levels of nitrates/nitrites, bacteria, and heavy metals like copper, iron, and lead. Remember that if you have an older well, the land use in your area may have been different in the past. While there are rules and regulations that help protect water supplies, in the past it was not always the case or some things got overlooked.

Some people are more sensitive to drinking water changes than others. Kits allow you to compare your results to the EPA’s thresholds so you can take action and protect your health. Elevated levels of some contaminants are not always hard to fix. Bacteria, in particular, can be eliminated from a well sometimes quite easily.

Tips If You Have To Hire A Drilling Company

Get Multiple Quotes

If you have to hire a company to drill your well, it is important to shop around and get a few quotes. My husband and I recently had to get a well drilled and the difference in price from one drilling company and another was significant. A $1 per foot drilled may not sound like a lot but even with a 200 ft well that is $200.

Apply and Pay For Your Permits

One of the first questions a lot of drillers ask is if you have already got your permit. I know that rules can vary but chances are you are going to need a permit and pay a fee. This is a decent amount of money. We live in a rural county in Western North Carolina and our cost was $500.

Ask About Cash Discounts

Credit card fees eat into the profits of well contractors just like any other business. By paying cash you can sometimes save a considerable amount of money. We saved some money this way. I know that wells are expensive and a lot of people have to use some credit to get them but if you can go the cash route you can come out 5% cheaper or more.

Don’t Be Afraid To Negotiate

Contractors have to compete for your business. While wells are always going to be in demand, there are only so many out there to be drilled at a given time. If you get a better quote there is nothing wrong with asking another contractor if they can beat that price. I knocked a substantial amount off of what we had to pay per foot by doing this.

Estimating Exact Cost Is Impossible So Don’t Expect It

While well drillers are great at figuring out the best place for you to drill, it is impossible for them to give you a set price for your well. Things happen that they have no way of predicting. A good way to get a ballpark figure is to find the depth of the wells of your neighbors. That is an excellent indication of where the water table is on your property.

Waste & Mess Levels Can Get High: Make Sure They Have A Plan

So things can get a little messy when you get large equipment on your land. Ideally, your chosen well driller will have a plan in mind for keeping things under control. Technically this is their responsibility and should largely be included in the price. Sludge from drilling and muddy water are inevitable. We had to allow for a holding pond that the driller filled in later. This was largely to satisfy neighbors that look for any excuse to complain. That might be something you have to deal with too if you are on the higher ground and waste is going into ditches or creeks.

You might want to set aside some money for gravel and grass seed to help get things back to normal and prevent further erosion after having your well drilled.

Protecting Your Well Head From Impacts and Weather

If you have livestock or drive around a lot in the area that your wellhead is located, then you need to take some extra steps to protect the top of the well and cap. Impacts can damage your wellhead and lead to leaks and possible contamination of your water. Cracked wellhead casings can be fixed but it is a hassle and you are probably going to have to do without running water for a day.

Well drilling companies will sell you an insulation pouch and a fake rock to protect from the cold but for the money, and get an insulation blanket for a hot water heater. Double the insulation blanket over and tape it so no fiberglass is exposed. This can be wrapped around the wellhead and your artificial stone draped over it.

Water Heater Insulation Blanket

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EMSCO Group Landscape Rock

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These artificial stones usually come with anchors so they don’t blow away, but you can also put things around them and landscape to make things look pretty. We saved about 50% by protecting the wellhead from weather ourselves. Just make sure to measure well and allow room for insulation. The rock I bought may be larger or smaller than what you need!

Have you ever drilled a well? Do you have any experience with using a hand dug well over time? What steps do you take to ensure a clean water supply for you and your family?

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15 Responses to “What to Consider When Digging Your Own Well”

  1. Wow, you’re right, that DIY rig is a bit pricey. I’d rather have a professional drill it for me honestly. It will be cheaper in the long run because I won’t need to use my time to do it.

  2. You made a great point about being aware of any safety hazards and making sure that you know how deep you will be drilling. My husband and I just moved into a home in Brisbane and we want to have well drilled for our water system. We will keep these tips in mind and just leave it to the professionals to help us.

  3. My dad wants to have a well at home as an additional water source at home. It was explained here that when considering having water well at home, he should find the right spot to dig a well. Moreover, it’s recommended to hire professionals when considering well drilling.

  4. Hey Samantha,
    It is good that you start by reminding about the legal factors of this process. I had little to no idea that this might become an issue. Also the contamination issues can be something people forget when starting their little projects. However, depending on the area you live, you could be finding areas with pure water easily.

  5. Thanks for these tips! I really liked that one about staying away from hazardous contaminants when drilling. I will keep that in mind as we’re looking for a spot to install a well.

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