Just how viable is a water well for off grid living in the USA?
If you are have grown up with city water that flows freely from the faucet whenever you need it, it may be that you do not know much about what’s required in obtaining water from a well or other sources?
It’s a very popular option
these days to create your idyllic off grid dream home in the middle of nowhere
and be completely self- sufficient.
But obviously, there is a learning curve, some set up costs and some things to be aware of before diving
Millions of people all over the world use a water well for off grid living each and every day. It is common, totally viable and a great solution for many people.
A water well for off grid living is not the only source of water available in rural areas. But it is certainly a very reliable and safe source of water for the long term. Read on to get the low-down…
In the USA , over 43 million people (15% of the population) use domestic (private) wells as their primary source of drinking water according to USGS.
Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their own domestic well systems and for
monitoring water safety and quality.
To ensure your water is safe to drink, you should regularly test it and maintain it.
You need to be on the look out for chemicals like pesticides and solvents, nitrates and arsenic. Here is the information from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. This is not to scare you, just keep you informed.
You can have it professionally tested once a year by local health department or environmental health department.
You can also do your own testing DIY style twice a year with these home kits available for around $35.
Always check the laws that apply in your county.
In Oregon for example, you are not required to regularly check/test your well (though you should!).
However when you go to sell property with a domestic well, the Real Estate Transaction Act will require testing of the domestic well.
Specifically the well must be tested for arsenic, nitrates and total coliform bacteria.
Public water is available on land that is within city limits. This is what most people are used to. Naturally there are set up costs, connection fees and regular water bills that go along with this.
If you are like most of our off grid community, you may be looking to get away from city services, sky high bills and reliance on others for your basic needs.
Most of our rural land for sale is away from the city and you will need your own source of water.
Some areas in planned developments have a community well. These are usually in homeowners associations and will have their own rules and fees associated with this.
You will also have to contribute to on-going costs and maintenance fees.
The most common option for water for rural land is a private water well- owned, installed and maintained by you.
Dug/bored wells, driven wells or drilled wells.
Dug/bored wells are shallow wells that are dug by shovel and lined with stones or bricks to prevent collapse.
Driven wells are built by driving pipe into the ground. Driven wells are cased continuously and they are shallow
(approximately 30 to 50 feet deep).
Though driven wells are cased, they can be contaminated easily because they draw water from aquifers near the surface.
Drilled wells can be hundreds or thousands of feet deep. They are drilled by machines and require the installation of casing.
Drilled wells have a lower risk of contamination due to their depth and use of continuous casing. The casing keeps dirt and excess water out of the well.
This helps prevent contaminants from less desirable groundwater from entering the well and mixing with the drinking water.
Some states and local governing agencies have laws that require minimum lengths for casing. Check with the water authorities where you live.
The most common materials for well casing are carbon steel, plastic, and stainless steel.
Another way to secure water is rain water harvesting. Check whether this is legal in your state.
Finally you can have water delivered and store it in large storage tanks.
There is a ton more water underground than you can see on the surface.
Some buyers are obsessed with only buying property with a stream or river on it.
And while some of them want this because it looks pretty, it does not always solve all your water needs.
Some property owners with a stream, still need to drill a well to ensure the water is drinkable. Also to ensure they have water all year round as some streams are seasonal.
In most cases you know you will have good access to water if the neighboring properties around you all have wells and seem to be thriving.
They clearly have been able to access water in the area and you will too.
Contact some local water well contractors who will be a wealth of information and give you some advice or verify what is going on in that area.
If, however, you are looking at a parcel of land that is way out in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors at all, then this is worthy of closer investigation.
Your first port of call would be a local water well contractor as they will have a good idea of where the water flows nearby, acquifers and the probable required depth of a well.
Typically well depths on much of the land we have bought and sold recently in Nevada and Oregon range from 70 feet to 300 feet.
Typical costs for a well is approx. $15-$35 per foot.
Depending on your area, the average well might cost between $4,000-$9,000
You can also contact the local county water departments as they keep detailed well logs. You will be able to find out exactly how deep the local wells in your area are.
We always advise NOT drilling a well yourself for the purposes of drinking water.
Get local knowledge and expertise by someone who does this for a living and knows the water ways, common hazards and the regulations associated with drilling a well.
There is a lot more involved that simply digging a hole.
An expert knows where to site the well for best water flow, for best health outcomes and they will be insured, bonded and licensed.
They will know all the local laws, the permits are required, the authorities to register your well with to be compliant.
It will be so much easier, time effective and cost effective to get the experts in to do it right first time around.
You will need to do all this paperwork, logistics and legwork yourself if you choose to dig your own well.
In our opinion, consult a local licensed well drilling expert.
It is not worth getting it wrong!
A water well contractor will help you decide on the best position for your well.
They will consider, the depth of the static water level, they will ensure where possible that rain water flows away from the well. Typically a well cap is placed on level ground or uphill to reduce risk of contaminants.
Rainwater can pick up harmful contaminants and bacteria and chemicals on the surface of the land.
The CDC also has these guidelines for the location of your water well for off grid living:
50 feet away from septic tanks
50 feet away from livestock yards, silos and septic leach fields
100 feet away from petrol tanks, fertilizer storage and other chemicals
250 feet away from manure stacks
Yes, sometimes a well is shared between neighbors. Some people do it on a handshake agreement.
However, as water is vital to your survival and vital to the value of your property, we suggest getting a written agreement drawn up for clarity and to make sure there are no misunderstandings down the track.
Have an attorney review your agreement to ensure you have not forgotten to include any important items including how you will resolve a disagreement.
Who pays for the well?
Who pays on going costs and maintenance?
What is the maintenance schedule?
What happens to the water well rights if one of you choose to sell your property?
Who will pay if the well needs to be replaced or upgraded?
Is there a limit on water usage per person?
A water well remains a private well if it serves 3 or less households.
If your well serves more than 3 households, more paperwork and testing is required.
Typically a good quality water well will last 30-50 years. You may need to replace some parts after 15-20 years like a pump or well pressure tank.
Maintenance will help preserve it and keep performance high.
Bacteria and mineral deposits build up over time. This causes the well performance to deteriorate.
Also keep an eye on the static water level a few times per year and keep a note of it.
Regular testing of water quality, flow rates and maintenance or the well can lengthen the life of a well.
Indoor water use in USA is typically 80-100 gallons a day (U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates.
Biggest uses in most households are toilet flushing(1.5-3 gallons per flush), showers(3 gallons per minute) and baths (full tub 36 gallons)…
A well producing half a gallon per minute will yield 720 gallons of water per day and supply the inside water needs of most households.
In some parts of the country, flow rates are required to be 3-5 gallons per minute or higher. Some achieve 6-8 gallons per minute.
Conservation of water and being mindful of where you are wasting water is the first priority for most people moving from the city to supplying their own water.
Here are some tips:
Do not use excessive washing machines or dishwashers.
Only use these machines when you have a full load.
Fix any leaky taps right away.
Install water saving devices where possible on shower heads, hoses and toilets.
A water meter can be easily installed to measure how much water is being pumped. This one is less than $40.
Also look to install a water storage tank or cistern.
Install rain water harvesting systems to catch and store rain water run off from roofs to water gardens and wash the car.
It reduces the load on your well if you can supply extra water from rainwater collection.
As the price per gallon of rainwater is zero, (besides the tank and some guttering) it makes it very appealing.
Cisterns and rain barrels are a great water storage solution for people living off the grid because they can provide months of water with one fill up, which can come from rain water, water pumped in from a well, or even a delivery.
You can have above the ground cisterm or below the ground cisterns.
Above ground are usually smaller, cheaper and more portable.
Below ground cisterns are great for cold climates as they can be buried below the frost line to prevent freezing.
Always check with your county as these rights differ across the country. Also water rights usage and exemptions may change depending on rain or drought conditions.
In Oregon for example, you must obtain a water right permit before using water from any well.
However there are important exemptions for domestic use:
Domestic uses up to 15000 gallons per day
Irrigation of any lawn or noncommercial garden of ½-acre
Down-hole heat exchangers;
Single industrial or commercial purpose up to 5,000 gallons
Irrigation of school property up to 10 acres in critical groundwater areas.
As these can change, always check with your local authority before proceeding to clarify your situation.
Check out our land for sale in Nevada
Check out our land for sale in Missouri
Check out our land for sale in Oregon
Check out our land for sale in New Mexico
You cannot just walk away and leave it.
Unsealed or improperly sealed wells may threaten public health and safety, and the quality of the groundwater resources.
Therefore, the proper decommissioning of a well is a critical final step if it is no longer needed.
The unused well must be filled and sealed with an approved, impermeable material such as bentonite chips, concrete, or neat
Proper well abandonment procedures will ensure there is no physical hazard of someone falling in. It will eliminate any risk of contamination into the water system for others. It will prevent hydrologic changes in the aquifer system.
The decommissioning method will depend on both the reason for abandonment and the condition of the well.
Damaged, poorly constructed or dilapidated wells may need to be redrilled in order to apply proper abandonment techniques.
All abandoned wells shall be reported to the water authorities, along with any bureau that requires a report.
If available, the original driller’s log should be included along with the details of the well abandonment procedure.
A photograph should be taken of the site, and a reference map should be made to locate the abandoned well.
In many states only licensed well drillers and pump installers can fill and seal wells.
A “typical” well abandonment costs $800 – $1500 but may be more or less depending on the well depth and ease with which the pump can be removed.
Well drillers typically charge by the foot so deeper wells are more expensive to abandon than shallow wells.
In many cases a water well for off grid living is a reliable and safe way to maintain a fresh source of great water.
It is by no means the only way. Some people have water delivered and live happily for years. Others collect rainwater, or go into town to fill up once a fortnight.
If you are new to rural living, start collecting water the quickest and easiest way for you right now depending on your skill level and the geography of your property. Then expand later on. It is always a good idea not to rely on only one source of water.
When you install a water well for off grid living, you enhance your enjoyment of being self sufficient and enhance your property value dramatically. Always keep good records of your installations, maintenance checks so you know your well is in good working order and performing well. If you ever sell your property, good records will enhance your asking price.