Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Buyers considering purchasing homes in the Capital Region often encounter homes for sale that get their water from wells. With homes drawing on municipal sources, there is an assumption that the water in the home will be readily available and meet the safety standards of the municipality. But with well water, you cannot make any assumptions about its purity. Beyond water quality, other problems can arise with wells that you should be aware of, and check for, before you agree to purchase a home.
Whether buying or selling a home, there are always questions that come up regarding testing the water when a property is serviced by a private well.
If you are purchasing a home that is serviced by a well and not by public water you better make darn sure that you have it tested as part of your contingency of sale!
When you are testing the water, you are going to want to do what is known as quality and quantity test. Both of these tests are equally important as you want to make sure the water is safe but also that you will have enough to service the home properly.
One of the primary concerns you should have as a buyer purchasing a home with a well is to check the quantity of water that is being delivered to the home along with the quality.
Below are our best tips for checking on well quantity and quality when buying a home.
1. What is the water like in the area you are purchasing?
Groundwater is a shared resource across broad areas, so problems that affect one home will often affect many, many more. You can research known water issues in an area through the EPA, and you can ask your realtor of any known water problems in the area. Once you know of common problems, you can be on the lookout for them.
2. What are the local regulations for wells in the area?
Different states and sometimes municipalities have rules and regulations concerning wells in the area, regulations you should be aware of as you go to buy a home. Depending on the area, the seller of the home may be required to test the well water before selling you the home. In most locations, it is the buyer’s responsibility to check the quality and quantity of the well.
3. What is the quality of the well you are purchasing?
Don’t buy a home without having the well tested first. The well is on the list of things you should inspect when purchasing a home. There are a few tests that can be conducted, the most obvious of which is one for water safety and purity. A water sample will be taken from the tap at the home and then sent to a qualified water testing lab to get a clear idea of what it contains. You will receive a report from the lab that details the water results.
The lab will typically show you what the water contains along with what the passing limit is for each element. You will want to have a water professional that is familiar with the area look over the results to help you understand them, as water conditions can vary quite a bit in different areas.
Standard water tests will typically check for such things as PH, hardness, alkalinity, and turbidity. Standard mineral testing will often include things like iron, calcium, manganese, copper, fluoride, Chloride and others. Coliform bacteria is also typically checked in most well tests especially in rural areas.
It is also highly recommended that you check for VOC’s as well. Volatile organic compounds are the real bad stuff you don’t want in your water. Examples of VOC’s include gasoline compounds such as MtBE and benzene.
One thing you should be keenly aware of is the need to test for radon in water. In many places, radon is not on the list of elements that are automatically checked. Real Estate agents, however, should understand this and advise their clients of the need to check for radon. If you are buying a home with a well make sure you ask the person conducting the test to have the lab screen for radon as well.
If you find that the test has determined there are high levels of radon in the water it can be fixed easily enough. It is, however, not cheap. The average cost to remove radon in water is $5000-$6000.
4. What is the well quantity?
In most locations, it is required that the well produces 3-5 gallons per minute. Generally, for older homes, a 3-gallon minimum is required and for new homes 5 gallons per minute. You can also have the flow rate and the yield of the well tested by professionals with the right equipment. Just because a well has clean, safe drinking water does not mean that it contains enough water to meet the needs of your household.
There are a couple of methods to check on the amount of water in the well. The first is water storage capacity. A traditional 6-inch diameter drilled well can store 1.5 gallons of water per foot. If you can find out the depth of the well, the level of the water and pump depth, you’ll be able to determine the water storage capacity.
When checking on a well’s water supply, the first test done is most often a flow rate test. The flow refers to the amount of water coming from the well, and the flow rate measures the gallons per minute being dispersed. The average home needs 100 to 120 gallons per person per day and a flow rate of about 6 to 12 gallons per minute. The requirement could be more if a large family is creating more water demand.
Before you buy, it is important to know that the well will generate enough water, both flow rate, and overall capacity, to meet the needs of your home for the long-haul. Otherwise, you will find yourself needing to drill another well – or wait for the well to refill, which can take a long time.
5. How large is the property?
The property should have at least an acre or two if it has a well. If the property has a well, then it also has a septic system – which processes the waste produced by the home. Septic systems are almost certain to fail given enough time, which usually means waste is leaking out of the system and into the ground. If there is less than an acre of property, the well and septic system are probably close enough that the septic system leak will contaminate the well.
6. Is this a drilled well?
A drilled well is built with special equipment, and typically goes down 100 feet or more. At the least, a drilled well will be over 40 feet deep in most cases. A drilled well is usually easy to recognize because there will be a pipe sticking up out of the ground at least a foot or more, with a thick cap on the end of it. Most homes will have drilled wells, but occasionally you will run across a home with a dug or bored well. Such wells are much less reliable and more prone to contamination. You do not want anything other than a drilled well.
7. How old is the well?
The average lifespan of a well is 30-50 years, although they can last longer or shorter depending on different circumstances. If the well you are buying is over 20 years old, you should at least factor in replacing the parts that commonly fail into your home buying budget. If the well is 15 years old or older, you should probably consider budgeting replacement parts such as a pump or well pressure tank. It is quite common for well pumps to last less around ten years or so.
8. How far apart is the well from the septic system.
As discussed above, the septic system can leak, and that leakage can make its way into your well water. A good general rule is that each system should be separated from each other by 100 feet or more. If you come across a home where the septic system is quite close to the well, it is best to avoid buying the home. This, however, would be rare, as most municipalities do not allow such clear violations.
9. Where is the well cap?
The well cap should be uphill or on level ground. All the contaminants that fall on the ground, like oil and grease from your driveway, or manure from livestock, will flow downhill and can contaminate a well where water pools on the ground. You want your well to be located on a level surface or uphill so that contaminants do not accumulate on top of it.
What to Do If The Well Quantity Fails
So what happens if you have found your dream home, you test the well, and it fails? Don’t despair hope is not lost yet. There are ways you can effectively fix a well that has failed the quantity test. Two common methods of fixing well quantity issues are:
Drilling a new well – You will find a new location on the lot and put an entirely new well system into the ground. The goal, of course, is to hit a good water source. Drilling a new well can be expensive. The cost of drilling a new well can vary substantially. Determining factors include where you are located, the conditions of the soils and how deep the well needs to be to generate a constant supply of water. Plan on spending anywhere from $5,000-$15,000 drilling a new well.
Hydrofracking – Hydrofracking is another method to fix water quantity issues with your well. The process involves injecting high-pressure water via the drilled well into the rock formations surrounding it. The point of hydrofracturing is to widen fractures in the bedrock and extend them further into the formation to increase the network of water bearing fissures supplying water to the well.
Quite often hydro-fracking will be successful, and you will not need to drill a new well. It is, however, only suitable for wells getting their water supply from water moving through fractures and fissures in existing bedrock.
What to Do to Fix Well Quality
When you have the well tested, you may discover that it has certain contaminants that make it undesirable, like contaminants that affect the taste, smell or texture of the water. Fortunately, there are a lot of options available for dealing with such contaminants – so it is not the end of the world if there are problems with the water, at least not always.
Talk with the water professional who tests the well and see if there are options for correcting the problem if you are interested in the home.
Almost any kind of well quality issues can be fixed with a proper filtering system. While some water treatment systems can eliminate several pollutants, there is not just one treatment system that can work for every application or water contaminant. It is crucial to know what the ability of the treatment methods that are being considered, what impurities they get rid of, precisely what flow rates they will handle, and what water pressures they will work within.
Almost all water treatment systems are self-cleaning and must have a specific minimum flow rate. The common problem is to use a water treatment system that will require certain gallons per minute, but the existing well pump produces less than what the treatment system requires. These two things need to be aligned properly.
Water pressure is also a factor in choosing a well water treatment system. Nearly all water treatment systems are going to decrease the water pressure as the water goes through the equipment. It’s important to figure out what the water pressure from the well pump is, before picking a water treatment system. If you don’t the likelihood is having water pressure that is fouled up in the home.
Some of the most common well treatment issues include treating for iron and hardness. If you have found you have these issues they are easy problems to fix.
Taking the time to test both the quality and quantity of the well water is important when buying a home. There are more homeowners who find out the hard way after purchasing a home having skipped these crucial home inspection tests. Don’t make the same mistakes many other buyers have made. Get the well water tested as part of your inspection due diligence!