If you’re buying a house with a well and have never owned one before, you may be wondering how well water is different from public water and whether it can supply you with the safe, quality water for drinking, cooking, and bathing. You’re not alone — more than 13 million Americans rely on well water for their everyday household water needs.
Fortunately, with just a little testing and treatment, well water can be clean, safe, fresh and enjoyable to have in your home. How does well water work? And what are some of the specific treatment needs of well water vs. city water? Read on to learn more.
Types of Wells
What are the different kinds of wells? If you own a home with a well, it is probably one of three main types.
- Drilled wells: Creating a drilled well requires the use of percussion or rotary-drilling machines. They can extend thousands of feet underground and feature a continuous lining, or casing, over their underground surfaces to prevent collapse. The casing typically consists of bricks, tile, stone or other solid material. If you are thinking about buying a home with a well, this is the type you want to have. The depth of the well and presence of continuous casing help prevent bacterial contamination. The deep construction helps keep surface runoff out of the well, and the casing provides a solid barrier to resist bacteria.
- Dug or bored wells: Constructing a dug or bored well requires the use of a backhoe or shovel. They are typically shallow, extending only about 10 to 30 feet beneath the ground, and have a large diameter. These wells also have casing, but it is not typically continuous. Because of their shallowness and uneven casing, these wells are more susceptible to contamination than driven wells.
- Driven wells: Driving pipe into the ground is the method for creating driven wells. They generally draw their water from surface aquifers. They use continuous casing, but they are still relatively shallow — typically extending 30 to 50 feet beneath the earth’s surface. Because they are shallow, they are susceptible to contamination by polluted surface waters.
Well Water Quality
How can you evaluate the quality of your well water? The water quality of wells can vary widely with local environmental conditions and the source of your water supply.
If your water comes from an aquifer located near agricultural operations, fertilizer runoff could contaminate it. Or, if the soil in your area contains high concentrations of heavy metals, those metals could also leach into your water supply and pollute your well water.
Below are some of the common well water problems to consider when evaluating your water quality.
- pH: In chemistry, pH stands for “power of hydrogen,” and the pH of your water determines whether it is acidic or basic. The EPA recommends that the pH of drinking water be between 6.5 and 8.5. High pH can give water a bitter taste and cause deposit buildups on pipes and fixtures. Low pH (acidic), which is more common, can cause blue/green staining and corrosion of metal pipes. Precipitation in the Northeast tends to have a lower pH than that in other areas of the country, so your well water may be slightly acidic.
- Hardness: If your water contains high concentrations of calcium and magnesium, it is “hard.” Hard water can cause dry, itchy skin, dull hair, water spots on flatware and a white or filmy buildup on pipes and fixtures.
- Heavy metals: Heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and many more might be present in the rocks or soil surrounding your home, especially if you live near a mining operation, petroleum refinery, electronics manufacturer, municipal waste disposal facility or cement plant. Natural mineral deposits can also be sources of heavy metals. In these cases, the heavy metals could leach into your water supply. Heavy metals like iron, which is relatively common in our area, can cause unpleasant metallic smells and staining. Ingestion of certain heavy metals have been linked to severe health problems, including cancer, neurological impairment, organ damage and, in children, developmental delays.
- VOCs: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include contaminants like paints, solvents, pesticides and herbicides — harmful substances you don’t want in your drinking water. People who ingest high levels of VOCs may suffer from damage to their circulatory system, nervous system, reproductive system, kidneys and liver.
- Bacteria: Bacteria, especially coliform bacteria, can commonly be found in well water. Bacteria may leak into wells from septic tanks or fertilizer, or runoff may wash it into wells during spring rains and snowmelt. Unlike municipal water, well water does not receive chlorine treatment to kill harmful bacteria that could cause gastrointestinal illness, so well water requires regular testing for bacteria.
Getting Water Tested
How can you get your well water tested? You can assess the quality of your well water with professional water quality testing.
Typically, a water treatment professional will come to your house and take samples from your well, which they’ll send to a laboratory for certified testing. You will then receive a report that details the levels of the different elements found in your water, as well as an explanation of whether those levels fall within acceptable limits for safe drinking water.
A water quality test may evaluate your water’s pH and hardness, and it will likely test for the presence of coliform bacteria as well. Mineral testing can also alert you to the presence of such substances as iron, lead, copper, fluoride, chloride and many more. Many water quality tests can evaluate your well water for VOCs as well.
If testing reveals high levels of contaminants in your home, work with water quality professionals to develop a well water treatment system. You can add a whole-home water filtration system or problem water filter to your home to reduce contaminant levels, or invest in a water purifier or UV treatment system to remove harmful bacteria.
If you’re buying a house with a well, it’s vital to get the well water tested before you close. You should also continue to get your well water tested at least once a year to catch minor issues before they cause severe harm.
How Long Do Wells Last?
Wells can often last for 30 to 50 years, though they may have significantly shorter or longer lifespans depending on the environmental conditions near your home. Generally, though, if your well is over 15 or 20 years old, you should be aware that it may soon need new parts or require a total replacement.
The well pump and well pressure tank, in particular, will likely require replacement at some point during the lifespan of the well. It is not uncommon for well pumps to fail after less than 10 years and need quality replacements.
How to Dig a New Well
How should you dig a new well? When you need to dig a new well, you can follow these steps.
- Plan the well’s size and location: Remember that your well should be uphill, if possible, to avoid contamination from runoff flowing downhill. You should also locate your well far away from your septic tank to prevent cross-contamination. The size of your well will depend on your household’s anticipated daily water needs.
- Determine the construction method: Because drilled wells are so much more resistant to contamination, we highly recommend drilling your well, rather than digging it with a backhoe or a driven pipe.
- Get permits: The next step is to secure the necessary permission from your local authorities. Work with your contractor to determine what paperwork you need and how to obtain it.
- Dig and seal: Once you have done the necessary planning and secured the required permits, you can work with your contractor to begin work on your new well. The contractor can supply a rotary drill to create the well and then add casing to help seal many contaminants out.
Contact Long’s EcoWater for All Your Home Water Testing and Treatment Needs
When you need testing or treatment for your home’s well water, trust Long’s EcoWater for solutions. Our home drinking water solutions, including reverse osmosis and microbiological filter systems, can supply your home with fresh, clean, safe and great-tasting water for drinking, bathing and recreation. And our friendly professionals — many of whom have over a decade of experience with us — are always on hand to answer questions and give you the benefit of their extensive industry expertise.