Digging a Water Well on Your Property

Water wells are a great addition to your property in both decor and utility savings, but there are a few things you need to know before you just “start digging”. Although the most common method people have used for millennia to dig wells is to simply…dig them, it’s easier said than done. It has more often than not been a community effort where all the able-bodied men in the village would gather to dig.

In other words, it’s not exactly a one-man job if you know what I mean. Digging your well manually is probably the surest, cheapest way – but the time and effort it takes to do so can make these benefits seem all but ridiculous. Other alternatives use drills, hammers, and various machines. But let’s say you’re in for some long-term fun and want to give it a shot. Alright…if you say so. In any case, now’s no time to be short on friends. Call all your buddies and put a spade in their hands!

But before you start getting your hands dirty, you’re gonna need to know the more technical side of digging a well. The general concept is to dig down to the nearest groundwater or aquifer. But how do we know where and IF there is groundwater? Good question. Theoretically, there is groundwater of some kind pretty much everywhere in the world – the catch is the depth at which it’s located! In your case, you’d better pray to God it’s not too deep.

There are 2 broad well-classifications:

1. Shallow or unconfined. This will most likely be the first aquifer you’ll hit upon digging. Although these water reserves can be reached and extracted without too much ado, there are several potential drawbacks. Due to its shallow depth and “unconfined” nature, there is more risk of contamination and/or salinity. Also, being that it’s the point of uppermost saturation, it’s a considerably more unstable water source and may dry up during certain times of the year depending on location.

2. Deep or confined. These aquifers are what you would ideally be going for, although rather unrealistic digging with pick and shovel. They are located between 2 impermeable strata the upper one of which must be penetrated before you can access it. Due to its depth and “confined” nature, there is a considerably lower risk of contamination – although it will still be “hard water” and may need to be softened before drinking.

Various Water Well Types

Deciding whether you’ll dig a confined or unconfined well is great and all, but finding out other details such as just how deep the water table is in your given location, recharge area and rate, as well as your local seasonal patterns before excavation can save you a lot of time and effort – as not every back yard is an ideal water well location. This is done via geophysical imaging, and you may need to call in the cavalry for this one.

Fast-forward to the next step. So you’ve determined that your land is in fact suitable for a water well and are itching to get started. You should select a site for your well that is conveniently located and can be accessible from the places of your choosing – such as your kitchen or garden. Having a storm drain of some kind nearby would be ideal to dispose of waste. Once you’ve chosen a good place for your well, you can begin excavation.

This step is relatively straight-forward and simply consists of digging, digging, and more digging. The diameter can vary but will need to comfortably accommodate at least one man swingin’ a pick axe around. The obvious safety issue is that of the sides collapsing on the workers as they dig. This is a very real danger and serious measures must be taken to ensure safety. Traditionally, various forms of bracing were used such as planks of wood pinned against the walls with wooden rods spanning the diameter.

Modern techniques incorporate reinforced concrete “rings” made slightly smaller than the diameter of the well. These rings will sink with gravity as the hole gets deeper and additional rings are added until the aquifer is reached. You’ll need men to both dig and pull up excavated material. Taking turns inside the hole is advised as this will help maintain optimal digging speed. Once the well is dug, you can top it up with a wall style of your choosing.

And there you have it. Building a roof over it is a good idea to prevent contaminated rain water from getting in, and you should also have a good tight lid to keep over it when not in use! You don’t want anything falling in your well that shouldn’t be there. Having this lid installed over the opening that can be unlatched during water extraction will keep a curious child – or adult – from accidentally falling in.

And if you do dig deep enough – which with pick and shovel is highly doubtful – to hit a confined aquifer, you should be mindful of its hydraulic head. An “Artesian well” is a well whose “hydraulic head” is sufficient to create positive pressure, causing the water level to rise in an attempt to reach equilibrium. In simple terms it’s the potential pressure of the water. This means that the water pressure may cause the water to spring out naturally creating a “fountain” of sorts. Hmm, nice for tourism but possibly impractical for a household.

(Find out how some thirsty Mexicans took matters into their own hands!)

2 Responses to Digging a Water Well on Your Property

  1. rogers says:

    can digging a well to close to your house cause your slab to crack

    • freehandyman says:

      I think it depends on how close to your house and how deep and big your well is. I assume you’re referring to the concrete foundation slab, correct? As a rule of thumb, any digging that would cause the soil around the house foundation to erode or cave in, is a definite no-no. The only way digging a well will cause your slab to crack is if somehow the structural properties of the soil supporting the weight of the slab and house is compromised enough to place the necessary stress on the slab.