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Know the drill before sinking a water well


Drilling your own well for a private water supply costs from €3,500 upwards and can make sense if you use a lot of water

Drilling your own well for a private water supply costs from €3,500 upwards and can make sense if you use a lot of water

The average dairy cow drinks 25 gallons of water daily

The average dairy cow drinks 25 gallons of water daily

The new laws will place limits on the amounts of water that can be taken rivers, lakes and groundwater sources without registration with the authorities.

The new laws will place limits on the amounts of water that can be taken rivers, lakes and groundwater sources without registration with the authorities.


Drilling your own well for a private water supply costs from €3,500 upwards and can make sense if you use a lot of water

Water charges have been 'official' since October 1 although the eventual costs to householders and other users remains uncertain.

Assuming the Tánaiste isn't plucking figures out of the air, the annual cost for a household with two adults and two children is shaping up to be around €200.

Whatever the figure proves to be, one way of bypassing the new water charges is by installing a private well that isn't connected to the public supply.

Traditionally, a lot of farmers and other rural dwellers have gone down this route.

It makes sense if you use a large amount of water - as farmers do - or if your home is far from a public or group water scheme, or the quality of water coming from either of those schemes isn't up to scratch.

On paper it's a no-brainer: sink your own well and to hell with the new water charges.

However, a deeper look into the costs is required. There can be high initial costs involved as well as ongoing charges such as pump maintenance and well repair.

The costs involved generally depend on the volume of water you require. According to Padraig Briody, of Briody and Sons Drilling who are based in Kildare and travel the country sinking wells, it usually costs a minimum of €3,000 to €3,500 to build and kit out your own well.

You first need to drill and line the well. Farmers generally need to have a wider bore well because water demand will be higher than for a domestic use - a domestic well usually has a six inch bore diameter while a farming or commercial use well may need an eight inch bore. As bore size increases, the cost of drilling rises.


Let's take two scenarios common in the farming sector.

The first case, Farmer A, is a 100-cow dairy farmer in Cork who needs an average supply of 2,500 gallons of water per day (your typical dairy cow drinks 25 gallons of water daily). For such a demand, the cost of the actual drilling and installation of the pump would be in the region of €4,500.

You must also add the cost of the pump, which for this volume, would cost around €1,500.

If you are in a hard water area, you may need to install a water softener to protect the milk cooling unit. This can add another €1,500 to the price, taking the total cost to the €7,500.

The second case, Farmer B, is a dry stock farmer in Leitrim with 80 head of cattle who need an average supply of 1,200 gallons per day.

The pump cost will not change, again coming in at €1,500.

However, the cost of drilling the well and pump installation will be less this time as a smaller bore and potentially less depth may be needed - let's cost it at €2,500.

Assuming the same treatment is required for impurities and hard water adds another €1,500 which takes the dry stock man's costs to €5,500.

Using these examples it is easy to see how cost will vary for differing demands and farm types,.

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Regardless of farm type, there is no getting away from a minimum price of around €3,500 all in for sinking a farm well.

So what do these figures mean in terms of the payback period?

According to Mr Briody, the cost of using 2,500 gallons of water per day if on the mains system works out at around €15 per day at current commercial rates.

The dairy farmer obviously won't use this much water every day of the year, but even if he used the maximum demand for 200 days of the year that equates to a total water charge of €3,000 per annum.

That usage means his investment in the well would pay for itself within two years.

Meanwhile, back in Leitrim. our dry stock man's payback period would be marginally longer at around three years.

From these figures it is clear that the payback certainly looks attractive for farm and commercial wells where usage is high.

However, for a domestic application, where usage is usually not higher than 220 gallons per day, the payback figures aren't as convincing.

Even at the cheapest possible scenario of €3,000 for a small well and pump, the proposed new water charge rates of €200 per annum still look a lot more palatable in the short term.

However, according to Collette Ellis of Ellis Well Drilling in Co Carlow, the high initial cost doesn't seem to be putting domestic water users off of the idea of sinking their own well.

"People forget that figure of €200 or whatever it will be is just a starting point," she says.

"Once users go over their allocation that figure will rise further, and we won't know by how much until the regulator announces exact numbers.

"But it is safe to say that the payback period, even for domestic use wells, could be only five years if you are consistently going above your allocated quota. Factor in the grant aid and the payback period shortens significantly."

Planning permission

You don't have to get planning permission for a private well provided the quantity to be pumped is less than five million litres per day.

Realistically no domestic or farm application would exceed that quantity. However, one caveat on the planning permission rules is that if building such as a new dairy unit, you must outline on the plans for where you intend to sink the well.

There are no grants available to farmers for sinking wells as it is deemed to be a commercial use.

Domestic applicants may be able to get a grant from your local authority for upgrading an existing well or building a new one.

The maximum grant you can get is €2,031.58, or three-quarters of the cost of the work.

To be eligible for a grant, the house must be more than seven years old and not already connected to either a public or group water scheme.


If building your own well, be sure that you follow the very useful guidelines drawn up by the Institute of Geologists of Ireland (these can be found at

This is a really helpful resource drawn up with input from experts including respected drilling contractors, geologists and engineers.

Approximately 130,000 households in Ireland depend on their own private water supply, usually a borehole, and yet Ireland currently has no statutory regulations concerning water well drilling and groundwater abstraction.

Consequently there are inconsistent standards of construction of boreholes, so caution is urged for anyone looking to sink a well.

Be sure to choose a reputable contractor from whom you can get references for previous jobs done.

A google search will show that that well drilling contractors can be found throughout the country and are very competitively priced. It can be a good idea to hire an independent engineer to monitor the process.


Many private water wells in Ireland are polluted, at least intermittently, due to poor planning or drilling too close to a septic tank with obvious serious implications for human Health.

It is important that water wells are only drilled in locations which minimie the risk of pollution from septic tanks, farmyard runoff or slurry spreading.

Wellheads should be constructed to ensure that surface water and shallow groundwater, which are likely to be polluted, cannot enter the well.

Wells must be cased and grouted to an adequate depth. The casing and grout must meet defined minimum standards, and the placing of the casing and grout must be meet a certain specification.

Getting the equipment safely onto and off of your farm in order to drill the well must be planned in advance.

These are impressive machines in operation; they can weigh up to 40 tonnes and be over 8ft wide so access is an important consideration.

They are also tall vehicles when the drilling process begins so due care must be given to issues such as overhead power lines or low hanging trees on the farm, low bridges en route to the drilling site and any soft ground where the rig could potentially get stuck.

Grants, regulations and dealing with Irish Water

Q: Am I eligible for grant aid?

A: You are eligible if providing a piped supply of water to an existing house for the first time or carrying out improvements to a seriously deficient existing piped supply of water to a house. You are also eligible if the dwelling is seven years old or over and not already connected to a public water supply

Who is not eligible?

A person is not eligible for a grant if:

The house is not occupied by the applicant as his or her normal place of residence (e.g. a holiday home);

The house is at present connected to a public or group scheme water supply;

The area in which the house is located is or is about to be served by a public water supply;

The house is under construction or has been constructed within the previous seven years.

How far should a drinking water well be located from a septic tank system?

Locating the well up gradient of the tank is most important.

Regulations may require a setback distance of 100ft or more depending on your council regulations.

What width should my entrance be to allow access for the machine?

Allow at least 8ft to 10ft minimum and remember the drilling rigs are heavy machines so expect some ground damage.

How much will my well cost?

Price per foot/meter will usually be given in a free quotation. Final cost will depend on depth of well on completion but a ballpark minimum cost is €3,500.

Will my new or existing well be subject to water rates to be introduced by the government?

No. Private wells will not be charged water rates, only homes that get their mains supply from the local authority will be affected.

Can an unregistered farmer claim VAT back on the drilling of a well?

Yes, unregistered farmers can claim vat back at the end of the year on the VAT 58 form.

Will farmers be customers of Irish Water?

You will be a customer of Irish Water if your household is supplied from the public water main and/or you use a public sewer for the removal and treatment of wastewater (so even if you have your own well but are still using the public sewer for removal of wastewater, you will be an Irish Water customer)

When will the charges start?

The domestic water charges came into effect six weeks ago on 1 October 2014 and bills will start being issued in January 2015.

How much will I have to pay?

This remains to be seen for now but it is estimated that the average household will pay around €200 in charges. For a farm use this will be much greater, making the payback time for a well more attractive.

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