Carla Ayers6-minute read
UPDATED: November 08, 2022
If you’re looking to relocate to a home with more land and room to grow, then you may be looking in rural or remote areas of the country.
In these areas, private wells are a common source of water. They have their advantages and disadvantages. Let’s walk through the inspection process to learn more.
In today’s fast-paced real estate market, buyers are expanding their search criteria to include more rural and remote areas. Many of these homes will have a private well.
Buying a house with a well doesn’t have to be intimidating. Ensuring that your drinking water is safe just requires some consistent monitoring and occasional maintenance.
Many homes have private wells that tap into groundwater provided by an aquifer that runs underneath the property. The location and depth of the well are determined by the geology and underground water levels.
A well is a vertical hole (typically 100 – 500 feet deep) drilled into the ground to reach the permeable layer of rock that contains water. Once the hole has been dug, the water from the nearby aquifer will fill the well. The home builder will then install a submersible pump large enough to bring water to your home. As the water is pumped out, more will seep in to refill the well, creating a reliable source of water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Census data, more than 13 million American households rely on a private well to meet their water needs.
Many homeowners rely on a municipal or city water supply. Water is taken from the source, treated, tested and distributed to paying customers. Homeowners with municipal water pay for their water service, which includes testing and maintenance fees.
In a home with a private well, maintenance and water testing are the homeowner’s responsibility. To make sure you have safe water, you’ll need to hire a home inspector who can check your well to confirm it’s not contaminated.
The EPA regulates municipal drinking water supplies but does not have jurisdiction over private wells. Many states have a patchwork of regulatory measures in place with overlapping jurisdiction among several agencies. So it’s fair to say that in the majority of cases, private well water is unregulated.
That’s why it’s important for homeowners to take control of their water quality and ensure they’re maintaining and monitoring their well.
A thorough well inspection provides a detailed analysis of your whole water system. The inspector will check the refill speed, water pressure and quality. They will also make sure that there are no leaks or issues that could eventually cause damage.
Well inspections are usually a matter of state law. The recommended frequency and procedure may vary depending on where the property is located. But in most cases, experts recommend checking your water for contaminants at least once a year.
For more detailed information on what to look for when inspecting a well, refer to the Centers For Disease Control’s guidelines.
Most inspections begin with a visual analysis of the wellhead, well cap, pump, pressure tank (usually located in the home’s basement) and grout. The home inspector will also evaluate other components of the system, including the well casing, electrical wiring, jet pump, capacitor and gauges.
Leaky equipment or missing grout can cause water pressure problems and allow contaminants to enter the system. So if your inspector finds either one, they may recommend making repairs to your well.
Water testing is one of the best ways to ensure your well is in good shape. Testing water at the tap for contaminants can reveal a lot about the health of the property’s water supply system.
Your inspector will collect a few water samples to send to a certified lab. Once the water is analyzed, the lab will create a report that notes the levels of compounds and minerals found.
Unfortunately, there are naturally occurring unwanted contaminants, like radon or nitrates, that can build up in a well. The water could also contain certain types of microbes like coliform bacteria and E. coli. If your well has any of these contaminants, your water may not be safe for human consumption.
It’s recommended that homeowners check for bacteria in their water annually and other contaminants every 2 years or any time they notice a change in the water’s taste, smell or clarity.
The U.S. Department of Interior estimates that each person uses 80 – 100 gallons of water a day. To make sure your well can keep up with demand, your inspector will need to run a flow rate test.
The inspector will measure the dimensions of your well before monitoring the water level while running the pump. They will also check how fast the well refills to ensure there is enough water available for your home.
If the well can’t keep up with the household’s water requirements, your inspector may suggest upgrading your pump or drilling a new well, which can cost $3,000 – $15,000.
It is important to keep all maintenance records and test results throughout the ownership of the property. In some states, a well inspection and water quality test must be submitted prior to the sale of a property.
Read on to see what questions homeowners commonly have about owning a home with a private well.
For states with private well inspection requirements, the well inspector is generally prohibited from also offering well repairs because of the inherent conflict of interest.
It is important to know the location of the well on the property. It’s a good idea to keep contaminants and their storage containers away from the well area.
Substances like paint, motor oil, fertilizer and pesticides should be kept away from the well, pump and pressure tank at all times to avoid the water supply becoming contaminated.
A homeowner should routinely visually check the well cover or cap to make sure it is securely attached and in good condition to keep insects, rodents and other pests out of the water source.
In some states, like New Jersey, a well inspection must be completed by either the seller or buyer prior to the sale of a property. Remember each municipality, county and state could have overlapping jurisdiction.
Other states authorize local officials to test the water for pressure and safety as part of the home inspection process.
If you’re planning to sell a property with a well, having the well inspected and the water tested in advance can help ease buyer and lender concerns regarding the private well.
If you’re interested in a home with a well, don’t fret. If the well is properly maintained and the aquifer remains unpolluted, there is no reason to avoid the property.
One of the biggest advantages of owning a home with a well is being in control of your water quality. Homeowners can maintain their well to a higher standard than most municipal sources. Some homeowners prefer the taste of well water, and it can be a desirable feature when selling a home.
The average well inspection can cost $300 – $500. Some inspectors will pass on lab fees for water testing, bringing the inspection and testing to around $400 – $800.
Many municipalities offer free water inspection services, often through their health department, to incentivize private well owners to test their water.
Choosing a well inspector who knows the local and state requirements for private wells can save you a lot of headaches.
The local health department is a good place to start. Many health departments will have a few inspectors on file that they can recommend that are familiar with local and state regulations.
The National Ground Water Association maintains a database with certified water inspectors across the nation.
The EPA website also provides the most up-to-date information on certified water safety resources.
Most homes with a well also have private septic systems for wastewater treatment. This means instead of having a sewage hookup to remove wastewater to a municipal water treatment plant, the home’s wastewater empties into a holding tank buried underground.
Many well inspection service providers also provide septic services. If you need both the well and septic system inspected, it’s a good idea to arrange both services at once to save time and money.
If you decide to have your septic tank inspected along with your well, you can expect to pay anywhere from $400 – $650.
Homeowners with private well systems are truly in charge of the quality and taste of their water. A well inspection can provide the insight and peace of mind to make your home an oasis.
To learn more about keeping your family healthy, read our home safety tips to prevent common hazards from creating future issues.