The first real sign that winter hit at my house was a day like any other. Cold temperatures were lingering and there was snow forecast on the horizon. But the winter sign wasn’t so much the coming of snow and colder temperatures – it was the absence of water from my faucet.
After a brief outing, I returned home and quickly realized the low temperatures had frozen somewhere along the line while I was away. This time, it was right at the well pump.
And it was my fault. I hadn’t plugged in the trusty light bulb that keeps the pump house above freezing. After a few minutes with a blow drier, I managed to thaw the pipes enough to get the proper flow back.
This time I was lucky. Next time I may not be.
In this article, we’ll talk about some of the best hand pumps for deep as well as shallow wells. But first, let’s talk a little about why you might need one.
Why You Need a Hand Well Pump
Most people rely heavily on the assumption that their well pump is good enough to last for decades. But a long-term power outage can leave some without a well.
Generators and backup power supplies can help as a stop-gap until power is restored, but well pumps draw a significant amount of power, and are not plug-and-play when it comes to providing backup power. Most are hard-wired.
Having a backup for water is critical on a homestead. In most cases, well pumps will fail because of extreme weather, long-term outages, or poor maintenance. The only way to prevent such a failure from impacting your everyday needs is to have a manual hand pump.
Another scenario is that of a grid-down or even an EMP disaster. In such cases, you can rest assured your hand pump will continue to work because it doesn’t need any electricity at all.
Manual hand pumps can run alongside powered pumps and allow for slower but effective water sourcing. Some systems can run in-line with existing pump systems, so water can still be made available at the faucets and fixtures.
How They Work
Hand pumps are used around the world and lift water small amounts at a time. Water is drawn up with the downstroke of a long handle mounted at the top.
On the upstroke, the plunger is reset to the original starting position. A series of simple valves prevent water from dropping back down the well using the principle of vacuum suction.
Flow rates can be increased with the stroke, pipe diameter, and depth. And, while many designs have evolved from industrial revolution-era pumps, there are a few things to consider before buying a hand pump for your homestead.
What to Look for in a Well Pump
Quality of Construction
For a sub-grade pump, you’ll want to track down high-quality materials – regardless of brand. Industry standards have evolved to stainless steel for obvious reasons, but some pumps continue to use plastic components that could become brittle over time and reduce the efficiency of a pump in the event of a deep freeze or earthquake.
I’m a big proponent of buying locally. So when it comes to a well pump suited to your area, it’s best to seek out the manufacturers that are based in the same climate zone you are in.
This way, you’ll know if your well pump will stand up to extreme heat, cold, corrosion and types of disasters typical of your region. Some pumps may work fine in the tropic zones, but will fail under arctic conditions.
The Depth of Your Well
It’s best to consult a hydrologist in your region or find a water witch skilled in location and depth surveying for your well. Some hand pump wells are designed to run alongside existing powered wells, but you’ll need to make sure the hand pump can service the same depth.
Shallow well pumps are a little bit less expensive but will be useless if they can’t reach your water source. Standalone hand pumps may be able to tap into springs or shallow well pockets and serve as a secondary resource without putting power to the site.
Serviceability and Warranty
Just like any fixture around the home, look closely at the warranty options when choosing your pump. The mechanical device may last a lifetime, but if parts are tough to come by or the manufacturer is bought out, you may find yourself buying another pump to replace it if you can’t service it yourself.
Some serviceability comes along with the design and features. The more elegant or elaborate the features are, the more difficult it may be to repair or replace.
Along with serviceability, it’s important to consider the design. The more basic the design, the more functional and durable the pump will be. But if the pump is a fixture in a hobby garden and not meant for survival purposes, a more elegant design will still work.
Longer handles reduce the strength required to pump and the opposite is true for shorter handles. It is also important to determine if the pump can run alongside your existing pump, or if it will require a dedicated well.
There are two main design considerations that will drive the type of hand pump you need – deep well or shallow well. Deep well pumps are more expensive and can retrieve water from several hundred feet below ground. Shallow well pumps or cistern pumps are designed to draw from sources that are less than 20 feet below ground.
Ease of Installation
Some hand well pumps can use the existing infrastructure of your powered well pump and can be installed quickly without additional help. Others may require additional help, drilling, or components to complete the install.
Once you’ve found a pump that fits your needs, be sure to consider what it’s going to take to have a complete system at the ready. This is another reason why buying locally or regionally makes sense: you can call and ask questions to make sure you’re getting the right pieces of equipment.
If self-installation isn’t recommended, you might consider having the gear on hand and coordinating the installation with your scheduled well pump maintenance. If you’re not sure, contact the manufacturer to get a quote for a system that will work best and what kind of installation options are available.
Flow rates can vary and could make a big difference in the type of pump you select. If you intend to have a backup pump to water livestock in addition to your own personal needs, you may want to find a pump with the maximum flow or community well pump. If you anticipate getting by on only a few gallons a day, a lower flow pump may help to save costs.
Comparison Chart – Top Deep Well Pumps
| Bison Pumps ||Standard Deep Well||300’||20 oz./Stroke||304 Stainless Steel||Elegant and practical||Lifetime|
| Simple Pump ||Simple Pump (hand operated)||325’||5 Gal./Min.||Stainless Steel||No-frills practical||50-year|
| Flojak ||Flojak Plus||150’||10 Gal./Min.||Stainless Steel||T-Handle Pump||2-Year|
| Lehman’s ||Deep Well Hand Pump (not freeze proof!)||225’||39-15 Oz./Stroke (Varies on cylinder size)||Cast Iron||Elegant and rustic||1-Year|
Comparison Chart – Top Shallow Well “Pitcher” Pumps
||1900||25’||19 Oz./Stroke||304 Stainless Steel||Elegant and practical||Lifetime|
| Simple Pump ||Simple Pump (hand operated)||325’||5 Gal./Min.||Stainless Steel||No-frills practical||50-year|
| Flojak ||Flojak “Original”||100’||10 Gal./Min.||PVC||T-Handle Pump||2-Year|
||Closed Spout Hand Cistern Water Pump||20’||9 Oz./Stroke||Cast Iron/Brass||Rustic||1-Year|
The First Impressions
The design and efficiency of these pumps is a hard combo to beat. Water flow and depth ratings are top-notch and it is obvious that style was a significant consideration.
The pump is rated at upper-end efficiency without sacrificing the traditional look with a modern style of brushed stainless steel. It’s a bit of a sports car in that it deserves some time out in the open.
Ease of installation, versatility, curb appeal and climate considerations are built in so there are fewer concerns right out of the gate. Plus, the lifetime guarantee takes away the burden of worry over time. However, it may be overkill if you’re only able to impress livestock out in the sticks. The price is a bit higher than competitors but at a glance, you get what you pay for.
The durability and performance of these pumps are hard to ignore. Water volume, practicality, and simple design makes sense to any DIY homesteader. If parts fail and replacements are days or weeks away, it’s easy to see that components can be replaced with a little basic mechanical skill.
It is a testament to cold weather performance and meets the needs of any homesteader who needs performance no matter what. Most hand pumps are shielded in a pump house so every ounce of design is focused on function.
The depth ratings are greater than the Bison and flow rates are close depending on how many strokes it takes to fill a 5-gallon bucket. A solar-powered version is available from their website. There are no shallow well comparisons to go with, but it follows that even better performance could be achieved with less vertical strain.
The design of this is pump sets it apart from the traditional one-hand pump with its T-handle grip. And in doing so, it is feasible that less work would be required to achieve greater volumes much faster. In fact, twice the volume of the Simple Pump and potentially the Bison.
The design does allow for more water, but it is significantly restricted on depth. Any deep wells (greater than 150’) would tax the pump beyond its maximum. This may limit some buyers from getting the most out of the pump and deter them to the other brands.
But their performance potential with shallower wells, cisterns, and backup emergency water products is hard to pass up. Along with the price if you have a homestead on a tight budget. The shallow well system has a PVC handle instead of stainless steel – so make sure you get the right model and keep in mind your freeze protection needs.
The design and curb appeal of these pumps is in line with long-standing hand pump tradition. Both the deep well and shallow well pumps retain the rustic look with cast iron fixtures that will stand the test of time without a doubt.
The one-year warranty isn’t much but it’s easy to see that the models available at Lehman’s will likely outlast competitors over time under the right conditions. Sizing the system and ordering the right parts is critical and it may require a bit of one-on-one time over the phone versus a simple online kit.
Flow rates are a little less than competitors and depth is mid-range. There are some windmill options available as well. There are some freeze protection points to consider that may prevent some from buying. But for most applications, these designs are set up to add character to any old homestead and perform with diligence.
It’s easy to get a little bit of sticker shock when looking at a hand pump for your well. But keep in mind that a backup to your powered well may be a life-saving investment for your family, your garden, and your livestock.
Whether you are looking at a high-end pump to show off to your neighbors or a last-ditch source for survival, you’ll want to do your research and choose the right tool for the job.
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