Welcome back! In parts 1 and 2, I discussed our Maine homestead’s well water supply. As you know, 17 years ago, we made the big move to a remote off-grid location in the wilderness of northern Saskatchewan where we have a pristine lake from which to draw water. The lake will be the source for our homestead water supply.
The question I had to answer was: what system and pump do I incorporate to supply the new home with water. After a great deal of research, I chose a Dankoff Piston Pump. http://dankoffsolarpumps.com/pdfs/Dankoff_SolarForce.pdf
I am very satisfied with this pump. It was a great choice. The documentation states that it has a vertical lift capacity of 25 feet but again, depending on the elevation, tubing size and joints, it will likely be somewhat less. I figure 18-20 feet is well within limits. As it turns out, our sand knoll sits less than 20 vertical feet above the lake surface.
This pump is rebuildable and I highly recommend buying a rebuild kit with multiple spare sets of leather cups. With proper care and maintenance it should run a lifetime. After 17 years of use, I’ve only had to change the leather suction cups once.
Digging and Insulating a Water Line Trench
The following describes how I set up our system. Before we built the house, we dug a root cellar underneath of where the structure would be located. The intent was not only to have a safe place to store our root crops and staples, but also to have a place for the water pump and pressure tank. We dug a trench from the house 200 feet down to the lake. This trench extended under the south knee wall of the house and intersected the root cellar.
The trench was approximately 30 inches deep X 14 inches wide and 200 feet long. All dug by hand. Thank goodness we have sandy soil as it made for relatively easy digging. What was frustrating and brutal was extending this trench out into the lake so that we could draw water even if the winter ice thickness was 30 inches or more.
Preventing our water line from freezing in winter temperatures that can exceed -45F was of paramount concern. To address this, on the ground surface, parallel to the trench, I connected multiple sections of 4 inch diameter PVC sewer pipe so that it was long enough to go from the house to the lake. Then I encased 1 1/4 PVC suction tubing with 1/2 inch thick Styrofoam pipe insulation throughout its entire length. I slid the insulated 1 1/4 inch PVC pipe into the 4 inch sewer pipe. Think of it as an insulated tubing inside a larger protective pipe.
Next I cut a strip of 1 inch Styrofoam blue board insulation the width of the trench and laid it on the trench bottom. Then the whole pipe assembly was gently laid in the trench. Prior to doing this, I made sure the grade was sloping all the way to the lake without any humps or rises in the bottom of the trench that might create a problem. Humps might be a place where an air bubble could occur or if trying to drain the line, a hump might not allow the pipe to drain completely. This entire assembly extended out into the lake. The other end was connected to the water pump under the house.
As with the case of the Maine water system, a critical component of this system is a foot valve. I connected the foot valve to the end of the pipe that lay in the lake. It’s purpose is to make sure the water line and thus the water pump are always filled with water and primed for use.
I cut more Styrofoam blue board pieces, putting a vertical piece on each side of the pipe and a horizontal piece on top of the pipe, essentially boxing in the 4” sewer pipe. I partially back filled the trench with the dirt. Next I laid a piece of 2 inch thick Styrofoam blue board 24 inches in width on top of the partially filled trench and then finished backfilling.
To summarize: our 1 1/4 inch water line has a 1/2” foam collar on it which is then set inside a protective 4 inch sewer pipe. This assembly is boxed by Styrofoam blue board and then perhaps 6 inches below the surface, over the entire water line, I placed a layer of 2” blue board insulation.
Plumbing Our Off-Grid Water Pump
To finish the connections to the suction side of the pump, I installed a “T” in the line so that I could insert a funnel and fill the water line with water. Once the water line was filled, the “T” was capped with a plug. There is also a plug on the top of the water pump which I removed so I could pour water into the pump chamber.
Now that my water line was connected from the pump to the lake, here’s how I finished plumbing the output side of the pump. On the output of the pump, I installed a check valve ( the check valve is another one way valve), another “T” with a pressure gauge and then a shut off ball valve. The line out of the ball valve goes to a pressure tank. Anywhere in the line to the pressure tank, a heavy duty pressure switch needed to be plumbed and wired in. The purpose of the pressure switch is to turn the pump off once the system is filled with water thus achieving adequate pressure.
Assuming the rest of the house is plumbed properly, once the pump motor is energized, the pump will come to life and you will love the steady rhythm of the piston pump as the system becomes filled with water.
A couple of final notes. The power going to the pump is on a circuit breaker of its own. I also made sure I plumbed a small bypass line out of the pump’s pressure relief valve to the outside. If by accident the pump starts running while a shutoff valve is closed, it will shoot water out the pressure relief valve filling our root cellar with water, hence the need for the pressure relief bypass water line.
In-Line Heating Cable
Despite all the insulating I did, can you believe our water line still froze our first winter here? In the ensuing years, we have mulched the water line with a thick blanket of chipped branches from the forest that we shredded with our chipper. Additionally I have installed an in-line water heating cable. This is the type I installed:
At 200 feet in length, it takes considerable power to run the heater cable. But with some experimentation, we’ve determined this cable does not need to be plugged in all the time. Thankfully. A few minutes in the morning and a few minutes at night does the trick.
We ultimately improved the efficiency and safety of our water system when years later, we hand dug a well. Stick with me and I’ll explain how I was able to dig a well in sand.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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