What To Do When Buying A House With A Private Well

Editor’s Note: Buying a house is stressful and expensive. When I was buying my first house, I remember thinking, “Where is all this money coming from?!” Not only is the house, itself, the most expensive thing you’ll ever buy, but then you have closing costs and fees for every possible inspection. So, it’s easy to understand why buyers may overlook the importance of private well and septic systems: if you feel like you’re hemorrhaging money, the last thing you want to do is spend hundreds more dollars on systems that you barely understand. But not only are these systems two of the most expensive appliances that you’ll own, improper maintenance can lead to health problems. So in the next two blog posts, I’ll provide information to help give you peace of mind when buying your next home with a well and/or septic—starting with wells.

Having a private well means not having to pay a utility bill—but safe drinking water isn’t free. Lots of drinking water contaminants are invisible, tasteless, and odorless. You may never know they’re in your water until you or your family members experience health issues, like gastrointestinal distress, respiratory difficulty, neurological and developmental effects, and possibly cancer. Pregnant women, infants, children, seniors, or family members with compromised immune systems are at particular risk.

We recommend that home buyers take the following steps to better understand the condition of a well and possible drinking water concerns. In some cases, we do recommend that you spend a little more money ahead of time to minimize the chance of surprise expenses at the end of the transaction, or worse, after you’ve moved in.

Lead Stains Tub_Kelsey Pieper
Stains on sinks and tubs, or corroded fixtures, can indicate different types of contaminants. Blue-green staining like this indicates lead in the water. (Photo by Kelsey Pieper.)

Look for signs of water quality issues when inspecting the house.
Are there any stains in the sinks, tubs, and/or toilets? Are there any signs of corrosion on the plumbing fixtures and faucets?

Inquire about water treatment devices.
Knowing the type of device, manufacturer, and device model will provide a sense of water quality concerns, required maintenance practices, and operational costs. We recommend using devices that have been certified by the National Sanitation Foundation or the Water Quality Association.

Use a state-certified water testing lab to conduct a COMPREHENSIVE water analysis.
Many lenders will require tests for specific contaminants, but these usually do not include health-related contaminants. We recommend getting a comprehensive testing package that includes health-impairing contaminants. Most state-certified labs offer packages that you can add onto as needed. If you have pregnant women, infants or young children, make sure to include all of the most important contaminants of concern.

Wellpic3_Harford Co.
This is an example of a wellhead in good condition. Not all well caps look like the one on this well. The important thing is to make sure that it is a sanitary well cap. (Photo by Harford County Health Department.)

Learn how to spot good wellheads, then check the house’s wellhead.
Everything on a wellhead should be secure and in good condition—no cracks, holes, or corrosion. The area surrounding the wellhead should slope away in all directions and be clear of debris and overgrown plants.

Hire a licensed well professional to inspect the system.
Typical home inspectors don’t have the expertise or specialized equipment to properly diagnose issues with a well system. We recommend hiring a licensed well professional who can run a yield test, which will run the system for an extended period of time, allowing the professional to gauge the system’s condition. Yield tests typically costs $300-400, but many companies also offer modified yield tests for $150-200, which is not as thorough, but still gives a general sense of the system’s condition.

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