Finishing the Water Vault


     Living here on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, one of our primary concerns involves ensuring a adequate year-round water supply. As with other key sustainability systems, we're working to improve what we have, and to expand our ability to store up water in the wet months for use later in the year.

     As time goes by, county, state and federal regulations regarding water rights and quality steadily become more stringent, and we have to keep up. One way we're working to do that involves improvements to our primary well, work that was started last summer, continued this summer and was recently completed in time to ensure that pipes exposed by the work wouldn't be endangered by winter weather.

our main well, looking north

     Two years back, when we had a new pump installed in our main well, we talked over our desire to improve our well with the installer, figuring that he's seen about every possible option. He suggested that we not try to install a water vault at the well, something which would greatly complicate servicing the well. Instead, his suggestion was to go about twenty feet "up line" (i.e. away from the well towards the storage tank) and built a water vault there.

     The primary purpose of a water vault is to provide a freeze-proof home for:

  • a water meter so that we can keep track of how much water our well is producing
  • a sample port so that we can access fresh-from-the-well water for periodic testing
  • a valve so that we can isolate the pump from the storage tank when necessary; for example, when we want to test or service the pump.

     So we started by filling in and smoothing the area around the well, building up the soil around the well casing so that rain will wash away from the well in all directions.

Mike drilling holes to take the rebar "pins" that will link the railroad ties together to make the vault

     Last summer, Sam got a good start on digging out the pit for the water vault, work which Mike took over this summer. When the pit was deep and wide enough, Mike and I cut and fit railroad ties to form the crib that serves as underground walls of the vault. That was topped off with a sill made from treated 2x6 lumber.

Mike gives scale to the interior of the vault showing the water meter between his feet

     The next task was to build the above ground portion of the vault. This was a bit tricky in that there needed to be a way to gain easy access to the interior each month as we read the meter in order to keep track of how much water our well is producing, but it also needs to be able to be easily sealed up in order to ensure that the pipe doesn't freeze during winter.

putting together the east side

then the western side and the center support

     A pair of joists where added to each side between the two end supports. Then the framework was covered with plywood; note how the southern roof extends out over the upper edge of the access hatch.


     The ends were painted with an exterior latex enamel, and then each of the main sides were covered with tar paper.



     Then it was time to add a cover of metal roofing, something we use whenever we can since we live in a forest, something which requires us to construct our buildings so that when a forest fire comes through, the structures will have a high likelihood of surviving a quick fire. As for structures roofed with common asphalt shingles, not so much.


     Here's pic of the finished water vault with the quick access hatch in place.


     And a final quick peek through the door showing the water meter (blue) and the sampling valve (red).


Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71