Many rural people depend on wells for their water supplies. This is a guide to building a protective well house suitable for places that experience cool temperatures at some seasons.
I wish I could share a photo of the well house on our small farm on the southern edge of the province of Ontario, Canada. I am sure that rural people need no guidance in constructing outbuildings such as this. However, I was raised in a city and had a thing or two to learn (much of it the hard way). It is possible that others might find an account of my results useful. All of us want water that is clean and safe. In locations that experience cold winters it is also necessary to keep the well itself, the water well pump and all of the pipes from freezing. If your system does freeze, it will of course do so in weather conditions that can make the job of dealing with the the problem quite difficult and unpleasant. Our well house is pretty tall because if something inside it does freeze or break in bad weather I can get right into the building and work in greater comfort. It also occurred to me that I might use a kerosene heater in there temporarily if things got really bad.
Here are some other well design points to consider when learning how to build a well house in a cold climate.
- Output pipe. The output pipe from the water pump should go straight down into the ground close to the center of the well house. It should extend down to a level that is below the frost line for your area before it bends in a gentle arc for the rest of its course to your house. Otherwise the pipe will freeze where it is exposed to cold.
- Concrete pad. Create a concrete pad sufficiently large to support the walls of your well house. The pad will form the floor of the building and can be kept clean. It needs to be about 3 or 4 inches thick, and it should have a drain so that large spills do not leak back into the well.
- Walls. The walls in a well house are like those of ordinary new houses in Ontario. They are of 2x4 construction, they are filled with fibreglass insulation, the insides have been sheathed with semitransparent vapor barrier plastic, and the outsides are also sheathed with the kind of plastic (one of whose tradenames is Tyvec) that permits water vapor to leak out of the wall cavity without permitting winds to blow in. I imagine that any sort of exterior cladding will do; I have used board and batten. I used 1/4-inch plywood inside, to make it easier to mount hooks and shelves. I also put several inches of insulation in the ceiling.
- Temperature control. I use a single heat lamp bulb, directed downward toward the pump and piping, and close to them, to maintain the inside temperature above freezing. The window of the well house faces our house so that we can check that the lightbulb is still burning just by glancing out one of the windows in our house.
- Thermometer. We also have a thermometer suspended in the window of the well house. When you are first trying to decide how much heat you need, or when the weather becomes exceptionally cold, a quick look at the thermometer might provide enough information. Incidentally, I considered using more complicated, electronic systems; simpler is usually safer though, in my opinion.
- Entrance. I fastened two old storm windows together (the kind you are likely to find on wreckers' sites), with caulking between them, to make a double-glazed entrance to the well house. I did not provide a door because winter snow and ice might make one of those difficult to open.
- Electrical outlets. The well house is fitted with three electrical outlets, which is probably overkill.
- Eaves and roof gap. One of these days I will screen under the eaves to keep out mice and wasps. The gap between the walls and the roof provides air drainage under the roof.
Now that you know my well house plans, you can start your own. Water wells are an important part of life in rural communities so it's important to provide insulated and protected structures around them.
Don't forget to look for outside help if you're not certain of any of these steps or want to learn more about basic construction -- online classes in design can help you with this.
--- Addendum: One individual that read this item has suggested the use of insulation under the concrete slab. Special-purpose rigid foam is available for this purpose.
--- Addendum: I should have placed a vapor retarding barrier between the soil and the concrete floor, as suggested by the individual who commented on 2004-10-24. Excessive humidity does not appear to be a problem for us, perhaps because our well was drilled rather than dug and the area of well water exposed to the air inside the structure is therefore fairly small--IOW, good luck rather than good management. The commentator also suggested the use of asphalt impregnated paper. The sheathing mentioned above seems to be the standard, at least in this region of Ontario. I hope this incorporates all of the person's comments in one way or another.