Droughts, water restrictions and the high cost of water can be devastating to homeowners and gardeners who need a good supply of water to irrigate their lawns and gardens. The cost of having a well professionally drilled can also be prohibitive. A backyard well can mitigate some of these water-supply problems as well as the high expense. Drill your own shallow well via a method called jetting, which uses ordinary PVC plastic pipe and a source of pressurized water. This method works best in sandy or soft-clay soils overlaying a fresh water aquifer by no more than about 20 feet, and can be accomplished in a day.
Things You'll Need
Shovel or post-hole digger
Five 5-foot lengths 6-inch diameter PVC pipe
Small circular cut-off saw
One 10-foot length of 3/4-inch diameter PVC pipe
Three 5-foot lengths of 3/4-inch diameter PVC pipe
One standard hose fitting for 3/4-inch PVC
PVC pipe cement (small can)
One 3/4-inch to 1/2-inch PVC pipe reducer fitting
Water supply (pressurized)
Four 3/4-inch PVC pipe couplings
Four 6-inch diameter PVC pipe couplings
One 6-inch diameter PVC pipe end cap
Submersible well pump (6-inch diameter)
6-foot step ladder
Gather the materials and tools. Begin the well by choosing an out-of-the-way location for it and digging or post-hole digging as deep as possible by hand. Your goal is to insert a 6-inch-diameter section of PVC pipe as deeply as possible into the initial hand-dug portion of the well. The outer well casing will consist of 6-inch-diameter PVC pipe with its lowest 5 feet slotted to serve as a well screen. As you jet the well, the 6-inch PVC pipe casing will serve as a conduit to bring water and sediments to the surface and will later serve to support the well structurally.
Prepare the first 5-foot section of PVC well casing by cutting thin 2-inch-long slots into the lowest 4 feet in a regular pattern throughout the entire 4-foot length of casing screen, using a small cutoff saw with the thinnest possible blade. The slots in this well screen allow water from the aquifer to flow into the well. Leave the bottom end of the screen section open. Gravel will accumulate at the bottom and outside of the well screen and will allow water to be transmitted from the aquifer into the casing once sand and clay have been jetted out of the hole during construction.
Prepare the well-jetting pipe by attaching a standard water-hose connector fitting to a 10-foot section of 3/4-inch PVC pipe using PVC pipe cement according to the directions on the can. Attach a 3/4-inch to 1/2-inch reducer at the other end of the 10-foot PVC jetting pipe to create a constriction, which will increase the force of the water coming out of the jetting pipe. Once the cement is dry (a few minutes), attach a standard water hose to the hose connector and to a supply of pressurized water such as ordinary city-water with good water pressure.
Turn on the water supply and begin jetting the well by inserting the jet pipe into the 6-inch casing in the ground, forcing water and sediment to the surface. Wiggle, twist and push the 6-inch casing deeper into the ground as sediments are removed by the water jetting process.
Add sections of pipe to the top of each pipe string as you work both the 6-inch casing and the 3/4-inch jet pipes deeper into the ground. Cut off the 3/4-inch hose connector with a hack saw or a cutoff saw leaving sufficient pipe to add a 3/4-inch coupling. Cement a coupling and a new section of pipe in place. Reattach the hose connector with another coupling. Similarly add a 5-foot 6-inch-diameter casing section with a coupling and PVC cement when the casing top approaches the ground surface. Be sure to dry off each section of pipe with a rag before applying PVC cement to ensure a good seal.
Continue to extend the well deeper by repeating the instructions in Step 5 until you can no longer push the casing or the jet into the ground. In professional surface drilling this is called "refusal" because the equipment being used refuses to go any deeper. This may mean that you have hit bedrock or an impenetrable rock or gravel layer.
Extend the well deeper than the 25 feet the materials list calls for, if possible, by adding 5-foot sections of PVC pipe according to the above instructions until you reach refusal. Once you have jetted the well as deep as possible and have the casing firmly in place, continue jetting with water until the return water at the top of the casing runs as clear as possible.
Remove and set aside the 3/4-inch jetting pipes. Cut off any excess 6-inch pipe casing at about 2 feet above the ground surface. If the casing stickup is less than 2 feet, add a section of pipe to bring the casing to that level. Use the 6-inch-diameter end cap to cap the well and protect it from any debris that might get inside.
Install the submersible well pump according to manufacturer's instructions at about 1 foot above the bottom of the well, using the 3/4-inch diameter pipes used to jet the well, if possible. Connect a hose to the top hose connector. Power up the pump by plugging it into a 110 volt AC line. You should now have a good supply of well water to use for irrigating. With continued pumping, the new supply of well water should run clearer as sediments are pumped off. You will learn the capacity of the well by timing how long it takes to pump dry, if it does so at all.
Maintain the well by keeping it protected from the outside environment (leaves, animals, dirt and debris) with a tight-fitting cap and periodic re-jetting with pressurized water. This will remove fine sediments that accumulate over time. Protect the groundwater resource from contamination, pollution and overuse (called excessive draw down) and you will have a good supply of inexpensive water for years to come.
Check with a local geologist or hydro-geologist before you begin drilling to be sure your plan is feasible and that groundwater is available.
If the PVC pipe jetting method does not work for you (soil too hard), try one of the driven well point methods referred to below.
Use a combination of drilling, jetting and driving methods that produce water for you at the lowest possible cost.
Have a helper assist you on this project.
Have the well water tested to see if it has any pollutants or if it is pure enough to drink.
There may be zoning, health and environmental-protection codes in your area which affect the construction and operation of groundwater wells.
Good environmental stewardship and many laws demand that well heads and groundwater are zealously protected to maintain the safety, purity and abundance of this most valuable resource.