3 Crucial Steps When Digging A Well

Let’s begin with some hard facts: about 97% of our fresh water supply lays hidden beneath the Earth’s surface in underground aquifers and there are over fifteen million water wells in America.

People dig wells because a fresh and clean water supply is one of the most important things to have, especially in a survival situation. We’re basically made of water plus a few minerals and the fact that we can’t survive without water for more than a few days is common science.

All these things considered, learning how to dig a well is a good lesson that every prepper should master.

Even if it doesn’t come to a survival scenario, having your own water supply means that you’re basically off the grid. You’re not dependent upon third parties and that’s awesome in my book.

Most wells are about 200 feet deep and they’re usually made with specialized drilling equipment. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

When it comes to groundwater exploration, you must know that excess rainwater infiltrates the soil and tends to accumulate beneath the earth’s surface in aquifers, which are zones of water saturation.

Hence, a well is simply a hole dug into the respective aquifer, from which a certain portion can be pumped out and used for irrigation, to water your livestock, domestic purposes and what not.

Types of Wells

To begin with, there are basically three commonly used types of wells:

1. Dug wells
They are known by human kind for thousands of years and still around in lots of remote locations. You probably know what these are – those old school wells protected by tiny roofs, sporting a bucket hanging from a crank. That’s a dug well. You can dig a well using elbow grease and shovels (the hard way) or with specialized drilling equipment, such as power tools (hello 21st century!). Either way, these wells are generally shallow and not very expensive to drill.

For best results, dug wells must be lined on the top part. This is referred to as casing of the hole. You simply line the top of the well with impermeable materials (usually bricks, stone masonry or concrete) to keep surface water from infiltrating/contaminating the well.

The casing also prevents the hole from caving in in some types of rock formations. Dug wells work on a basic principle: find an aquifer close to the surface of the Earth and dig a hole below the water level, allowing the water to fill the bottom of the hole and voila, you got yourself a water source!

2. Drilled Wells

Drilled wells are the most common nowadays and they’re basically deep, narrow shafts drilled into the ground using a machine or even manual drilling equipment.

Drilled wells can go very deep into the ground – up to 3,000 feet or so – and at ground level all you can see is the end of the pipe sticking out. This type of well usually sucks water from more than one aquifer and when you’re drilling, the rule of thumb is to ignore the first aquifer that you hit and go for the deeper ones, with better flow and purer water.

3. Driven Wells

As the name suggests, driven wells consist of a special perforated pipe that is pounded into the ground until it reaches an aquifer. They are not commonly used, but they’re not unheard of either.

Driven wells are an option when the top aquifer is shallow and they come with the obvious advantage of not requiring a casing, unlike dug wells.

Types of water well

Things to Meditate Upon before Starting Your Well Endeavor

There are three important steps or procedures to follow for optimum results in well-digging: siting, drilling and testing the well.

Siting refers to the process of groundwater exploration itself, which should be as scientific as possible.

Basically, any hole dug deep enough in the ground will provide you with some water, at least at the beginning, but the amount of water resulting from a randomly dug hole can be insufficient.

Low-yield wells may be enough for drinking, but if you dig a well for irrigation purposes, that’s another matter. There are scientific methods for finding the best spots for high-yield wells and generally speaking, high-yield wells are those that penetrate a fractured rock zone.

The procedure for finding the fracture spots can be expensive, but anyway, it would be a good idea to confer with an expert about the availability and also reliability of local aquifers before starting investing in drilling or digging equipment.

A good start would be to consult with your local state geological survey office about the potential sweet spots on your property, i.e. if you have suitable conditions for building a well on your land.

The first step in digging yourself a well is to find the optimal location, the “sweet spot” as drillers say.

The respective spot should be away from buried fuel tanks (at least 50 feet away), septic systems (the same), pastures (100 feet away), barnyards, cesspools, basically anything that has the potential of polluting the aquifer (and at least 5 feet away from building sites). You should avoid digging wells where the groundwater appears within ten feet of the Earth’s surface as well.

You should also check with your local building department because depending on your location, you may require a building permit and also you must meet certain construction standards. It’s a good idea to contact your utility company too to make sure that you don’t start digging holes on top of gas pipes and the like.

A pretty straightforward indicator of a shallow aquifer is that spot on your property that has green grass during the driest part of the year.

After you find the proper location, go dig a test well in the “sweet spot”. See how deep you must go to hit water and try to measure the fill rate. Depending on your water needs and the fill rate, you’ll decide if you’ll dig the well in the respective location or not.

Also, you should determine what water system equipment you require for providing you with a reliable supply of water from the well.

By water system, I mean the following: pumps, filters and tubing, along with a tank or cistern for water storage. All these must be calculated to meet your specific demands. Also, you must test the quality of the water before starting digging, as it may be polluted or contaminated with chemicals, sediment, bacteria or other yuck.

It is very important to properly determine the yield of your well and its flow-rate; if you install a water pump with a pumping rate that exceeds the flow rate and yield of the respective well, the pump will run dry and it will get damaged or wear out quickly.

Choosing the most appropriate construction method is the next step. Keep in mind that using a specialized contractor could turn up to be the best solution both in terms of efficiency and time saving but also it will help a lot with the paperwork I’ve mentioned above.

Since most wells are drilled, not dug or driven, the prices for drilled wells are pretty affordable considering the results and they might come with lots of benefits.

If you’ve already decided to DIY, check out the video below (there are 5 episodes) about how to dig your own well using standard equipment easily available at Home Depot and the like, thus saving money in the process.

Video first seen Nelson Studios

After the well was dug or drilled and casing is installed, as final preparation you should pump it dry a couple of times and let it refill. This way you’ll get all the impurities resulting from the drilling process out. The procedure is called surge pumping or developing the well. A properly developed well will have better yield long-term and purer water.

Also, remember about dug well safety, i.e. building a brick wall around your well to prevent accidents and improve sanitation. Children or animals may fall into the well and the surrounding wall prevents surface run-off from getting inside.

Having your own well on your property is a good idea even if you just want fresh, clean water that isn’t full of fluoride and chlorine like city water is. If SHTF, you’ll have one major problem already solved.

If you’ve ever dug your own well and have any pointers, we’d love to hear them in the comments section below.


This article has been written by Chris Black for Survivopedia

Written by

Chris Black is a born and bred survivalist. He used to work as a contractor for an intelligence service but now he is retired and living off the grid, as humanly possible. An internet addict and a gun enthusiast, a libertarian with a soft spot for the bill of rights and the Constitution, a free market idealist, he doesn't seem very well adjusted for the modern world. You can send Chris a message at editor [at] survivopedia.com.

Latest comments
  • Great article! Thank you. Here is an important caution, though. If you have a good spring, you can accidentally dry it up by digging a well through the aquifer that feeds it. If you puncture a hole in the rock that seals the layer producing the spring, you can potentially drain the aquifer and you may or may not end up with a good well in the end. Just a warning that you need to be really careful around springs. Mine is too far down the hill to use for my household water, but I still don’t want to lose it for my livestock and my garden. This is where a local professional needs to be consulted.

  • One important thing to remember if you are hand-digging a well is to be sure there is air flow. Hanging a tarp in the middle can generate air currents so that the carbon dioxide does not build up and suffocate the diggers. I lost a friend who died because he failed to do this.

    • I am curious about putting a tarp in the middle to disperse carbon dioxide. How are you rigging the tarp? How large a tarp to use? At what depth should the tarp be, 5 ft down, 10 ft down, or what? How does this work? Does this actually work? Please give us any additional info.

  • Good advice and a thorough synopsis. To compliment SamnJoeysGrama, the forest around a spring should never be logged, as this will threaten the flow of the underground water that is funneled to the spring.

    Where I live in rural Tennessee, I’ve seen both well and spring water contaminated with E. coli from human and livestock fecal matter. While most varieties are harmless (because both man and beast contain it in the intestines) there are those strains that are dangerous, especially to the young and the old. So, to have a suitable distance from population and livestock is a major consideration.

  • First let me say that your site http://survivopedia.com/ don’t open. Next I would like to ask Chris Black why his video doesn’t have a pause. People like to pause videos when they have a phone call or other interruption that might accrue. The video is also too long and makes it sound like the usual snake oil sales pitch. I like your idea but I find it to be too long and sounds like a high pressure sales person. Now days these kinds of videos are all over the net and people are starting to lose interest in them. You would do a lot better if you shorten the video and just get to the point. I really like your idea but this is the new ago and these types of sales types are becoming old hat. Think about it.

  • Good tutorial. One thing to consider is that any well you tell the ‘authorities’ about in terms of getting a permit will automatically be registered whether you DIY or hire somebody.

    Even if you have a bare piece of land with nothing on it but a tent or trailer that nobody knows about, if its’ if it’s registered you might as well just ‘advertise’ your location for future
    intrusion either by government or anybody who checks the state well logs and locations.

    By the way that’s how pro well drillers get a decent idea of the average depth they’d have to go on your land. They check your neighbor’s well depth in the well records.

    But if nobody can observe you, then nobody knows what you are doing if you don’t tell them.

    You also have to know your area soil content. If it’s mostly sand below the few inches of topsoil, then don’t waste your time on a DIY project like this video started with drilling it because it will always keep collapsing especially if it is not an area with a lot of rain. Start out with a sand point after the first few feet of auger work.

    You can also rent an impact/compactor which is like a jack hammer only with a flat end instead of a spike. Then you can stand on your elevated bench/ladder/scaffold and it goes down pretty fast–until you hit a rock, like this guy did! I’ve seen a couple guys pound a 20 foot well in a couple hours that way.

    All sand points are also ‘not created equal’. If you are serious, don’t waste your time by being cheap. Get the best heavy duty point.

  • My first question is why he picked that spot? Long ago I had an old timer show me how to properly cut an apple branch (at the Y) and hold it to search of the best spot for our well. When he found the best 2 spots, I still doubted him, so he gave the stick to me. To my dismay the stick turned down in the same 2 spots and I was holding so tight (to prevent it) that it stripped the bark off. The best of the 2 was 12′ into the embankment (6′ deep from grade to home pad) and 10′ deep for two 4′ well tiles and crushed stone. Moral is that we had a good supply of sweet drinking water 16′ down in that spot, so I for now will use this technic for locating water.

    • As much as one of my life’s philosophies is to ‘believe nothing I hear and only half of what i see unless it’s backed up with video i can analyze later, lol, ‘Dowsing and Divining’ is alive and well in many parts of the country. So maybe there is something ‘something’ to it? There’s even a website. ‘The American Society of Dowsers’. I’d check with them first for a local recommendation if you wanted to give it a try, instead of a DIY effort from Youtube, or something, LOL! Although that might be a cheap fun kick after the barby and beer some nice summer evening??!

    • Hey Neil

      Divining, dowsing, witching for water isn’t something everyone can do … My Dad was a water well driller for 50 years with a spudder rig in West Texas / panhandle but couldn’t witch for new well locations in weak water areas … one of my Grandmothers could though … She accomplished many abnormal feats through prayer & most everyone assumed Faith was integral to her success!

    • We used to play with branches “looking for water” as kids. Who knows how efficient we were since we never tried digging the well!? Does it have to be an apple tree branch?

  • Never ever dig a square well. They MUST be round or they will cave in.

  • I have hand driven several 1 1/4″ wells over the last 50 years. Most were 20′ deep and located far from any contamination. Most of them lasted 10 years before the screen plugged with minerals. I have not had success cleaning a screen…. I find it much better to go down to the second or third aquifer which may be impossible without equipment.. I have seen some Equipment Rental companies that rent air compressors and Jack Hammers with attachments to drive 2″ wells…
    All driven wells must be driven with care and the couplings must be tightened often. A good well point and heavy duty well couplings should be used. The well must be developed by flushing the screen several times to classify the gravel around the screen. I use a pitcher pump and prime it and drop the water back down the well forcefully several times.
    Wells are not legal in some areas of the country, check with the local health department…

  • When I was a child in Houston proper, my father, grandfather, uncle and neighbor dug a well together in our neighbor’s backyard (for him). We used the hand hole digger as pictured in your article. The men rigged up a triangular frame from about 20′ 2X4’s and after they had gotten a certain depth of digging the pipe on the digger had to be extended. They used 3/4 ‘ galvanized pipe with couplings to go deeper and used the A-frame in a similar way that oil rigs use strings of pipe. (In 20′ joints when they go in and out of the hole.) the men got down to 30′ and hit water due to the water table only 70 miles from the gulf coast. Casing was used and the hole reduced to 4″ diameter on the hole digger. Ran into roots at first but the men powered through them with a cutter they rigged on the driller instead of a hole driller. They ended up going down to 85’ and to my knowledge that well is still used today. That has been 60 years ago. At first it was fitted with a hand pump and then eventually with an electric pump. I can remember the men taking turns on the hole drill. They even let me turn as a ten year old but at that time I could only last a very few turns. The men held the hole drill in place when dumping the drill of mud with pipe wrenches so it wouldn’t fall into the hole.

  • Wow, I had no idea that drilling wells could be such an exact science! I thought maybe I could take a weekend to dig a well for our yard, but now I am reconsidering this. The amount of tools I’d need to get…it might be better for me to just let a professional handle things. That way I’ll know the job is done right too.

  • I didn’t know that building a well would require so much testing. It is uncertain if there will even be a good place for a well. I sure hope that I can find an optimal spot for building a well. I will have to set up a consult. Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for the comprehensive well drilling guide, Chris! If something were to ever happen, it would be nice to know how to do this. Not everyone knows how to get clean access to water, but now I do! It would be nice to have a high-yield well in my yard; I wouldn’t have a need for a water bill! Great article!

  • My grandparents have a well on their property, and I have all ways thought it was a cool idea. The image comparing dug and drilled well types was really interesting. It seems like regardless of the type of well, the location is the most important part for a consistent water supply.

  • Wow, great article! My wife and I have been doing a lot of farming here at our home and some of our neighbors suggested that we locate well water. I don’t really know anything about that, so I’m doing research. The more that I read, the more I am thinking about having someone come in and locate the water for me. I think it would make farming a lot easier and more affordable! Thanks for the great read!

  • My wife wants to put a water well at our family Cabin, and I’m sitting here thinking, “How in the world am I going to make a water well?” It actually looks super fun after reading this article. The first type of well listed in the article, the Dug Well, would be the one that she wants. Thanks for sharing this post with us!

  • I was under the impression that this digging my own well would be much cheaper. While I understand the initial cost may be paid off in the long run, it seems like a risk (especially in the southwest where I live)! I don’t know anyone who has their own well, and sinkholes are common here… Is there anyone who has any experience with wells in the Southwest?

  • I’m a little confused about the aquifers. There’s 15 million aquifers in America, and 97% of the water is underground… but how do you know for sure that there’s water down there? I don’t want to invest $4000 in a well to discover that there’s nothing for 300 feet below my house.

    This very well may be just a problem in the southwest, but I would have no idea.

  • I really appreciate the image showing the different kinds of wells and how they work. I’d heard of driven wells before, but didn’t really understand the difference between those and others. After reading this and looking at the image, I think we need to do a drilled well for our area. Thanks for the great info!

  • My grandparents had a well, and they were known for having really good water! Since then I’ve considered getting one in my future home, so this information was very interesting to me! If I can find either a company or someone to help me, I like the idea of having a Drilled Well. Thanks for all the help!

  • I didn’t know that drilled wells can go as deep as 3,000 feet. My husband and I recently bought a cabin and are considering installing a water well. After reading this, I think it would be best to hire someone to drill it so it will be deep. Thanks for sharing!

  • My grandpa’s Well went dry this spring and he’s trying to find a good company to help him dig deeper and re-establish the well. I had no idea that wells could go to 3,000 feet deep. I’ll have to talk to my grandfather to see how deep his well is and if he can dig deeper.

  • Thank you for providing these three important steps for digging a well. It is good to know that a well must be lined on the top part. I did not know that this is referred to as casing the hole. It is interesting to learn that this keeps surface water from contaminating the well. Something to consider would be to seek professional help to ensure that this project is carried out correctly and that water can be easily accessed when all is said and done.

  • if you need a deeper well than can be driven or dug by hand, look at cable percussion drilling. The tools are simple enough you can make them with a stick welder. It is an ancient technology and can be hand operated or mechanized.

  • Why cant we drill the land for water nearby sea area ( appx 500 m from sea) . Wheather the water will be less TDS than sea water ?
    Will we get water with salt and fresh water?
    Can we treat this water with low cost by Reverse Osmosis?
    Could we get large amount of water by drilling near sea shore?

  • It’s interesting to learn that when it comes to installing a well that there are different ways to have it done. It’s great that you elaborated that when it comes to driven well, that it consists of pounding a pipe into the ground that doesn’t require a casing. This is very helpful to know so that when it comes down to making the decision of what to get then people are able to decide which will be best for them.

  • A very interesting article. is there a better way of getting oxygen to the digger? also how wide apart are the aquiFers>

  • i have done a few wells in helendale californa i hit water at 12 feet very dirty but kept going hit more at 20 feet still in clay feet and at 40 feet getting clean but wanted better and more but took it to 60 feet befor we stopped it was pure clean water apple vally was about the same 15 feet for first hit of water very nasty stuff

  • I found it interesting how you mentioned that you should avoid digging wells where the groundwater appears within ten feet of the Earth’s surface. My uncle has some land and was thinking of digging his own well or having it done for him. I’ll be sure to pass this article along to him so he can narrow down his decision to have a professional do it.

  • I am thinking of getting a water well in my house. It’s great that you explained the common types of wells. I had no idea that drilled wells can go deep into the ground for about 3,000 feet. Since this is a method that most people prefer, I think it’s about time to hire water well drilling contractors.

  • I didn’t know that drilled wells can go as deep as 3,000 feet. My family and I recently moved to a rural area, and we are thinking about having a well drilled on our property so that we can make sure we always have access to water. I think drilling would be a great option because I feel like the deeper it goes the more reliable it will be, so we’ll have to look into professionals that could help us get that done.

  • osm sir great thinking , Drinking polluted water causes several diseases in humans like typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea,etc. Metals like mercury, arsenic, etc that are present in polluted water enter the bodies of aquatic animals like fishes, octopus, crabs, prawns,etc . And when humans eat these sea foods then there is a high risk of having lead or Mercury or arsenic poisoning which causes black patches on skin and it’s more exposures can even cause cancer. It has serious effects on us and our environment.