How PlayPump Works

By: Stephanie Watson

PlayPump Explained

A PlayPump can produce 370 gallons (1,400 liters) of water if it's spun 16 times per minute.
A PlayPump can produce 370 gallons (1,400 liters) of water if it's spun 16 times per minute.
Photo courtesy of PlayPumps International

PlayPump looks like the kind of colorful merry-go-round you'd see at a children's playground. But this piece of play equipment is very different. As children spin on the PlayPump merry-go-round, their motion creates energy. Like a windmill, that energy has a reciprocal effect on a pump underground, which moves up and down, pulling water up from a borehole. When children aren't playing, adults can turn the wheel by hand.

Before a PlayPump system can be installed, surveyors look for locations where there is clean water under the ground. When a good spot has been located, workers drill a deep hole called a borehole to a depth of between 100 and 330 feet (30 and 100 meters). The ideal depth is 200 feet (60 meters).


If the PlayPump is spun 16 times per minute, it can produce 370 gallons (1,400 liters) of water. The attached tank can hold 660 gallons (2,500 liters) of water, enough to provide clean drinking water for 2,500 people each day [source: PlayPump International]. Local residents can access the water by a tap. Any excess water that is pumped into the tank overflows back into the borehole.

Outdoor Fabrication and Steelworks in Johannesburg, South Africa, manufactures the PlayPumps. Roundabout Outdoor, another South African company, installs and maintains the systems. Each PlayPump system costs about $14,000, which covers the merry-go-round, pump, storage tank, tap, piping, setup, installation and operating costs.

To help cover maintenance costs and keep the system free for local residents, the tank has four billboards, two of which contain paid advertising messages from companies such as Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever. The other two billboards hold public service announcements, which provide educational messages about important topics such as AIDS prevention and hygiene.

Next, you'll read how PlayPump is helping communities in Africa.