As my husband and I have really begun to feel an urgency to get our final emergency preparations in order, particularly before the end of this year, securing a source of fresh, convenient water is obviously high on our list of priorities.
Since our water is supplied through a personal well, when the power goes out so does our well pump. Meaning our water stops.
If the grid ever goes down for a long period of time, or electricity gets too expensive to afford, or if the power supply is rationed resulting in rolling black-outs, we would be at the mercy of the powers that be.
Obviously, that’s not good enough for us. We need an emergency backup plan.
We do have a pond on the property, but it’s a good walk down a steep hill, and we’d have a hard time getting that water back up to our house.
It would be so much nicer if we could just walk a few paces from our home and hand pump fresh water into a bucket, or even a hose that could gravity feed down to the house.
(Or better yet, have water pumped right through the faucets in our home! But more on that in a moment…)
What Are Deep Well Hand Pumps?
Hand pumps are used all over the world, working to lift water from the ground small amounts at a time. It’s drawn upward with the downstroke of a long handle. On the upstroke, a plunger is reset to a starting position, with a number of simple valves preventing water from falling back down into the ground.
These pumps are especially important for people who live in rural areas. When you lose power, you lose access to water – typically, if you live outside of a municipal water system, you rely on a drilled well with a deep-well submersible pump to pump water into a pressure tank.
If the wells aren’t that deep, you can use hand pumps as a back-up when the power goes out. Of course, as I’ll explain below, a deep well is an unfortunate exception that can make using a hand pump more challenging.
Water is essential for life! Without it, you can’t survive. If you’re dependent on an electrical grid (one that tends to be getting less and less reliable, as a matter of fact!) you should have a backup for getting water for drinking, cooking, washing, and other needs.
Hand pumps are the perfect solution. The best of the newest line of technology includes those that are meant to be installed alongside an existing electrical pump that is already inside a well. These technologies are game changers when it comes to survival and disaster preparedness.
Deep well hand pumps are designed to solve a common problem that arises from the challenge of drawing water from deep below the ground. The deeper the water, the more challenging it is to pump. When you try to pump water more than 22 vertical feet upward, the suction can reduce the pressure in the pipe to where the water is essentially vaporized.
Deep well pumps, on the other hand, push water upwards rather than pulling it up by suction. All the “pumping” actually happens in a machined cylinder that is beneath the water level in the well. With this technology, it can push water 300 feet up to the surface, where you need it.
A deep well pump essentially contains three main components – a hand-powered mechanism that sits on top of the well, a pumping cylinder that pushes the water up, and a rod and rigid pipe that connect these first two components.
As you apply pressure to the handle, the rod moves the piston in the cylinder. The piston rises and forces water through the pipe and out the spout.
The Deep Well Exception
A couple of years ago I looked into the cost of putting a hand pump on our well. But there were two main problems that I kept running into:
1. Almost all hand pumps are not meant for deep wells, and will not work alongside your electric pump.
2. The very few hand pumps that actually can be used in deep wells require the use of special machinery to lift and lower the extremely heavy parts that go down into the well.
After learning that hiring a professional to install one of these pumps would cost us over $5000 (not even including the pump itself!), putting a hand pump on our well was just out of the question.
In despair, I gave up hope of ever being able to afford fresh, convenient water without the use of electricity. I’d resigned myself to filtered water from our rain barrels.
But recently I started looking again… there must be a solution!! I knew there had to be a product out there that was meant for situations such as mine.
I searched and read forums for hours. And I discovered two brands that actually sell hand pumps that can be installed in the same casing as your existing electric pump, and both can be installed without a professional’s help!
I’ll tell you all about these two pumps – Bison Pumps and Simple Pumps – but first, here are some tips on what to look for.
How to Find the Right Hand Pump
As with anything, it’s important that you invest in a pump with quality construction. Make sure the pump is built with stainless steel – most modern pumps use this metal as a rule of thumb, but there are some that contain plastic. These can become brittle and worn-down over time.
This certainly isn’t mandatory, but if possible, see if you can purchase your hand pump from a local dealer. This will help you find a pump that’s designed to hold up to your local climate, and will also make it easier when it comes to servicing and installing your hand pump.
Depth of the Well
This is one of the most important considerations to make when you’re shopping for a and pump. Get an accurate measurement for the depth of your well (I’ll give you some ideas on how you can do this later on in the article, or you can consult a local hydrologist or well witcher).
Be sure to take a close look at the serviceability and warranty that come with your hand pump. If parts are challenging to find, you may have a hard time servicing your pump yourself.
You should also consider the design of your hand pump. One with a long handle will reduce the strength you need to pump – the opposite is true, of course, for a short handle.
You also need to consider whether the pump can run alongside your existing pump or needs to be installed in its own dedicated well.
One other consideration is whether you want a deep well or shallow well pump. Deep well pumps are expensive but necessary for many situations.
There are even aesthetic design considerations to be made! Most are pretty basic but you can even find some with decorative finishes- a nice touch if you plan on including the pump in your garden.
Pay attention to the ease of installation when you’re shopping for your hand pump. Some can be installed quickly without requiring the help of a professional – others may require drilling or help from a licensed pro.
If you choose a pump for which self-installation isn’t recommended, that’s fine – but you might want to have the gear on hand and get some help from a local professional. Another reason why it makes sense to buy your hand pump from a local dealer!
The flow rate of various hand pumps can vary. This makes a big difference in how well your pump works, too. Look for a pump with the maximum flow possible if you need a pump for something with high water needs – like watering livestock. A lower flow pump is fine if you only need a few gallons of water each day.
Simple Pumps and Bison Pumps: The Similarities
So I went about determining which was the better option for us.
Both brands share some common characteristics. Both are made from top quality stainless steel.
Both can be used in the same well as your conventional deep well pump, so that you can use the electric pump in normal operation but also have a backup for when the grid is down. Most can bring water up from pretty deep depths.
And both have really great consumer reviews. But Simple Pump offers a couple of extra features which sold me in the end.
Bison Pumps can be installed in wells with existing submersible pumps, as can Simple Pumps. Bison Pumps can be set up with wires that protrude from the base of the pump or out of the casing. This can be done without the assistance of a professional installer.
The same goes for Simple Pumps. It’s quite simple, as the name implies! As with the Bison Pump, it can be installed alongside a working submersible.
Both the Simple and Bison pumps have standard-sized hose fittings, a plus if you’re trying to outfit them to deliver water to your home. You can purchase potable water hoses from suppliers that deal in RV equipment. You do need to be careful about positioning and storing these hoses. They are usually made out of PVC and can’t be driven over, as this can crush or crack them.
Both kinds of hand pumps can be extremely expensive. Remember that the deeper the pump needs to go, the more expensive it will be to install it (and the more work it will require to pump the water). A pump installed in a cold climate will also require some sort of freeze protection. This is usually done with a drain hole that’s located around ten feet below the ground.
Both the Simple Pump and the Bison Pump can be used in the winter. The key is in installing a drainage hole. It should be about ⅛” in diameter to allow for frost-free wintertime operation.
It should be drilled in the side of the pipe that comes up from the pumping cylinder, generally about a foot below the deepest level of frost penetration.
It’s a simple setup that requires water in the intake to drain down before it freezes.
It’s also important to note that these newer style pumps are different than the ones our grandparents may have used. The parts are precision-milled and the prime is maintained for several months.
Older pumps often used leather bushings that leaked water and had to be refilled with water prior to each use.
Simple Pumps and Bison Pumps: The Differences
Where the Bison states that their pumps can access water as deep as 200 ft., Simple Pumps can pump down to 350 ft.
Seeing as our well is 300 ft. deep, obviously we need a pump that could reach the water if it ever dropped that low.
Simple Pumps are the only hand pumps that pump into the pressurized water tank of your house, giving you full use of ALL your household plumbing.
You could pump water to run straight through your kitchen faucet, no buckets required! I don’t know about you, but I think that’s GREAT.
Simple Pumps can also be upgraded to work alongside solar power, if in the future we decided to go that route. I didn’t find anything anywhere on Bison’s website stating that their pumps can do the same.
I like that the Simple Pumps can be hooked up to solar power as it gives us yet another option for going off the grid.
Simple Pumps, as a company, has created an option that utilizes a ⅕ horsepower pump that is smaller, with a smaller flow of water, but is solar-powered and surprisingly affordable.
Simple Pumps are also less expensive than a Bison. And Simple Pump offers a 5 year warranty on their products, whereas I couldn’t find anything guaranteeing a warranty on any of Bison’s pumps or parts.
Usually, hand pumps can be anywhere between $1600 and $2000, but the cost range varies depending on where you are installing the pump and at what depth.
Upkeep and Maintenance
Another factor to consider when looking for a hand pump is the upkeep and maintenance expenses.
According to SP’s official website, the average Simple Pump customer can expect to pay $25 for a seal replacement every three to ten years. That’s it.
Here’s a note from Simple Pump regarding another company’s pumps (not a Bison):
One competitor’s pump is a little cheaper, but 25-30% of these pumps are inoperable after 2-3 years of service! Ongoing maintenance cost is a critical factor in making the best purchase decision.
Whenever making a large purchase like this, I put a lot of credibility in customer reviews. Emily at Eat Close To Home wrote about her experience with their Simple Pump, and seems very pleased with her purchase.
(I think it’s worth pointing out that they chose to hire a professional to install their pump, which ended up costing them quite a bit more. She also mentions her concern about drinking water from a PVC pipe, but Simple Pump actually uses Food Grade PVC.)
After reading, reading, reading, and then watching their installation video to see just how doable a self installation would be, Jerry and I were sold on a Simple Pump:
Two Additional Options: Flojak and Lehman’s
Without a doubt, the Simple Pump and Bison Pumps are the two most common hand pumps for deep wells. But if neither of these fit the bill, you might want to consider a Flojak or Lehman’s pump.
Flojak pumps have unique T-handle grips that make it easier to pump the water with less work for the same volume. However, these pumps are depth-restricted, so if you’re looking for a deep well pump (one that can work at depths of 150’ or more), this one is not for you. It’s a good option for someone with a shallow well and a slim budget, though.
Another option to consider is the Lehman’s pump. This one has a deep well and shallow option, both of which have unique rustic, cast-iron fixtures that are stylish and aesthetically-pleasing. It only has a one-year warranty and its flow rate isn’t as great as the Simple or Bison Pumps.
It’s also not as great when it comes to freeze protection. However, it’s pretty easy to assemble as long as you order the right parts (some customers recommend calling to make sure you get the right ones).
How to Install a Deep Well Hand Pump
Both the Simple Pump and Bison Pump are relatively easy to install. Before you do so (and before you choose from the options above) you do need to decide which pump is right for you.
You’ll also need to figure out how deep the water is – this will tell you how much pipe is necessary to extend the pumping cylinder beneath the water line. This measurement is referred to as the “static water level.”
You can figure this out by tying a weight to a piece of rope. Lower the rope into the well until you hear the weight splash into the water. Tie a knot in the rope, raise it, then measure the length. There are also special laser measuring devices you can use.
Once you know how deep you need to go, it’s time to purchase your pump hardware (one of the options listed above). The installation will vary depending on your existing setup and one which kind of pump you choose, but in most cases, the pumping cylinder will have some sort of a lug that is tied to a safety rope.
You’ll then fasten your length of pipe to the cylinder. A stainless steel inner rod will connect to the cleaner, then the pipe will thread into the pumping cylinder.
Once assembled, you can lower the cylinder and pipe into the well. Support the very top end with the aluminum paddle. Repeat with your second length of pipe, thread the ends together, then thread the body into the lower pipe.
Finally, you’ll drill a drainage hole about five feet below the top of the upper pipe. This is necessary if you plan on using the well in the winter. You can then install the pump body on the top.. All in all, installing your new deep well hand pump shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.
So… Do we have one installed yet?
We finally saved up enough money and invested in a Simple Pump. It has been one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.
I’d love to hear from any of you who have installed a hand pump alongside your existing well, especially if you have any experience using a Bison or a Simple Pump.
updated 01/06/2021 by Rebekah Pierce
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.