Simple Living Technologies
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By Vaishnava Das
Imagine a box 3 feet (X) 3 feet (X) 3 feet filled with water. Take a guess
at how much this would weigh? The Answer: This box would contain 27 cubic
feet, with 7.48 gallons per cubic foot, each gallon weighing 8.32 pounds.
The total weight would be 1,680 pounds (27*7.48*8.32) containing 202 gallons
(27*7.48). According to the U.S. Geological Survey the average American uses
between 80-100 gallons of water per day (showering, washing dishes,
cleaning, cooking, flushing toilets, watering lawns) - source:
Now imagine there was a stream of water (hillside run-off, a creek, or even
a river) say 500 feet away and perhaps at 150 feet lower elevation. If you
could carry 50 pounds of water per trip (25 pounds for each arm), it would
take you approximately 33 trips to gather this water and fill up the box. At
500 feet away (1,000 feet round trip), you would have to walk 33,000 feet
(round trip). There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so you would need to travel
approximately 6 miles (9.6 kilometers). The average person walks between 2
to 3 miles per hour (without carrying any load). So this trip at a minimum
would take you 2 to 3 hours to complete, not counting walking up the 150
foot elevation of the hill.
What if I were to tell you that you could build a device for around $150
that will move this water, and more, for you 24 hours a day with no
electricity and no gasoline. This isn't some "free energy, perpetual motion"
device. It is based on technology that has been around for over 200 years.
I was watching a random TED (Technology, Education, and Design) conference
video when one presenter made an off-hand comment about "installing Ram
pumps in poor countries". I had never heard the term before so decided to
look it up. What I saw truly amazed me. A Ram pump is based on technology
that has been around for over 200 years. It uses a large amount of water at
low pressure to move a small amount of water at higher pressure.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a video of a homemade Ram
pump in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFZYD05I29s
As in our example, this Ram pump is moving run-off water about 500 feet away
and 150 feet above the source. To put this in perspective, a football field
is 300 feet, so this is moving water almost two football fields. And a story
is generally between 10 to 12 feet, so this is lifting water to the height
of a 12 to 15 story building.
The "waste water" seen is only waste in the sense that it is not pumped. If
this is run-off water, it simply spills out at another location. If built
next to a river (see Cambodia and Philippines videos in the Appendix), the
water simply spills out and continues to flow down river. The only example
that I have seen that seemed wasteful to me was tapping into lakes, coming
up and under the lake, to drain it downhill. As 90% of water is spilled to
move 10% of water out, you are effectively draining the lake if you use this
approach. There may be certain instances where this approach would make
sense, perhaps during heavy rain that would cause a lake to otherwise
Here are instructions on how to build this homemade Ram
Here are similar instructions (another perspective) to build the same
Here are detailed written instructions from Clemson University on building
this Ram pump design:
According to Clemson University this design, using a 1 1/4 inch input, will
move a minimum of 1/4 gallon per minute (15 gallons per hour; 360 gallons
per day) or at maximum 1 1/5 gallons per minute (72 gallons per hour; 1,728
gallons per day).
I have actually built this Ram pump myself but have not had the facilities
to properly test it as of yet. The key to this pump are the two equal size
check valves (sometimes called a swing check valve). These are the only
moving parts. In the U.S. these should cost you around $22 each. You have to
be careful with the check valves. My local national chain hardware store did
not carry the size I needed (1 1/4 inch), so I ended up going to a local
"Mom & Pop" hardware store. I was lucky I did. They informed me that many
check valves contain lead and that they could not sell them to me for
drinking water as they can only be used to move waste water such as sewage.
Instead they specially ordered some lead free check valves for me. Always
check before you purchase any item that the parts you use are lead free. The
owner indicated that in the U.S. lead free check valves will be marked with
a classic "v" (down-and-up) check mark, either on the item or on the
package. What is the point of moving drinking water if you are slowly
poisoning yourself with lead?
When I heard this I brought them two gate valves I had bought at the
national chain hardware store. These are different from the check valves, as
they are used to open and close the system to let water in and out. The gate
valves were noted as "low lead". I had assumed that low lead was the only
version they came in and since they were being sold in the national chain
store they were safe to use. The "Mom & Pop" store informed me that there
are no-lead versions, and it would be better to use a ball valve instead of
a gate valve. They informed me that gate valves may corrode over time or get
sediment caught in the gear and jam. When this happens they can no longer be
used to open and close. However, a ball valve will accomplish the same
thing, but will never jam, so you can always open and close the system. As a
general rule I'd say the small "Mom & Pop" stores are more knowledgeable
about the items they sell - they have to be in order to compete against the
big chain stores.
As someone with zero mechanical skills I was able to build this homemade Ram
pump. There was something satisfying looking for the parts and building
something physical. If I can do it anyone can do it.
This design is missing one element found in professionally made models - a
snifter. Over time (several weeks) the air in the pressure chamber gets
"pushed" into the water and pumped out. This effectively creates a vacuum
chamber and shuts down the pump process. To reboot the system only requires
opening up the air chamber and letting it fill with fresh air. Other designs
have a snifter - a hole that squirts out water on the down push, and pulls
in fresh air on the up pull. Unfortunately, I am not knowledgeable enough to
advise how to add a snifter to this design.
In general, professionally built Ram pumps cost upwards of $550. Here is one
source for a classic Ram Pump ($559):
Lehman's is a site with many simple living, Amish and Mennonite tools,
including Ram pumps, butter churns, and other such tools.
From what I have seen, different designs claim a lift of 40/1, 25/1, or 10/1
for lift in elevation per length in input drive pipe. If you are interested
in a professionally built Ram pump you can search the net for a number of
I find this technology truly amazing. If we keep in mind the human effort to
accomplish the same task it becomes rather remarkable. First, the technology
is on a human scale. It is relatively small, inexpensive, and only has two
moving valve parts. Second, it requires no external energy, relying neither
on electricity nor gasoline, but only the domestic movement of water. Third,
it can work 24 hours a day for years on end with little to no maintenance.
Fourth, it is distributed technology, something that any community can buy
or build and use as needed. Finally, the Ram pump has a perfectly auspicious
Besides water for individual use, there is the need for water for animals,
as well as for irrigation of rural land. This technology has been used for
over 200 years to irrigate large areas of land, especially in remote areas,
which would be near impossible for an individual to do otherwise.
I close out this article with one quote from Srila Prabhupada on the
importance of water supply:
Room Conversation On Farm Management - December 10, 1976 Hyderabad
Prabhupa-da: Therefore that means water supply. Maha-m.s'a: Yes, that's what
I have to arrange now. Prabhupa-da: Ha. So why, when you will arrange?
Arrange it immediately. Maha-m.s'a: Yes, beforei Prabhupa-da: And that is
also one of the water pool to solve water problem. The tank. Do you follow
what I say? Maha-m.s'a: Yes. Prabhupa-da: You fill up the tank and by
pumping through pipe, you distribute water. Jagadi-s'a: The viaducts are
already there. Maha-m.s'a: Yes. Prabhupa-da: If you have got water filled up
in that tank, we can water so many lands. We shall spend for that. We shalli
Pipe line, pumping. Here is so much land we can produce gur. But you have no
brain. Produce gur, get money and spend it for Kr.s.n.a. This is wanted. Not
simply planning and talking. The world is suffering for want of right
If you found this article useful please forward along to others.
In the Appendix I am including other links of videos on Ram pumps that you
may find of interest.
Williamson Ram Pump: This was the first Ram pump video that I saw and it
sold me on this technology. This is a New Zealand manufacturer whose design
will lift water 40/1 in lift to drop.
Cambodia Ram Pump: This is a Williamson Ram pump installed in Cambodia. This
is a very large version, built next to a river, which gives you a sense of
just how much water this system can move.
Philippines Ram Pump: The AID Foundation installing Ram pumps in poor
villages in the Philippines. This has improved health, sanitation, and
agriculture among the poor villages.
Ebay Ram Pump: Here is an individual selling a fairly large, personally
built, Ram pump for $259. I can't validate the construction, but it looks
Rife Ram Pumps: One company selling professionally made Ram pumps.