Cost of New Well. DIY?

remodeler_mattMarch 20, 2007

Hi again:

We have had severe problems with our well this year, including the pump silting up once, apparently because of collapses within the well. The well is at least 50 years old. It is about 35 feet deep, with water starting at about 16 feet. It was strong in the past, more than 200 gallons per minute, but has slowed considerably this year, which has been very dry so far. The soil is almost solid clay.

We've considered trying to improve the well, but most everyone we talk with says it is past its useful lifetime, and improving it may not work at all, or only for a limited time.

So, we're looking at getting a new well. One local company gave us two estimates for a 200-foot well, one for an 8 5/8-inch steel-cased well ($16,093) and one for 6-inch PVC well ($11,530). The difference is mostly in having to drill a larger hole for the steel pipe (17 inches vs. 12 inches for PVC) and the material cost of the steel casing vs. the plastic. The estimate includes cost of permit, all drilling materials, cement seal extending through the clay layer, all labor, and chlorination and preliminary development of the well.

From my past experience, both these estimates seem quite high, but I have no direct experience with this type of well in this part of the country (Northern California).

Finally, I am considering drilling my own well, using equipment similar to what I used while working overseas repairing tsunami and typhoon damage. I've found one company that looks interesting, hydratek, which offers a line of rigs that look much better than what we had overseas. See the link below.

All opinions and suggestions, about the estimate above or my wacky plan to drill it myself, are greatly appreciated.

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY well drilling

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I doubt the rigs in the picture on that site are going to be drilling any 12' or 17" holes that you mentioned the contractor would do.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 10:52PM
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I guess that I'm having a hard time taking your post serously.

A well that produces fifteen gallons per minute is considered more than adequate for just about any home. You say that your 35 foot well produced 200 gallons per minute at one time but has slowed considerably since then. Gee. even if it dropped to only ten percent of its former peak output, you would still have 20 GPM to work with.

I know people who manage on five GPM.

I am not up to speed on the latest drilling techniques but I have to wonder why anyone needs a 17 inch diameter hole to drop a 9 inch pipe down it. You would have four inches of clearance all around this pipe. WHY/????? A twelve inch hole would seem to be MORE than adequate.

As for drilling your own well with that joke of a rig, be my guest. Well-drilling rigs cost at least a half-million dollars and upwards to a million. How far down do you think that thing will go? And even if you could drill down to a depth of eighty feet and get lucky enough to hit a viable acquifer, how would you pump the water out?

At depths greater than 80 feet, you need a submersible pump and those pumps need a six inch well casing. Deep wells also need two or more stainless steel screens to be placed at the bottom of them. How are you going to place those screens?

Six inch steel well casing comes in 20 foot lengths that are welded together while being lowered into the drill hole. How will you do that task? Have you any clue as to what 100 plus feet of well casing weighs? How will you hang onto that casing while adding the next section? How will you raise and support the next section in perfect alignment while welding?

And without a speedy way to lift a "bail" out of the hole, how will you know what the GPM of the well is? Maybe you aren't deep enough. Well drillers test the GPM of the holes they drill. And if the local well driller is talking about a 200 foot well, he is doing so out of years of drilling experience in your area. In other words, he knows that the likelyhood of hitting adequate water at shallower depths is highly unlikely.

Are you prepared to drill 200 feet deep and then install the pipe and seal it with bentonite? Well drillers charge that much money for a reason. Get some competitive quotes. Those will tell you whether the prices you have are fair or not. No one on this forum is going to be able to give you a reply on the cost issue unless they live in your area. It doesn't matter what a similar well oost someone in Texas, Nevada, Vermont or Iowa.

If saving money is the name of the game, then hire someonw to clean out the bottom of your existing well and see what happens. An alternative solution is to buy a two thousand gallon precast concrete tank and bury it on your property. Use the pump and well you have now to slowly fill that tank by putting in some level controls. Install a new pump in that tank to feed your house. If set up properly, you will always have 2000 gallons of water available for peak usage and the low producing well can run all night, if need be, to replenish the tank.

1 Like    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 11:20PM
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Thanks for the long reply, especially after having a hard time taking me seriously.

Like I said, all options are open at this point, including use of holding tanks, filters, RO, whatever. But we are talking about a 50-plus year old well that went from pumping a reliable 200 gallons per minute of clear (though very hard) water, to maybe doing about 20 gpm now of very dirty water that is constantly clogging up the irrigation systems, as well as everything in the house. It seems obvious that soil is entering the well at increasing frequency and concentration, and perhaps the most cost effective long-term solution is a new well, done with modern practices instead of 1950's practices.

California well practices include digging a bore considerably larger than the casing, and filling the exterior space with pea gravel to act as a filter before the groundwater enters the casing. I know that is not common practice elsewhere. I assume it is partially because of the clay soil that predominates here.

As for doing it myself, I have seen many wells drilled (or even dug by hand) in sites where no drilling rig could ever get on site, using the most ridiculous Rube Goldberg contraptions to lift and lower the casing, and I always seemed to end up welding in the rain. Though rinky-dink compared to the million-buck mobile drilling rigs, the hydratek looks light-years ahead of what we had to use then, so I'm thinking it could maybe handle the job for such a shallow well, and I could handle all the needed work for pump pad, well seal and plug, etc.

We are lucky in that groundwater is abundant all around us, and the drillers we've contacted so far say "just drill wherever you want to, you'll find water." The general consensus is we will hit water around 16 feet, and most wells around us are like ours, only about 35 feet deep.

And actually, the only reason I'm considering a DIY well is that the drillers I've contacted are back-logged, at least 2-3 months. I'd most likely install some additional filtering and perhaps a settling tank and pump before drilling my own -- but again, keeping those ol' options open. Seems the cost of tanks and additional pumps would be nearly that of a new well, and doesn't really address the fact that the well has deteriorated so much in the last year. Seems it could easily go down to 0 gpm in another year at this rate.

Thanks again for your comments. Much to think about.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 4:26AM
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We paid $30/foot, 80 foot minimum charge, to have our well drilled. (Western Montana). The casing was driven in behind the drill; the tailings blown out with compressed air as the drill proceeded. Two sacks of bentonite were used to seal.

We ended up with a static level of 57 feet, > 30gpm.

Of course, the pump, well x-trol, and hookup were additional. All told about $4500.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 8:46AM
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I must be missing something here. Exactly what do you need water for, other than normal household uses and how many gpm do you feel are required to keep you a happy camper?

If you can hit adequate gpm somewhere between 16 and 40 feet, then why is the well driller suggesting 200 feet? Don't you have anyone local with a well boring rig that can give you a forty inch hole to allow thirty-six inch pre-cast concrete well tiles to be placed in the finished bore? The rule of thumb is that you either go deep or you go big in order to get volume. The only exception is in areas that are known for artesian wells but those are few and far between.

What also concerns me is this. If your existing 36 foot well is silting up on you, then what makes you think that you won't have the same issue with another shallow well? If both wells are on the same acquifer, then the water coming into those wells is coming from the same strata. Pulling large volumes of water out of a well causes ground water to rush toward the well to fill the void and that quick movement can cause loose fines to come with the water.

Maybe the only way to keep that from happening is to go to the 200 foot level and find an acquifer that is below bedrock where there is no silty strata. No matter what, any well water is likely to be fairly hard and in need of treatment by a water softener. Other issues such as high iron or sulpher can also be solved. Reverse osmosis is fine for limited amounts of drinking water but rather impractical for anything beyond that because the process is very slow.

Concrete holding tanks aren't all that expensive. If you put a pump in your existing well that only pulled one gallon per minute so that it did not disturb the water and cause turbidity, then you could get 1440 gallons from that well in a single 24 hour period. The average person uses 60 galloms of water per day in a house. A family of six would only need 360 gallons daily. The 1440 is four times those needs.

Here in southern Ontario, almost all wells are in clay-based soils. The fact that our methods are different than those used in Cal regarding hole size doesn't really matter. It's what works locally that counts. Clay comes in many forms and densities. Some clays allow water to migrate through them and some are nearly impervious.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 8:55AM
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I can't say what this rig will do in your area, But I can tell you what I found out from the previous owners of my old house. My old house is in northwest ohio. The old owners purchased one of these rigs that were advertised in the back of Popular Mechanics and Populat Science. They were going to drill their own well. The soil conditions are clay,various types, and you hit bedrock down about 45 ft.

Well they tried this rig and got down about 20ft and gave up. The thing didn't have enough power to drill through the clay. The well hole was a little over 4" in diameter. They abandoned the effort and backfilled the hole.

This was over 20 years ago. I had to keep backfilling that area for years until the soil finally stabilized. Yhey ended up having a professional driller come in and drill a well.

The reason they needed a well was the fact the house and the neighboring house were on the same well. They had a 30ft piece of 1" copper buried underground to feed water to the other house.

Well they wrecked the well while they lived there by dumping bleach constantly down the well to take care of the sulphur water. The chlorine ate up the casing because they didn't rinse it down.

I ended up having another well drilled to replace the one they screwed up.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 9:57AM
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In our original post you were talking about getting quotes on a 200' deep well. There is a big difference if you are now talking 16' That sounds a little more plausible for a DIYer.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 5:51PM
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First of all. You already have a hole in the ground going into or through several formations capable of producing water. There are numerous techniques for stimulating an old well. They have been used for many years on oil and gas wells. There are also numerous methods to slow down the rate that the well will plug up with fines.

First step would be to bail out the well with a hydrostatic bailer and see what the material is that is plugging it. Test how the stuff reacts to acid. and measure particle size.

Check your static water level. You may have enough to surge it. or you may be able to bull head a couple barrells of acid to get rid of the fines.

some kind of poor boy gravel pack might be in order to keep it pumping longer. and definitely some kind of a holding tank arrangement so that you don't ever produce at anything close to the maximum 200 gal per min. If you cut the maximum pump rate down to 10 gal/min, the well may last forever.

If you can't get the original zone to flow, plug back with cement and perforate into one of the shallower zones.

I you do gravel pack, pea gravel will do nothing. you'll need at least 30/50 mesh graded propant. possibly finer.

If you are absolutely dead set on drilling a new well yourself, look into cable tools. Much cheaper and easier to set up a poor boy rig than with rotary tools. I've seen home made rigs powered off a jacked up tractors rear wheel. 3 trees cut partway thru and leaned together made a derrick. drilled about 4-500 feet. set casing and moved in a second hand pump jack and produced a few barrells a day of oil. not much money but his investment was nil so it was all profit. Cable tool rigs were used to drill most wells before WW II and were common in some areas thru the late 70's. May still be, I haven't worked in shallow well areas in many years.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 11:45PM
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Thanks for all the replies. I have learned much in the past few days.

After weighing all the info above, and talking to our neighbors and several drillers who work around our area, we are going to take some temporary measures to make the present well work for us for at least a year or two. Were going to throttle down on the outlet of the well, to reduce flow out of it, and add some filtration and perhaps a settling tank, if needed. IÂve flushed everything again, and weÂre getting clear water now.

I forgot to mention that we are actually a small farm (5.6 acres) with mostly nut and fruit trees, but also a truck garden of about an acre, so we do need more than the average family. We were worried we wouldnÂt have enough water to get through the summer (no rain for 4-5 months), but our neighbor, bless his heart, has offered use of one of his wells if we need it.

But the main reason weÂve decided to hold off on a new well was sort of a "duh" moment when I realized our water table is down because a nearby reservoir has been drained for maintenance on the dam. The same neighbor who offered his well said his always drops when they drain the reservoir (heÂs been here for 82 years). They will flood it to start the irrigation season in a couple of weeks, and weÂll see what happens after that. Every driller IÂve talked with is backlogged at least 2 months, and probably more, as we are entering the peak ag season around here, and rainfall has been way below normal.

Mark: thanks for the info; looks like our bid was in the ballpark with the cost of yourÂs. IÂm originally from Montana (Ravali County), and my Mom lives in Missoula. I sure do miss the well water we had there. Best I ever tasted.

Castoff: the driller put in a bid for 200 feet as a "worst case" scenario, and said the depth would more likely be around 40 feet or so, and a cost around $5-8,000, depending on the options we chose. We were leaning towards PVC, since our water is very aggressive on metal. I learned we have a unique soil (Capay loam) that is very heavy, and IÂm positive thatÂs what IÂm flushing out of all our lines. WeÂre looking into concrete and other types of tanks, which we can also use to capture rain if we end up not needing them for the well.

Rjoh and coolvt, though the DIY route attracts me on several levels, IÂm finally convinced that this is one area best left to the pros, if only because they can deal with county re. permits, etc., and get the job done so much quicker than I could.

Qwertyui: Thanks for the great info. It confirms much of the advice IÂve been getting from the local pros, and I was wrong about the size of gravel used to pack around the well. WeÂre considering all the options you mentioned, if the well doesnÂt recover after they flood the reservoir. And I believe it was a cable system we were using during my relief work overseas, usually involving three or more small telephone poles that could be man-handled to the site if need be. I was amazed at what they could do under the worst conditions. I did the welding and hooked up the pump, etc., and mostly kept out of the way during the drilling.

Thanks again, all. Great resource here.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2007 at 2:53PM
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