View Full Version : Winter - possible effect on well water

08-17-2010, 04:02 PM
I've never had a well...am looking at properties that have wells. I would like some help on the basics of how they work and worse case scenarios during winter. I had a boss who had a nice large home on well water and he would often come in and say that the well was frozen so their toilet/shower etc didn't work during those times. This was in mild Vancouver Canada by the way. I'm wondering in deep deep freeze -40 what are the problems with wells...are there ways around it. I suppose you could store some water but probably not enough to do the whole winter. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

08-18-2010, 10:06 AM
Canuck, while I can't help with the extreme temps, maybe I can be of help with the basics.

Wells are bored (banned, now around here) or drilled down to the water table. This can be only a few feet or hundreds of feet to reach water that's trapped between layers of rock or trapped above a solid rock layer. This varies by location. When you see a stream the water table is at the surface. Drilling gets you down to the water that's below the surface.

Once the well is drilled a pump is installed. Some of these pumps are above ground and others are inserted into the well. While I don't know for sure, suspect that are submersible are what would be used in your area. Simply because they are easier to protect from freezing.

From the bottom of the well to the house a system of piping is installed to supply water to the household. A sensor tells the pump to come on and deliver water when a faucet is opened in the home.

Our record low temperature is -5, so we don't have to deal with your extremes. However, during the winter we do have to protect the pump (above ground) to keep it from freezing. Our well house is insulated. If the temps drop down to low teens we add supplemental heat via a a flood light bulb. That gives just enough heat in the small space to protect the pump.

From the well to the house the pipes are buried in the ground below the freeze line. If memory serves our pipe is about 18" deep. There's another freeze point, and that's under the house where the pipe emerges from the ground. Fortunately our crawlspace has brick walls. Thus, a minimum of additional protection is needed. In the past, we've used heat tapes and lots of insulation, in case of power failure to protect the pipe.

Suspect with your winter temps to maintain constant water supply you'll just need more of everything. Pipes buried many feet below ground. Heat tapes or other measures to protect the pipes where they have to come to the surface.

I'm sure that folks from the northern parts will be able to give far better help than I can on the best ways to keep the water flowing.

That said, there's one more point that I'd like to make. Even down here in the south, we have to keep an emergency supply of water. Ice storms can take down the power lines. Sometimes it takes 2 weeks to get the power restored following a bad storm. Without power, the pump doesn't work.

For a long haul situation, we couldn't store enough fuel to run a generator to run the pump. Thus, in addition to storing water for the short term, we've incorporated long term solutions for water. For each person, those solutions will depend on local circumstances. So, even if you conquer freezing water line problems, you'll still need some form of backup (water alternatives) for your pump in the well.

Hope this helps, a bit, until someone else can come along with more advice.


08-18-2010, 12:26 PM
Thanks very much Lee...you've explained it very well so now I have a good basic understanding of how it works. The one location I was looking at already has a well but it's very old...the land around there has a lot of hard rock though you wouldn't know it for some of the farms around. I'm thinking of going and having a peak at the well and even drop down a line to see if there is any water in there now. For the submersible pumps are they difficult to take out? I would imagine too that there are different sizes - widths of various wells. I was thinking too that since there are farms around it's probably best to test the water first. How often do people test water in wells?

08-18-2010, 06:03 PM
Canuck, some of your questions have a "just depends" answer. Truly, much depends on the particular circumstances.

For example, the difficulty associated with pulling a submersible pump depends on the depth of the well and the size of the pump. As a general rule, around here those pumps require several men. The more pipe that has to be pulled the harder the task. With an above ground pump, usually 2 men can pull the pipe. One man can pull for a fairly shallow well.

Size of wells .... Hand dug wells are the largest as there had to be working room for the person doing the digging at the bottom of the well. Bored wells come next. The size of those depends on the size bit used. If memory serves ours is 24" in diameter. Drilled wells are the smallest. Believe these run about 4"-6" in diameter.

Generally drilled wells are deeper than hand dug or bored wells. Even if these wells are done side by side the drilled well would have to be deeper (in most cases) to give ample water storage area. The slower the output of the well the larger the storage area needs to be to keep the well from being pumped dry.

As to water testing, again, it depends on the circumstances. Our well has never been tested. When it was bored in 1974 county didn't require testing. One of our neighbors ran a well drilling company and did the work for us. We trusted his work and his expertise. Plus, there was no reason to expect contamination. After the time needed for the water to clear, he drank the water. Back then, that was enough testing for us. :)

Times have changed. All new wells must be tested before the water can be used. So, your first step is to find out your local regulations regarding testing the water, if any exist. This information may be on line for your community.

Re: Old wells -- just because a well is old, doesn't mean that it's unsafe. And the reverse is correct, too. Again, the individual circumstances come into play. One source of information may be local well drilling companies. Be sure to get more than one opinion, if the first recommedation is to drill a new well.

Once you get out to the property and measure the depth of the well and the depth of the water, take some pix. Maybe some of us here can give advice that's more applicable to your situation. Just keep in mind to take our advice with a grain of salt. Local experts will have the best advice for you as they have experience with local conditions and can observe your well, first hand.

Hope this helps, a little. Good luck with your well and with the property, if that turns out to be the place you decide to homestead.


08-18-2010, 06:29 PM
Hi Canuck,

I live with a 275' deep bored well, with the pump down in it, and the pressure tank inside the house in the basement to draw the water inside. We've never ever had the pump freeze, and it gets a LOT colder here than Vancouver ever gets. (I lived in a suburb of Vancouver for 7 years, and it's rare to get below freezing there.)

What we do have to watch are the pipes inside the house, particularly the ones in the bathroom in the basement that is on the north wall. Some idiot put those copper lines against the cinder blocks, in the coldest section of the house. The lines came close to freezing off at some point in the past, because one part of them is swelled like an overboiled hotdog (been that way for many years.)

When it drops below -15C, we make double sure the bathroom door, that faces the wood heater is left open. When it drops even colder we leave a tap cracked open a bit so that the water has a slow drip.

Upstairs if the mercury has dropped below -30c, I leave the cupboard doors under the kitchen sink open, laundry room door, etc, to make sure the warmth can get in.

Living with a well is a learning experience. One summer, one the Friday of a long weekend, lightning struck our "well head" out in the yard. It's a big pipe that sticks up about 2.5 feet, the hose hydrant is attached to it. The top of the pipe gets taken off when the pump has to be lifted out. Anyhow, the lightning ran down the electrical wires that attached to the pump and fried them so badly that a 3' chunk was missing. Fortunately the pump also has a thin cable that holds it's weight and makes sure it doesn't fall into the bottom of the well (or so I thought).

When the pump/well guys showed up with their big truck and pulled all the plastic piping out of the well, they somehow accidently dropped the pump to the bottom. Then had to go "fishing" with a big hook. They were able to catch it and bring up the old (fried) pump.

I just love my well water! No flouride or chlorine. I don't mind that it is fairly "hard" - calcium does build up on the kettle and shower heads - but vinegar takes care of that.

08-18-2010, 11:44 PM
Thanks you guys :)!!! I just watched this youtube video about someone that had a well and a holding tank that he put on his roof...it didn't say how much it held...just wondering if you guys also have something like that...or how much water you keep in storage for emergencies?

08-19-2010, 10:08 AM
One of the more interesting places that I lived we wintered 2000 head of feeders. The well was about 615 foot deep with a cylinder pump and jack gear, the cistern was about 10,000 gallons with 2 inch gravity lines for the stock tanks. The house, bunkhouse and kitchen were on a 1/3 hp pump for pressure.

Tripping the cylinder involved setting up a tripod and rack for the pipe and sucker rod to keep it clean and jacking or winching the pipe up.

For freezing the water is kept a foot or more below the frost line or installed with a chase that you can service the heat tape through, a chase will also let you thaw a frozen line with a heat gun.

In cold country you do not want a wet wall on the outside wall, I have seen stud outlines in frost on outside walls.

08-19-2010, 12:02 PM
Thanks you guys :)!!! I just watched this youtube video about someone that had a well and a holding tank that he put on his roof...it didn't say how much it held...just wondering if you guys also have something like that...or how much water you keep in storage for emergencies?

Don't think you want a water tank on the roof. Wonder where the fellow was located? If your tank freezes, you're out of water. Plus, the structure has to be built (or renovated) to accomodate the weight of a tank. Don't have any idea what that would entail for your location, especially since heavy snow load is probably also a factor.

Fortunately, we have several sources of naturally occurring water nearby. Thus, we keep enough water in storage to tide us over until we can put alternative plans in place. Routinely I keep a minumium of a case of bottled water in the pantry. With advance notice for hurricanes and ice storms, we do additional prep that may be enough to tide us over until the power is restored or setup to manually draw water from the well.

Fill a 7 gallon insulated cooler for ice water (hurricane season).
Bought a 7 gallon Reliance Aqua-Tainer $10.88 Walmart. Fortunately haven't had to use it yet.
Fill bathtubs for flushing. Fill bathroom sinks for hand washing.
Fill waterbath canner for heating water. Fill large stockpot for cooking water.

In our case, all of these are to tide us over for short duration. We have long term backup plans in place that'll utilize our well and creeks.

Additionally, we have a good supply of 2 liter soda bottles that have already been cleaned and sanitized. And a good supply of canning jars and lids. Canning chemical pollution and sediment free water makes it safe to drink. If you already have the jars, canning water is more economical than buying water, based on prices around here. And, there are no plastic leaching worries, nor does it have to be rotated, as is the case with plastic bottles.

Be sure to make part of your planning backup plans that include alternative sources of water and ways to make it safe for use. Try to have more than one alternative, in case something happens to your primary backup source. What is your closest source of naturally occuring water?

In your case, is it feasible to store water in the form of ice during the winter? Especially if you're heating with wood.


08-19-2010, 12:31 PM
Our holding tank is in the basement. Wells don't freeze. We have two shallow wells, and they don't freeze even if it is 20 below. But the water lines can freeze if they are not low enough in the ground.
Ours never freezes because it is all ran into the basement. Deep wells never freeze either as long as the pump and water lines are kept in areas that do not freeze. We had a sand point years back when we lived on the lake. The pump didn't freeze there either, and it was in a hole only about 4ft down right on top of the sandpoint well. Water lines will freeze easily though, it has nothing to do with the well. You just have to keep them warm with tape or a lightbulb. We use to have a washer on the backporch, and we would just put a lamp over it in the winter to prevent freezing the waterlines.

NCLee-- wells are illegal in your area? What about people who live in the country?

08-19-2010, 01:16 PM
Mom, it depends on where in the county a person lives.

Now, a permit is required for a well. Permits are no longer issued for anything other than a drilled well.

Where county water system lines are run, hookup is required and the wells on the property are comdemed for household use. Well permits aren't issued where access to county water is available. The plan, eventually, is to have every household on the county water system. Even thought the county doesn't have enough water resources to support EXISTING demands.

Local town has ETJ of 1 1/2 miles from the city limits. Wells in town are banned. City limits have been creeping out into the county everywhere they can incorporate another subdivision or industry. If the county water lines don't get you, the city system will, if you're within their grasp.

Town used to have a small incorporated area. The ETJ is now about a mile from my home. Right now, there isn't enough development (tax revenue / water revenue) for somebody's water line to come down our road. But, if/when the property behind me is sold for development, our well will be condemmed. Last I heard the tap-on fee is $1,200.00. Probably costs more now to lose the "legal" use of our good well water that we paid to have dug.


08-19-2010, 11:34 PM
Hi Lee the guy with the water tank on his roof was living in NM. I think he said he was originally from NY and over there in the city they have huge water tanks on a lot of the apartment complexes there.

PS I really appreciate everyones comments!!

08-20-2010, 01:05 AM
Well water is far superior to city water, and it's great to be independent and control your own water quality.

Check out http://www.wellowner.org/.

Winter's not a problem with a properly constructed system. Newer wells have submersible pumps that use a pitless adaptor to make a connection to the house below the frost level.

Old fashioned jet pumps can be protected in a 'dog house' arrangement with supplemental heat.

It's good that you're doing research and asking questions. Check with the local health department, too, they'll have lots of information on well depths and water quality for your area. I don't know how other areas do it, but Michigan has a database anyone can access: http://www.deq.state.mi.us/well-logs/ so you can research any area you're interested in. There's probably something similar where you are.

08-20-2010, 03:57 AM
We live on a mountain pass just west of Denver at 9500' elevation and have a 400' deep well. Just to add to the discussion something to remember is that once you get below the frost line for the area you live in the ground stays a near constant temperature. An example of this is the use of earth bermed houses use that near constant 55 degree soil temp to help with heating and cooling. The depth of the frost line is dependent on the length of time and the temperatures in your area and possibly the type of soil. For us we have about 4" of soil on top of granite and for 3 months we will not have temps above freezing. The piping from the well leaves our well casing six feet below the ground level and stays that depth until under the house. We have never had the below ground piping freeze, but have had the piping under the house freeze. What has frozen is the septic line that was origanally 4 feet under ground, so I would guess that our frost line is between 4' and 6'. Needless to say when the septic line froze I rented a backhoe and it is now 6' under.

08-21-2010, 02:33 AM
Another component to frost line is moisture content of the soil, Ford County, KA has a normal 4 foot or so frost line. Back around 70 they had a dry year ( about .2 in of rain from early spring - no dryland wheat ), the place south of Dodge City had the water run at about 5 foot and about 5 foot of fill was brought in so the normal exposure was the vertical into the house. With a much colder than normal temp ( -40 F ) the line froze out side the windmill base and lower than the 6 foot heated riser to the house.

Hooked a welder to the waterline for head and got water flow in 3/4 hour, used a lot of water to wet the ground over the pipe and warm the ground next to the pipe.

That was a year! My ride was a wrecker and it was the first time that I saw a thermometer with no mercury showing, middle of the morning, on a brown plywood wall the thermometer read -31 F with dead calm wind. It was colder the next night.

08-21-2010, 12:55 PM
Winter brings some quite cold spells here, though not prolonged, and we have had pipes freeze. Up at the well house where the pipe goes in the ground to run down to the house. Now when it gets very cold, DH turns on a light in the well house, which is also insulated. we have not had any problems since. When we had no power during the icestorm we lit a couple of big candles inside the wellhouse. the pump is way too far down to freeze. I think we would have to have the proverbial hell freeze over first.
Our well had not been used in years. We did have to pull the pump once when we had problems, and later when we had the well redrilled and cleaned and a new pump installed. DH and DS pulled it.They rigged up a tire rim and pulled it over that.