Casaubon's Book

Ok, Christmas is getting close, so is Kwanzaa and you are already late with your Chanukah presents. You’ve got one more present to buy, and it is for someone really tough. Something wonderful. Or something they don’t have – which might be a challenge. What should you get them?

How about a manual well pump? No, I realize it isn’t a cashmere sweater, but hey, you can live your whole life without cashmere, but water…well, that’s a bigger issue. And if your loved one is on a well, the chances are good that the next time there’s an extended power outage, he or she is going to be out of water. And that’s a very unpleasant situation – ask anyone who was out for a week or two weeks last year in tne Northeast ice storm. Ask folks in Kentucky who lost power for as much as two or three weeks. Ask folks who survived Katrina, Ike and Rita – what did you miss most? Chances are it wasn’t “the delicate feel of super-fine cashmere goat hair against my skin” but “being able to bathe, and not having to ration drinking water.”

Now the problem for folks who are reliant on wells is that the well pumps don’t work if the power goes out. If your well is very, very shallow (less than 25 feet) you can use a regular old pitcher pump to pump up water – but your water table has to be consistently high, and for most of us, it isn’t.

Now you can put in a cistern, or if they aren’t frozen, drinkg out of your rainbarrel, or melt snow (that’s way less fun than it sounds), but realistically, the best thing to be able to do is to get water out of your well, even if the well is fairly deep. Now if your water table is deeper than about 200 feet, you won’t be able to use a manual pump – the only possible solution for you is solar powered and, unfortunately, expensive. But the majority of private wells in the US, and certainly the vast majority of private wells in the east, are less deep than this. So, if you have a manual pump on your well, you can get water out whether the power is on or not. Yes, you will have to carry it – but that will pale as problems go compared to not having any water.

The problem with putting on a manual deep well pump *was* that it was freakin’ expensive – more than a thousand dollars in most cases, with installation. This is a big barrier to most people – few of us can afford to spend more than a grand on a hypothetical – with luck, you might never lose power for long, after all. Fortunately, there’s a better option now.

A middle school shop teacher named Jim Juczak has created a manual well pump that is extremely inexpensive and within the price range of most people. He sells plans for $20 (postage included) that should allow someone who is reasonably handy and has access to a good selection of tools to put one together – his off the shelf estimate for parts is a bit over a hundred dollars. For those of you who are less handy, Jim has kits available, for $250 he sells a steel and pvc version – he has one himself and has been using it to pump water at his farm for several years of heavy use and should be good for a decade or more. For $450 he’ll send you a kit for a brass and steel version that should last out the century. You can see pictures at his blog here.

This makes pumping water in an outage a viable solution for many people. The level of handiness required is only moderate – if you can’t do it yourself, you should be able to find someone who can help you, or you can order a kit. He says:

“You will need to be pretty proficient at cutting steel pipe, running a drill press, cutting and assembling PVC pipe and pipe fittings and a lot of related topics. My wife reminded me that I tend to forget that others don’t have a big range of materials processing background!”

Jim designed this pump so that middle school children with a little shop training could put them together. All the information is available at his site. I’m planning on getting a kit, as we got the plans and decided we just weren’t up to it – I could hire out, but I’d just as soon do it from Jim, who is doing his best to make water accessible to as many people as possible.

This is a wonderful gift – access to something basic and a measure of security for families who before had to worry every time the lights flickered. I’d also suggest that if you are one of those “one for me, one for them” shoppers, this is a good idea, not just for private families, but also for towns and communities that rely on city water. Because pumping stations can fail, or water become contaminated, manual pumping stations, not vulnerable to power outages make a lot of sense in most communities. Many communities that now rely on reservoirs or pumped water have old wells that could be reactivated. Again, the low cost makes it viable to put a manual pump at the schoolyard, in the park, at the community center and have a resource available should water supplies be interrupted.

It may not be as pretty as a cashmere sweater, but what other present can provide so much that is so necessary?



  1. #1 abbie
    December 21, 2009

    I’ve been wanting to get a well pump. I have fond memories of pumping water by hand at my grandma’s dairy farm in the summer (of course I can still go there and pump water any time I want, but still it would be nice to have my own).

  2. #2 Central_PA_Chris
    December 21, 2009

    Stellar internet find Sharon,

    My parents have been concerned with water availability in cases of extended power outages and I think this will be the fix. I’m on well water too, but have a spring uphill that I can easily tap into and use (if I boil the water)in emergencies.


  3. #3 Marion
    December 21, 2009

    Timely blog. Husband and I have been talking about a way to tap into the wells at our primary and mountain residence. Both wells are at least 120 ft. deep. Also, I have just finished reading the chapter in Earth Abides where the water system has failed. We do keep bottled water available at both locations but it would be nice to have hand pumps. Also, with the rate caps coming off electric here in PA it would be another way to save.

  4. #4 KC
    December 21, 2009

    I bought a set of plans from Jim and had a friend -(who used to work at a well company)- look at them. He felt it was better to buy the kit as he wasn’t sure that he could follow the plans that easily.

    I am still hoping to get the kit … but then I noticed that it only pumps one cup per stroke. I asked Jim about that. He said that he designed it that way to enable young children and older folks to be able to pump. I think it could take quite a few strokes to fill a bucket. (Of course, this is still much better than no water!). Jim says that it is possible to change this to a larger stroke … (..maybe someday…) Meanwhile, this is still high on my list of priorities. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. #5 Chris R
    December 22, 2009

    I love your (unintended?) pun, “Yes, you will have to carry it – but that will pale as problems go compared to not having any water.”

  6. #6 Keith Farnish
    December 22, 2009

    Can someone buy me a well first?

    Seriously, hardly anywhere in the UK has a well – we must have been mad even back then.

  7. #7 provo
    December 22, 2009

    I’ve got a solar-powered pump in my well already, and
    I’d love to have a hand pump IN ADDITION. Can you have
    both inside the same (6″) well casing? Sometimes when I
    have guests and the sun doesn’t shine for a couple days,
    the storage tank runs out 🙂

  8. #8 Tommykey
    December 22, 2009

    A supply of glow sticks would be nice as a stocking stuffer. In the event of a power outage, they’re safer than candles and they stay on all night, whereas if you do that with a flashlight, the battery could die out.

  9. #9 Sharon Astyk
    December 23, 2009

    Provo, I don’t know the answer – you might follow the links and ask Jim – I’m sure he can tell you.


  10. #10 DEBBIE
    December 23, 2009

    There are plans at Countryside for a hand pump which is under $20.00, granted the water is only 20 feet below ground level so I don’t know if it would work for deeper water levels. But for what it’s worth to somebody here is the site.

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    December 23, 2009

    Debbie, the difference between the two pumps is that one is lifting water, and the other is pushing it – you can push water at quite deep depths and for a fairly long way, but lifting it you can only from quite shallow depths. Thus, the countryside pump, or a regular manual hand pump that you buy at the hardware store is good – but only if your water table is consistently above 20-25 feet. Most wells in the US are much deeper than that, and at least part of the year, the water table is considerably lower. So while while those with high water tables or shallow wells will benefit from this, most people won’t.


  12. #12 ABradford
    December 28, 2009

    Wow, this is a great tip.

    My in-laws primary pump failed last summer while we were around and we could only get a trickle from an accessible depth. Something like this would have saved a lot of hassle, maybe they heard of it already during that crisis. Anyways, I’ll let them know about it, my father-in-law’s a plumber so he might not have any problems with just the plans.

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