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Off grid well pump options

 
pollinator
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Location: Mid-Atlantic zone 5ish
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I want to setup reliable water access at a property I have access to but will be a long drive from for most of the year. Other people who live closer will also use this property for small farming (small as in, a BCS being the biggest equipment used for ag). The largest water draw is likely to be livestock, but at most they would graze 10 acres, so I think a 'farm-scale' well is not needed; a single residential water well should more than suffice. We will try to use rain and surface water for most ag anyway.

Many neighbors have wells. One company quoted that a deep well will need to go down 200ft or maybe more, and cost $5-10k. Thankfully we can afford that and recognize the value of reliable water access, but we want to keep costs minimal.

One big challenge is there is no infrastructure on site yet. There will be a shed but no electric hookup.

My question is: how should I approach drawing water up from this well? I could ask the well digger to set it up as a manual hand-pump well. Solar or wind is interesting too, but nobody is living on site, that seems less desirable or reliable. Getting electric hookup is possible but increases prices even more.

My thinking is to get a manual pump, and if an electric pump can be installed later on then do not get one to start with. If an electric pump is much easier to install when the pump is first installed, we would get that and also a manual pump, with the electric pump being idle. I don't think we need a pressure tank to begin with. We would be camping on site and roughing it, or watering plants manually, or pumping to fill up a tote that is in the right spot and high enough to drain into drip lines or to fill stock tanks. That's the tentative plan anyway.

Any feedback, tips, insights about pump options and ease of retrofitting wells? Tips on well sizing also appreciated, I am still figuring out the details.
 
pollinator
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Not an expert on pumps, but the first thing I would do is explore whether there is any shallow water you can draw for agriculture. Often towns or counties have databases that record wells, giving data such as depth to water, depth to obstruction and maybe coordinates. Was there a conversation with the well driller regarding shallow aquifers in the area? Shallow dug or driven wells are often permissible for agricultural use.

The point in our unconfined shallow aquifer is at 25 foot in sand, so pumping is easy. For an off-grid deep well the traditional solution would be a windmill, or these days solar pumps are available.

Have you decided what implements you will be using with the BCS?
 
Posts: 922
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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For what it's worth, there will never be a cheaper time to get the work done for an electrical hookup, and electrical pump, and a lined well (so it won't cave in and trap a submersible pump.)

Things never get cheaper, especially labor costs.  Permits never get cheaper or easier to do.  There will always be more and more restrictions on what we can do as far as infrastructure.

And any professionally-done, permitted improvements you do on your property, like a well with electricity and a pump, will just make your property more valuable, and saleable, if that should ever need to happen.

As far as a manual pump, that will get old in a real hurry, and you've got more things to do than spend how many hours manually pumping water into a tank?  Or out onto a field?  I can't imagine having to do that every time it needs it.

I just spent 3 hours using 600 gallons on a 1/4 acre orchard and two 40-foot greenhouses.  That's using drippers and that's usually twice a week for me.  It may not be that often for you, but even having to pump 600 gallons in that small of a space is unthinkable in the long run.

If you have hilly property, enough so that you could develop a spring at a high point, do a horizontal well into it, then use gravity flow to fill a tank below, even if it is only a gallon or two a minute, you can get amazing amounts of water out of such a well/spring.
 
gardener
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I helped a person put in a deep well hand pump about 5 years ago.  It was a great design that was freeze protected. It also had a system to add and electric motor to pump it. I think you could get away with a 1/4 hp dc motor if the ratio is set up right and only use the electric option when the sun is shining.  I no longer have contact with the person and can't remember the company name.
 
Cristo Balete
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And once you have electricity there, you can pull up a travel trailer for weekends and holidays.  You can use power tools.  You can recharge a battery if one goes dead, like a car battery in the middle of nowhere.   You'll have heat and running water, two of the most important things for developing your place.  If you're going to sink your money into something, it's a very good start, in addition to a very good driveway.
 
master gardener
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Talk this over with the driller.  It would be nice if you could have the hand pump in place once the electric was installed.
 
pollinator
Posts: 571
Location: OK High Plains Prairie, 23" rain avg
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Around here there are lots of old windmills and one of my potential tenants does not want me to use a windmill. He says there's too much maintenance. If the wind gets a hold of it while you're not there as in high gusts like we get 60 to 90 miles an hour sometimes, it can break it. Also leathers go out and then the pipe has to be pulled all that 200 plus feet. One of my neighbors had the solar panel and pump stolen out of his pasture. we are really out here in the country. A new windmill head here would cost me $5,000 but I can get a refurbished one for $1,500, that's a 6 ft. But I already have a tower and the pipe. I will never be the one to work on it so I will always have to pay someone to do it. I would get electricity and an electric pump right off the bat. On the other hand, we recently got rural Water going by the farm period a tap is $1,000. Water cost is $3.40 per thousand gallons for livestock, but if we were to also to use the water for the house it would be $4.20 per thousand gallons. Cristo is right about how old pumping water will get fast.
So I'm putting in rural Water for the livestock because it's better quality water and the tenant will pay for the water anyhow. but since I have the tower and pipe already I may put a head on my windmill for my house water since I think a windmill is good company.
 
pollinator
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It depends how much water will you be drawing using the hand pump. A human in good shape can realistically only generate 150 to 200 watts of power per hour so roughly 1/4 hp. A 1/2 hp pump can draw roughly 6 to 10gpm depending on depth so assume you might get half that... if that is ok then I would install a hand pump. Next comes what depth the static pressure is since even if they hit water at 200ft might come up to 30 ft from the surface. Next I would consider the cost of the hand pump setup. If it is more expensive then a generator to run the electric pump you will be installing eventually I would just buy a generator and store it in a shed to run the pump whenever I was there and have a power source to boot...
That is how I would proceed..
Cheers,  David
 
R Spencer
pollinator
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Thanks for sharing your insights! I think it makes sense to get the well setup with a proper electric pump.

I'll take a closer look at my options for on-grid power. There are poles by the road, within 100' of the property edge, but there is no permanent structure to house an electric panel.

If not on-grid power, I figure a solar panel could power the main pump in times of high water need and high fatigue/busyness (during droughts, when the sun is shining fiercely). Then a hand pump would be in place as a backup. And the solar panel power hookup could eventually be replaced with a connection to a more stable micro or macro power grid.
 
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Talk to Backwoods Solar Electric or at least get there catalog which is a good resource.
You can set up a DC solar powered deep well pump that runs directly off of solar panels. The panels can be mounted to the roof of your shed.  When the sun is out and your tank isn’t full, it will automatically fill it. It can be controlled by either a float switch or a back pressure switch that senses the height of the water in the tank.
 Do you have a slope on the property?  If so, bury a tank at a high point and let the solar pump fill it. You can either gravity feed from that or use a second pump to pump from for irrigation or drinking water.
 There are tanks that usually can be purchased from local farm supply stores that are ribbed and intended to be buried underground and used for drinking water. They range in size from 500-2500 gallons.
 
R Spencer
pollinator
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Thanks for the tip on Backwoods Solar Electric.

The land is fairly flat. It is also in a very cold place. That is one of the my remaining uncertainties: how to keep a pressure tank and well parts from freezing if the property is idle with no one there in the winter.

Overall I am starting to approach this as if setting up the property for long RV visits in terms of electric and water. It seems like that is the more conventional route people take to end up as similar goals I have. That is:
- access to reliable water (and power for that and more) when someone arrives and needs it,
- safe to maintain when unused (as during winter),
- with no other infrastructure on site but the possibility of the well servicing a hypothetical home there in the distant future.
 
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The key to reasonable water systems is STORAGE.
A 10,000 gallon concrete cistern used to stand out on the High Sonoran desert and saved my bacon on more than once trying to nurse an old overheating Ford into town.
It was fed by a windmill....and yes that windmill was frequently broken, wind is enormously destructive. But!...because there was reasonable storage there was always water, between repair trips by the rancher.
I wouldn't do a windmill but a tiny pump fed by solar, pumping round the calendar would move a lot of water.
If you do above ground storage expect moss in an open tank, algae in a white or translucent tank and trouble free service from a black, buried, or insulated tank with no light hitting it.
Whatever you do, keep your options open for more STORAGE.
I have a 3,000 gallon tank that cycles on at 1,000 gallons and stops at 2,000 gallons, and has a dog it all switch at 2,500 gallons, in case a  contact welds itself closed.
With three adults (2 women and the poor old house husband!) and one married couple of neighbors, running without effort to conserve, three thousand gallons gets used easily in a day, that's animals, yard, auto maintenance, laundry bathing, cooking, and waterfights!
Three thousand gallons gives me one day response time if I discover a break down, promptly ten thousand gallons would give me time to Amazon repair parts in......
 
Jeff Higdon
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Burial is the no maintenance way of keeping the water from freezing. Even if you have no slope, if you bury it, you have now moved the water from an inaccessible 200’ to an easily accessible 8’-10’ below ground. You can run a battery powered Rv pump to supply water to your Rv and it won’t use much power and you could put a cheap hand pump pitcher pump as a backup.
 I’m off grid and my water is 17’ deep. I have an Rv pump a couple feet above the water and it pumps it to the trailer we live in. I use a marine battery to power the pump and I only have to charge the battery every couple of months.
 My water line to the trailer is buried 5’ deep. If we leave during the winter, I turn off the switch to the pump, which is at ground level, open a faucet in the house and a faucet on the outside of the house. I go down in the well, pop off the line to the pump and allow the water to drain back so no water is left in the line.

 It is common to have two pumps. One being the deep well pump that moves it to the surface, the second a pump to supply pressure from the tank. As stated, the tank acts like a battery that stores water.
 I’d personally backfill around the tank, then make an umbrella of 2” pink styrofoam over the top to keep it from freezing in very extreme temps. Maybe overkill, maybe not. Where my place is in North Idaho we rarely see colder than -5, but I’ve heard it has reached well past -40. Where I work in North Dakota I once saw it -73 on the thermometer and when it was that cold a backhoe drove over the septic tank of the trailer I was living in, driving the frost down to the tank. The top of the tank was 7’ deep and the tank froze. It was two or three months before it thawed out. A layer of insulation (and perhaps fencing off the area above the tank) would have prevented that. It sure was cold going to a portajohn til spring!  Perhaps even cedar bark would work if you have a local sawmill or pole mill you could get it from.
 Speaking of that, I’ve heard of people burying their water line, backfilling a foot or so, then throwing a small tree (3”-4” in diameter) on top and backfilling to the surface. The wood stops the frost from being driven down to the pipe.
 
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