How to Install a Hand Pump
My Bathroom Hand Pump
Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted a chance to experience a 1920s-1930s kitchen like I saw in my dollhouse catalogs, complete with cellar, hardwood floor, and pitcher pump installed at the sink. It took over 20 years, but I got my dream.
In the winter of 2009, my family and I moved onto a rural property on which stood a 1928 Wardway's kit home. The house had never undergone improvements, and was in its original 1928 state.
Through looking over old receipts for the farm's goods—papers and belongings were scattered throughout the house—and through talking to a neighbor who had known the family well, we determined that the appliances we found there were all the modernization they had cared to do. There was some electricity in the home, done in a 1940s do-it-yourself style. (Electricity didn't come to this area of Colorado until the mid '40s, but the family did have a small generator previous to this.) There were two refrigerators—no ice boxes—one from the late 20s. It also had a nice six-burner propane stove, which had clearly replaced a wood-and-coal cookstove. And there was a place where a hand pump had been installed at the kitchen sink. The pump had been removed, but the sink and wooden countertop were fine.
I determined to install a classic red pitcher pump there, and one in the bathroom (which had never had fixtures installed, being used instead as a storeroom). This project required a new cistern (water holding tank), some work on the electric well (there had once been a windmill, but no more), and a lot of new plumbing. I called my handy-dandy dad, and together, we designed a system to bring both hot and cold running water into the home.
Two Hand Pumps in My House
What Is Your Water Source?
You must consider what kind of water source or cistern you have available, before deciding what it will take to install your hand pump. This may greatly affect the functioning of your water pump, as well as direct what diameter pipe is best. A water barrel under your countertop will do as a cistern.
At any rate, for an average small hand-operated water pump, your cistern should not be more than 21' lower than your pump, and 15' would be better. 28' is the maximum "draw" rating on most commercial hand pumps, and this may only work if you have a complete vacuum in your system. (This would be hard to achieve, normally.) I have only about 6' of drop before my plumbing runs horizontally to my cistern in the basement. There is about 30' of pipe altogether, running to my kitchen sink.
Horizontally, your water source may be as many as 100 yards away from your pump, without adversely affecting the pumping power or the water flow rate.
Regardless what is your water source, you will want to install a check or spring-loaded foot valve at the end of your vertical pipe, to prevent the water from flowing back down and emptying your pump. (Letting your pump sit dry can be hard on the leathers. If you intend to be gone for more than a day or two, and need to empty your system, consider putting mineral oil on the leathers to keep them soft. Also do this prior to installing your pump.)
Advice on Choosing a Hand Pump
Make sure the pump you intend to purchase is designed to actually pump water. Some of the pumps on the market are cheaply designed, and are intended only for ornamental use. Also, pumps designed for other liquids, such as oil, do not have the same design for all internal parts, and may not work satisfactorily.
Secondly, make sure your water pump includes a check valve in the base, to prevent backflow. If you don't have one, you may have to re-prime your pump often, and this would make water usage tedious. If I drain all 30' of line in my system, it takes at least 15 pumps (sometimes closer to 30) to get water back up to my sink. My pump came with a swinging check valve in the base, but a spring-loaded one would be even better, as it is stronger.
If you do not include a check or spring-loeaded foot valve at the end of your vertical pipe when installing your pump, you will have to remember to pump a cupful of water each evening to keep until morning, for re-priming your pump each day.
Lastly, make sure there is nothing in your pump which would be destroyed or damaged, should your pump freeze. My bathroom pump froze twice last winter, and was not hurt. But it did require a long time to thaw. (There was ice forming right up through the center and out the top.)
Get good leathers for your pump, and be sure that they are kept in good condition. Change them as often as necessary. My pumps were both installed in December 2010 (this is now August 2011), and I have had no problems.
Tools and Supplies List
Here is what we required to install the pumps:
- Two red pitcher pumps, purchased off Amazon.
- Drill to make hole for pipe through countertop; proper bit of appropriate diameter (hole saw blade, spade bit).
- Pipe wrench.
- Galvanized steel pipe - 3/4" diameter (1/2" would do; 1" would take too long to fill up to the pump spout).
- Pipe cutter and threader for steel pipe. Your local hardware store might do the cutting and threading for you, if you calculate the exact lengths of all the pipes needed.
- Pipe dope or teflon tape.
- Wrenches for bolts or lag bolts for attaching pump to countertop (ours were 1/4" bolts, so we used a 7/16" wrench).
- Adjustable open end/crescent wrenches for general use - 6"-8" length (2).
- Tape measure.
If you choose to use copper pipe, you will need a torch, copper pipe cutter, solder, flux, and pipe dope or teflon tape.
Rigid PVC pipe would probably work, too, but we chose to use something we were sure would not suck in from pressure.
What We Started With
I had to decide what sort of appearance I wanted the pump to give, as well as how I wanted it to function. I opted to set the handles toward the edge of the counters, so that they would not take space out of my work area, in order to be pumped. The handles on my pumps were designed to be adjustable, being able to be set at any angle around the pump.
Here is how we installed the pumps:
We began in each case at the countertop, measuring, cutting, and threading pipe as we went. Naturally, how much pipe you need, and what other fittings are required, will be determined by how far it is to your water source. My cistern is about 30' away from my kitchen sink, and less than half that to my bathroom sink. In both cases, we went straight down from the pumps and through the floors, then across the ceiling of my basement toward my cistern, hanging the pipes from brackets attached to the joists. I have both a hot and a cold line running to both sinks, with a valve switch under the sink to direct the flow from each one.
Once we reached the cistern, we ran the pipe into it, and put in another check valve. You may wish to add a debris screen, depending on your circumstances, and the condition of your water source. We added a water filter just outside of my cistern, through which everything must flow before it reaches the pumps, as my well water is somewhat silty.
I would like to introduce you to the whole wood-heat hot water system another time, but for now, I have explained what you really need to know in order to install a hand pump in your own home.
Should you wish to install a pump in an outdoor setting, a 1 1/4" diameter pipe would make the pump self-supporting (freestanding).
A Sampling of Styles, Types, and Colors Available in Hand PumpsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Have I Been Happy With My Choice?
Yes, I have loved my hand pumps.
I have had some pleasant surprises. For instance, water flow is easy to restrict. While growing up, I had sometimes used the tall red pump my grandmother had at her cistern by her garden. Not only had that one been more difficult to pump (and skreeked, needing to be oiled, as well), but the water flow had not been adjustable. I got a gush, or nothing. With my small pitcher pumps, I can get either a trickle or a gush, as I wish. Furthermore, I can fill a sink or bucket faster than with a conventional, modern faucet. Each full pump brings up about a pint of water.
The pumps are easy to use. Even my pre-school age daughter can pump water for herself, to wash her hands or brush her teeth.
On the downside, the pumps sometimes need re-primed, after I have been gone a few days. But this is not hard. I simply pour a few cups of water down the top hole where the pump rod is, to get the flow started. (This removes air from the line, and allows the pump to draw again.) Also, after a hard pump, the water sometimes splashes out the top hole, wetting my countertop. And I always have a bit of a puddle, once I am through pumping, at the base of the pump. But this is not much of a hardship.
The pumps are easy to wipe clean, and don't look shabby, as a conventional faucet can, even when dirty.
I have loved the fact that the pitcher pumps go so well with the era and design of the house. They bring a feeling of completeness to my surroundings, and make me smile when I use them. They remind me that dreams do come true.
When Choosing a Pump . . .
Be aware that not all hand pumps or pitcher pumps are designed to be actually used to draw water. There are quite a few decorative models on the market. So when selecting your pump, please be careful to avoid lead paint, shoddy construction, and lightweight parts. Forewarned is forearmed.
Update--July 10, 2015
From Jaimie, a reader:
Hopefully we can get the hand pump set up with limited problems. We recently tried a small tank on the roof with a pump to get water to the tank, hoping that it could be gravity fed through all our existing plumbing. There was simply no water pressure and all we got was a drip drip. It seems that your hand pump and cistern idea is our best bet. We don't have a basement so we are thinking of burying it outside our kitchen window. Our water source is our hand pump well in our backyard. We already have the equipment to power it with solar to fill a holding tank.
Sounds good! The only thing I didn't show in the hand pump article is the fact that we had to apply silicone around the kitchen pump and large sink, built up in front on the pump, so that water stopped running back onto the counter. In other words, the pump spout does not extend far enough out to allow the water to fall into the sink without hitting the counter. Not a big deal - just two applications of silicone built up to seal everything, since one large application was difficult to judge correctly how much was enough. Some people solve this problem by extending the spout with a piece of conveyor belt, etc., looped over the spout with wire. Looks ugly.
So, photos of the caulk-silicone job are below. I apologize for the goobery pics; I was rushed.
The newly-applied silicone will need to sit undisturbed overnight, for best results. (No using the pump.) Since you will need to apply the silicone to clean and dry surfaces, this may mean you'd best apply it first thing in the morning (after everything has had a chance to get really dry overnight), and just use another water source for a day or two.
Adding Silicone/Caulk Around the PumpClick thumbnail to view full-size
An Idea for Accessing Somewhat Deeper Water Sources
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2011 Joilene Rasmussen