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Buying a house with a well comes with a number of benefits, from forgoing a monthly water bill to potentially having fresher water than regular city water. But it also comes with responsibility.

Before using a well, you need to know that you can safely drink and use its water. The previous owner may have used the water, but it’s still crucial that you know beyond a doubt that it’s safe for your family. That makes a well inspection a critical component of buying a house with a well. You can’t assume a well water’s purity — you have to know for sure.

How do you know if a house has a well?

Nearly all homes have one of two primary sources of water: well water or city water. When you’re house hunting, the seller or real estate agent will know which source a particular house uses. If it isn’t disclosed on the listing, just ask.

What is a well inspection?

Like a home inspection, a well inspection is conducted by a professional. The inspector examines the well that serves as a home’s water source and ensures the water is safe to drink and use. The inspection should also verify that there is a suitable amount of water in the well.

Although having a well frees you from depending on city water, it doesn’t free you from state regulations. A licensed well inspector will also verify that the well meets your particular state’s criteria regulating personal wells.

What happens during a well inspection?

A well inspection includes several tests but the two primary tests involve testing for water purity and water quantity.

Visual inspection

Before getting to the actual water, though, the average well inspection begins with a visual analysis of the wellhead, well cap, pump, pressure tank, and grout. An inspector will also check the well casing, electrical wiring, jet pump, capacitor, and gauges for any obvious defects.

Unless your well is in really bad shape, this should be a pretty quick process. If the inspector identifies a significant issue, they may not even proceed with testing the water until you make repairs.

Water purity

Water purity testing typically isn’t completed immediately. An inspector must take a water sample from the tap in your home and send it to a lab for testing. There, the lab will test 

  • pH levels
  • Hardness
  • Alkalinity
  • Turbidity (the clarity of the water
  • Minerals like iron, calcium, manganese, copper, fluoride, and chloride
  • Coliform bacteria and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Once the test is completed, you’ll get a report detailing both the results of your water and the acceptable levels of each element found. Any VOCs found in your water will likely preclude you from using the well as they are a huge health hazard caused by artificial chemicals or gasoline compounds leaking into the well.

Water quantity

Nobody likes a dry well. To test the water quantity in the well, the inspector will measure the dimensions and depth of the well and conduct what’s known as a flow rate test. The flow rate measures the number of gallons per minute produced by your well.

The average home needs 100 to 120 gallons of water per person per day, which means the flow rate should be anywhere from six to 12 gallons per minute. This will ensure you have the water you need to meet your bathing, cooking, and washing needs.

When should you get a well inspection?

If you’re buying a house in a rural area, there’s a good chance your home uses well water. Before buying a home, make sure you inspect the well. If there’s something wrong with it, you won’t get any help from the city — you’ll have to figure out the repairs yourself.

In most states, it’s the buyer’s responsibility to request a well inspection so don’t allow any offers to go through without one. 

How much do well inspections cost?

Most well inspections cost between $300 and $500 and are on the buyer’s dime. Some inspectors may also charge a travel fee if you’re in a very rural area and some labs may also charge an additional fee. It’s also recommended to include a septic inspection in your well inspection because the two systems are so interconnected. That can tack on another $100 to $900.

Although it’s expensive, getting a well inspection will save you a lot of hassle and it could save you some money, too. If the inspection shows a well in unsatisfactory shape, you could negotiate that the seller pays for repairs or takes some money off the price. If they resist, you probably shouldn’t go through with the purchase.

How often should you get a well inspection?

After purchasing a home with a well, you’re not simply done with inspections. Different states have different regulations, but it’s recommended that you inspect your well at least once a year for contaminants. In some areas, especially around construction or mining sites, you may want to check even more frequently.

There are other resources available to help you decide how frequently to get an inspection, too. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes known water issues, and your real estate agent and neighbors may know about water concerns in the area, too.

How much is a new well?

Finding out you need a new well after buying a house can be a headache. Drilling a new well can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 depending on your location, soil conditions, and how deep the well must go to find a suitable water source.

That’s why it’s so important to get the well inspection done before you buy. You don’t want to deal with that additional cost after moving in. If a property needs a new well, it might not be worth the buy.

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