Our Philippine House Project – Digging our water well

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Our account of digging a well in the Philippines.  The first step of just about every residential construction project in the Philippines is digging a well.  Even in urban places, where municipal water is available, most households have a dug well, the water from which is used for non-critical uses such as laundry and car washing and probably for the live-in help to use.  Municipal water is considered to be expensive and not to be used for frivolous purposes.

In order to make concrete, the basic building material of the Philippines, water is a necessity.  That’s why a well is the first order of business when building a house.  Most of these wells are what we’d call dug wells but Filipinos usually call deep wells.  Drilled wells are rare here but the Iloilo Municipal Water District does have some drilled wells in Oton.  American colonial authorities and geologists gave up on wells to supply water to Iloilo City and instead built the reservoir on the Tigum River.  It’s still in use today.

We had bought a lot in Tigbauan, Iloilo in the Philippines.  Our plan is to eventually build a house there.  The first step was to build a perimeter wall around the lot.  This is usual in the Philippines and most developing countries.  We hired an Iloilo architect to design and build the wall because we had never managed such a project in the Philippines on our own.  We were a bit intimidated at the thought of hiring and supervising a crew, buying materials and so forth.

Making culvert/well tiles at Damasco, Pavia Iloilo

Philippine wells almost always use concrete well tiles.  Since we wanted our well to be good and to have a big capacity we specified that big tiles be used.  We shopped around and found good well tiles at Damasco in Pavia, Iloilo.  More about that at /our-house-project-cement-blocks/

We ended up using tiles that were 36″ in diameter on the inside at 18″ high.  These tiles are very heavy, perhaps 500 pounds each. They are much larger than the tiles most property owners use.  Our theory was that the large tiles would give us a bigger reserve for peak water usage such as garden watering. Our architect-contractor brought in some workers to dig the well.  Locals had told us that wells should be 25 feet deep to ensure a reliable supply of water.

Digging the well

Hauling up dirt from the bottom of the well where another worker is digging.

The actual digging of the well was less drama that I had imagined.  Basically, the first tile is set in place and then workers dig under the bottom tile causing it to settle into the well hole.  When the tile has sunk to ground level another tile is rolled into place on lifted on top and the digging continues.  Since we had a big crew in site for the building of the wall, there was plenty of manpower available to wrestle with the tiles.

Carol and I left for a few days and when we came back we were dismayed to find that the well had been dug so that ten tiles were in place below the surface with two tiles above ground.  This meant that we had a fifteen foot deep well, not the twenty-five foot depth we had been told was necessary.  The well-digging crew had disappeared.  The well tile joints had been sealed with concrete mortar and the exterior of the well back filled.  I was not happy but the architect assured me that the well would be made deeper “later”.  This turned out to be wrong.  The sealing of the joints, and especially the backfilling meant that the tiles were fixed in place and digging under the bottom tile to deepen the well would not work.  Since this was in January, before the hot, dry weather set in, we had plenty of water for the time being — about six feet of water in the fifteen foot well.  The question was would we have enough water for our wall building project as the water level dropped during the hot and dry months of February through May.

Fast forward through almost three months of hot, dry weather to April.  The architect and his crew have been given walking papers and a new crew is on site and making good progress on the wall.  There is only two or three feet of water in the well and we decide we have to take action.  The father of one of our crew members, Juanito Trogani, is purportedly the ace well digger in the Tigbauan, Iloilo area.  This proved to be true.  Trogani came to the site to evaluate the well.  He said all the tiles have to be removed and the well redug.  He agreed to do the work for P800 pesos per tile.  We had more tiles delivered and Trogani appeared with his crew and a few simple tools carried in rice sacks.   We document the work below.

All the tools (rope, a couple of lengths of pipe) arrived in rice sacks over the digger's shoulders

All the tools (rope, a couple of lengths of pipe) arrived in rice sacks over the digger’s shoulders.  We supplied the bamboo for the tripod.

Bear in mind how much more difficult a job rebuilding the well was than was digging it in the first place.  All of the 500 pound concrete tiles had to be hoisted out of the well using almost medieval technology.  I was really appalled at the risks being taken.  Young men were lowered into the well to tie a rope around the wet, slippery tiles which were then slowly hauled out of the well, mostly by brute force.  I shuddered to think what would happen if a tile came loose while one of the men was in the well.

Hauling the 500# tiles out of the well

Hauling the 500# tiles out of the well

This was the break which regulated tension on the line

This was the brake which regulated tension on the line

The old tiles are out and waiting to go back in once the digging is done.

The tiles are out and waiting to go back in once the digging is done.

All the old tiles had been wrestled out of the well by the second day and the process of digging the well deeper started.  The well was dug to about 16.5 or 17 feet deep and then two tiles were lowered in.  Digging under the tiles continued.  The crew had to constantly bail water out of the well.  As work progressed the young diggers had to dive to the bottom of the well to continue the digging.

Diggers in the bottom of the well

Diggers in the bottom of the well using the tool shown below.

This is the tool used to dig in the confined space at the bottom of the well

This is the tool used to dig in the confined space at the bottom of the well

So far the digging had been through a very dense clay (probably a vertisol) but at 19 feet we came to a layer of pure gray sand.  It appeared to be almost identical to the volcanic material deposited across Washington State when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980.  We lived in Washington at the time and remember the snow plow trucks plowing this material off the highways.  Certainly this layer must have been deposited from an ancient volcanic eruption.  It was subsequently overlaid with twenty feet of clay, probably deposited when the area was a seabed.  The sand layer was considered to be very auspicious and digging was ended and sealing of the joints and backfilling undertaken.

Good news - layer of volcanic sand at 20'

Good news – layer of volcanic sand at 20′

The last tile comes out of the well

The tiles go back in

Total cost was P13,600 or about $285.  Of course this did not include the well tiles which were P870 ($19) each nor does it account for the fact that I had previously paid for the original well digging.  Still the redigging was a success.  We ended up with almost nine feet of water in the well instead of two or three feet.  We went on to add a concrete platform and Dragon hand pump.

"Dragon" brand water pump

“Dragon” brand water pump

demolish well pad

Postscript.  The well pad shown above had to be demolished after five years.  Reason?  It did not have an adequate foundation and so heaved and cracked.  The clay soils found in many Philippine rice lands expand when wet and shrink when dry.  This effect is strong enough to crack concrete.  

For the first several months, the water is was slightly milky.  This is pretty much unavoidable in a well dug in clay, which is the finest of soils.  The particles are so small that they remain suspended in the water rather than settling out.  The heat, the slightly stagnant and swampy nature of the surrounding rice fields promotes algae growth.  Our solution is to treat the well with chlorine powder — or one can just use liquid laundry bleach.  This is a standard well treatment practically everywhere.  Small packets of chlorine powder are sold in grocery stores and given away by government to help residents keep their wells safe.

Now, two years after the digging of the well, we are blessed with a plentiful supply of good quality water.  We still occasionally treat the well with chlorine, especially during the dry months when the level of the well falls, but otherwise we use it as is for bathing and cooking.  We buy bottled water for drinking.

Read all about our Philippine House building Project at /building-our-philippine-house-index/

Comments (43) Write a comment

  1. Hi all,

    My wife and I are building in General Nakar (Quezon) and have a question regarding water pumps.
    we dont have a well, but a Posso which we pump water with. now we are building a toilet and kitchen and looking to install a water pump.
    What water pump should we use if water comes from 25 feet deep? is it the one line (water pressure only) or two lines (water and air)? we hear pros and cons for both but have no idea what to take. we bought Euro Star 1 HP two lines, but need to make sure its good before installing.

    thanks in advance!


    • We have a well of a similar depth and use a single line pump with no problem. Ours is a Pedrollo 1/2 HP. It has run flawlessly for seven years. Our is a gravity system. We pump to a storage tank up high and gravity feed to the house. We have no pressure tank.


  2. We are researching needed materials and costs for a deep well in Banilad/Bacong near Dumaguete and so far we had an hilarious offer of 160.000Php reduced to now 60.000Php (the digger company says they would then use cheaper materials like they normally use). Today we had a digger inspecting the site and his offer was 700Php per feet for the manpower to dig and his estimation was around 60 to 70ft deep to get a sturdy supply of water what adds up to 42 – 49.000Php plus the needed pipes of around 6.000Php plus the costs of the pump. So I guess it will be more then 60.000Php for the whole project to spent.


  3. Hi. Any reason why you favor a well to a rain water system? (Roof Gutters -> Filtration -> Ground tank->Pump->High tank)


    • In our particular location, digging a water well is routine and inexpensive. Also consider that we have a very long, very dry season. I can’t imagine a tank being large enough to supply our water needs during those months.


  4. Dear Bob,

    I am a Filipino based in Spain. The city of Valencia exactly. And the norm here is drilled wells. I would like to bring the technology there sometime end of the year using a complete engineering package for both for barrios and farms. Doing this as an inexpensive, yet good quality service to offer for many Filipino communities. From your blog, I am sure this service can help a lot of residents and also farmers (my real target market).

    But………….. I need a bit of feedback from you to help me do this right. For example:

    Need to know what was the total cost for you to build your dug well? I need to do some math before making the big step in offering drilled wells and knowing how to price it is important variable. I am debt free right now and maybe in a year I will make the big leap of giving back and help my country improve its water sourcing techniques through this investment. As the new Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol would say: “Food grows where water flows.” Exciting times for the Philippines.

    Looking forward to hear from you, Bob.

    With best regards,


    • Gerard, thank you for your excellent proposal. I am only familiar with dug wells in our area. Generally they are very inexpensive. The owner provides a load of sand and a load or gravel. The team of three or four workers make their own concrete well tiles using steel forms. It takes the crew about a week to make the tiles, dig the well and move on. Our own dug well is about 25 feet deep. Perhaps the cost is less than P10,000 plus the sand and gravel. In coastal areas dug wells can only be dug to a moderate depth. Otherwise saline water is struck. I have never seen the type of well drilling rig which is common in my home country but I am sure that they exist. Unfortunately I am also unfamiliar with the geology of other parts of the Philippines and their well drilling practices. Perhaps one of our readers can respond with some information or share their experiences. Best wishes, Bob and Carol


  5. You know, for a small amount of money, you can install an electric submersible pump, and a filtration system, and have FREE drinking water. Make no mistake that bottled drinking water that you are paying an arm and a leg for is just filtered well water, and the cost of the filtration system compared to the cost of bottled water it is paid for in a year. If you want to package the water, you can also sell it to your neigbors and have it paid off in a couple months, and collecting a profit… Just my 2 cents.


    • Thanks for the suggestion. One reason that buy our water is that neither my wife nor I are able to manage the five gallon water containers. The strong young men who deliver our water put our four weekly containers (square ones with spigot) up on a counter so that we don’t have to handle them at all. The total annual cost for water and delivery is about $190. For us, it’s worth it to let our supplier do the work, but I can understand the impulse to do your own water purification.

      Bob and Carol


  6. Hello Bob,
    Great information there. I just wanted to tell you about a water filter system I have been using for about 5 years now. Its called a Berkey http://www.directive21.com/product-category/berkey-water-filter-systems/ this is the guy I bought mine from. It is the worlds best and you can filter sewage then drink it!
    Thanks for the informative post. My wife and I own a small farm in Calinog. We will be there in late February 2014 early march to work our our plan to build a home. We live in Oklahoma now but planning on moving as soon as we can afford to build and be debt free before we come.


  7. Thanks for the very interesting and informative discussions about the well diggings.
    My personal experience here in Zambales when I first came in 1985 and build our first house also include well building, as water is a “must’.During those times, there is no Nawasa water line and almost every houses have a deep well as a source of water.
    Before digging my well I asked around neighbors regarding the depth of their well so I can make an initial assesment of how much deep is my well .My first deep well construction involves using a 2-1/2” diameter pipe x 20 ft.length and piling it into the ground.The tip of the pipe is installed with the pointed strainer (kolador) -this will facilitate easier penetration to the soil when piling the pipe.
    We used a hammer – a metal weight attached to the pulley and driven to the top of the pipe .The hammer is attached to tripod type bamboo poles and being pulled up by the laborer and released to have the driving effect on the pipe.Once you reached certain depths, the pipe is attached to a pump driven by a motor to test the presence of water and accessed the quality of the water.At initial stage the quality of water may not be good or murky ar with sand depending on the locality and depth.If there is a presence of sand and water , it is a sign that water is already possible but only needs further pumping out of water to clear up any loose sand and a well will be built naturally at the bottom of the pipe.
    It took a year before sand is finally cleared at water is very clear of impurities or sediments.We had asked for evaluation of the water for PH and any impurities and it was cleared -meaning is safe to drink.
    When Mt.Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the well was affected and we had to did up another well.Up to today the new well is still in use, but we already have the Nawasa also as source of water, but we still prefer to use the deep well for our drinking water as the Nawasa water is not as good as the deep well.


    • Carlos,

      Many thanks for your excellent narrative. We live in a fairly low-lying rice-growing area. The soil is all clay, as deep as you can dig, so dug wells such as ours are the norm. In low-lying areas near the coast the well can only be so deep before the water becomes saline. During the wet season, groundwater is basically at the surface. During the dry season the water level drops to 15′ or so. We can pump water 24 hours a day and not run out. We can’t pump enough to lover the regional water table with our 1/2HP pump!

      Our water is quite mineralized. I miss the mountain spring water we had on our farm in New York State. Perhaps the water from a driven well, such as yours, is better than our rice field soup. I see well points for your type of well sold here, so others located more up in the hills must use them.

      Bob and Carol


  8. Thanks, very interesting information. I have been reading this post and the coments and investigating about this matter. I think the contamination of the well could be be a problem. I have been studying the posibility to instal a rain harvest system. I don´t know about the cost, but I think it´s better than a well. About the pumbling, I think it´s a good Idea install to plumbing systems, one for the grey water (i don´t know the name in english- in spanish “aguas grises”) and use the rain water for the garden, laundry, toilet, cleaning,..


    • Thanks for your comments. Yes, contamination of the well is a concern, especially since farm animals graze just feet away. During the typhoon season, all waste in the neighborhood mixes with the rainwater which floods the fields. We never drink water from our well, although we sometimes use it for cooking. Most Philippine systems separate “black water” (toilet waste) from other wastewater. Cisterns to collect and store rainwater are common. The quality of the water would be better than our highly mineralized well water. I suppose we don’t collect rain water because well water is so simple, cheap and abundant.


  9. Hi, do you know of any organisation that is helping to dig wells amongst the poor communities/villages in the Philippines? I know someone who is keen to volunteer and help out but not sure how to go about it, who to link up with etc.



  10. has anyone used reverse osmosis filtering, I’m in the US and they claim it gets rid of practically everything


    • Gary,

      I believe that reverse osmosis is widely used in the Philippines, by the thousands of mom and pop outfits selling bottled water. I have seen the RO outfits for sale here.



  11. Hi, My wife and I just purchased some property in Guimaras, Iloilo. My wife was born there and has family close to our lot. I am getting ready to have a well dug and power connected on our lot. I am going to try to find the same people you had on your second attemp. How much should this well cost me? We are going to build a modest two story house next year, but would like to have a water supply and electricity in place as soon as possibly. Her family is going to clear the lot and garden before the house is started so I figured the water would be nice. Thanks for posting your experience with the house building. I am just starting and am sure your information is going to be a big help.


    • James,

      You’ll find well diggers in just about any Philippine community where dug well are used. It’s better to find local workers who know the local subsurface conditions and how to deal with them. The geology of Guimaras is different than the flat, deep clay that we have here and may require different equipment and materials. Ask around. Here, one sign of an experienced crew is having the forms to make concrete well tiles and a water pump to pump out water so they can dig deeper. Some areas use driven well points, rather than dug wells. Ask your wife’s family who is best — but followup to be sure they have the equipment they need. Otherwise, you’ll be expected to buy it for them, and they may not know how to use it.



  12. I’m about to visit the Philippians for 3 months and would love to build a well while I’m there. I would need to find a school or other location that wound need a well but what was the time for your build?

    Thanks Dave


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  14. Dear Bob and Carol,

    My wife (Filipina) and I have just emmigrated to the Philippines from the USA. This seemed like a good place to retire. I was in construction in the US as Carpenter, Contractor, Estimator and Project Manager…40 years. We will be building a house here. I was expecting a little culture shock but I really had no idea. Sometimes things move so slowly that I can not feel the tips of my fingers.

    My wife wanted to be near her family, so we are here in Guihilngan, Negros Oriental.

    We are trying to locate Well Liners (Conc. Culvert) and well diggers, since the claim by the seller of the land (that city/barangay water was available about 150 feet away adjacent to the National Highway) turned out to be what I will euphemistically call an exaggeration.

    Do you have contact info for “Damascos” where you got your Conc. well liners? Do they have a phone? Can they deliver to our area.

    Also, I am deparately casting about for a construction supply store anywhere near here that can deliver materials.

    I have enjoyed reading through your entire site here…very fun and educational…and a real eye opener.

    Any help would be much appreciated

    Thank you,

    Robert and Sharon Doolittle
    P.O. Box 33
    Guihulngan, Negros Oriental
    6241, Philippines


    • Hi Bob,

      I had to get my Negros map out to see where Guihulngan is. I can see it’s not really near a bigger city. While I’m sure there are many advantages to the place, you are going to get very frustrated in trying to buy anything. We are about 20km from Iloilo City. I just can’t tell you how many trips we had to make there during the construction of our house — hundreds? Just as soon as I would get back from buying stuff in Iloilo my crew would say, “oh and we also need x,y and z. While Iloilo is one of the bigger cities, I would get still get frustrated with not being able to find what I wanted. Eventually I learned where to go to get what I needed.

      I know the big construction suppliers in Iloilo City would deliver all over Panay Island. I am sure this is true in Bacolod and Dumaguette. You’ll get have to be really organized to be sure to anticipate what you need and to be sure stockpiled materials don’t “walk away”. Delivery cost are pretty modest — at least compared to what they would be in the US.

      Regarding the well tiles, after we completed our well, friends got theirs done more cheaply. The well crew came to the site and made their own tiles. They looked and worked well. I am sure you’ll find someone in your area who can do this.

      This is going to be a real learning experience for you. Try to relax and enjoy it and don’t be in too big a rush. It’s so hard to find good engineers, builders. suppliers but you’ll learn how it works in your area. Don’t get angry or frustrated. We had an architect who screwed us, but most of our workers were really honest, decent guys. We built up a good relationships with our main suppliers. Still, you have to be careful until you find suppliers and workers to trust. Sorry that the information we garnered about Iloilo will not be of any use to you.

      Have you considered hiring an engineer to help you? There are perils in that too but a good one will know workers and suppliers. Do all your own buying so that you don’t have to pay markups.

      Best wishes,

      Bob and Carol


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  16. Hi Bob, Very good reading of your experiences there.
    I come from a Cattle Station background or Ranch as Americans call them, our place was over 3,100 sq kilometres and we ran about 5,000 to 7,000 head of cattle.

    My father never dug wells, we have bores only, its is known water in wells become quickly contaminated.

    Try sinking a bore hole a few metres beside the well, and place a solar electric pump on top. With a bore hole you’d need a reasonable sized tank.

    Love what you doing Cheers Al.


    • Thanks much for taking the time to post on . It’s so good
      to have information and opinions from those who know!

      It’s the same in the US — dug wells are not allowed. Of course
      historically they were the only way to make a well. Our house in New
      York (built in 1824) had a dug well which was replaced by a gravity
      fed system from a spring on the mountain side above. What great water
      that was.

      Here in the Philippines wells are usually dug but those who can afford
      bottled water never drink water from their wells. We don’t. Our
      water is pretty good but there is some really nasty water being used

      Bob and Carol Hammerslag


  17. It is really danger work they have for digging in 17 ft under ground, I am afraid that the soil around the hole will colapse and buried them alive. Please don’t let them do it again.


  18. Does anybody know if tilt slab construction is a viable construction method for 2 level house.???
    Very interesting web site and very informative.
    We are looking at building in Bacolod.

    Lance & Najerah


  19. very informative post. We are planning to dig a well in Bulacan and the experience shared here is very helpful. We hope to be able to do it “right first time” thanks to you.


    • Try to locate your wells far from your house foundations. Using a well as a source generally cause some ground sinking, caused by depletion of the aquifers. It happened our our home where the garage slab sunk by around 2.5 inches already. It’s practical to add grade beams to your floor as a counter for a sinking backfill. It helps to keep your inside floor slab intact.
      And place your septic tank far opposite the well location.


      • Edwin,

        Thanks for your comments. Where we are the water table is so variable. During the rainy season, it’s essentially at the surface, but during the summer it can be 20′ lower. So far we have not had problems with our floors except very slight tile cracks at two of the doorways. Of course we could not pour all the floors in one day. Generally we did one room per day. The pours joined each other at the room doorways. We did not use grade beams in the floors but the floors were thick (6′ or so) and used 1-2-4 mix.

        The subsurface geology in our area is sedimentary, a hundred or hundreds of feet of clay. During the summer the clay dries out and pretty big cracks open up. I have been told that these can cause structural problems but we have not had problems so far except for one small door stoop which did not have an adequate foundation.

        Again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

        Bob and Carol


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  23. Have you had your well water tested?

    No, we’ve not had the water tested although we’d like to. Typically local water tests are for coliform bacteria to detect fecal contamination. We’d be interested in a more comprehensive test. All of the well water in this area seems to be quite mineralized. Toilet tanks and wells accumulate a blackish coating. I think this may be manganese. I understand that iron is another common mineral in local water. Of course our property is surrounded by rice land where agricultural chemicals are used — herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers so that’s another concern. Finally rice land ground water seems “swampy” and stagnant with quite a bit of algae. So, it would be interesting to have a detailed test to see what the situation really is. It’s likely this testing would have to be done in Manila.

    All that said, the quality of water from our well seems clear and good. The weekly chlorine seems to keep the algae under control.

    If you leave your well unused from year to year it might become a bit unpleasant with algae growing, insects and maybe even lizards get in and perhaps expire. My guess is that you’ll want to pump it out and scrub it out with bleach. This bleak view is based on the few wells I have some experience with. Hopefully your situation is better.


  24. Total cost was about P60,000. The well diggers did put a layer of gravel at the bottom of the well.

    We buy 100 gram packets of powdered chlorine at the local supermarket.

    This type of chlorine is widely used to decontaminate wells in the Philippines and is sometimes handed out by public health authorities.

    I don’t know much about the stuff but assume that it’s similar to the chlorine used in swimming pools. At first I used one packet per month but found it worked better to use one-half packet per week. That seems to keep the water clear without an over chlorine taste.

    So far, we do not use the well for drinking water but it might be OK is chlorinated and filtered.

    We only have a “Dragon” hand pump so far. It get a lot of use watering all the trees and shrubs we have planted. It’s been 12+ weeks since we have had any rain. When our house is finished we’ll have an electric water pump to fill our water storage tank. Not yet sure about horsepower.


    • there is a filter that you can get there that is made in Britain it is a reverse osmosis clay filter. You can install it into a water jug by removing the spout and installing the filter with a hose from there you filter into another jug by gravity. We did this for 5 years in central Mindanao mountains. Removes 99% of all …. but if you are really concerned you could always put a water gutter on your house later and filter it . these clay filters are the best we could find. I could safely say It saved our lives… Long story


  25. Hello there,
    I read with interest this deep well digging in Iloilo.
    I plan to do the same and was wondering how much would be the total cost of this. We have our house erected already. We have also used the NASAWA water supply In Dipolog City when we built our house and the perimeterwall.
    How did you put this chlorine in the well. Just direct in the water? Were some stone placed at the ground of the well?

    Do you used an electric water pump and how powerful should this be?

    Thank you.

    V. Michel


  26. congratulations to Juanito Trogani and his crew for doing a great job in rebuilding your deep well. hopefully more residents will be able to use their expertise.

    the total extra cost is well worth it. i will do the same thing you did if i were in your shoes, Bob.


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