Wells 101: What’s Going On Down There

by Jess ViceJuly 18, 2018

A month or so after I moved into my new house, I met my neighbor, Kurt. We talked for a bit about the old renters and he pointed out a few of the neighbors he knew. Then he asked, “Did they tell you about your well?”

I’d grown up visiting my grandparents in Media, Pennsylvania where they had a well in the backyard. Grammy’s well was functional, but not safe to drink, and had an old-fashioned pump that had to be primed. So when Kurt said “well,” I was wondering how I’d missed that obvious, iron gooseneck handle that I associated with ground wells.


Instead, Kurt walked around to my back porch, flipped up a loose board, and pointed to a standard hose spigot hiding under the decking. “That’s your artesian well, right there. Runs about 54 degrees all year round, enough pressure to power a small sprinkler. We’ve all got one.”

Types of Wells

According to the EPA and US Geological Survey, there are three standard types of wells:

  • Dug or Bored Wells: These water wells are usually more than a foot in diameter and have been dug by hand or bored by large machinery. They are most recognizable by their casing – the stones or cement poured to keep the well shaft open. (Remember the well Timmy fell into, when Lassie rescued him…again? Dug well.)
  • Driven Wells: A driven well is usually shallow (30-50 feet deep) and super-narrow (2-4 inches wide). It’s most often a single pipe that has been driven into a pressurized pocket of water below the ground. These are also sometimes called artesian wells, like the one in my backyard.
  • Drilled Wells: Drilled wells are usually found in commercial or farming uses – they require heavy machinery and can be thousands of feet deep to guarantee water flow. But drilled wells are also more modern, so if your well is newer, it’s likely a drilled well.

via Harry Grout

Uses for a Well

A well on your property usually means you only need to claim the water rights with your city government, and then you pay nothing for the use of that water. All wells are a great source of free water for landscaping, plants, car washing, and anything else you need to do around the house that doesn’t involve consuming the water.

While you can drink your well water — and more than 42 million people in the US currently use well water to supply their entire house — it’s really smart to get your water analyzed before consuming it. If you know how your well was built, you may have a hint on how safe the water is to drink:

  • Dug and bored wells are usually shallow and have a high risk of contamination.
  • Driven wells also shallow and carry a high risk of contamination.
  • Drilled wells go deep enough to find clean water and have a low contamination risk.

Know Your Well…Well

Most modern wells have a pump or some kind of flow control device. There’s a jet pump, that works on suction – creating a vacuum in the storage container at house level, and sucking water up from the well to fill that vacuum.

Then there’s a submersible pump – this one is sunk into the well water and pushes the water up to the house level. Submersible pumps are more efficient, but are a lot more work if they need maintenance.

But artesian wells are naturally fed by the pressure of water collecting under the rock layers. So while they require no mechanics beyond a pipe and an on/off handle, they are also dependent on the water source to continue building pressure. And this pressure, while it sounds great, is mediocre compared to what you’d get with a city water line. It’s about enough to run a small, non-mechanical sprinkler.

Check back next month to learn about servicing and repairing your well.

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About The Author
Jess Vice
Jess is a user experience strategist by day and a writer by night. Jess loves making a space feel unique and welcoming through DIY renovations, cooking Southern soul food, and hosting dance parties. She and her Schnoodle Puck spend most of their free time playing in the great outdoors in Utah.