There is a multitude of reasons that we may find ourselves without power and need to move water from one place to another.
Whether you need to get water from a source to your home or have a basement full of water that needs relocating when the power is out you may be forced to use human power to move liquid.
Why Would Anyone Need To Build This?
Our power grid is very fragile. A Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) or Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) would make short work of permanently disabling our power grid.
Since all the water that comes to our homes makes its way there through the magic of electricity, no power means no water.
It’s not only the cataclysmic scenarios that these styles of pumps come in handy, a large storm with the associated rains, storm surge, and power outages can leave you with a soggy basement and no way to extricate the water from it.
Building A PVC Hand Pump
With parts that you can either scrounge from around the home or purchase from your local hardware store, you can build a basic but very effective PVC water pump that operates much like a bicycle tire pump but will move water very effectively.
There are two major components to this build.
First is the pump itself which is made from two sections of PVC pipe that nest one inside of the other which is what creates the suction.
Second is the two check valves that allow the water to flow only in the direction that you want it to. The check valves have a ¾” NPT thread so it will be easy to attach hoses or other piping to them.
One note before we begin is that you should build the entire pump complete without gluing it together first. This will allow you to confirm that everything works to your satisfaction after which you can disassemble and securely glue the components together upon reassembly.
In the associated photos with this article, you will note that I did not use any PVC cement or thread tape, but I recommend that you use both in your final builds.
First, I will cover the construction of the check valves as these are an integral component in the entire system.
You will need some tools to complete this build:
- A reliable method of cutting the pipe to dimension
- A hand drill or drill press
- PVC Cement
- Hand saw and files
- Petroleum Jelly
- Tape measure
Check Valve Materials
- 4 – ¾” Slip on to ¾” MNPT PVC fittings.
- 2 – Pieces of ¾” PVC pipe cut to 2½”.
- 2 – Washers or O-rings that will fit inside of the fittings.
- 2 – Acrylic or rubber balls about ¾” in diameter (should fit inside the pipe with room for water to get around it but not so much that the ball will fall through the fitting or past the washer.
- 2 – Bradnails or other stiff thin metal.
Check Valve Instructions
#1. Start by test fitting the washer or O-ring inside a fitting, then confirm that the ball will nest with the washer forming a good seal. The ball is what prevents water from flowing back through the fitting and the O-ring provides an additional seal.
#2. Next, you will need to drill a small hole through the pipe just far enough from the end that when the pipe is pressed into the fitting the hole is covered.
I measured the depth of the fitting and then placed the O-ring and ball into the fitting, I measured again from the top of the ball to the top edge of the fitting. Subtracting the two dimensions will give the minimum dimension that the hole can be from the edge of the pipe.
Add at least an eighth of an inch to this when marking out and drilling the hole. This will enable the ball to freely move but still be retained in the pipe.
#3. Insert a Brad Nail through the hole clipping the ends flush.
#4. Assemble this end of the check valve by placing the washer in the fitting and the ball in the pipe. Then seat the pipe into the fitting. Test the operation of the check valve by blowing into the open end of the pipe, no air should escape out of the fitting. Then blow air through the fitting, you should feel air escape through the open end of the pipe.
#5. Seat the open end of the pipe into the other end of the fitting. Mark the fitting with an arrow that indicates the direction of water flow.
Pump Body Materials
- 1 – 24” piece of 1¼” SCH40 PVC Pipe
- 1 – 26” piece of 1” SCH40 PVC Pipe
- 2 – 4” pieces of 1” SCH40 PVC Pipe
- 1 – 1¼” PVC slip-on coupling
- 1 – 1¼” PVC slip-on cap
- 1 – 1¼” to ¾” PVC FNPT fitting (I was unable to locate on of these fittings in my local hardware store so I used a 1 ¼” to 1” FNPT and a 1” MNPT to ¾” FNPT fittings to do the same job)
- 1 – ¾” FNPT x ¾” FNPT x ¾” FNPT PVC Tee
- 1 – ¾” NPTPVC coupling
- 1 – 1” PVC Plug
- 1 – 1” PVC slip-on tee
- 2 – 1” PVC slip-on caps
- 2 – Washers that slip on 1” pipe tightly
Pump Body Instructions
#1. Sand down the 1” pipe and layout two lines for the O-ring grooves. The dimensions of these lines or the spacing is not critical but should be around ¾” to 1” from the end and spaced about ¾” to 1” apart.
#2. Cut and file grooves along these lines for the O-rings to sit inside of. If you have access to a table saw, this process can be made much easier by building a jig to get a nice consistent depth.
If you are like me and using hand tools, these grooves will be made by cutting, filing, and testing the fit.
Related: 5 Best Wood Cutting Tools
The goal is to make these grooves deep enough to seat the O-rings so that they provide a good seal between the pipes but also allow for ease of movement.
#3. Once the grooves are done, seat the O-rings and test-fit the 1” PVC inside of the 1 ¼” PVC. Use some petroleum jelly to lubricate. If you are happy with the fit install the 1” plug into the end closest to the O-rings.
#4. Build a tee handle by installing the 1” slip-on tee on the end of the 1” pipe and the two 4” pieces of pipe into the open ends of the tee. Finish the handle by capping the ends with the 1” slip-on caps.
#5. Set the 1” pipe aside and grab the 1 ¼” pipe. Attach the 1 ¼” slip-on coupling on one end along with the 1 ¼” to ¾” FNPT fitting.
#6. Screw the ¾” NPT coupling into the pump body and screw on the ¾” FNPT x ¾” FNPT x ¾” FNPT tee.
#7. Next drill a hole into the 1¼” slip-on cap large enough to allow the 1” pipe to easily slip through. I used a 1 3/8” bit to drill the hole.
Optional: If you have a washer or O-ring that will seat nicely in the cap while providing a seal between the cap and 1” pipe you can install it to add an extra seal)
#8. Lubricate the O-rings again with a generous amount of petroleum jelly and insert the 1” pipe into the pump body.
#8. Install the check valves keeping in mind the direction you want the water flow.
#9. Attach hoses or piping to the threaded ends of the check valves.
#10. Operate the pump just as you would a bicycle pump.
Even if you do not construct this build right now, knowing how to make a water pump like this is something that can and will come in handy when the lights go out.
This design can also be modified and experimented with to suit your needs and the same basic concept can be copied using other materials that you may have more ready access to.
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