ASK THE EXPERTS: Water Pumping


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Flowlight Booster Pump
Specialized DC pressurizing pumps like this Flowlight Booster Pump use less than half the energy of conventional pumps.
Flowlight Booster Pump

I have a typical rural water system—a jet pump pulling water from a shallow well and pumping into a pressure tank. When we lose electrical power, we have no water—a situation that I would like to remedy with as much simplicity as possible.

I would like to install a DC-powered pump in the well and have it run whenever water is needed in the house, eliminating the need for a pressure tank, an elevated storage tank, or a storage tank with a pressure booster pump.

I’ve made the assumption that once the lines in the house have been filled by the pump, they would remain pressurized, and a flow sensor or pressure sensor could be used to turn on the pump. I would use batteries to power the pump with DC, and charge them from the grid. Our water usage is less than 100 gallons on most days. Even a worst-case draw of 500 gallons per day at 5 gallons per minute (which I think is more than we need) would require 100 minutes of actual pump run time. My well pump is 17 years old, and I want to be ready with an alternative when it fails.

Jim Yannaccone • Turbotville, Pennsylvania

Your project has several variables, so let’s take them one at a time. First, the pump: A jet pump (like yours) works from above, “pushing” some of the water down one pipe to help push more water up a larger pipe. It is the least energy-efficient type of well pump. In your quest to protect your water supply from power failures, you are correct to seek a more appropriate pump.

If your groundwater is no more than 20 feet below your wellhead (at pump level), a surface pump should work. A low-power, efficient DC surface pump to supply low water needs like yours would be the Flowlight Booster Pump, available from many off-grid RE suppliers.

However, if your groundwater level is (or may ever be) more than 20 feet down, a submersible pump is the best choice. Your well casing—the outer plastic or metal pipe that defines your well—will need to be no smaller than 4 inches (inside diameter). If you have only a 2-inch well casing (the minimum for jet pumps), you will need to have a new well drilled to use a submersible pump.

A variety of submersible pumps are compatible with solar electricity. Contact an experienced designer and supplier of solar pumps, specifically for a battery-based system that can supply the lift plus the pressure that you require. If you don’t have a local off-grid specialist, then check the Internet for an experienced solar pump supplier. If your water is not more than 200 feet down, you can install the pump by hand on flexible pipe, without heavy equipment.

You will need some form of storage and pressure delivery. If you use a solar pump without a battery (that is, PV-direct), you must have water storage and it will need to be elevated to deliver pressure. To deliver adequate pressure for a modern home (43 psi), though, your storage tank would need to be 100 vertical feet higher than your house. Most folks aren’t able to meet that kind of tank height to create the pressure they want. So I’d advise keeping your pressure tank—the modern alternative to the elevated tank—since it imposes no significant energy loss. Using a pressure tank also helps modulate the pump’s run time, so it can run for a few minutes, then stop. As water is drawn out and the pressure drops, the pressure switch will trip and re-activate the pump. I recommend using a pressure tank with at least 40 gallons of capacity to minimize the pump’s on/off cycling.

Along with a pressure tank, running your pump on demand (when water is needed) using a battery system would be a great solution. (You could also run some lights and other devices from the same system.) If the battery is charged from the power grid, you have what is termed an “uninterruptible power supply.” If you use a PV array for primary charging, you’ll have more security when the grid goes down. When it’s up, you can use it for backup charging.

Windy Dankoff • Founder (retired), Dankoff Solar Pumps

Comments (6)

Fred Golden's picture

You are better off placing the pump as close to the well as possible. Pumps do not work well under suction. They can produce a lot of head pressure. You did not mention if the house is above or below the well site. Say it is 35' above the pump, and the pump needs to draw from the water that is found 10' below the surface.

You probably desire about 25 - 40 PSI water pressure in the home, and 35' of rise is about 20 PSI pressure loss (due to the weight of the water in the lines). So you will need to cut on the pump around 45 psi, and shut off about 65 PSI. If you have a pump rated at say 10 GPM, then a 60 gallon air tank with bladder will store about 20 gallons of water at the rated pressure, and release it when you need a small amount of water - say washing your hands without turning on the pump. After that 20 gallons is depleted, then the pump will run for say 2 minutes, fill the tank, take care of any demands while it was running, then shut off. This way the pump is not cycling on and off for each liter of water that you draw out. It is much better for the pump to run at least 2-5 minutes and fill a surge tank during that time.

I would highly recommend running really large wire to the pump, and run it on 220 volts if you have it. 75' of power line will drop the voltage by say 5 volts with #10 wire or 3 volts with #8 wire. If tun on say 120 volts the pump might draw 15 amps, and have double that voltage drop, while a 220 volt pump will only use about 7.5 amps.

I would also run a neutral wire to the pump house, so that you can run 120 volt lights and receptacles in the pump house. It is difficult in the USA to find 220 volt light bulbs, but the house I used to live in had a 220 volt pumphouse, with a 220 volt light bulb.

For garden watering, it might take the pump a long time to produce say 300 gallons. If you need a lot of water over a short time, you might consider a much larger tank, say located 50' above the house, where you can store water, and let it flow back into the house.

If the house is located say 35' below the pumphouse, then setting the water pump to start at say 25 PSI and stop at 45 PSI will save a lot of energy compared to starting at 35 PSI and stopping at 55 PSI.

Good luck!

Freddy's picture

Hi, My first time here and not really sure if this is the proper question to ask but here goes.
I just moved to the Philippines and have dug a well 20 feet deep and I wish to install a water pump and tank. The house is 75 feet from the well with a grade of about 10 degrees. The house has one bath room, 3 sinks and I want to use water on my small garden too.
So my question is: Is it best to place the pump and tank at the well or both of them at the house?? Does a pump push water better than suck form the well? I figured a 1 HP pump would work and any help would be greatly appreciated. What size tank should I use too?

Fred Golden's picture

If your property has the advantage of a 100' tall mountain behind it, then what about a 'horizontal well' where the drill goes into the mountain side, and water comes out with gravity! If it is located 50' above the house, or more, you get free pressurized water.

Otherwise the small investment in a RV size water pump and 2 gallon pressure tank will satisfy your needs for only about $200.

Fred Golden's picture


In my motorhome, the water pump is really energy efficient. With a 2 gallon bladder type expansion tank, and a normal 12 volt 4.5 GPM variable speed water pump, you can get the job done with little trouble. Consider that the normal RV water pump is rated at 4 GPM while using only 8 amps. Or will pump a 100 gallon water tank dry in 25 minutes while using about 4 amp hours of power.

If you are already using a energy efficient 12 or 24 VDC submersible pump to fill a fresh water storage tank that is located near your home, you can use a simple 12 VDC RV water pump to pressurize that fresh water into the normal home at 45 - 60 PSI. Even if you are using 100 gallons per day, it is a reasonable 4 amp hour load on the solar system. A 120 watt panel can supply about 35 amp hours per day in ideal conditions, or well over your water pumping needs - even in a cloudy area.

Getting the water from the underground well to the surface storage tank will require additional wattage, but it can be pumped into a 500 - 2,500 gallon storage tank on a sunny day, then sit there until needed.

If you have the space, and your well happens to be at a higher elevation than the home, great for you. However if that is not the case, a simple RV pump is a great and in-expensive solution.

jack condon's picture

another option with far less work. since you want DC you are already planning on adding batteries; add a DC to AC converter and switch, run the existing pump off the converter. no piping changes, no additional pumps, just insure you have enough battery capacity. you're probably also considering solar and/or wind? also why not just go ahead and replace that 17 year old jet pump while you're at it? use a pressure tank or the pump will cycle on and off almost continuously.

BlindSquirl's picture

As blasphemous as this may sound, your simplest solution may be to install a transfer switch and a backup generator. If you are that concerned about your 17 year old jet pump, get a new one installed.

As much as people would like to believe in everyone being able to go "off the grid", simple economics still make that impractical for most of us.

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