Learn how to install a backup hand pump on an existing well and avoid power-outage droughts.
The hand pump and electric pump share the same well casing.
Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
A few years back, a severe ice storm knocked out my family's electricity for a couple of days . . . and we suddenly found ourselves without the use of our electric well pump. As we groped about the candlelit house — unable to make coffee, prepare meals, wash dishes, flush the toilet, or even take a sip of tap water (yet all the while keenly aware that just 15 feet below us was all the thirst quenching liquid we could ever want) — we felt like the shipmates becalmed at sea in the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", with "water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink"!
I remembered then that when I was a youngster one of our neighbors had attached a working hand pump to his electric well pump . . . and I wished I'd had the foresight and know-how to install a similar fixture on our unit. I made up my mind — then and there — to at least investigate the possibility. It's fortunate that I did, too, because putting a hand pump on our well turned out to be an easy task (even for an amateur do-it-yourselfer like me!).
And if you're looking for a low-cost, nonelectric backup design for a "juice powered" pumping system, my solution just might do the job for you!
As shown in the accompanying diagram, our hand pump and its related components are totally separate from the electric unit. The two pumps merely share the same well casing (in this instance, a 6"-diameter pipe that extends 125 feet into the ground). In addition, because the water table is only about 13 feet below the top of our well casing, we were able to choose a simple, shallow-drawn hand pump for our purposes rather than having to buy a more expensive, deep-reaching machine. (To calculate the height of the water table, I just lowered a string that had a small piece of wood tied to the end of it into the well casing until the wood floated and the string went slack, and then I marked and measured the string.)
To set up the hand-operated unit, we gathered the following materials: a Sears, Roebuck & Co. "pitcher spout" hand pump, 25 feet of 1 1/4" plastic pipe, one plastic screw-type adapter (for attaching the drop pipe to the pump), and two 1 1/4" hose clamps (I used one to secure the drop pipe onto the plastic adapter and the other to temporarily affix the drop pipe to the well cap so that the tubing wouldn't "accidentally" fall down into the well casing while we were putting the system together). The total bill for these components, including the pump, came to just under $50. And when you consider that our original well setup cost us a hefty $2,000, this manual backup system was quite a bargain!
The only special tool I needed to install the apparatus was a hole saw with a 1 1/4" bit, which I used to bore a circle through the well cap. And though I opted to build a small wooden pump house out of scrap lumber to mount the water hauler on, you could simply attach the pump to a picnic table or even directly onto the well cap itself.
We've had our hand pump setup almost three years now, and it's proved to be a huge success. We initially thought we might resort to it only occasionally during an emergency, but it actually gets used almost every day. Why, the neighborhood children actually wore out our original pump the very first summer we had it in operation! (Even on the hottest days, the water it produced was clear and ice-cold.)
We now have a more expensive "force" pump. This machine has a pressure chamber and two faucets, allowing us to pump an icy shower or — by connecting a garden hose to one of the spigots — to water our flowers and vegetables. But best of all, we no longer have to haul buckets to the house during a power outage, as we did with the earlier-model pump. By running a hose between the well and a nearby outdoor faucet, we're able to refill our water storage and heater tanks and/or pump water directly to any tap in the house! And although we still don't actually welcome those occasional periods of temporary electrical power failure, when they do occur we no longer anxiously await the dripping of the faucets.
Now if we could just remember to restock that box of emergency candles, we'd be all set!
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