Installing a Backup Hand Pump

Installing a Backup Hand Pump

By Gail Damerow

One of the disadvantages of having an electric well pump is that when the power fails, the pump stops de­livering water. If the water from your well goes directly into your pressure tank, you have only as much water as was in the pressure tank when the power went out—unless you have a way to pump more water by hand.

When we installed the water storage system de­scribed in the accompanying article, we included a hand pump to draw water from the cistern during power outages. Doing so was a simple matter of putting a PVC sleeve through a hole at one end of the top of the storage tank, pouring a concrete column around the sleeve, and bolting a hand pump on top of the column with the pipe going down through the sleeve, as shown in the illustration above.

An alternative backup hand pump, which may be used without a cistern and regardless of the well’s flow rate, is a deep well hand pump inserted directly into the well. Bison Pumps (, Flojak (, and Simple Pump ( all make hand pumps that fit into a standard well casing right alongside the electric pump, provided the well is not more than 350 feet deep.

If pumping water manually isn’t your thing, Simple Pump offers a solar motor that will do the pumping for you. And with any of these pumps you can skip the bucket brigade by using a potable water hose (available from RV suppliers) to move water directly from your well to your house. How cool is that?!

When installing a hand pump, consider how you’ll be standing while you operate the pump. The column we constructed for our cistern pump raised it just high enough above grade to get a bucket under the spout, which meant awkwardly pumping the handle while bending over. If we had to do it again, we’d raise the pump high enough to work the handle from the more comfortable position of standing up.

As it turned out, though, power outages that required using the hand pump invariably occurred during stormy weather when no one was eager to be outdoors pumping and hauling water. Further, before the pump would draw water from the cistern it needed to be primed by pouring in a little clean water, which meant remembering to store a jar of water in the first place. And whenever we’d forget to bring the priming water, we’d have to run back to the house to fetch it — soaking wet, freezing cold, and wishing we’d spent the extra bucks on a self-priming pump.

Eventually our cistern pump failed, by which time replacement parts were no longer available for our par­ticular model. Instead of buying a new pump, we now keep several jugs of clean water on hand for emergency use. For our livestock, we built a tanker consisting of a 150-gallon storage tank from the farm store strapped to small trailer made from salvaged materials. The tanker is easy to pull with a garden tractor, which is handy when it needs to be moved inside during freez­ing weather.

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