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Sanity check, please. Low energy-demand "lift pump" for water?

Discussion in 'Home Power and Microgeneration' started by Don Bruder, Jun 21, 2005.

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  1. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    Here's my situation:
    I live on a piece of property that's more "up and down" than flat. When
    you get right down to it, I'm basically hanging off the side of a
    mountain. I want a small vegetable garden next year, so I'm starting my
    planning now. (Already too late in the season around here to do anything
    this year - I've basically got to build it from scratch)

    I'm wanting to put in about five or six 20 foot rows of sweet corn, a
    couple rows each of peas and beans, half a dozen tomato plants, half a
    dozen bell pepper plants, and maybe 10 hills of mixed squash and cukes -
    I figure my plans will need about a 20 by 30 foot plot.

    That part is fairly easy. The "fun" starts when I try to water it. (And
    I'll definitely have to do that due to the climate here in the foothills
    of northern California)

    Y'see, the only place I can put a garden patch this size is further up
    the hill from the house. Due to existing buildings and horse-pens, and
    the layout of the property, that's my only option. This is OK (although
    the hike up and down the hill to tend it is going to be "interesting",
    to put it mildly - particularly when toting a couple of five-gallon
    buckets of horse manure each trip to build some usable soil) except for
    one detail: How to get water to it. The existing pump simply WILL NOT
    get water that high - My chosen spot is something like 80 to 100
    vertical feet above the wellhouse, and after some testing, no amount of
    "choking down" the hose/pipe to reduce the amount of head I need seems
    able to get water to it from the nearest hose-bib. Even if it did, the
    pressure would be so low by the time it got there that the sprinklers
    would be more like "dribblers".

    So I've hit on what *MAY* be a solution: I can get water to within about
    30-40 vertical feet of the planned garden patch using plain old garden
    hose or PVC pipe "Tee"-ed off the line that feeds the closest horse
    trough, so I'm figuring that I can put a reservoir of some sort (right
    now, the working idea is a plastic 55 gallon drum, maybe a couple of
    them, gotten as "They're garbage to us - Haul 'em away if you want 'em!"
    from a local packing plant that gets their syrup for making fruit salad
    in them) at the limit of what the existing pump can lift to, let it fill
    the tank(s), and then run some sort of pump from the reservoir up the
    rest of the hill. Trouble is, commercially available pumps for such a
    task are pretty pricey, and I'm doing this on a budget that, by
    neccessity, has to stay real close to zero. If I can do it using
    "salvage" or "surplus" stuff, so much the better.

    Right now, my working plan for the pump consists of two nested pieces of
    PVC pipe - The larger diameter piece would be fixed, with a "caged ball"
    style check valve at the bottom, allowing water to flow in, but not flow
    out, with the smaller piece having the same arrangement, only in reverse
    (out, not in) at the opposite end. The smaller piece would then fit
    inside the larger, allowing a telescoping motion. (Some kind of
    gasket/O-ring type seal would probably be mandatory - That's one of
    those nitpicky details I'll worry about as things progress - right now,
    I just want a sanity check on the basic concept)

    If things work as planned, the cycle would go something like this:
    Starting from "fully collapsed" (minimum overall length), the smaller
    section of pipe would be pulled out of the larger, causing the "output"
    check valve in the end of it to close, either due to suction, or the
    pressure from any water currently in the output plumbing. As the smaller
    section is pulled farther out, suction would develop in the expanding
    chamber the two pieces form, opening the intake valve at the bottom of
    the large section, and drawing water (or perhaps air if it isn't already
    "primed" - I'd expect such a design would be intrinsically self-priming
    if fed with reasonably rigid plumbing?) into the expanding chamber. At
    the end of the "out" stroke/beginning of the "in" stroke, the lower
    check valve closes, trapping some volume of water (or, again, air if not
    primed) inside the chamber. At this point, continuing to collapse the
    smaller tube into the larger would reduce the volume inside the chamber,
    increasing pressure, and opening the upper check valve, allowing the
    water (or air) to escape inot the outlet-side plumbing. As the
    "collapse" of the chamber continues, the water inside would be forced
    into the output plumbing, pushing water through the system to the top of
    the hill. Then the cycle repeats.

    Anybody see any bugs in the system so far?

    Obviously, it's going to have to be fairly low flow. I figure on getting
    around that by placing a second reservoir further up the slope from
    where the garden will be, then letting gravity supply enough head to run
    the sprinklers - Basically, ending up with what amounts to a physically
    large two-stage pump - "Regular" pump in the wellhouse, to first
    reservoir, second pump at reservoir lifting to a second, even higher,
    reservoir, then gravity driving the water from the second reservoir
    through the sprinklers and onto the garden.

    Sane? Insane? Somewhere in between?

    Next concept is trying to power the secondary pump - "Grid" electricity
    is pretty much out due to the distance from the nearest source - Better
    than 300 feet. It'd be pretty pricey to make it happen, not to mention
    being at least worrisome to me in terms of potential fire danger. (A
    *VERY* serious concern in these parts - A spark from a bulldozer blade
    hitting a rock got a multi-thousand acre, umpty-bazillion dollar fire
    going last year - In the "Isn't it ironic?" department: the operator was
    in the process of cutting a firebreak)

    Gas engine is less than desirable due to aesthetic concerns - I live out
    here "in the backside of beyond" at least partly because I want as
    little as possible to do with engine noise, and running a gas engine
    would rather soundly defeat that concept. However, I'm realist enough to
    understand that it may end up being my only viable option. (never mind
    the fact that the price of gas is going to eat into my savings from not
    having to buy my produce at the store...)

    I'd be tickled pink if I could manage to run this thing from a windmill
    (not likely due to location, but maybe...) or solar (Got a few PV panels
    hanging around, although I don't know the ratings on them), if I could
    figure out how much "oomph" I need to do the job. Obviously, that's
    going to be a function of how large my sections of pipe for the
    secondary pump are. Anybody got any numbers for me to tinker with on
    that front?

    As far as actual power transmission, I'm thinking some sort of cam or
    perhaps crankshaft type mechanism to turn rotary motion into linear.
    Obviously, it's going to need to be "long throw" - unless I settle for
    only refilling the "working" reservoir over the course of days...

    Details of the linkages and such are just that: details - They can be
    worried about later, assuming I don't get shot down in flames because
    the basic idea has more holes in it than a screen door.

    So... What say you, folks? Is my concept at least workable, or should I
    look in another direction?
  2. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    Well, if you really need to water, and water is difficult to get to the
    garden, then drip irrigation (which wants low pressure) is better, by
    far, than spraying water all over the place and wasting most of it.

    Building a pump from two pieces of PVC pipe, unless you happen to have a
    metalworking lathe you have not mentioned, is likely going to be an
    exercise in wasting time and whatever money you put into it. You don't
    have the tolerances to get away with it, and it also is unlikely to hold
    up well over time if you ever got it built.

    Your idea as stated rates an "insane" in the sanity check. Now that's
    taken care of, what's sane...?

    The most practical solution to your problem is a high-lift pump
    installed conveniently to your current electric and water supply, not at
    the limit of your present pump and far away from your electricity. Costs
    money. The low-tech solution that works for nearly free is a yoke and a
    pair of buckets, plus you won't need a gym membership. Somewhere in
    between are things like a people-powered pump (still purchased unless
    you have close-tolerance machining capacity, but you can enjoy the part
    where you hook a bicycle or treadmill up to the pump).

    Commercial solar pump systems for this sort of thing will cost you more
    than utility powered pumps, but do exist - home-brewing one is quite
    unlikely without precision machining capacity, plus some electronics
    skill, unless you have a really superb source of "junk" (in which case
    you would not be making a pump out of pipe - you'd be picking it from
    the junkpile).

    If you simply cannot bear not to homebrew the whole thing, you can spend
    a good deal more on tools than it would take to solve it by purchasing
    the correct pump, and then learn to use them, and then find that parts
    and stock cost money, too. But you can use the tools and skills to build
    other things.

    YMMV, etc...
  3. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    I was thinking more along the lines of one of those el-cheapo
    oscillating units - The ones with the curved pipe that slowly swiveles
    back and forth. Seemed to me right from the outset that a rainbird type
    would be impossible without a lot more pressure than I think I can get.
    Sounds even less possible now.
    Sounds like I may be better off using the uppermost tank to feed a
    network of "leaker" hoses, perhaps... Maybe if I buried them alongside
    the rows for the corn, beans, and peas, and ran a "loop" around each of
    the tomato and squash plants... Something for me to keep in mind as this
    project develops.
    As I picture things, "main" (wellhouse) pump will put water into the
    first reservoir (midway up the hill) via hose and/or PVC pipe, then the
    second pump (the homebrew rig I described) would be sucking (pretty
    close to) directly from there, pushing to the second reservoir at the
    "top", which I was THINKING would likely end up putting it about 20-30
    feet above where the garden is (hopefully...) going in.
    Could be... :)
  4. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    <nods> This does sound reasonable, particualrly in light of another
    reply. Gravity will feed a soaker hose system decently, without needing
    high pressure like even a simple "spinner" style sprinkler (never mind
    trying to run a rainbird type) would.
    I'm thinking you're being overly pessimistic. The ancients got water up
    hills without machine shops, precision tolerances, or pricey high-tech
    gadgets that didn't exist even in their wildest imaginings.
    I guess you missed the part that said "almost zero budget"...
    Unlike most of the planet, who seem to be obsessed with the concept of
    "time is money", I believe exactly the opposite: Time is just a little
    cheper than spit. Particularly when I'm doing something I feel like
    doing with it.

    As I said, I think you're being overly pessimistic, but I did ask for
    opinions, so I do appreciate your taking the time to offer yours.
  5. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    That's seriously helpful information. (No, I'm *NOT* being sarcastic)

    It also tells me that my estimate of the rise is probably off quite a
    bit - 55 psi (the cut-in for the wellhouse pump) times 2.31 = 127 and
    change feet, so I must be that high already when the water stops flowing
    from the 5/8 inch hose. At that point, I've still got a pretty long ways
    to go, vertically (but probably only about a hundred feet horizontally)
    before I get to the site I hope to use. I'd guesstimate at least the
    same distance I've already covered to get there. (Anybody got an easy
    way to figure altitude on an uneven surface?)

    Assuming I'm somewhere in the ballpark by calling it another hundred
    feet of vertical, that means I need something like another 50 psi... Hoo

    Maybe another "intermediate stop" is in order - In which case, I need a
    second "secondary" pump.

    Any ideas on how much pressure a pump such as I described in the
    original post might be able to give me?
    A lot of things there would be "of interest", but $100 is about $79.95
    more than I care to spend to get this thing going.

    When I said the budget needs to stay close to zero, I meant *VERY* close
    to zero - A few bucks, meaning *SIGNIFICANTLY* less than a hundred, for
    hoses/plumbing parts, etc that I don't already have on hand/can't
    scrounge/can't make, max.

    The goal is to do it with the absolute minimum cash expenditure I can
    get away with, and dumping a hundred bucks on a pumping setup blows that
    out of the water before I even get started.

    I'm hoping/trying to get away with this for under $50, TOTAL cash outlay.
  6. Don Bruder wrote:

    Doing a quick Google search on home made water pumps got me these...

    PVC pump

    Rope Pumps

    You might also look at the check valve designs on some of those
    home made ram pumps.

  7. So, do you have lots of water, or are you restricted?

    If you have lots of water, you could use a hydraulic ram
    no engine, no fuel, no transmission, cheap to acquire and free to

    If you do not have a lot of water, don't talk sprinklers, think trickle
    irrigation. Trickle irrigation needs f.a. head, it's dirt cheap to
    install and run (the trickle jets are a few cents each, and the thinwall
    1/2" pipe is dirt cheap, too). And you use a small fraction of the
    amount of water you'd blow with sprinklers. Which means less pumping
    necessary .....

    I used tricklers on my macadamia orchard (5 acres) for the first 3
    summers, until the trees got their roots deep enough not to need it any
    more - it works a treat.

  8. Roger_Nickel

    Roger_Nickel Guest

    reading the original post again makes me think that Don is going to be spending
    a lot of time carrying mulch, compost and other heavy stuff all the way up to
    his garden often enough that he could spend the little money he has on a
    motorised wheelbarrow. Trickle irrigation cuts the water demand down to probably
    around 15 gallons a day with careful management, a small enough amount that
    pumping is not vitally necessary. At a pinch three trips a day with a back pack
    would do the job (he did say he had time on his hands!)
  9. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    Don't I wish! The climb to the "plateau" where I'm figuring on putting
    the garden is steep enough that anything short of a "cog railroad" type
    setup is going to take one look, whimper a little bit, then curl up and

    I've been sconsideringsomething wort of like a "high line" like they use
    for dragging out the timber from logging operations on steep/remote
    mountain areas, but haven't decided on practicality there. Trying to
    power that could be a headache, though...

    On the other hand, the germ of an idea for dealing with that problem
    literally just popped into my head as I finished typing that... A jack
    (already in the trunk of the car) plus a big rock (free for the picking
    around here) plus a motor vehicle would make one helluva power source...
    Something similar to the concept of the truck up on blocks shown near
    the beginning of the movie "Predator" would put plenty of "oomph" at my
    fingertips, whether for a high-line or a pump located down on the flat.
    I can see 10 or 15 minutes a day of running the car on that type of
    "PTO" setup filling a more than big enough reservoir at the top of the
    hill quite nicely...
    Note to those thinking hydraulic ram pump: It was something (one of the
    very first "somethings", in fact) that I considered very briefly, then
    discarded as totally unworkable in this situation. The only water source
    to be had during "garden season" is the wellhouse pump. We've got three
    creeks that run during the winter (rainy season) months and might be
    tapped for such a use, but with the exception of one year out of the 6
    I've been here, all three of them have been dried up memories before the
    time I'd be trying to put them to use, and that one spring when they
    weren't totally dry, they were barely trickles by the second week of
    May. Trying to put in a garden then would be futile, since the "too cold
    to grow anything but grass, and even that slowly" weather is usually
    still hanging on for another several weeks. "So fill the reservoir
    before the rains end!" - Not practical... I'd need to create a small
  10. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    Dead link (or seems to be at the moment - Multiple "timed out while
    trying to locate" errors)
    Now this has some serious possibilities! I've even got several otherwise
    bored-to-death horses standing around that could power it if I wanted to
    get fancy... (I'm having visions of a "horse PTO" not unlike that seen
    early in the movie "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", but driving a
    spindle to take the power off of, rather than turning a bucket wheel -
    Heck, we've even got three little burros standing around doing nothing -
    could make it almost identical! :) )
  11. Well, if that's the situation then I would say that trickle irrigation
    has it head and shoulders over sprinklers. For starters, you probably
    need 20 or 30 feet more head to operate sprinklers - with trickle you
    need hardly any head at all - 10' should be more than sufficient (I
    know, all manners of pun in there, totally unintentional I assure you).
    And uses much less water ... you deliver it where it's wanted, 6" or so
    from the stem and waste hardly any.

    Can you pump to a reservoir half way up the hill from the wellhouse and
    then maybe do the rest with a pump driven by a savonius rotor to a
    second [set of] drums above the garden? They're slow and steady, and
    pretty easy to make. Just need a few welding rods and an old hub from a
    trailer or car axle.

  12. enigma

    enigma Guest

    if this were me... i'd set up the garden using the 'square
    foot method' ( & use drip
    irrigation instead of any kind of sprinkler system. you'd
    waste far less water & effort with the drip system & it's
    really easy to deal with the 4' square beds... might cost a
    bit to install a drip system to the beds, but it should last
    many years.
  13. Unfortunately, with that budget, any solution is going to be a bit
    dicey. I can think of lots of ideas (you've heard some here), but
    none of them are free.

    However, you really do need a better problem definition. Start with
    the exact elevation/pressure requirement. As Roger pointed out it's
    easy to find with a hose full of water with a pressure guage on the
    downhill side. Until you know this, everything else is just a WAG...
  14. zenboom

    zenboom Guest


    given your cash constraints, and more significantly the ongoing labour,
    concider relocating the pen on the hill and putting the garden in it's
    place. then u need only a little water moved up, for the animals. your soil
    may well be better below. and moving manure downhill should be much easier!

  15. Ecnerwal

    Ecnerwal Guest

    Ah, the ancients. Simplicity itself, then - just find a spring or year
    round stream higher than your proposed garden, and build an aqueduct 5,
    10, 30 miles - whatever it takes - you've got time, and rocks are free,
    so this fits your budget, though the real estate bill and water rights
    might be a problem.

    Reality is that most of the ancients' pumps, as such, were exceedingly
    limited in lift capacity - ie, 10 feet up a riverbank was a pretty good
    pump, before the age of steam, with its attendant precision tooling. The
    yoke and pair of buckets _is_ the ancients' high-lift pump (or the
    windlass and bucket on a well, if you have a vertical lift like that). A
    chain and bucket pump might do the trick, but not for $20.

    Since you've added "bored burros" to the available resources in followup
    replies, you could probably rig some sort of water bag for them to carry
    up the hill within your $20. Spend some of the time you have so much of
    ensuring that the path they use is adequate, and they could also help
    with hauling manure up there, and perhaps not be so bored.
  16. K. Reece

    K. Reece Guest

    The other problem you're going to have with any kind of sprinkler system is
    erosion. You'll have a lot less erosion with some type of drip system.
    Terracing will help with erosion but it's a tremendous amount of work.

  17. Andy Hill

    Andy Hill Guest

    How automatic do you want the system? Maybe you could get by with something
    like a funicular -- a couple of buckets, a bunch of rope / cable, and some
    pulleys. You waste a bucket of water for every bucket that goes uphill, which
    might not be acceptable. Same system could be used to haul the manure uphill
    -- send a bucket of rocks / dirt downhill, and the manure up.
  18. Goedjn

    Goedjn Guest

    A two-valve flapper pump with a black-pipe body
    is probably easier to build. You can see
    a sketch of one at

    The flappers are leather disks, cut slightly smaller
    than the pipe, and fastened on the side away from the
    hole. The piston is two wooden or thick
    metal disks, with a leather gasket slightly LARGER
    than the pipe squeezed between them. When new,
    this will make the pump stiff, as they wear, you
    trade ease-of motion for leaky gasket. The closer
    you can make the metal (wood) disks fit, them better.

    If you don't have the ability to weld the retainer
    plate in, you can capture it between two sections
    of threaded pipe connected with a union,
    or bolt it through the upper pipe-cap in
    a manner similar to how the piston is put together.
    Packing material should be available at good
    plumbers-supply, but plain old cotton string
    will work in a pinch.

  19. Don Bruder

    Don Bruder Guest

    A two-valve flapper pump with a black-pipe body
    is probably easier to build. You can see
    a sketch of one at[/QUOTE]

    404: Not found - The requested URL /sketch/pump2v.gif was not found on
    this server.

    Otherwise, sounds like it could be worth looking into.
  20. Goedjn

    Goedjn Guest

    Oops. It was stored as pump2v.GIF, it should wokr now.
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