Deciding on the particulars of a new water well may not be one of the more romantic aspects of living in a log home, but it’s certainly among the most important. The average family of four uses about 300 gallons every day, and they’re not happy when their quota can’t be met. Here are the key things to consider when creating your well.
Identifying the location of groundwater on your property is essential, but it’s only the first step in creating a productive well. You also have to be sure that the site you have in mind won’t be subject to pollution. Run-off from rain mixing with fuels, pesticides and such, can quickly poison well water.
To protect the water supply, local and state laws mandate how far a well must be from livestock wastes, stored pesticides and other potential contaminants—even from other wells and natural springs and nearby roads. And naturally, you’ll be required to create a setback between your well and any nearby septic systems. This distance can vary from 50 feet to more than 100, depending on the composition of the soil. Ideally, you want the well cap to sit higher than the house, driveway and septic system. Otherwise, rainwater runoff that might be contaminated could enter the well casing. If it’s not possible to locate the well on high ground, you’ll have to build a small diverter to carry the runoff past the well. You’ll also need to consider the well’s proximity to your home. You don’t want to dig an unnecessarily long trench for the pipes or have your pump push the water a great distance. For these reasons, most wells are no more than 25 to 50 feet from the home.
Which Type of Well?
There are just two basic types of wells: dug and drilled. Everything else is a variation of one or the other. Dug, driven and bored wells all require relatively loose soils, such as sand or gravel. Dug wells, made by shovel or backhoe, are shallow but have a wide diameter to allow a quantity of water to collect from underground. Driven wells are also shallow and are created by simply driving assembled lengths of 2-inch steel pipe into the ground. Bored wells also tend to be wide in diameter, though they can range from 2 to 30 inches. By contrast, drilled wells are small in diameter and typically sunk to hundreds of feet, two qualities that provide significant protection from contamination. Their casing is plastic or steel pipe rather than tile or stone. Only drilled wells can permeate solid rock.
Before drilling equipment was available, people dug wells by hand and lined them with brick, stones or tile. Shallow and wide10 to 25 feet deep and a foot or more in diameterdug wells are fed mainly from surface water. While this type of well is inexpensive to construct, it’s also far more susceptible to contamination than deeper wells. A shallow well can also be an unreliable water source, prone to running dry in a mild drought as the water table sinks below the well bottom.
Much more common these days are 6- to 8-inch-wide drilled wells. Using special percussion or rotary equipment, a crew can drill down 100 feet—or 1,000, if necessary—to tap an aquifer. Though a drilled well may cost in the neighborhood of $20 per linear foot to construct, it is much more reliable than a dug well because it reaches deeper into the underground aquifer.
Most important, drilled wells can handle whatever material lies beneath the surface. And once set up, the drill is ready to go deeper to produce the desired yield. Competent well drillers will keep at it until they get an adequate yield and then go a bit farther as a buffer. Your choice of well may be a matter of simple geology based on the depth of the water table, the soil type and the location of rock. If your home sits on a deep bedrock slab, only drilling can penetrate to reach the water-bearing soil below.
After the well is drilled and the water is flowing, you’ll need to test the water. Several factors affect the risk of contamination, including the pumping rate, the aquifer slope and the composition of the soil.
If your well is deep, the likelihood of surface contamination is rare. However, you’ll need to be aware of a number of other things, including pH, the measure of acidity or alkalinity in a solution (water that is too acidic can harm plumbing). Other problems include the presence of hydrogen sulfide (producing a rotten egg smell) or bacteria.
Most states require tests of water from new wells to measure nitrates, coliform bacteria, sodium, conductivity and sulfate. In some states, well drillers are required to collect and submit a water sample from new wells they dig.
It’s a good idea to test your water annually, or whenever a potential threat to the water supply arises, or if there’s a noticeable change in the taste of your water.
Most problems can be treated quickly and inexpensively. Usually a well can be disinfected to remove dangerous bacteria, provided the cause is related to an isolated incident. An ongoing positive result in the bacteria test could indicate serious contamination.
Before buying a piece of land, you should identify any wells on the property and ascertain their condition. If you hope to use the well, it’s probably worth having a test done to determine its yield, measured in gallons per minute, and the water quality.
It is possible to have a well producing 100 gallons a minute at 100 feet and a 600-foot well just 10 feet away producing a half gallon a minute. Both of these can be productive. A well may have low water input, but if it’s deep, it may supply a reservoir of many hundreds of gallons, providing sufficient capacity to use water without concern over recovery time. Often, drilling a few feet more can be enough to increase capacity. The trouble comes with a well that produces a low water yield and also fails to fill up the hole to provide a good reservoir.
According to Al Marcoux from LaFramboise Well Drilling in Thomson, Connecticut, a popular way to solve this problem is a technique known as hydrofracturing. Al explains it this way: “We pump highly pressurized water down the well hole in an attempt to crack the bedrock. New cracks often connect to water-producing fractures adjacent to the well.” About 98 percent of the 1,000 wells he digs yearly average 350 feet and produce the first time; the remaining 2 percent can almost always be made successful with hydrofracturing. The added cost is in the range of $2,000.
Because of the uncertainty of what’s underground, wells create anxiety. The help of a professional well contractor, coupled with local geologic research and regular maintenance, can keep your concerns to a minimum and good quality water flowing.
Joe Walsh is the proprietor of Tranquil Log Homes located in Foster, Rhode Island.
A Sense of Well Being
To keep water at its best, your well needs a yearly cleaning.
- Clean faucet screens and water softener system with a product recommended by a local well driller or state’s water resource division.
- Loosen setscrews and remove well cap. Run water into the well with a garden hose and add one to four gallons of household bleach. Also, add five to eight tablets of 1-inch solid swimming pool chlorine (HTH).
- Continue running and circulating water for one hour. It is normal for water to appear red, black or rust-colored. Fill several 5-gallon pails with water, turn off the hose, and wait 15 minutes. Pour in the water from the pails, which will force chlorine out of the well and into the aquifer.
- Remove faucet screen (aerators) and turn on each faucet in the house one at a time. As soon as you smell bleach at a faucet, move to the next one. Flush the toilets.
- Turn off all water inside and outside and let the system sit, unused, for four to eight hours.
- To purge the system of bleach, run water from an outside faucet for one to eight hours until the water clears and there’s no chlorine smell. Run the water into a ditch or driveway; keep water away from lakes, rivers and streams.
- Within one week of cleaning, test for bacteria, nitrates and arsenic.
If sample is unsafe, test again in two weeks.
Source: Iowa Water Well Association