How to Build an Inertial Well Slow Pump for Grid Down Emergencies, by TruthFirst

Monday, Jul 31, 2006

This article describes how to build an inexpensive, simple, easy to use pump that can pump water out of a residential water well from about 100 feet down. It’s called the “Simple Siphon” pump because its key component is a cleverly designed valve by that same name. (See below). Under ideal conditions it can bring up between 1/2 and 1 gallon per minute. I know this works, because I built and tested one on my own home well. If the power goes out, this pump can get you lifesaving water! Building the Simple Siphon™ Well Pump (SSWP) will require the following:
1. One Simple Siphon valve, $12 for a three-pack (not including shipping), available from http://www.siphonsonline.com or write to Simple Siphon Plus, 684 South Drive, Divide Colorado 80814, simplesiphonplus@earthlink.com (Congratulations guys for making a simple, durable, affordable valve that can be used for a wide range of fluid-handling projects!)
2. Amazing Goop® Plumbing adhesive and sealant by Eclectic Products, Inc.
3. One 200 foot roll of 1/2” black thin-wall drip hose (drive around with your valve to different hardware stores until you find one that carries hose small enough to form a tight fit with your valve). The brand I found was RainDrip, 1/2” (.620) Poly Hose, 200 foot coil, part #052020, from Lowe’s Hardware. (You probably won’t be able to get the SSWP to work much deeper than 100 feet, but the extra hose could come in handy for other things, and it certainly is cheap.)
4. One section of 1/2” rigid white PVC pipe, (make sure it will fit over your thin-wall drip hose) and cut off a 2 foot section. (OPTIONAL)
5. One pop riveter (I used one made by United Shoe Machinery Corp, but any manufacturer will do.) Compact, lightweight, simple to use. Read the directions.
6. One box of pop rivets (you only need 4 for this project, but you might wish you had more), 1/8” diameter pop rivets for 1/8” “work thickness”, United Shoe Machinery Corp, stock # S-42-100
7. One small triangular file (a little wooden handle for the file is nice, but not necessary)
8. One electric drill and 1/8” drill bit (some of you will be prepared enough to have an old hand-held crank or push drill, in case the power is already off).
9. One roll of commercial-grade, outdoor-rated duct tape. (You really don’t need it to be that high quality, but you’re only going to use a little of it with this project and if you’re in some kind of survival or emergency situation you won’t want to have cheap duct tape…)
Note: Read through all the instructions below before beginning this project!
Using a small triangular file, file the grooves on the Simple Siphon™ valve a little deeper. Angle the file so that it cuts a more barbed shape into the valve stem. Go easy on the filing – you want an edge, but don’t want to cut too deeply into the copper.
It will keep the hose easier to handle if you leave it coiled in its original size coil, but work loose the end you will be attaching the valve to about 2 feet. Do your best to not kink the hose at any time, if possible.
Before mounting the valve, you’ll want to slide your 2 foot section of PVC over the end of the thin-wall tubing. This will keep the working end of the SSWP straight, so it can’t curve and get caught on the gaps between well pipe sections.
First, bevel both ends of the rigid pipe section so there is no edge to catch on any mineral accretions or pipe gaps. This is especially important for the top edge of the pipe! Getting your SSWP caught going down into the well isn’t such a problem, but getting it caught or snagged coming back up could be a real problem!
Put a little water or dish soap on the end of the flexible hose, then slide the rigid pipe on. There should be enough friction that you won’t need to glue the stiffener in place, and it’s not going to fall off! Push it up far enough to leave you with about 3” of black thin-wall hose to mount the valve to. Once you’re through attaching the valve you can slide the stiffener pipe back down as close to the valve as you can get it.
Now, using a new pencil end (not the eraser end), squirt a small amount of Amazing Goop Plumbing onto the side of the tip. Roll the tip around inside the end of the hose to more or less evenly coat the inside. (Epoxy turned out to be too brittle in early testing. Goop appears to have just the right balance of adhesiveness and flexibility.)
Apply more Goop to the pencil and roll / spread it over the valve stem, especially in the barbed grooves. You have to move quickly, because Amazing Goop Plumbing dries fast!
Push the valve stem into the hose end as far as the valve will go. There will be a bead of Goop at the end of the hose, which will be no problem. Wipe it off with your finger if there’s TOO much and it threatens to drip.
While the Goop is still uncured, drill one hole in the side of the valve stem, close to the top. You should be able to clearly see where the top of the valve stem is through the bulging in the hose. Press the un-turning drill bit into the plastic to start an indentation, then back off of the pressure and start to drill. Use light pressure so that the drill bit does not slide out of position and across the tubing! Be sure you’re not drilling right at the end of the stem.
Immediately put the pop rivet head into the hole and apply the rivet with the tool. If you haven’t used a pop riveter before, practice on a sheet of metal or a few inches of hose.
Turn the hose over and drill a hole approximately opposite the first hole. Rivet it.
Turn the hose so that both rivets are parallel to the ground. Drill a third hole closer to the end of the tubing and rivet it.
Turn the hose over and drill the fourth hole approximately opposite the last hole. Rivet it.
Wipe off any excess Goop, or Goop that may have gotten onto the hose elsewhere. Any Goop you may have gotten on your fingers will just roll up, and you can then wash up with soap and water. (If you’re concerned about getting Goop on your hands, wear vinyl or rubber gloves.)
The Simple Siphon Well Pump assembly will dry more quickly if it’s kept warm indoors (the smell is not strong). 24 hours is the minimum. The Goop’s main job is to seal any leaks that might form between the hose and the valve stem, but it’s also going to help hold the valve to the entire end of the hose, while the rivets only hold the valve to the hose at four points. (This assembly – with no glue - has been actually tested to hold at least 53 pounds of weight, in a bucket hanging from the valve. In further testing the rivets tore through the tubing around a load of 100 pounds or so. This is plenty of strength for the water above the valve and any peak load caused by pumping the hose up and down.)
After a few hours of drying, when the Goop isn’t tacky anymore, re-coil the tubing into a larger circle. My tubing originally came in a coil that was 18 inches across. The hose will have less resistance to moving up and down in the well pipe if it’s not coiled so tightly. I re-coiled my tubing around the back of a recliner, for a diameter of about 25 – 26 inches. If you’re going to be handling your Simple Siphon Well Pump in cold weather, you might want to coil it even larger.
To make handling the hose inside the cramped quarters of a well-house / pump house easier, duct tape the end (not the valve end) to the hose when you make your FIRST loop of hose. This will keep the end from whipping around, and keep it clean if you cover the hose tip too. Every 5 or so loops, duct tape the coils together (one layer will do), then keep coiling. As you insert the tubing, tear off the duct tape as you come to it. Reverse this process when you take the tubing back out of the well when you’re done.
To protect the valve head from damage from getting flung around in tight quarters with metal pipes and fixtures (the pump house), I’m outfitting my pump valve end with a bit of foam rubber-type material to cushion it, and will remove the tip cover when I’m ready to insert the SSWP.
NOTE: If you’re building your Simple Siphon Well Pump in advance of a regional or national electrical emergency, you might consider preparing at least one of your spare Simple Siphon valves in advance. Since drilling through the copper valve stem is the one step that involves an electrical tool (drill), you could pre-drill (and pre-file, might as well) one of your spare valves in the appropriate places. Save the spare to replace your main valve if it gets damage, if you need to build a second pump, or if your original hose gets damaged and you need to shorten it (removing a valve once riveted on is hard work unless you have an electric drill handy).
Once your spare valve was slid into a tight-fitting hose end, you should be able to gently probe the plastic to locate where the holes are and manually drill through the hose with an awl, or small and sharp Phillip’s screwdriver head, or with a manual drill (crank, or Yankee screwdriver-style push drill), then rivet it in place.To use your SSWP you’ll need:
1. The SSWP
2. Two pipe wrenches (at least 14” long, probably no shorter than that, wrenches that are much longer than that may be hard to use in a cramped pump house)
3. 2 clean rags or washcloths – one dry, one soaking wet
4. Roll of duct tape (of course!)
5. One contractor-grade 30-gallon trash bag
6. One or two 5-gallon water bottles (When transporting water remember this: it weighs 8 pounds per gallon. Each of these bottles will weigh 40 pounds. It’s probably easier to move heavy weights like these two at a time.)
7. Two feet or so of the thin-wall tubing, cut off and carefully split lengthwise
8. Teflon thread tape for plumbing
9. A 3/4” x 1” female plumbing adapter (50 cents or so, threaded for 1" O.D. pipe on one end, with a 1" inner diameter un-threaded end on the other) will cover the threads on the well pipe so they don't cut into the SSWP piping.
Take two pipe wrenches out to your wellhead and remove the well pipe cap. One wrench holds the well pipe from turning, and the other, facing the opposite direction, turns the well cap. Get help if you don’t understand how pipe wrenches work. (If you’re testing this before the power actually goes out, you must first shut off the well pump switch and drain the water from the pressure tank. In fact, even after a power failure, to be on the safe side, check that there is no water pressure in the pressure tank.)
Use one clean rag to thoroughly dry around the top of the well pipe, inside and out.
Tear off a 4 inch piece of duct tape and wrap it around the well pipe, with half of the duct tape above the end of the pipe. Roll the half sticking out over the top edge and into the pipe end. If you can still feel sharp edges through the duct tape, add another layer. Run another section of duct tape around that tape to firmly attach it to the outside of the well pipe. You’re creating a slight cushion at the top of the pipe to protect the SSWP from being scratched or rubbed through when inserting the SSWP or when pushing it up and down. (A hardware store may have something more durable you could adapt to protect the SSWP, just be sure the SSWP will pass easily through its opening, and securely tape your guard to the well pipe to keep it from moving around.)
As you lower the SSWP into the top of the well, use the damp cloth to wipe down the hose as you insert it. Ideally, you could mix a little (a l-i-t-t-l-e !) bleach in the water that you soak the cloth in, to help clean and sterilize the hose as it goes in. Too much bleach will be hard on your hands.
Don’t insert the SSWP too rapidly unless you know the depth of the pump. You don’t want to ram the valve into the top of the pump at the bottom. Slow down as you approach the bottom.
You don’t absolutely need to reach the very bottom of the well pipe. All you need to do is to get the Simple Siphon™ valve several feet (say 6 feet) below the static water level inside the well. The one unknown is how fast water will seep into the well pipe through your model of electric well pump. The deeper you can empty the well pipe with your SSWP, the more water pressure will be exerted at the pump to refill the pipe, and it will refill quicker.
So if you’re pumping the well pipe dry, try pumping at a lower depth. If you’re still pumping it dry at the bottom of the well, you’re just going to have to pump more slowly. Leave the SSWP at least 6 feet above the well pump to give it room to refill (water will seep around the SSWP and up the well pipe, but it will not seep into the end of the SSWP because of the pressure of the water stacked above the Simple Siphon valve, that’s why you have to shove it up and down to create a sucking/pumping action).
Once inserted, if you’re really at the bottom of the well, and you’ve got a lot of extra hose left, cut the hose so there’s enough length to reach your water container and a generous loop as well. Take the remaining part of the hose and have your assistant hold it in your water jug. If you don’t have an assistant, duct tape the hose so it won’t pull out of the opening of the jug.
Do your best to not kink the hose at any time! Once you’ve determined the best working depth for the SSWP, take the split section of hose you prepared earlier and tape it to the SSWP hose so that one end is just inside the well pipe and the other end is where your upper hand will hold the hose. Don’t duct tape the part that is going to be going in and out of the well pipe unless you’re sure the extra thickness won’t be too much for the well pipe. You are reinforcing the “working” part of the SSWP so that it can take the motion of pumping without kinking. If the hose kinks it will continue to fold at that point each time you move the hose, and you’ll have to hold the hose there or otherwise support it.
If you need more hose, you could splice on a short section of hose from another roll, using a double-ended barbed plastic coupler (ideally glued or clamped into place). But don’t use spliced hose in the well pipe unless you’re absolutely desperate, because of the possibility that it could come apart at the splice (long hose stuck inside the well…). You can buy a $15 crimping tool by Murray Keystone ("045, OTC-1000 Tool Crimping", looks like a nipper, but with no sharp edge) and some 3/4" Ideal Crimp Clamps (high-nickel corrosion resistant, my package said 3/4” but it actually fit pretty well over the 1/2” hose. These crimp clamps – use two per side of the connection – work pretty well, but they stick out from the side of the hose too far to risk putting them inside the well pipe. They’ll be fine for an extension between the SSWP and your storage jugs. If you absolutely must use a spliced hose in the well pipe, pin the connector to the two pipe ends with long pop rivets or nails, passed through drilled holes, instead of using a crimper or clamp.)
Once everything is in place, lift the Simple Siphon valve well away from the well pump at the bottom so you don’t smash into it (this is important!). (Remember, the SSWP only needs to be below the static level of the water, not all the way at the bottom of the well…) Quickly build speed going up, then quickly shove the SSWP down into the well pipe about 9 to 12 inches. Draw it back up, then, quickly reversing direction, shove it down again. What causes the suction and pumping action is that the water in the hose gets moving in one direction (up) until it’s moving quickly, and when the hose reverses direction and starts suddenly downward, the water in the hose continues upward from inertia. This creates suction in the valve end of the hose! Water gets sucked in, and the valve keeps it from running back out. (This inertia-caused pumping is the principle behind the SSWP, in fact we first considered calling it the “L.I.F.E. Well Pump,” standing for Lightweight, Inertial-Flow-Effect Well Pump)
Each time the water level in the SSWP will rise about 6 - 9 inches, because of suction caused by the inertia of the water. If the water level is 50 feet underground, this means working the pump up and down 100 times before water reaches the surface – be patient! Eventually, the water will reach the top of the well and come spilling down the hose into the water jug. Repeat for as long as you need, trading off if the operator gets tired. Depending on the well refill rate, you may have to pump for a minute, then wait for 5 minutes or more while the well refills, then pump again. It will be different for every situation.
I strongly recommend that you not leave the SSWP in the well pipe when not in use. For one thing, someone could come along and steal it or damage it, and you are already in a desperate survival or emergency situation. For another, pulling it up gives you a chance to inspect how the valve end is doing and if any holes are being worn in the tubing somewhere along the length of the well pipe. (If you need to remove the Simple Siphon™ valve to move it higher on the tube, or to move it to a new tube, you can drill out the pop rivets if you’re careful, and reuse it!)
When you pull the SSWP out of the well, have your assistant duct tape the first coil of hose as you did when preparing the pump for use. Then as you feed hose to your assistant, have him / her duct tape the coils together every 5 or so loops to keep it under control, and prevent it from kinking. Once the SSWP is completely out of the well and taped off, store it in your construction-grade trash bag. The tube will still have some water in it that you can collect in the bag.
Lightly replace the well pipe cap so that no dirt or insects get into the well. Be sure to tighten the cap (using plumber’s Teflon thread tape, or “plumber’s goop” sealant) before you try to operate the well pump once electricity has been restored! It would be a good idea to leave the pump shut off, in case power comes on unexpectedly and the well cap isn’t on tightly yet…
Once you’re back at home, you can completely drain the tubing of water to get as much out of it as possible. (None of the components are prone to corrosion, so that’s not an issue.) Be sure to check it for damage and repair or replace what has been damaged. A tiny hole in the tube towards the top will only drain off a small amount of water, but a hole nearer the bottom will drain more water because of the greater water pressure there, and will eventually risk the structural integrity of the SSWP.
If you aren’t sure what the quality of the water in wells in your area is, if there is any possibility they are contaminated with bacteria, fungus, or parasites, then please treat the water you retrieve from the well with regular, un-perfumed laundry bleach in the recommended proportions (or use some similar purifying technology). In a crisis, the last thing you need is to come down with some condition or sickness because the water was contaminated.
If you test the SSWP in a functioning well, it would be a good idea to run a cup or two of the bleach described above through the well cap vent hole into the well shaft when you’re finished with your test to kill any bacteria you may have introduced to the system. And it should go without saying that you should NOT use the same SSWP to pump gasoline or contaminated water, as you would to pump from a well.

On a personal note:
The knowledge you now possess on how to get water out of a private well when there is no electrical power could be life-saving power. Before the next major crisis strikes, share this article and concept far and wide. Many people will just dismiss you as a “survivalist nut,” but others will understand and prepare.
Water is a unique resource. You can’t make it from something else. If you find water you can purify it, filter it, sterilize it, store it. But you need to have water, even lousy water, as a starting point. Many locales will have surface water that can be made drinkable. But some locations rely heavily on water wells and have little, if any, surface water. The knowledge in this article will make life-giving water easily available to people in any of those circumstances. (Getting water out of municipal or corporate wells is a slightly different challenge.)
Share the knowledge. Make a difference. The more people who are prepared, the better off we ALL will be.
Other valuable survival resources can be found at:
www.ready.gov
www.redcross.org
Rand Organization Quick Guide
Crofsblogs - Coming Pandemic
Campus Crusade (the ultimate “preparation” - spiritual!)
Note! If you have the money and would like to buy a commercially made inertial well pump, check out Waterra.com.
Also, well “bailers” have been around for a long time in the well drilling trade. They’re long, narrow tubes with a simple ball valve at the bottom. You lower them into your well (small ones – typically 3/4” diameter – can fit right into the well pipe by only removing the pipe cap with a pipe wrench and not the whole well cap!) with a cord or twine and pull them up to empty them. It’s slow going, but VERY simple and VERY reliable. Here are some suppliers: Vosstech, Environmental-expert.com, and Waterra.com Buy a pack of them and share with your neighbors!
This information is copyrighted for the purposes of making it freely available to the public. No one else can copyright or control this information, except perhaps to charge for the cost of simply photocopying this article. It can be reproduced or transmitted in any form, so long as the entire text is included. No promotional support has been received from any company for endorsing any product. This article exists because this approach works, and could make a very large difference in how well families across the United States cope with a long-term disaster. May God have mercy on us all. - TruthFirst

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