Wells and Water Pumps

Well water advantages

Homes with water wells have certain advantages over homes that rely on municipal water supplies. During drought periods, homeowners with wells are not subject to watering restrictions that may be imposed by their local governments.

Since the water treatment process occurs on the homeowner’s property and not at a water treatment facility, well water does not contain additives such as fluoride or chlorine, a difference that may be appealing to some homeowners.

Many people believe that well water tastes better than chemically-treated water from a public water supply, but this can vary by an individual’s taste, the location of the well and how effectively the well water is treated.

Since wells and well pumps require occasional maintenance and repair, homeowners who rely on wells do face slightly higher upkeep costs than those who rely on municipal water, but these costs can be minimized by preventative testing and maintenance.

Well water basics

A well typically consists of a hole drilled deep into the earth to reach an underground aquifer that contains ground water, which is typically replenished by rainwater percolating through the soil. A well shaft may penetrate only 10 to 30 feet deep or it may reach hundreds of feet deep, depending on how deep the water table lies in a certain area.

For residential applications, modern wells are equipped with a pump system that directs water to the home. Some setups include a pressure tank or pump that helps maintain steady water pressure output. Other system components may include screens, filters and purification systems designed to clean and disinfect the water.

In older or shallow wells, a jet pump may be used that sits above the ground and pulls water from the well. Submersible electric pumps that go inside the well and push the water up are more common today, however. Submersible pumps typically include a sealed motor that is lowered into the well and an above-ground power source.

Unless the well pump has a backup power supply such as a battery or a backup generator, well pumps that rely on electricity will typically stop functioning during power outages.

Homes that feature wells will often also come equipped with water softener systems that remove minerals from the water that may affect its taste and odor or damage the home’s plumbing. Filters and reverse-osmosis systems that disinfect water or remove particulate matter are also commonly found in homes that feature water supplied from wells.

Well water testing

If you’re purchasing a home that relies on well water, it’s a good idea to test the water, or verify test results, to determine if the water is safe to drink. If the homeowner who is selling the property cannot show proof that the water has been tested for the presence of coliform bacteria or nitrates, the potential buyers should request tests be performed or perform them themselves.

Since wells rely on ground water that’s replenished by rain that falls to the ground for several miles surrounding the well, contamination can come from sources outside the property the well sits on. Possible sources of well contamination include septic systems, agricultural and residential fertilizers and pesticides, animal waste, and industrial spills.

The presence of coliform bacteria can indicate the presence of other disease-producing organisms in the water supply, including viruses and other microorganisms. While coliform bacteria is usually naturally filtered out of rain water and other sources as it percolates through the soil, a poorly constructed, sealed or maintained well can become polluted by the bacteria.

If high levels of bacteria are found, it will likely be necessary to address and repair deficiencies with the well’s integrity or design. A disinfection of the well and the home’s plumbing system would also likely be required.

Nitrates are a byproduct from agricultural fertilizers, municipal wastewater and decaying plant debris. Although it’s commonly found in many forms of food, nitrates in water can cause health complications in children under 6 months old.

Well water should be tested about once a year, or whenever the water’s appearance, taste or odor changes dramatically. Water that doesn’t contain bacteria or nitrates may still pose potential problems.

Hard water, for example, has a high mineral content that can corrode faucets, damage washing machines and cause other problems with plumbing and appliances that worsen over time.

Local or state health departments maintain local drinking water standards, including determining local well water pollution hazards and acceptable levels of contaminants in the water supply. These offices often provide free or low cost well water testing.If you’re concerned about your home or potential home’s well water, check with your local health department for more details about testing.

In addition to testing for bacteria and other harmful contaminants before purchasing a home with a well, if the home has been vacant for a long period of time, the well should be tested for proper operation. Left unused for a long period of time, a well can develop high levels of sediment that may prevent the pump from operating properly.

Maintaining a well

The ongoing maintenance associated with keeping residential water well in good working order is primarily associated with two main priorities: keeping the well pump working efficiently and protecting the well from pollution, bacteria and other contaminants.

Wells that rely on aboveground pumps can generally be repaired more easily than wells that feature submersible pumps. If a submersible pump needs maintenance or repair, the process almost always entails pulling the submersible pump from the well. It’s highly recommended to leave any well pump repairs to a qualified technician.

Pulling a submersible pump is a messy and time-consuming process that involves removing the pipe attached above the pump, the pump itself and the pipe below the pump by pulling them up and out of the well’s casing. Because the process is so labor intensive, it can easily cost thousands of dollars, depending on the depth of the well. Fortunately, most submersible pumps are designed to last up to 25 years. However, well pumps in wells with high levels of sediment or other particulate matter will have shorter life spans.

To protect a well from contamination, it is important to prevent toxic household chemicals, paints and stains, and lawn fertilizers and pesticides, from entering the ground near the well. These chemical contaminants can leach into the ground water and eventually make their way to the well. Septic and wastewater drainage from the home should also be kept far enough from the well to prevent cross contamination. To be safe, it is best to retest the water quality every year.

Home water supply

Whether you draw from a well or connect to city water, it's important to know the basics of where your water is coming from and how the system works. This affects everything from water pressure and utility bills to reading a water meter. For more information and practical tips, check out the Angie's List Guide to Home Water Supply.

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