Series: Well Install
In the first blog post in this series, we had our well drilled and after first hitting water at about 60ft down, we continued another 100ft until we had over 30 gallons per minute of flow.
But, that water is still very much in the ground - to get it out, we need to install a well pump, and that's what we'll be covering in this blog post.
In this article...
Our well driller was fantastic to work with, and while they do offer well pump installation as part of their service, they were happy for us to do it ourselves. They did however give us some great guidance and sanity checked our plan for us.
In our case, we felt confident that we could do the well pump installation ourselves, particularly given our well wasn't too deep. This blog post is meant as a write-up of our experience rather than a how-to guide, however you may find it useful if considering doing the same yourself.
The first and most important question to answer is which well pump you need. In our case, our requirements were:
- Submersible pump for 6" well (as opposed to jet pump, etc)
- Suitable for being installed up to 160ft deep
- Flow rate of 5-10gpm (don't need higher since it will be filling a tank, not distributing water around the house)
- Slow start (so we can run it off a portable generator or inverter and batteries)
- Runs on 120V using a 2-wire connection (as opposed to 240V on 3-wire)
We ended up choosing the Grundfos 10SQ05-110 that we purchased online from Water Pumps Direct.
Rated at just 0.5 horsepower, this is a fairly low power pump, but is capable of pumping up to 10 gallons per minute at a depth of 110ft. While our well is 160ft deep, we had more than enough flow at 110ft so there was no point going deeper.
The Grundfos is a fairly high-end pump and includes a number of features, including the soft start capability we wanted, as well as various overloading or overheating protections.
The frost depth is a measure of how deep the ground will freeze during the coldest times of the winter, and in our area is approximately 5ft deep. This means that to prevent a water line freezing, you have to bury it below this depth, add insulation or use heat trace wire.
However, in the short term (a year or so) our well pump won't be feeding an underground line, but rather coming directly up to a faucet on top of the well. We needed additional protection, so we opted to install a Flomatic 4501SS drain valve.
This valve is installed about 10ft below the top of the well in a stainless steel tee fitting inline with the drop pipe. It is pressure actuated such that when the pump is on, the pressure in the drop pipe will close the valve but when the pump turns off, the pressure drops, the valve opens and all the water above the drain valve will drain back through the pipe and out of the valve, back into the well. (The pump has a built-in check valve so water can't drain back down the pipe through the pump.)
This only works because our system won't remain pressurized - it's feeding into a tank, not a pressurized house water system. That's because for the water to drain out, the pressure has to drop which means allowing air into the system.
Essentially this means that the drop pipe above the drain valve won't have water in unless the pump is running, and if there's no water, it can't freeze!
The drain valve itself is a factory-order part so we bought it through a local plumbing supplier. It took a couple of weeks to arrive and was the last thing we needed before we could install the pump.
Drop pipe & fittings
The drop pipe is the pipe that runs from the well pump up to the top of the well (or the pitless adapter), and what type you choose will depend on several factors, most importantly the depth of your well. That's because as well being the pipe through which the water is pumped, the pump itself actually hangs from the pipe so it has to be strong enough to support the weight.
In our case, we chose to use 1" 200psi poly pipe - a (semi) flexible pipe that comes in a long, continuous coil. We bought two rolls from our local plumbing supplier, although in hindsight just a single roll would have been enough.
Pro tip: oftentimes poly pipe is only rated to 160psi but our well driller recommended we use the strong 200psi pipe.
Almost every other part we used in the well pump installation we ordered online from Aqua Science. We're not affiliated with them, and paid full price for everything. But I'm happy to recommend them - not only is their product selection fantastic, but delivery was prompt and their customer service was great at answering my questions.
Poly pipe is joined together using barb fittings. I was skeptical about these at first, but having tried one out on a test piece, if used correctly, these are strong!
We chose to use stainless steel barbs wherever possible, but concerned about galvanic corrosion (caused by two contacting dissimilar metals), I used brass barb fittings where they would be joined to other brass parts - for now, that's just the elbow at the top.
Pro tip: if using brass fittings, make sure they're suitable for potable water and don't contain lead.
The best way to install them is to heat the poly pipe and then slide it onto the barb all the way. Ordinarily I'd have used my heat gun, but because we had no convenient source of power available at the well site, I chose to use a blow torch instead. Even with heating, it still takes considerable force to slide the poly pipe onto each fitting.
Pro tip: wear gloves when handling the barb fittings! The barbs are deceptively sharp and I had several lacerations on my hands from not wearing gloves.
Stainless steel gear clamps
The barbs are designed to stop the poly pipe slipping off, and once the pipe cools and tightens, it's a strong connection. But to make it even stronger, we used stainless steel gear clamps - two on the regular barb fittings, and three on the extra long barb fitting that attached to the pump itself.
It's important that they're all stainless steel, as sometimes the head or housing is regular steel and will corrode in the wet environment.
The opposite end of each barb fitting is threaded, and it's important to get a secure and leak-free connection without damaging the fittings. Stainless steel in particular is vulnerable to galling - a form of adhesive wear so severe that the parts will seize, essentially cold welded together.
To prevent this, we used a couple of wraps of PTFE tape specifically designed for stainless steel, followed by some pipe thread sealant and tightened the fittings with adjustable pliers. This combination should ensure the leak-free joints without the risk of them seizing in case we need to undo them in future.
When the pump spins up each time, it can create significant torque, putting stress on the fittings and wiring, as well as potentially rubbing up against the walls of the well shaft causing abrasive damage over time.
Ours is a slow start pump which should reduce the intensity of the startup torque, but nonetheless we opted to install a torque arrestor. This rubber fittings mounts on the drop pipe just above the well pump and presses against the sides of the well, resisting the torque and preventing damage.
Submersible PVC wire
Given the wet operating environment inside the well, a special well pump wire is used. In our case, we chose to use 10/2 submersible PVC wire - a 2-wire twisted cable with insulated ground.
Realistically for a ~110ft run of around 7 Amps, this wire is oversized, but using a larger wire will not only reduce voltage drop (and hence heat), but will also serve as a backup to support the weight of the pump should the poly pipe fail.
Heat shrink splice kit
The well pump came with pigtail wires a few feet long which need to be spliced onto the submersible PVC wire we had bought. Given this connection will be underwater, it's imperative that it is a strong and waterproof join.
As we often do, we opted to go with defense in layers, and the first layer is to use a suitable heat shrink splice kit. After crimping the wires together, the clear plastic shrink tube is heated, shrinking tightly around the splice and sealing it from water penetration.
In addition to that though, we further wrapped rubberized splice tape around the entire splice. It was my first time using this stuff, and I love it! It isn't sticky per se, but bonds with itself, forming a continuous rubber seal as you wrap it around the wire.
Well pump installers might typically use either the heat shrink splice or the rubberized tape. We chose to use both to give us the maximum confidence in those connections.
A common failure mode for well pumps is wiring damage, often caused by the wire rubbing against the sides of the well shaft over time and shorting out. To keep the wire centered in the well shaft, we used snap-in poly cable guides.
These circular plastic guides snap in place over the poly pipe and hold the wire in place so it can't rub against the walls. It's recommended to install one of these every 20ft along the drop pipe.
Electrical tape and cable ties
I want to make a special call-out about electrical tape. You're going to use a lot of it. In our case, we used almost 4 rolls of 3M Scotch Super 33+ electrical tape just on this one installation!
We used it to secure the wire to the drop pipe every 2-3ft, wrap around the gear clamps to cover any sharp edges, and wrapped several layers around the electrical splices to protect them. Make sure you have plenty!
We also used a handful of high quality cable ties in a number of key areas to provide some additional security.
This is one area where we deviated from the advice our well driller gave us. Many professional installers, including ours, don't bother installing safety rope. They say typically, if a drop pipe fails and the well pump needs pulling out, they'll use the electrical wires anyway.
Back to the "defense in layers" comment, we chose to install a 1/4" braided poly safety rope for additional security. At $34, it seemed like cheap insurance!
The long term approach for our well is to use a pitless adapter (which we have already installed in the well shaft, but that's for a separate blog post) and an underground supply line to the utility building.
However, until that building is ready, we are going to simply have a faucet on top of the well, and manually turn the well pump on and off when we need water. This will be enough for watering plants, washing vehicles or filling the fresh tank on our RV.
As such, we chose the Campbell SUB6X1 well seal. Designed for 6" wells, the two-piece seal has a 1" hole in the center for the drop pipe, a threaded 1" hole for installing electrical conduit for the wires, and a 1/2" threaded hole for a vent.
The drop pipe is passed through the well seal and a barb fitting installed in the end. When the well seal is mounted on top of the well shaft and tightened with the four bolts, a rubber gasket between the two halves of the seal squeezes against the drop pipe, preventing it from falling. That one connection is taking the entire weight of the pump, drop pipe, wire and fittings!
One advantage of doing the well pump installation ourselves is we can customize it. In our case, we wanted to install some temperature sensors in the well itself.
Monitoring, home automation and smart control are fundamental goals of our house build, and therefore it makes sense to monitor one of our most critical systems - our water supply. Therefore we installed three DS18B20 wired temperature sensors in the well.
The first is mounted on the well pump itself, and will allow us to keep an eye on its temperature to make sure it's not overheating. Long term trends could even help us to identify a failing pump, damaged supply line, or other failure scenarios.
The second is mounted a short distance above the pump, and is intended to measure ambient water temperature. While the well pump is running, it may also show an increase in temperature due to conduction from the pump.
The final one is much shallower, attached to the drain valve tee assembly. For this to work properly, the drain valve should remain above freezing and this sensor will allow us to monitor that.
Since the sensors only have around 10ft of wire, I spliced in some CAT6e ethernet cable to extend them. Before doing so, I also hooked up a simple Arduino system to read the hardware ID of each one so I could record its location and ensure we're reading the right sensors later on.
Honestly, the sensors are a bit of a gamble. While they're supposedly waterproof, I have no idea how long they'll last at that depth in around 50psi of pressure. To give them the best possible chance, I put heat shrink tube over each one and wrapped it in rubberized tape. Splicing the tiny stranded wires into the solid wires in the CAT6e was also challenging, and it remains to be seen whether they'll work over the long wire run.
But, each sensor costs just a few dollars, so the investment is modest. Fingers crossed it works!
Since I've gone into some detail about the individual components in previous sections, I'm going to keep this part of the post brief and really just focus on the process.
We started by pre-assembling any fittings we could - the well pump barb fitting, drain valve tee assembly, and the short 10ft length of drop pipe that would run from the drain valve to the well seal.
Then we laid out the drop pipe, PVC wire and CAT6e cable and cut them to length. We cut the drop pipe to 100ft (the distance from the well pump to the drain valve) and made sure to leave excess on the wire and CAT6e cable - cutting these to about 130ft or so.
Next we installed the temperature sensors - splicing each one onto the CAT6e cable before sealing them up and securing them in place with electrical tape.
With things roughly laid out, we installed the torque arrestor and attached the safety rope to the pump, then secured the electrical wire and CAT6e cable to the drop pipe with electrical tape every 2-3 feet.
We chose not to install the snap-in cable guides so they didn't drag across the ground as we lowered the pump, but instead marked the locations using some blue ribbon (actually, the pieces of backing strip from the rubberized tape).
Lowering the pump
We were a little nervous about lowering the pump - how heavy would it be, and would we be able to stop it and hold it in place if necessary?
Fundamentally, this was another reason why we chose to install the safety rope. Using a carabiner hanging from our tractor forks above the well shaft, I tied a Super Munter Hitch with the safety rope so we could lower the pump down in a controlled manner, easily tying it off as necessary to install cable guides.
One big concern is damaging the pipe or wires on the sharp edges of the steel well casing. To prevent this, we used a pump puller kit from Aqua Science. It costs $350 to buy but you can return it at any time and get 85% of your money back, so it's essentially a rental price of about $50.
The process turned out to be a lot easier and less stressful than we had feared! The well pump isn't that heavy, and the drop pipe was full of air so somewhat buoyant in the water (our water level is only about 15ft below the surface). Plus, the torque arrestor is a friction fit against the sides of the well, again preventing any sudden drops.
All in, it only took us about 15 minutes to lower the pump in, thread the wires and safety rope through the well seal, and secure that in place.
Overall, we spent most of a day getting everything wired up, fitted together and installed in place. We took our time, made sure we had all the right tools and parts, and everything went exactly according to plan - we had a literal, detailed plan written out on the wiki we use for documenting these projects!
Installing a well pump is something that most people opt to contract out, but thanks to our research and support from our well driller, we were able to safely and competently do it ourselves.
By doing so, not only did we save on the labor fees, but we were able to shop around for the best prices on the parts and materials we needed, and customize the install to be exactly the way we wanted - I'm sure most installers would have been very confused about a request to install the sensors!
Getting the well pump installed was a big milestone, and it gets us one step closer to having running water on our property.
The next step is to wire it up with a temporary electrical system that will allow us to manually run the well pump from a portable generator - or our electrical panel once we're connected to the grid.
Join us in part 3 as I build an electrical pole to house the electrical circuitry we need to finally pump water out of our well!