How to Build a Water Pump

How to build a water pump, including hydraulics, site analysis, instructions, materials list and installation.

| April/May 1996

Learn how to build a water pump, the next best thing to perpetual motion. (See the water pump photos and diagrams in the image gallery.)

How to Build a Water Pump

Pumping water is a main concern for any home or farm because, short of gravity feeding, it requires a ridiculous amount of energy. After surveying our new land, we knew there were several springs available—a large creek as well as a river. The houses we had rented previously all were spring fed so we knew digging a well was an unnecessary expense and hassle given the bountiful water in the area. None of the springs, however, were uphill from either the house or garden spots. We would need a system to pump from a gathered spring. Some brilliant idea had to come to our rescue, something that represented a technological triumph over adverse circumstances. That brilliant new idea proved to be one that was a few hundred years old.

The ram uses the force of water running downhill from a cistern or dam to pump that water to a site higher that the original source ... without electricity.

The hydraulic ram was a familiar sight in this country before electrification became widespread. A non electric water pump with only two moving parts, a waste valve and a delivery valve, the ram is a prime example of how some homestead utility problems are solved more appropriately and reliably by older but well-proven technology than mainstream electrified alternatives so fully trusted today. With just those couple of moving parts that rarely wear out and are both easily replaced if they do, this pump is that rarest of technological investments, one that both lasts for generations and is virtually maintenance free. An additional plus: it can be built by the average person in a remarkably short time for around $100, depending on costs for plumbing supplies in your area and what kind of usable junk you keep around your place.

This gadget made its way into my world as our family was closing on the purchase of our homestead here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Remaining off grid was our intention from the start—a choice which carried with it the need to look at how we would power all aspects of the homestead right from the beginning.

As we began to plan and purchase our solar electric installation, it became evident that running an electric pump was financially out of reach. Electric pumps suitable for our situation were costly, but worse were the costs of an increased number of panels, a larger inverter, and an excessive run of electric lines to operate that type of pump. We had to rule out such a system.

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