Series: Well Install
In this article...
Like many rural locations, our property in central Vermont is not served by municipal water meaning we need to source our own water for drinking, irrigation and everything in between.
Our property has an old spring on it adjacent to the pond, and several neighboring houses used to get their water from our spring. But springs are no longer the preferred way of getting fresh water, and the spring itself has fallen into disrepair.
Instead, like nearly all our neighbors, we would need a well.
We were more than a little anxious about the well drilling. How deep would we have to go? What if we didn't find water at all? How much would it cost?
Well drilling costs
While we want to do as much as possible ourselves in this build, drilling a well is something that requires expensive, specialist equipment and the skills to operate it.
We contacted half a dozen local well drilling companies, only several of whom even bothered to return our calls. Well drilling costs vary wildly depending on the depth of your well - and until you drill, there's no way of knowing how deep you'll end up going.
In the end we settled on a local well drilling company, E. Benedini Artesian Well Co., who came highly recommended by several neighbors as well as the contractors who were doing our site work.
We were quoted $22 per foot to drill, plus $35 per foot for steel casing - a minimum of 20 feet is required per state law, but essentially the casing is required to get down into the bedrock so we were confident we wouldn't need more than the minimum given the rocky nature of our site! In addition we would have to pay $150 for a drive shoe and a mobilization fee (to transport the vehicles to the site) of $950.
Other companies we contacted tried to estimate (without committing) to the total price we could expect to pay, using neighboring wells for comparison. But as they quickly found out, our neighbors' wells are all over the place - less than 100ft with high flow to over 500ft with almost no flow.
Keith and Kim Johnson from E. Benedini Artesian Well Co. came to visit the site and were able to answer all our questions. To move forward they needed three things:
- A deposit for $5,000 to get on their schedule;
- A precise location to drill the well
- A solid access path and cleared pit at the well site
We paid the deposit and started working on the other dependencies.
Locating the well
I'm not going to get into a debate about the efficacy of dowsers, but that wasn't an approach we chose to take. Instead we opted to rely on the experience of our septic engineer.
There's no way of knowing for sure whether a particular location will hit water or not when you drill, but given our local geology there weren't really any specific places we should target or avoid.
There are strict rules governing the location of a well in relation to the septic system, so our approved wastewater permit had already defined where our well would be positioned.
We had decided on that location in conjunction with our engineer, positioning the well close to the utility building to minimize the length of the pipe and electrical runs - these have to be deep (read: expensive to excavate in rock) to stay below the frost depth.
There is a little wiggle room in the wastewater plans, and we agreed with our engineer to move the well about 10ft from the original location to accommodate some changes in our electrical service conduit run.
Preparing the site
Despite some of the huge machines we had had on-site so far (dump trucks full of rock and giant excavators with rock hammers), the well drilling truck would be the heaviest of all. Given its size, it needs a rock solid, relatively flat and smooth access road with no sharp turns.
At the precise location of the well itself, we also needed a pit - a slight depression where the excess water produced by the drilling process could collect and drain away. Fortunately, our contractor had worked with E. Benedini many times before and knew exactly what was required.
Once everything was ready, we contacted Keith at E. Benedini to let them know. We had been in regular contact regarding scheduling so just a few days later, they arrived on site.
Drilling a well
To drill a well there are two trucks involved. First, the obvious - the giant well drilling rig which is essentially just a huge, truck-mounted, diesel engine powering the drill.
Second, is an equally impressive support truck carrying casing, drill rods and most importantly, a huge tank of water used for lubricating and cooling the drill as it descends, clearing the pulverized rock out as it bores deeper and deeper.
The plan was to mobilize the trucks one afternoon, get things generally set up, then return the following morning to commence drilling.
As planned, the trucks arrived on site, but setup went so smoothly (thanks in part to the well-prepared access road and pit) that they started drilling that very same afternoon.
First, they start with a larger drill bit that bores the hole for the casing. As we had suspected, they almost instantly hit solid rock so we only needed the state-mandated minimum 20ft of casing. Keith even commented on how hard the rock was, noting that the drill was moving slower than usual because of it!
But it wasn't long until they had made it down 20ft, pulled the drill out and installed the steel casing.
After that, they installed the first regular 20ft long 6 inch drill rod and began drilling. It takes about 30 seconds to drill a foot, so each 20ft rod represents about 10 minutes of drilling. It was getting late into the afternoon so after the first rod they decided to call it a day, but would be back the following day.
I was out running some errands when they arrived, but Diana was home. I quickly returned to find they had just started drilling so stopped by the RV to grab a drink. Then I got a text from Diana: "It's hitting some water already!".
Wait, what?! Could that be right? They hadn't been drilling long and had already hit water - that must be really shallow! That's very good news!
Excitedly I headed back up to the build site, and yes, sure enough they had hit water about 60ft down. Keith estimated it to be about 6-7 gpm (gallons per minute). By way of comparison, banks typically want to see about 3-5 gpm minimum, so we were already past that.
But at our direction, they continued down. Keith explained to us that the rock layers would change from hard, grey rock to softer brown rock and sand, and it's at these transitions that they would typically see water flow. And sure enough, over the next 40ft or so we drilled through seam after seam, until by about 120ft we had hit 7 or 8 seams and the water was flooding out.
Keith was grinning ear to ear. According to him, we had hit the jackpot - this was, in his words, "a textbook well". Not only did we have good flow, but we had it coming in from multiple seams, significantly reducing the chances that it would dry up in future.
But how much flow did we have?
There were no fancy measuring devices here, just a crude reservoir formed with dirt diverting the water through a 4 inch pipe. By holding an old 1-gallon paint can at the outlet of the pipe and timing how long it took to fill, you can estimate the flow rate.
2 seconds. That's how long it took to fill the 1-gallon paint can, meaning we had a flow rate of around 30 gpm! That's far more than we could ever need - many farms run on much less than that!
After discussing with Keith, we decided to carry on a little bit further to see if we could reach 50gpm. While it wasn't strictly necessary, we were excited to see what we could find.
So we continued drilling but saw no significant increase in water flow so at 160ft we decided to stop. We were delighted with what we had found, and there was no reason to spend more money to go further at this point.
Keith and Kim began removing the drill rods and packing up the drilling rig. Once it was all clear, we were left with the steel casing sticking out of the ground, knowing that below it lay a 160ft hole and all the water we'd ever need! We were so relieved!
Because the grade we were digging at isn't the final grade, we also asked them to install a 6" coupling and another short length of casing on top of the 20ft piece to bring the height well above what will be the final grade. We have plans to disguise the well anyway.
They left the trucks in place overnight and returned to collect them the next day, but not before confirming that our water level had settled about 15ft below the surface.
Every foot of depth in a 6 inch well holds about 1.5 gallons of water, so that meant we had over 200 gallons of fresh water sitting in our well (during what the National Weather Service had declared a period of moderate drought in our area) as well as a recharge rate of over 30 gallons per minute!
Summary & next steps
The total cost to have the well drilled was $5,410, including the extra we paid to extend the well casing at the top with a coupling and short length of casing.
We were over the moon. A combination of relief in what was a very anxious milestone, and excitement about how much fresh, clean water we had available!
But drilling the well is just the beginning - now we have to get it to the surface! While E. Benedini can help with this entire process, they were more than happy for us to do it ourselves. In fact, Keith was incredibly supportive in helping us understand all the steps we had to take, the equipment he would recommend and some tips to make our install successful.
So join us in part 2 as we install the well pump - all by ourselves!