More than 23 million households in the United States rely on private wells or well water systems for their drinking water, according to the EPA. This means that a large portion of the population, usually in rural homes, has no access to a municipal water system. This means instead of relying on municipal utilities like sewer and city water, these types of homes depend on well and a septic system.
The good news is that these systems work for long periods, requiring little or no maintenance.
Despite this reality, many home buyers remain skeptical about buying a home that gets water from a private well. This is especially true here in Colorado because some of our most desirable homes are in remote or rural areas.
Homes located in remote locations generally rely on private wells to provide their water.
There are many benefits to obtaining water from a private well, so homebuyers should be reassured if their dream home is on well and septic tank. The well is like any system in a home you are considering buying, and it should be researched and inspected.
With a well system, there are both legal aspects as well as physical conditions and performance levels that need to be examined. If the well meets acceptable standards, the buyer can move forward with some certainty that the system will provide safe, clean water to the property.
It is a legal requirement in the state of Colorado (as well as in most other states) that any new or replacement well which diverts groundwater must have a permit. A well permit is a document issued by a state or local government that authorizes the construction of a new well or repair of an existing well.
The permit is important because it helps ensure the well is built according to appropriate safety and construction standards. The permit also defines any use limitations, like how much water the permit holder is allowed to pump and where that water can be used, inside the house or for outdoor use. Without a well permit, the construction of a well may be illegal.
There are two primary types of residential use well permits in the State of Colorado, household use only and domestic use.
A permit that is for household use only allows the holder to use water from their well water system inside of their dwelling. This means water from the well cannot be used for outdoor landscaping, livestock, or pets. In many cases, this is not a problem, but if you want spectacular landscaping or a small residential farm, a household-only permit may not work for you. This means you’ll have to find another water source for these uses or a house with a domestic well permit.
The domestic use permit allows for some lawn and garden irrigation as well as watering of domestic animals and/or livestock. Depending on which specific provisions the well permit contains, the well may be allowed to serve as many as three single-family homes, irrigate up to one acre or less of lawn & garden, and provide water for the individual’s domestic animals and livestock.
Watering outdoor livestock and animals requires a domestic or agricultural well permit
It is important to note that both permit types limit the amount of water the permit holder may use. These limits can be different from area to area but consider the property’s size and, in many cases, the number of bedrooms in the house.
It’s essential to discover which type of well permit the property has. This will determine how you are allowed to use the water and how much water you will be allocated. This is a simple process that involves a basic record search.
Most professional well drilling operations provide a well inspection service, which includes copies of the well permit, the well log, and the pump installation report. These documents will provide information about how the well was constructed, what the use limitations are, and how much water the well produced at the time of installation.
If you are considering purchasing a property that relies on a private well for water, it is essential to have the well inspected during the due diligence phase of the transaction. This will ensure that the well is in good condition and can provide an adequate supply of safe, clean water.
A well inspection should be performed by a licensed professional. In most cases, this type of inspection will involve a licensed well driller. The inspector should examine the physical condition of the well and the system, look for any signs of deterioration, perform a pump test, and test the quality of the water the well produces.
The well inspection is considered a “Specialty Inspection,” not a part of the general Inspection but it’s still an important step in the home buying process. A trend is developing where some general home inspectors offer well inspections as a part of their services. While this might make the well inspection more convenient and affordable, most home inspectors need more first-hand experience to identify subtle clues that might point to bigger potential problems.
A well’s productivity is measured using a well flow test, sometimes called a “drawdown flow test.” This test determines the flow rate of the water based on how many gallons per minute a well can provide. This is important because the average family uses 100 to 120 gallons of water per person each day the flow test will determine if the well will provide enough water to support your needs.
The flow test can be administered in a couple of different ways, and the testing method depends on whether the well is newly constructed or an existing well.
In a newly drilled well with no pump, the test takes place from within the well casing and uses either the bailer or airlift methods. Both of these tests are administered from the actual drilling rig. The results of this test are what you will find reported on your well permit or well log.
When testing the flow rate on an existing well that is currently in use, the test will most likely be administered from the drain or spigot located at the pressure tank. This is done without opening up the well casing and risking damage.
While it is possible to run a flow test using a pump lowered into the well casing, the inspector runs the risk of damaging the equipment inside of the casing or accidentally dropping something into the well, creating a different set of problems.
For most residential resale home inspections, the “bucket test” is the preferred method. This test is performed over a 2-hour window, the inspector attaches a hose to the drain valve on the systems pressure tank before the water encounters any indoor plumbing or plumbing fixtures.
The inspector lets the bucket fill while they time how long it takes to fill a five-gallon bucket. This time is recorded while the water continues to run. After ten minutes, the bucket is filled and timed again. This continues for 2 hours and should produce 12 separate readings. These times are then averaged to calculate the flow rate of the system.
The “Bucket Test” uses a five-gallon container to measure the flow rate
It’s a good idea to compare these results to the flow rate results from the well permit or well log in order to see if there have been any significant changes in the production ability of the well.
If you use a professional well driller, they will be able to tell you if the well will support your lifestyle and, if it can’t, what options, if any, you might have.
Potability refers to the drinkability of a liquid, in this case, water. According to the CDC, an estimated 1 in 44 people in the United States get sick from a waterborne disease each year. The potability portion of the well inspection will help give the well owner some peace of mind and a good idea as to the quality of water they will be drawing from their well.
In 1974 Congress passed The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) the purpose of this act was to protect and ensure the safety of our drinking water. This act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility of setting minimum quality standards for municipal (?) drinking water.
The EPA closely monitors state and local authorities, as well as private water suppliers, to ensure compliance with SDWA standards for 90 different types of contaminants that could potentially be found in drinking water.
Private wells are not subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act and are not monitored for water quality by government agencies. The responsibility to periodically test for contamination falls on the homeowner.
Because wells depend on groundwater, accidental contamination from farming chemicals, runoff from animal pens, fuel spills, household wastes, or other toxins can occur. Water testing helps ensure that your drinking water is safe.
During the well inspection, the inspector will draw a small sample of the well water. This sample is taken to a laboratory for testing. Either state or local health departments and environmental departments will generally test for things like nitrates, coliforms, fecal coliform, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, and pH level.
The potability test is essential in determining the usability of your well water.
Coliform and E. coli tests are the most common type of testing for a private well. Coliform bacteria are a type of bacteria found in the environment, in water sources, and in the feces of humans and animals. They are important in water quality testing because they can indicate the presence of other disease-causing bacteria in water. The presence of coliforms in water may indicate that the water is contaminated with sewage or other harmful bacteria.
The specific germs or harmful chemicals you should test for will depend on your well’s location on your property, the state in which you live, and whether you live in an urban or rural area. These tests could include testing for lead, arsenic, mercury, radium, atrazine, hardness of water, hydrogen sulfate (sulfur), iron, and other minerals, as well as total dissolved solids and other pesticides. You should check with your local health or environmental department or the EPA to find out if any of these contaminants are a problem in your region.
If testing is unavailable at the state or local level, each state should have a list of approved state-certified lab testing services in your area that test for various substances.
If the water quality issues are related to high mineral content, high iron content or sediment, there are additions to the system that can treat and condition your well water to bring it up to standard, like adding a sand filter or a water softener for water hardness.
Water treatment systems and filters can go a long way in improving the quality of your well water
You can also look at water filtration systems that take care of the entire house, or just the drinking water. A reverse osmosis system can help improve the quality of well water by eliminating water contaminants, which will improve the water’s taste and quality.
Please remember that if your test results say that there are germs or chemicals in your water, you should contact your local health or environmental department for guidance in interpreting the test and local guidelines.
One simple but often overlooked aspect of well inspection and maintenance is simply performing a visual examination of the condition of the well head and surrounding area. It’s essential to check for cracks, leaks, and damage to the actual wellhead cap. It’s not uncommon for vehicles to run into the head and cause damage.
Inspect and monitor the area around the wellhead and electrical components
It’s also essential to ensure the area around the wellhead is clear. Chemicals, fuel, and other contaminants can leak down along the outside of the well casing and cause problems with the quality of the water supply.
The internal electronics and electrical pump motor for the well system should be checked for any problems like shorts, deteriorated wire insulation, or corrosion. Problems with these system parts can be costly to fix, it’s best to discover them before they cause damage to other parts of the system, like the pump motor.
The distance between the building and the well pump must also be considered when sizing the wiring for a submersible pump. Because of this, it’s a good idea to verify that you have the right wiring for your system and pump.
The inspector should also look at the pressure tank to ensure it operates properly. The pressure tank is one of the main components of a well system, along with the pump, pressure switch, and the well itself. It stores water under pressure from the well and supplies it to your home at an appropriate pressure.
If the pressure inside the tank is too low, the pump will kick on to resupply more frequently. This can lead to the pump burning out or failing. The well inspector should also check the tank for leaks and deterioration.
Water is central to comfortably living in any home, and well testing is essential to know if you have enough water to meet your needs and if the water quality is up to par. It is better to know before you sign the closing papers, and it is easier to handle costly repairs while the seller owns the home. Inspection and testing are the best insurance you can buy for your well system when buying a new home.