Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
For many, the idea of digging a well seems out of reach. Some decide to dig their own well to gain some independence from city and government oversight. Others decide to dig their own well out of necessity (the lack of resources in the area they are in).
Whatever the reasoning behind the desire to dig a well, it is important to know everything you can about the process.
Our goal is to help educate everyone on the process of digging a well in full detail. We will provide a full-scope overview of the process, provide some videos to further explain the process, and hopefully help you decide what the best route is for you.
So you still want to dig your own well? Then, it is time to start digging (pun intended) into the details.
If you are like most of our readers, you want to dig into the details quickly. You can click on any of the titles and jump to the section that interests you the most.
If you are just starting out, we recommend reading through it all. If you are trying to answer a specific question, jump to the topic that resonates most with your question(s).
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- History Of The Well
- Why Would You Want To Dig A Well?
- Know The Laws Regarding Digging A Well Before You Start
- Types Of Wells
- Choosing The Right Spot To Dig A Well
- Equipment You Will Need To Dig A Well
- How Much Can Digging A Well Cost?
- Would It Be Better To Hire A Professional To Dig Your Well?
History Of The Well
Did you know that the earliest wells date back to almost 8000 years ago? Even more amazing, they were dug without the modern tools we have to work with.
India dug out step-wells that made it easy for the people to gather groundwater. First, they would dig out a large hole and then line the hole with steps so the people would not need a long rope and bucket.
In China, they would dig the wells out by hand. Then they would use rows of logs with a specialized casing on the top, similar to the way we do it today, to gain access to drinkable water for everyone.
Even more impressive are the depths that some of the earliest, hand-dug wells went down to. In Brighton, East Sussex, the Woodingdean Well goes down 1,285 feet! It took four years for the workers to dig down this far (imagine all the overtime). What is even more amazing is that you can still see the well today.
It wasn’t until 1808 that wells stopped being dug out by hand. In Charleston, West Virginia, the Ruffner Brothers started using mechanical drilling to speed up the process of digging a well. By the 1820s, specialized boring machines made the process even faster. Then in the 1940s, portable drilling tools made their debut, making it even easier to dig a well without the need for a fixed platform.
Today we have strong, efficient tools to dig the deepest of wells without the need for nearly as many workers. We still use the same principles to dig the wells out, but we use modern equipment to help us. We use imaging equipment, specialized augers and pipes, mapping technologies, and more to get everything right.
Why Would You Want To Dig A Well?
We have covered the history of the well, but why would you want to dig your own well? After extensive research, we believe that we can answer that with four reasons:
1. Access To Clean Water
Well water uses nature to clean the water of contaminants, pollutants, chemicals, and even strips out the weird taste that city/municipal water has. If you have read the news, not all water is safe for consumption, even when provided by the city.
2. Desire To Go Off-The-Grid
For some, the idea of cutting themselves off from government oversight leads them to using the natural resources around them. A well is one component to lower your dependence on the government.
3. Looking To Save Money
Not everyone is looking to stick it to Uncle Sam, but saving money can definitely make it worth the investment in your own well. In 2020, the average water bill was around $70 per month! With costs continuing to rise, it makes a lot of sense to find a way to cut this $1000-per-year leech off your expense sheet.
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4. Planning For The Worst
If disaster strikes, and the power grid goes down and city/municipal-provided resources are restricted, where will you get your water? If you have a well on your property, you have nothing to worry about. It may never be necessary, but we know that war happens.
Know The Laws Regarding Digging A Well Before You Start
Before you start digging a well on your property, you need to make sure you are following the laws in your area to avoid future problems.
First off, most areas will allow you to dig your own well. However, some areas may require you to get permits beforehand. They may require you to provide site location and plans before you can start. During the process, they may require you to go through several inspections.
To avoid issues, make a few calls to your local building codes department. They will tell you everything you need to know to avoid legal issues later (saving you a lot of time, money, and headaches).
Types Of Wells
1. Drilled Wells
For most modern wells, this is the preferred option for installation. However, this does require specialized equipment, making it extremely difficult for most DIYers to use the method (especially if you are trying to keep costs down).
2. Driven Wells
As the name suggests, driven wells work by driving a small pipe into the ground. However, this only works on softer ground substrates like sand and softer clays. Plus, you will need to use a screen to filter out any particulates you do not want to end up drinking or bathing in.
3. Dug Wells
What worked back then still works today! Of course, a dug well requires the most work as you have to dig it out. If you have tough soil, you could be looking at a lot of back-breaking days in your future.
Since digging can be laborious, most dug wells are shallow. Another downside is the risk of contamination from this type of well. Without a filtration system in place, there is a good chance you end up with some unwanted particulates in your water.
Choosing The Right Spot To Dig A Well
First and foremost, your well needs to be where the water is. If you are not where the water is, your well will not produce and you will waste a LOT of money.
If you are not sure where the water is on your property, consult with a professional. They can do specialized tests that will help you find the right location for your well.
One time to consider is the upstream contamination sources. For instance, if you have animals upstream of your water source, you might want to reconsider the location. Even though nature does a great job of filtering out the water, an overabundance of fecal matter and urine can easily make the water source less than desirable.
Equipment You Will Need To Dig A Well
Besides old-fashioned labor, you will need some equipment to see your vision come to life. That being said, this is a simple, yet comprehensive, list of equipment you will need to dig your well.
Augers (varying sizes)
When you need to dig a well-defined (pun intended) hole, an auger is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Of course, you should have multiple augers of varying sizes to make the digging easier.
Unfortunately, the “big-boy” augers the professionals use or not for public use. Also, mechanical augers do have limits in how far they can dig down; most start to fail around fifty feet. Plus, a hand-dug well that exceeds fifty feet has a greater chance of structural failure and is not recommended.
Shovels (multiple sizes; multiple shapes)
It goes without saying, if you are digging, you will need shovels in your arsenal. Shovels are great for moving dirt, rocks, and clay quickly. However, be prepared for some breakage. As you dig down, you may find yourself with a split shovelhead from hitting a few rocks hidden beneath the surface.
Picks (at least two)
When you do meet some extra resistance from stubborn rocks and underlayment, a pick is a great way to force your will. Again, you should have more than one in case one is not big enough or in the event you somehow break it.
Once you get deep enough, you will need a way to get the dirt and rocks up to the surface. Even with the best of friends and family, a tripod and pulley system will make the process so much easier (and less likely to get hit over the head from a slipped rope or tipped bucket).
If you need to go deeper, you will need to use piping. In that case, you will need a drive point to help you get deeper. A drive point is a manual tool that uses force to “drive” a pipe deeper into the ground. There are some machines you can rent/purchase, but the costs associated with these machines can skyrocket quickly.
How Much Can Digging A Well Cost?
Digging a well is not cheap, unless you get lucky with a shallow well.
For most, a professional well installation will cost between $5,000 to $12,000, and that’s not even accounting for the labor!
If you decide to do it yourself, you’ll need the right tools and equipment. Cost-wise, this will land you about $3,000 to $5,000 invested. While a lot less than $12,000, what are you giving up in time and assurances?
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If the well is shallow, you could get away with a shovel, a wheelbarrow, some bricks and mortar, and time spent. However, you need to make sure you have a great filtration system in place or you will end up drinking muddy, bacteria-filled water which could easily end up costing you later.
There are costs associated with any method. With a professional, there is a chance you can finance the installation costs. Going the DIY route, you will probably have to front all of the costs yourself, giving up a good chunk of cash reserves or using your credit cards to help you finance the costs over time.
Would It Be Better To Hire A Professional To Dig Your Well?
We all know how DIY projects start out…
At first, we are excited and ready to handle anything life throws at us. But over time, our excitement becomes frustration because we do not have the right equipment, we never seem to have enough time to complete the project, other issues arise (away from the project), and so on.
If you know that you tend to jump in head-first with new projects, but fail to complete them, then it would be best to talk to a professional to handle digging your well.
NOW, with that out of the way!
Digging your own well is absolutely possible without a professional. Even so, you should still consult outside help with certain aspects to make sure you do not miss something.
For instance, get with a state geological survey office to find the best source of water on your property. Plus a professional can help make sure that you have all the legal paperwork in order to avoid future issues.
In some cases, you will not be able to avoid using a professional. Make sure that your local laws allow you to dig your own well before you get started or you could end up throwing a lot of money down a very deep black hole.
Digging a well is a great way to ensure you have a self-sustaining water source. Whether you are trying to go off-the-grid, or you just want a clean supply of water that you trust, a well is well-worth the time and costs associated with it.
Water is one of the most important elements we need. In fact, most of us can only survive for three days without water. With your own well, you will almost always have a clean, dependable source of water to survive on, even if disaster strikes.
We are excited that you want to dig your own well. Hopefully, you now have all the information you need to make the decision to dig. If not, let us know what we missed so that we can make this the best resource for digging a well.
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