written by:
June 29, 2011

In our latest Backstory series, Seattleite Lou Maxon recounts the thrills and trials of ditching the suburbs, buying property, and designing and building a modern house with Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects. Week 17: Drilling a Well.

Because we are in a rural setting, we had to set aside additional financial resources to drill a well and support a septic system for sewage. The ability to locate ground water may be equal part skill and luck, but ultimately you don't know what you've got until you start barreling down into the earth. Luckily we heard positive stories about a couple local contractors and ultimately selected JKA Well Drilling to do our well work. Our site location and geology had some extreme challenges and there were no guarantees, even after we sunk tens of thousands into the ground, that we'd hit enough of a viable water source to support our residence. That was the terrifying part.

Step One: Find a reliable and trustworthy well contractor. This being my first-ever drilled well, I relied on referrals from neighbors, a quick Google search, and recommendations from a few of our existing contractors working on the project. JKA Well Dril
Step One: Find a reliable and trustworthy well contractor. This being my first-ever drilled well, I relied on referrals from neighbors, a quick Google search, and recommendations from a few of our existing contractors working on the project. JKA Well Drilling stepped up with great service, an experienced crew and an estimate and schedule that fit our needs. The process is expensive and the cost is out of pocket and based on an agreed-upon depth for drilling. Once you reach that depth there are added costs for dropping more steel in the ground.
1 / 12
Step Two: Prepare the site for the well drilling equipment. We had to secure a clearing and grading permit for the equipment to access the well site. This involved permitting, clearing trees, and creating a new road that we'd eventually have to build anyw
Step Two: Prepare the site for the well drilling equipment. We had to secure a clearing and grading permit for the equipment to access the well site. This involved permitting, clearing trees, and creating a new road that we'd eventually have to build anyway to access our garage/carport area. The access road branches off the main driveway into the woods and is surfaced with gravel and recycled tile to support heavy-duty drilling equipment and support vehicles. Even on a large site like ours the developable area starts getting smaller and smaller as you add the setbacks and clearances for things like a 100-foot well radius, septic field setbacks, etc. It's important to always have a big-picture and long-term view on the site plan because septic and well installations are permanent.
2 / 12
Step Three: Pray for water. This is extremely dirty work. Everything that's inside the earth comes out during this process. The drill is lowered into the ground and a series of piping and tubing eventually snakes out of a tube and into a pool of debris. H
Step Three: Pray for water. This is extremely dirty work. Everything that's inside the earth comes out during this process. The drill is lowered into the ground and a series of piping and tubing eventually snakes out of a tube and into a pool of debris. Hours are spent standing and watching everything but clear water shoot out the other end. The contractor will take samples and sift through the debris to get an indication of how far away water might be. For some wells it's pretty clear when you've hit the jackpot. Our well wasn't not that way. We drilled down 100 feet, 200 feet, 300 feet...
3 / 12
4 / 12
Step Five: Full speed ahead; tap harder. A series of steel pipe and tubing is added as we get deeper into the ground. Here, a closeup shot of the side of the drilling truck where the contractor controls the pace and severity of the drill.  As we neared 30
Step Five: Full speed ahead; tap harder. A series of steel pipe and tubing is added as we get deeper into the ground. Here, a closeup shot of the side of the drilling truck where the contractor controls the pace and severity of the drill. As we neared 300+ feet we started to get some indications that the we had hit onto something promising but still had no clear indication that we'd hit water in this spot.
5 / 12
Step Six: More steel tubing. More green dollars. A closeup shot off the back of a drilling support truck shows the steel tubing that goes into the ground. The more tubes we had to use, the more money it would cost us. When you start seeing fewer of them s
Step Six: More steel tubing. More green dollars. A closeup shot off the back of a drilling support truck shows the steel tubing that goes into the ground. The more tubes we had to use, the more money it would cost us. When you start seeing fewer of them still on the truck, it's not a good sign.
6 / 12
Step Seven: Go deep. One of the crew members checks out the deposit from the drill. We are starting to see a mix of mud, rock and some liquid—and keeping our fingers crossed. The equipment is loud (notice ear plugs on the contractor) and the scene is a me
Step Seven: Go deep. One of the crew members checks out the deposit from the drill. We are starting to see a mix of mud, rock and some liquid—and keeping our fingers crossed. The equipment is loud (notice ear plugs on the contractor) and the scene is a mess.
7 / 12
Step Eight: Greenlight the greenbacks. Once we hit our contracted limit we had to make the call to approve additional funds to go beyond our set depth. The crew set up the drilling machine with more steel tubing and down we went. The equipment starts look
Step Eight: Greenlight the greenbacks. Once we hit our contracted limit we had to make the call to approve additional funds to go beyond our set depth. The crew set up the drilling machine with more steel tubing and down we went. The equipment starts looking like the world's biggest jackhammer amidst the forest setting. By this time a few neighbors from nearby parcels started popping over to wish us good luck on our ultimate search for water.
8 / 12
Step Nine: Release the water! We hit a good source of water days in but would it be enough to meet the requirements? A faucet is installed and a generator is purchased to help pump the water up to the surface and monitor quality. We'd have to run the gene
Step Nine: Release the water! We hit a good source of water days in but would it be enough to meet the requirements? A faucet is installed and a generator is purchased to help pump the water up to the surface and monitor quality. We'd have to run the generator day and night to clear the water enough to get a viable sample to submit for testing. Seeing the faucet was definitely a good sign and provided a great deal of relief and joy that we were on our way.
9 / 12
Step Ten: Officially recognize the well. A metal tag is added to the well to certify it through the department of ecology. Each well is tagged and coded with a unique number. An operable well is required in order to ultimately receive the building permit,
Step Ten: Officially recognize the well. A metal tag is added to the well to certify it through the department of ecology. Each well is tagged and coded with a unique number. An operable well is required in order to ultimately receive the building permit, so doing this work at this stage was critical because no water equals no house.
10 / 12
Step Eleven: Enjoy the steady stream of water instead of watching endless debris of clay, sand and rocks. 
Step Eleven: Enjoy the steady stream of water instead of watching endless debris of clay, sand and rocks. 
11 / 12
Step Twelve: Cap the well, stare at the pipe tubing coming out of the ground, and realize you have never been happier in your life to see this sight—because it means you are once step closer in this amazingly grueling journey of constructing a home. While
Step Twelve: Cap the well, stare at the pipe tubing coming out of the ground, and realize you have never been happier in your life to see this sight—because it means you are once step closer in this amazingly grueling journey of constructing a home. While friends and family are enjoying vacations, our summer splurge is epitomized in this photo. In the end there's something gratifying about knowing where your water is coming from and truly appreciating the effort that is required in order to simply turn a faucet and have water come out the end. I don't think I'll ever take that experience for granted again.

Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

12 / 12
Step One: Find a reliable and trustworthy well contractor. This being my first-ever drilled well, I relied on referrals from neighbors, a quick Google search, and recommendations from a few of our existing contractors working on the project. JKA Well Dril
Step One: Find a reliable and trustworthy well contractor. This being my first-ever drilled well, I relied on referrals from neighbors, a quick Google search, and recommendations from a few of our existing contractors working on the project. JKA Well Drilling stepped up with great service, an experienced crew and an estimate and schedule that fit our needs. The process is expensive and the cost is out of pocket and based on an agreed-upon depth for drilling. Once you reach that depth there are added costs for dropping more steel in the ground.

For previous installments of "Building the Maxon House," click here

 

Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Rare green AD65 radio from Ecko.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016
Modern prefab lakeside home in Bloomingdale, New Jersey
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
June 18, 2016
Rectangular bento glass table with compartments.
These top-notch projects by design students earned a spot on our honor roll.
June 18, 2016
bozley all
Jory Brigham picks up his family’s trade and takes it in unexpected directions.
June 17, 2016
ph133407
The outlandish Belgian fashion designer, a member of the iconic Antwerp Six, creates a quirky pattern-filled capsule collection for the Swedish mega-retailer—with a high-tech twist.
June 17, 2016