Photograph of a drilled well casingWell Pump Types & Life Expectancy
Water Pump Types Defined & Life of Jet Pumps, Submersible Pumps, Hand Pumps, Solar Pumps, Wind Operated Pumps

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Well pump definitions, types, & water pump life:

This article series describes the different types of water pumps or well pumps, and we list the factors affecting the life expectancy of water pumps and we include a list of steps to take to maximize the life of a well or water pump and its motor.

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.

Life Expectancy of Water Pumps - varies by pump type, usage, and other factors

Jet pump schematic (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

In this article we discuss how long you can expect a water pump to last and what factors affect its life.

Specifics of different types of water pumps can be read in detail at these articles:

Article Series Contents

How Long Does a Water Pump Last?

Well pump life depends - on pump type, duty cycle, usage, water chemistry, even voltage levels.

Jet Pump Life Expectancy:

Types of water pumps (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesAn above-ground one line (shallow well) or two line (deep well) jet pump often operates for a considerable range of years, as few as 4 years or as many as 15 or 20 years before needing replacement.

A typical well pump life expectancy (lumping both the electric pump motor and the pump assembly together) is about 10 years in the U.S. and Canada, and about 5 years in Mexico and Central America.

Sketch of a jet pump shown at above left is courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

At below- left our sketch of a types of well water pumps is courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates. The drawing shows the key differences between a one line jet pump, two line jet pump, and a submersible water pump.

Submersible Water Pump Life Expectancy:

A submersible well pump, perhaps because the motor is kept cool by being immersed in well water, can also have a considerable range of life expectancies depending on the variables which we list below.

A submersible pump operating in low-sediment water may have a 15 year life while the same pump in high sedimented water and without adequate sediment and check valve protection may fail in 5 or 6 years.

Factors Affecting the Expected Life of a Well Water Pump

Which Parts Wear Out on Water Pumps?

Schematic of a centrfugal water pump (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Water pumps operated by an electric motor

What looks like "a well pump or water pump" actually is a collection of major assemblies and more numerous minor parts.

The major assemblies on an above ground water pump (such as a one line or two line jet pump) include the electric motor that drives the pump and the actual pumping assembly that moves water from the well to the water pressure tank and on into the building.

You an see the pump impeller in the sketch at left. Hard water, dirt and sediment, little stones, or other debris can damage this component: the pump motor may run just fine but less water pressure or flow may be delivered by the pump.

A submersible pump includes these two major assemblies (electric pump motor and water pump assembly) and adds an internal check valve.

Sketch courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

Also see WATER PUMP LIFE MAXIMIZATION for a list of steps to take to get the most life out of a well pump or water pump.

Other Types of Water Well Pumps

Kinetic water ram water pumps, or Ram Pumps for water delivery

A kinetic water ram pump or hydraulic ram pump uses the force of running water in a stream combined with the principles of hydraulics to lift water as much as 50 meters from the pump location. The water ram was invented in 1780 by Frenchman Joseph Michael Montgolfier. Cox's hydraulic ram type water pump (1990) is shown below.

Hydraulic ram type water pump, Cox patent 1990

Since surface or stream water is unlikely to be sanitary in most locations, water ram pumps are used mostly in agriculture to move stream water to fields for irrigation.

A very different water ram, a "kinetic water ram[for sale at Amazon store]" pump using compressed air to clear clogged building drains is available and is discussed
at CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR. That kinetic water ram, discussed in detail at KINETIC WATER RAM, is a drain clearing tool not a water pump.

Photo & Description of Hand Pumps and Windmills or Mechanical Pumps for Pumping Water

Mechanical well pump (C) Daniel Friedman

Photo above, a traditional hand-operated well pump installed on a cistern.

A variety of mechanical pumps has been in use for thousands of years, including human or animal-rotated water wheels to lift water from a river or stream and more recently piston-type pumps that combine a vertical rod and handle to lower and then lift a piston in a pipe or tube, "sucking" water from as deep as 20 feet to the surface for traditional hand pumps such as the one shown in our photo above, and drawing well water from as deep as 350 feet when using a more highly-engineered hand pump available from specialty sources.

Before the design of modern high-capacity hand pumps for lifting water, deeper wells were traditionally accessed by the simple bucket and rope method. Below, the rope and bucket and winch system of this 1700's dug well is still in operation at Las Trancas in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Rope and bucket in dug well, Las Trancas, Guanajuato (C) Daniel Friedman

A traditional cast-iron hand pump on a well will have trouble lifting from depth greater than about 25 feet. Below we illustrate a traditional cast-iron hand pump on a drilled well in Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Summerblue arts camp water pump, Two Harbors MN (C) Daniel Friedman Lon Church

Photo above, courtesy Lon Church, Summerblue Arts Camp, Two Harbors, MN. Below, a similar antique hand pump drawing from a dug well in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Hand pump on a shallow dug well, Poughkeepsie (C) Daniel Friedman

Modern engineered hand pumps for water wells

With a 24-inch handle a modern hand pump sold by Sunshine Works in the U.S. can provide water from a 125 foot deep well at 5 gpm at 60 pump handle strokes per minute. Increasing the pump level length to 36-inches and pumping at the same rate permits lifting water from 250 feet of depth. Other pump models from the same company, combined with a long lever arm and a strong individual who can keep up the pumping rate without having a heart attack can deliver water from a 350-foot head. (Castle 2016)

Watch out: pumping water from greater depth requires more force, and increasing the head or lift height of the water can also reduce the flow rate of gallons of water pe minute that you can achieve. Typically if your (modern, engineered) hand pump is lifting water from 150 to 350 feet of head depth and you use a 24" to 36" pump handle, and you can pump at 60 pump strokes per minute, you can obtain between 2.5 gpm and 5.0 gpm using about 18 pounds of down force on the pump handle. - Sunshine Works (2016)

Solar powered water pumps

In addition to solar-powered jet pumps or submersible well pumps, the engineered deep well lift-pumps described above for hand pumping can also be adapted to use a solar-operated motor provided by the same company. The solar water pump uses a single 200W solar panel and can pump from depths to 350 ft. (Castle, op. cit.)

Wind-operated water pumps

Below: a wind-operated water pump, using a vertical axis barrel wind rotor but no longer in operation, in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Wind operated water pump in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (C) Daniel Friedman

Below: an antique windmill in Holland. Both the wind operated water pump above and the windmill below are also discussed at WIND ENERGY SYSTEMS

Windmill in Holland - Daniel Friedman

Photo & Description of Piston Type Well Pumps

Vertical piston well pump (C) Daniel Friedman

A mechanical version of the hand pump on wells (shown just above) was able to lift from somewhat greater depth, perhaps as much as 20 feet.

The well pump motor and its vertically-operated piston was set directly over the well casing as we show in the photo of an old, discontinued piston well pump.

In our photo at left you can see the large pulley wheel on the right side of the vertical piston pump, but the drive belt and motor that drove the pump have been removed.

What is Well Pump Cavitation?

Well pump cavitation describes the entry of air or gases into the mechanical parts that are trying to move water through a water pump.

The presence of air or other gases in the actual pump chambers or around the water pump impellers leads to overheating of these parts and mechanical damage to the pump moving parts. Cavitation can also cause the pump to have to work longer to satisfy the water demand and thus its electric motor to overheat, also reducing motor life.

Cavitation inside of a water pump can be caused by several problems including:

  1. Inadequate well yield: if the yield of a well drops for any reason, trying to pump water beyond the safe yield of a well pump can introduce air into the well pump and water piping.
    See WELL YIELD DEFINITION where we define safe well yield.

  2. Oversized pumps that mismatch the well flow rate to the pump's output rate can also cause the pump to form a strong vacuum inside the pumping chamber around the pump impeller. The vacuum, in turn, causes dissolved gases in the water itself to leave solution and return to bubble form.

Low Water Cutoff Devices and Well Tailpieces for Well Pump Protection on a Low-Flow-Rate Well

Well pump protection tailpiece © D Friedman at For details about well pipe tailpieces, tail pipes, or other low water cutoff devices that protect the well pump from damage when the well flow is too limited, please see our compete article at WELL PIPING TAIL PIECE. Excerpts are just below.

When the well pump's capacity is known to exceed the flow rate of the well, a tail pipe, tail piece, or low water cutoff control is installed to protect the pump from damage.

The well piping tailpiece (also shown in this sketch) permits the in-well water pump to continue to run by recirculating well water within the pump but by halting delivery of water or slowing delivery of water to the building.

Many sources, including the Penn State School of Forest Resources recommend installing a low water cutoff device to protect a well pump that has to operate in an inadequate or low-yield well.

A still different approach that may provide some water pump protection by reducing the well pump cycling rate is the installation of a Smart Tank that regulates water flow in the building.

Pressure Sensitive Water Pumps & Inline Control Water Pumps

Pressure sensitive pumps and inline pump controllers provide water pressure boosting, rainwater harvesting, or similar functions without requiring a water pressure tank.


What are Artesian Wells & How do They Work?

Water flows naturally to the ground surface of an artesian well, pushed there by higher pressure groundwater deeper in the earth. "Artesian" refers to Artois, the region in France that gave this type of water source its name. The Latin form of Artois is Artesia.

The level of groundwater is not "flat" under the surface of the earth. Rather underground water tends to follow the contours of the ground surface.

When the underground water reservoir is actually higher than the well that taps into it, water is forced from the higher level to the surface of the artesian well.

At Sinkholes in Estonia-The Witches' Well we describe a non-artesian well that also pushes groundwater to the surface when a nearby underground river floods.


Continue reading at WATER PUMP LIFE MAXIMIZATION or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.


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