Hand dug well under construction (C) A Starkman D FriedmanHand Dug Water Wells: Home Page
How to dig, install, maintain & use hand excavated drinking water wells

InspectAPedia tolerates no conflicts of interest. We have no relationship with advertisers, products, or services discussed at this website.

Hand dug wells: their properties, construction & sanitation.

This article offers advice for hand dug water wells and the sanitation and maintenance concerns with this water supply type.

We provide advice about what to do when things go wrong, how to inspect hand dug wells for safety, safe practices for actually digging a well, and how to address hand dug well sanitation

. In our guide to hand dug wells we discuss how a hand dug well is constructed, maintained, and kept sanitary or "safe to drink".

We also provide a MASTER INDEX to this topic, or you can try the page top or bottom SEARCH BOX as a quick way to find information you need.

Characteristics of hand dug wells, their construction, use, sanitation

Photograph of a water pressure booster pump and tank system

The world wide popularity of hand dug wells is accounted for by the ease of construction without specialized equipment, the simplicity of water raising equipment (a bucket on a rope has worked for thousands of years), and the ability of the Dug well to hold a large volume of water in storage for times of peak demand.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Hand Dug Wells are usually quite shallow - typically less than 25 feet deep.

Photograph of a dug well interior

Watch out: digging a well by hand is quite dangerous, risking collapse on and death to the excavators. Also in very deep wells there may be air quality safety hazards. [2]

Digging & Using Hand Dug Drinking Water Wells

Photo of a hand dug well and hand well pump

Dug wells are usually constructed during dry weather when the water level is at its lowest, both for safety (less likely wet soils cause well collapse) and to determine the necessary depth of the Dug well to obtain adequate water supply.

Details about how to dig and construct a hand dug well such as the Oaxaca hand dug well shown at left, begin

at HAND DUG WELL PROCEDURE. Basics are just below.

[Click to enlarge any image]

You might see an antique hand water pump shown at left of this article, or even a rope and bucket for removing water from the well.

But don't assume this is the only way that water is being delivered from the well.

Often we find a hand dug well whose water is delivered to the building by


As we show in this sketch at below left, courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates, Usually a hand dug well is less than 20 feet deep.

Hand dug well sketch (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Dug wells have the same sanitation difficulties as springs and cisterns: they are easily contaminated by surface runoff and in some cases may have limited ability to deliver water at modern quantity and flow rates.

Hand dug wells range in depth from a few feet to as much as three meters and are used worldwide. Often the Dug-well was lined with dry-laid stone.

Dug or excavated wells are the picturesque wells we see on postcards, with an above-ground wall and a bucket lowered by rope into the well.

But dug wells continue into modern use, often with the installation of either an in-building jet pump draw water from the well into the building. We weren't sure what the little cover in our photo above was hiding - a dug well, a cistern, or a modern well casing extending above ground.

Sources for repair parts and installation instructions for hand pumps on dug wells and shallow wells are provided at our reviewers list at the end of this page.

Safety warnings for hand dug-wells

Dug well safety, Foundation Connect International

The hazards of hand dug wells include poor sanitation (ground water and surface runoff easily enter the drinking water supply), and cave-ins during construction or injuries to tools dropped into the well during construction.

We are particularly concerned about the safety hazards to children when a dug well does not have a child proof wall and/or cover.

At HAND DUG WELL PROCEDURE we describe all of the detailed steps in the procedure for constructing a hand-dug well with concrete well rings in Mexico.

But do not begin a well digging project without advice from an expert and do not try digging a well without following these and any other recommended safety measures for well excavation:

Hand Dug Well Construction Safety Advice

The following advice is adapted from The Hand Dug Well [instruction manual, by Henk Holtslag & John deWolf, Foundation Connect International. Links to a copy of that free manual are at our references section [2].

Additional Dug Well Safety Advice [Opinion of InspectAPedia]

Hand dug well with surrounding wall & cover (C) Daniel Friedman

Photo at left: this looks like a hand dug well that has an above-ground protecting wall and a cover over the actual well opening (you can just see the red edges of the cover (click to enlarge). The cover should be secure against entry by children.

Abandoned hand dug well in Guanajuato (C) Daniel Friedman

Sanitation Advice for Hand Dug Wells - Dug Well Contamination

Hand dug well converted to drilled well (C) Daniel FriedmanThe chemistry of water in a dug well, and its sanitation, depend on how much surface runoff is entering the well and other factors such as the well's depth. [1]

At left our photo illustrates a hand dug well that was later converted to a drilled well with a steel casing. The old well pit is functioning now as a well pit.

See details at WELL PITS

We notice that there is no protection against surface runoff entering the top of the well casing - a sanitary or water potability concern. This rural well is being used for crop watering in San Miguel de Allende.

A dug well that gave sanitary drinking water a hundred years ago may be at greater risk of contamination today as more chemicals contaminate both surface runoff and groundwater. And it's hard to keep contaminants out of a dug well.

OPINION: While 100 years ago or more surface water found in dug wells and springs was often of high quality and potable - at least in some areas of the world.

But today it is very difficult to find sanitary drinking water where surface runoff and shallow subsurface water enter the water supply such as that provided by a dug well.

This is also true for other types shallow wells such as


and even drilled wells protected by a well casing in some cases.

Watch out: Shocking a hand dug well to "fix" a bacteria problem in its drinking water is probably pointless.

It is almost impossible to keep a dug well sanitary - the Dug well is completely open to both surface runoff and ground water runoff.

You can shock the Dug well, but if you are not going to drill a modern sanitary well (costly), in order to assure safe potable drinking water you will probably need to install water treatment equipment to sanitize the water - after testing to see what contaminants besides bacteria are present.

See details of well sanitization procedures and calculations



See WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CHOICES for some options to help assure that water from a dug well is sanitary and thus acceptable for drinking.


Continue reading at HAND DUG WELL PROCEDURE - how to construct a hand dug well or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see HAND DUG WELL FAQs - questions & answers posted originally at this page.

Or see EPA GUIDE to WATER QUALITY for a discussion of dug well water sanitation and potability


Or see WELL CAPS & COVERS safety and sealing requirements

Or see these

Hand Dug Well Construction Procedure

The links below provide the details of how to dig and construct a hand dug water well.

Suggested citation for this web page

DUG WELLS, by HAND at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


Or use the SEARCH BOX found below to Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia


Ask a Question or Search InspectApedia

Try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.

Search the InspectApedia website

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...

Technical Reviewers & References

Click to Show or Hide Citations & References

Publisher - Daniel Friedman