The Basics of Public Utilities for Country Homes

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Living in the country may pose a few additional obstacles, such as connecting the home to water, electricity and public roads.
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Diagram of a home-drilled well.
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How to use a pump cylinder to measure for a well.

Living out in the country certainly presents unique challenges to anyone used to city life. One of the early — albeit manageable — tasks a new homesteader must figure out is how exactly to get access to public utilities such as water, sanitation, electricity and roads. Here are a few things to consider and some advice to go along with it all.

The Solution to Public Water: Drill for a Well

A spring is simply an opening where water flows out of the ground. It may be located at the bottom of a pond or lake. If you have a good spring near your house you may be saved the expense of digging a well — and if the spring is located on a high enough of a level you may be able to use a gravity system instead of a pump.

A ram is really a sort of pump but it requires no electricity or gasoline and has no moving parts and is completely automatic. The water virtually pumps itself. There must be at least a 20 inch fall of water between the source and the ram. Under these conditions the ram will pump water to a much higher level, as high as 20 feet.

A dug well is the kind that is actually dug with hand digging tools. This is the old fashioned type of well you see on many farms today. Wells are not dug by hand so often nowadays as they used to be because it is frequently easier to get a well driven or drilled. Another reason is that the dug well is more easily contaminated by seepage through the walls or from above. On the other hand, this type of well if properly constructed can be kept entirely pure and provide plentiful quantities of water for generations. If your thinking of digging a well yourself, you’ll want to learn more about this kind of well.

A driven well is made by driving into the ground a simple pipe fitted with a well point. It may be either a deep or shallow well. depending on how deep you go to get a satisfactory flow of water. If your soil is suitable for this type of well it is something worth investigating for it usually costs less than drilling a well or digging one. It is not generally considered as reliable as an artesian well (which produces a steady flow of water), but in some sections it is quite satisfactory. You need a good sized storage tank and you should know what to do if the well points become clogged.

A drilled well is made by drilling a hole into the ground 4 to 8 inches in diameter with special well-drilling equipment. The upper part of this well is lined with a steel casing which protects it from contamination. If you think you will have to go down deep to get water, you should learn more about drilled wells. Also you will need to investigate deep and shallow well pumps. The cost of a shallow well pump is much less and can be used with a good artesian well when you don’t have to pump water up from more than 22 feet.

When we bought our house in the country, the water, sewage, electricity, and driveway were supposedly all finished. They looked all right to us. But we’ve had to spend additional money on all four. Our main expense was the need to rebuild our sewage system — the builder had installed a minimum amount of drainage pipe and no siphon discharge system. We’ve also piped water to our barn and to our concrete pig pen. It was an easy job to wire our barn with electricity.

We’ve had to add more fill and build an edging to our driveway. In short, we’ve found that knowing a little about country water supply, sewage, electricity, and road building is most worthwhile.

If you are used to city water service, you probably think it means an awful lot of expense and trouble to have your own rural water supply. The expense of digging a well is uncertain because you can’t be absolutely sure how deep you will have to go. Still there are a lot of people living within 100 feet of a town water main who find it is less expensive to dig their own wells than to buy water from the city. One man I know, who is now building a house in town, has discovered that installing city water will cost him about 300 dollars. On top of this, he will have to pay a water bill of about 25 dollars a year. He figured up this bill for a period of 10 years (250 dollars) and added it to the 300 dollars he would pay for installing the city water, getting a total of 550 dollars. When he compared this cost with that of drilling a good artesian well 100 feet deep and putting in his own electric shallow well pumping system, he found that the city water over a 10 year period would cost him 50 dollars more…And in 20 years this city water would cost 260 dollars more. In 30 years he could install an entire new pump and tank and still beat the cost of city water for this period by 400 dollars!

As you can see, your well may cost you anywhere between 175 dollars and 1,050 dollars. About the only way to predict this cost is to find out how deep your neighbors had to dig their wells. Unless there is something unusual about your situation, you will probably have to go to the same depth. Be sure to have your well water tested for purity. The Health Department will make this test free in most states.

We’ve discussed a few of the many ways you can obtain water in the country. There’s probably one combination just right for your circumstances.

Alternatives to City Sewage Disposal

If you don’t have city sewage disposal there are three practical solutions to your sewage problem: a cesspool, a septic tank, or a septic tank with a siphon discharge system.

Maybe you can use a cesspool, but on a long term basis you should consider spending a little more money and getting a septic tank.

After we bought our place, we discovered that our septic tank didn’t have a siphon discharge system. This caused fouling of the ground near the tank. We had to dig up the whole system and found a siphon discharge tank was needed. The siphon discharge method distributes the sewage more forcefully so it spreads over a much wider ground area. Sometimes you can get by without the siphon discharge feature in a vacation home.

Keeping the House Supplied with Electricity

If your house has never been supplied with electric power, measure the distance to the nearest power line. In our area, the cost of getting this power to the house is about 25 cents a foot. You can reduce this cost by getting neighbors to come in with you. The more people on the line, the less each has to pay. Also, your contract with the power company should entitle you to a rebate when other people come in later. In wiring a house, it’s important not to underestimate the size of the wire needed. Some day you may want an electric stove, a freezer, electric power tools, or electricity in your barn and hen house so it’s safer to use a No. 12 wire rather than a No. 14, the legal minimum.

When Your Only Options is to Take the Road Less Traveled 

Particularly today when land values are high you may save hundreds of dollars by buying land off the road and building your own road to it. Land not touched by a road may be a far more desirable site and usually sells at 30 to 50 percent less. If you build a road acceptable to your town or county, you can get it declared a public highway and have it kept up by the town.

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