I have previously written[1] on how to make your own money[2] and electricity. But man does not live on wealth and power alone. There is another thirst that must be quenched. This article is about do-it-yourself water systems.

First you need a source of fresh water. Anything will do:

  • pond
  • river
  • stream
  • lake
  • spring
  • well
  • cistern
  • atmospheric precipitator[3]

A “spring” is a place where water naturally comes out of the earth. There are techniques for developing them.

There are two types of wells:[4]

  • Deep wells which are generally drilled.
  • Shallow wells which are generally dug.

Next you need a way to get the water to the faucet. This usually[5] means pumps. There are three types of water system pumps:

  • Submerged deep well
  • Dry shallow well
  • In-line pressure boost

A deep well pump is intended to be lowered into a drilled well and submerged. They can be hundreds of feet deep in the water. A shallow well pump isn’t designed to get wet. The mouth of an intake hose is lowered into the well. A pressure pump is mostly commonly used to pressurize a pressure tank.

These aren’t hard categories. A deep well pump can be used in a shallow well or a natural water source. Shallow well pumps and pressure pumps are very similar in design and can often be interchanged. For most of the systems with which I am familiar a single pump doubles as the well pump and the pressure pump.

The most mysterious part of a traditional water system is the pressure tank. A pressure tank consists of an airtight[6] shell with a rubber bladder inside. A pressure pump pumps water into the bladder, inflating it, and thereby compressing the air and increasing the pressure of the water. The air pressure in the tank is what drives water out as it is used.

A nifty device called a “pressure switch” is what turns the pressure pump on and off. When the water pressure drops below the switch’s low setpoint the pressure switch turns the pressure pump on. When the water pressure reaches the switch’s high setpoint the pressure switch turns the pressure pump off. Most pressure switches come pre-configured for a low setpoint of 30 pounds per square inch (psi) and a high setpoint of 50psi. The setpoints are adjustable.[7]

The point of a traditional pressure tank/pressure switch system is to not run the pressure pump the entire time that water is being used. Most of the time water flows because of air pressure in the pressure tank and the pressure pump is off. The pressure pump is turned on only when it’s necessary to refill and re-pressurize the tank.

Here’s a step-by-step description of a neighbor’s water system:

Shallow well about 10 feet deep.
This is a stock image, not my neighbor’s actual well.
The well end of the intake tubing (described below)
probably has a foot valve.
This is a one-way valve so water doesn’t back into the
well and has a mesh screen to prevent debris from
getting sucked into the pump.
A run of black tubing from the bottom of the well to the camp.
The tubing is buried below the frost line so it won’t freeze.
The hole adjacent to the camp where the buried tubing comes
out gets cold in the Winter.
Electrical heat tape prevents it from freezing.
A shallow well pump that doubles as the pressure pump.
The pump has a built-in pressure switch.
T-fittings are used to plumb in a pressure meter and the
pressure tank.
Pressure meter.
The water pressure is between 30psi and 50psi.
The pressure tank has a single connector like the meter.


The output of the pressure tank’s T-fitting is the input to the camp’s plumbing distribution system:

  • water heater
  • kitchen faucet
  • bathtub
  • bathroom faucet
  • outside faucet
  • washing machine

The pressure pump, pressure switch, pressure tank, and pressure meter can be purchased as a single assembly. On this assembly the water source is connected to the white-filled connector at the front of the pump, the pump’s T-fitting at the top is sealed, (This would be a good place for a pressure meter if one wasn’t already included.) and the plumbing distribution system is connected to the pressure tank’s T-fitting at the bottom.

Of course in these modern times advanced pump controls mean a pressure tank isn’t necessary. This is a modern tankless assembly that purports to do what the tank assembly does. I’ve never seen one in operation. The water source is connected to the connector at the front of the pump and the plumbing distribution system is connected to the top.

My neighbor’s water system is typical. My off-the-grid PV-powered cabin’s water system is not:

Drilled well 300 feet deep.
The water level is 12 feet down.
This is a picture of a wellhead I found on the Internet.
My cabin’s wellhead is inside the cabin.
A 24V DC submersible deep well pump.
The pump is 50 feet down.
50 feet of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
tubing from the pump to the top of the well head.
There are also power wires and a support rope.
I used flexible 1/2″ polyurethane tubing
for most of the connections.
This was before PEX
was common.
My well water is full of dissolved iron so I have to treat
The well pump pumps water into a 55 gallon tank.
A 12V DC ozone machine bubbles ozone through the water.
This oxidizes the iron and turns it into rust
that settles on the bottom of the tank.
A foot valve at the bottom of the tank.
A five micron filter filters out the rust particles
so the pressure pump has clean water.
A 12V DC pressure pump sucks water out of the
through the filter, and into the pressure tank.
The pressure pump is controlled by a pressure switch.
Obligatory pressure meter.
My neighbor’s pressure tank is bigger than mine.
After the pressure tank is the plumbing distribution
I have a shower and a sink.
Both outlets have a small on-demand propane water heater.


A word about connecting all these components together. In olden days plumbing was mostly copper pipe soldered (“sweated”) together. My cabin’s system is a mix of sweated copper pipe, 1/2 inch threaded copper and brass fittings, and 1/2 inch polyurethane hose. Modern plumbing is done with flexible PEX tubing which is low-cost and easy to work with.

If your water source is open to the environment then you probably won’t want to use the water untreated. You don’t know who or what’s been peeing in it. Ten inch cartridge filters, like the one I use to filter rust particles, are low-cost and convenient. For an open-environment water source I’d use a two-stage filter before the intake of the well pump. The first stage would be a 10 micron particle filter. The second stage would be an activated charcoal filter. The particle filter removes larger contaminants and will greatly increase the life of the more-expensive activated charcoal filter.

The gold standard for drinking water is a reverse osmosis filter that removes everything except the water. Reverse osmosis is so good that some filter assemblies have a way of adding minerals back into the water.


[1] Admittedly it’s been awhile. I spend too much time reading Glibs articles and comments to write much. Don’t any of you work?

[2] My modest Bitcoin article was immediately superseded by trshmnstr’s superior three part series.

[3] If you have a working atmospheric precipitator for doG’s sake don’t call it a moisture vaporator in the patent application or you’ll find yourself enslaved to The Mouse.

[4] This is not the technical definition[8] of deep and shallow wells but it’s good enough to work with.

[5] If your water source is sufficiently elevated then gravity may supply all the pressure your water system needs. This almost never[9] happens.

[6] During installation the air in pressure tank must itself be pressurized. I use a bicycle pump to do this. A typical value is 2psi less than the pressure pump’s low setpoint.

[7] My low-flow water system uses 20psi and 30psi setpoints.

[8] If you insist. A “deep” well is one that has a water-impenetrable barrier over it. If you start on ledge rock, drill down 10 feet and strike water, you have a “deep” well. If you start on dirt, dig down 15 feet and strike water, you have a “shallow” well that’s deeper than the “deep” well.

[9] Another neighbor has a magnificent waterfall in his back yard. He set out a shallow well pump on the level of his camp and threw the mouth of the intake hose ten feet down into a depression at the bottom of the fall. The pump is sucking up water that a second ago had been at ground level. He could run a hose up the stream and get water pressure for free but he’s the type that doesn’t respond well to constructive criticism and has more guns[10] than I have so I don’t belabor the point.

[10] The camp of a third neighbor[11] has a deep well. He pumps water high up the hill to a 1000 gallon tank and lets gravity create the pressure. His water system has a pressure tank plumbed in. “Neighbor”, I said, “You have gravity pressure. Why is this tank here?” I got a mumbling response. I don’t think he’s clear on what a pressure tank does. He also has more guns than I have so again I don’t belabor the point.

[11] Yes. For someone who lives in an off-the-grid cabin in the woods I have a lot of neighbors with camps. We’re all great friends which is good because most of them have more guns than I have.