Living Off Grid – A Home Made Deep Well Pump

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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In the course of blogging for MEN we have met many people from all over the world. Recently that included Darren and Linda Holliday from Missouri. Darren contacted me to ask my opinion on a water pumping invention he had created. He wanted to know if it might be useful for off grid use.

Not only would it be useful but it is something I could personally use in keeping with my philosophy of having a backup for everything here. We can pump water three different ways but all of them require electricity. There are hand pumps available but to really get the volume we would like from a 300′ deep well without electricity is something I have never seen before short of a windmill.

It seems Darren is an inventor by necessity. He first ran into a problem with his own deep well. When he moved into his new place he discovered that the previous Owner had used the wrong rock down inside the well to help keep the sand out of the water. Instead of pea gravel they had used larger rock which not only didn’t keep the sand out but created other problems as well.

The only way to fix that was to drill a new hole or re-drill his existing one – both options were going to cost thousands of dollars.

Darren took matters into his own hands and created a rock extractor of sorts that he used to clean out his existing well. His story in detail can be seen on his website It is one of incredible ingenuity and well worth reading. There are several homemade inventions in that story besides the rock extractor

Now that Darren had cleared his well with his own invention saving tons of money he decided to put his ideas and efforts into a better human powered hand pump. Something that would produce more water volume than anything out there to date. 

The following is their story in their own words: 


During the 2012 summer drought, Darren and I wore ourselves out pumping with a hand pump from a cattle pond (a depth of about 7 feet) for our small trees and plants. At less than a pint per stroke, I had to pump 10 minutes to fill a 2-gallon watering can four times. I spent two hours pumping early every morning so I could be done before the temperature hit 100 degrees. Eventually, the pump broke and was replaced.

Again, even though industry professionals told him it was impossible, Darren designed and built a hand pump machine this summer that matches the lift of a 12′ diameter (blade length) windmill. No other hand pump exists that can do the same.

According to one popular pump’s specifications, it takes a 6-foot tall, 200-pound man stroking 60 times per minute to get the maximum water out of any of their pumps – about 4-1/2 to 5 gallons per minute
at a 30-foot static water level. At that rate, the man would be exhausted after 10 gallons. At a 78-foot static water level, their pump delivers only 4 gallons per minute.

I am 5′ 4″, in my 50s, and comfortably pumped almost 5 gallons per minute with Darren’s hand pump machine. The motion was smooth and nowhere near my maximum effort. Darren (in his 50s, height 5′
10″, weight 150 pounds) pumped 6 gallons per minute in just 18 strokes. With only human power and a mechanical advantage formula, this is already an accomplishment, but it gets even better.

(Eds note – These numbers are close to the ones my 240V electric/hydraulic pump puts out)

After making some adjustments, Darren pumped 5 gallons in 30 seconds in 10 strokes, although it took more effort. Twice as much water could be pumped per minute at a 40-foot static water level. Depending on the fitness of the operator (or with 2 operators), 20-30 gallons per minute are possible, enough for irrigating gardens or watering livestock.

The pump machine uses a 4″ cylinder and 2″ drop pipe with a 3/8″ metal sucker rod. At a static level of 80 feet, the device overcomes about 1,100 pounds of force. The force would be less with a wood or
fiberglass sucker rod and rod guides like windmills use, but we thought those choices were too expensive for a prototype.

According to a representative of a company with 47 years’ experience in windmills and pumps, a windmill must be at least 12′ in diameter to operate the 4″ pump cylinder Darren is using at 80 feet. And, the 12′ windmill maxes out at 86′ depth with a capacity of 830 gallons per hour (13.8 gallons per minute) in a 15 to 20 mile-per-hour wind. Using only human power, Darren’s prototype can exceed that capacity per minute. Darren pumped 5 gallons in 30 seconds. With another adjustment in the mechanical advantage, a young, fit man could pump 14 or more gallons per minute. Since the water table is dropping all over the world beyond the reach of common hand pumps, we believe Darren’s invention is a viable solution for not only Third World countries and people living off-grid.

It will also enable anyone to get water from deep wells without electricity or to pump volumes of water from shallow wells. In just a few minutes of pumping daily into an overhead storage tank, an entire household’s water needs can be met, enough for watering livestock and irrigating gardens.

Darren hasn’t been able to test it yet, but believes because of its proven ability so far, this hand pump machine can reach 500 feet. It has already surpassed common hand pumps in volumes of water and mechanical advantage.
Unless our well goes completely dry, we will never have to worry again about not having our own fresh drinking water.

This article with pictures, video, and more, can be seen at their website It should be noted that this is a new invention in the development stage and is not for sale.

Back to Ed and Laurie – We hope you enjoyed this type of blog. We sure did. After all, the whole point of our blogs is to create and share an information database for the common good of all.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their website  and