Well Inspections: A Home Buyers Guide

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Finding a property with a private water well can put a perk or a pause in your homebuying plans. On one hand, having an independent water source is often a coveted benefit for homeowners. However, dealing with a well inspection and what it might reveal can raise questions about sustainability and potential health risks.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the well inspection process, including what’s tested, when inspections are needed, and how much they might cost. We’ll also share tips from an experienced, certified well inspector so you know what to expect if you choose to become a homeowner with a private well.

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How does a well work?

A water well taps into underground aquifers, drawing clear, potable water into your home with the help of a pump. Here’s the basic flow:

  1. Water source: Underground aquifers act as natural reservoirs.
  2. Well construction: A hole is drilled deep into the ground to reach the water table.
  3. Pumping system: A pump draws water up from the ground and into a storage tank in your home.
  4. Water treatment: Depending on the water quality, treatment may be necessary to ensure it’s safe for drinking and daily use.

»Learn more: Watch a short video on how wells work

What happens during a well inspection?

Well inspections are vital to ensure the water source for your home is safe, and the system is in good working order.

“We’re going to look at the entire well system that is visible,” says Joshua Kreager, an experienced well inspector with Copper Canyon Inspections in Arizona. “That’s going to include the well pump casing and pressure tanks. We’re looking for corrosion, leaks, mechanical issues, and anything that will affect overall performance.”

Kreager explains that an inspection typically goes beyond just visually looking at the system. “We also like to include a water quality test. We also check water flow rates, pressure checks and a bacterial contamination test. We want to make sure that the well meets regulatory standards and is safe.”

Here’s what you can expect:

  1. Visual inspection: The inspector examines the physical condition of the well, looking for any signs of damage or wear.
  2. System check: The pump, pressure tank, and related equipment are tested to verify proper operation.
  3. Water flow test: This test measures the rate at which water is drawn from the well, indicating the well’s yield.
  4. Water quality sampling: Samples are taken for laboratory analysis to check for contaminants.

The water quality sampling will typically include:

  • Bacteria levels: Common tests look for coliform and E. coli.
  • Chemical contaminants: This includes nitrates, nitrites, and heavy metals like lead and arsenic.
  • Physical characteristics: Testing for pH levels, hardness, and the presence of sediments.
  • Emerging contaminants: With growing concerns, tests for PFAS (“forever chemicals“) are increasingly common.

Why should a well be inspected and tested?

Testing your well water regularly is essential for several reasons:

  • Health safety: Ensuring water is free from harmful bacteria and chemical contaminants.
  • Maintenance and efficiency: Identifying problems early can prevent costly repairs and ensure your well system runs efficiently.
  • Environmental changes: Changes in land use or industrial activity nearby can affect water quality.
  • Rising contaminants: The increasing detection of PFAS in groundwater highlights the importance of regular testing to catch these and other dangerous substances.

What can cause a well to be contaminated?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all private wells use groundwater. It warns that if polluted groundwater is consumed, it could cause illness. Groundwater pollution can be caused by:

  • Seepage through landfills
  • Failed septic tanks
  • Underground fuel tanks
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Runoff from urban areas
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

When should a well be tested?

“The most common time an inspection is needed is when there is a change of ownership,” Kreager says. “But if it’s not a sale of property, we recommend doing it annually. So, at least once a year.”

Inspectors recommend the following timelines to safeguard your home’s water supply:

  • Annually in spring for homeowners: According to the National Groundwater Association (NGWA), it’s best to test your well water each year, ideally in spring, as heavy rains and melting snow can introduce contaminants into your well.
  • When buying or selling a home with a well: Always include a well inspection in your homebuying or selling process to ensure the system is up to standard. According to Washington-based JKA Well Drilling, “The risks of not doing a well inspection during a real estate transaction are incredibly high – what good is a home without water?”
  • Whenever you suspect a problem: Changes in water taste, odor, or appearance, or sudden issues with water pressure, signal it’s time for an inspection.

The Groundwater Foundation estimates that 42 million people in the U.S. use private wells to supply water for their households. The EPA estimates this to represent about 23 million homes.

What common issues might a well inspector discover?

“A lot of times, we encounter mineral build-up, this is usually number one,” says Kreager. “If a client opts for the water quality and bacterial contamination testing, we commonly see E. coli. We can also see deteriorating well casing, and a lot of faulty pumps and pressure tanks.”

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a type of bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals According to the CDC, “Fecal coliforms and E. coli are usually harmless. However, a positive test may mean that feces and harmful germs have found their way into your water system.”

Along with bacteria, other contaminants that might be revealed during water testing include:

  • Nitrates
  • Arsenic
  • Mercury
  • Radium
  • Atrazine and other pesticides
  • Metals (lead and copper)
  • Radon

How much do well inspections cost?

The cost of a well inspection can vary based on the location, depth, and complexity of the well, and what tests are included. “On avereage, homeowners can expect to spend between $300-$500 for a reputable inspection,” Kreager says.

This typically includes a physical inspection of the well’s structure, a check of the pump and pressure tank, and basic water quality testing for bacteria, nitrates, and nitrites. Additional tests, particularly for substances like heavy metals or PFAS, can increase the cost.

For deeper wells and additional testing, Angi estimates the cost can be as high as $900.

Who pays for a well inspection when buying a home?

Kreager explains the responsibility for paying for a well inspection during the homebuying process can be negotiated between the buyer and seller, but says, “It is usually the buyer.” This is typically part of a buyer’s due diligence.

However, some sellers may agree to pay for the inspection to ensure a smooth transaction, especially if it’s necessary to prove the well’s condition as part of the sale agreement. Typically, who pays for the inspection will be specified in the purchase contract.

What should I know when selling a house with a well?

If you’re selling a home with a well, transparency and preparation can ease the process:

  • Provide records: Share any well maintenance records, repair history, and past inspection reports with potential buyers.
  • Consider pre-inspection: Getting your well inspected before listing can identify any issues that could delay the sale. Addressing these early can be a selling point.
  • Understand regulations: Be aware of local and state requirements for selling properties with wells, as some areas may require specific tests or certifications.
  • Set expectations: Inform potential buyers about the benefits and responsibilities of well ownership, including regular testing and maintenance.

How do I find a well inspector?

“When you’re looking for any kind of inspector, you want to make sure that you prioritize qualifications, experience, and certifications,” Kreager advises. “You don’t want just anybody walking onto your property saying they can do something without a reputable and verifiable background.”

Kreager says his company only employs licensed professionals. “We have extensive training and expertise in well systems. So you want to look for that. We recommend checking references and reading online reviews.” And depending on why you’re hiring a well inspector, he adds, “Verify your insurance. Make sure to have the coverage and that you’re working with trustworthy and reliable people.”

Here are some ways to find a qualified well inspector:

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Tips when buying a home with a well

Purchasing a home with a well offers the benefit of access to your own water supply but requires due diligence to ensure the system is healthy and efficient.

“There isn’t anything that an average homeowner (or homebuyer) can see right off the bat except for maybe general well condition,” Kreager explains. “If the homeowner has maintenance information, [the buyer] can ask for those records. They should be maintaining the well at least on an annual basis. That will give you a good history and consensus of the general health of the well.”

Here are some additional tips to guide you:

  • Get a comprehensive well inspection: Beyond the basic inspection, consider testing for a broad range of contaminants, including heavy metals, chemicals, and, increasingly, PFAS.
  • Understand the well’s history: As Kreager noted, ask the seller for any records of well installation, maintenance, repairs, and previous inspection reports.
  • Assess the well’s capacity: Ensure the well can meet your household’s water needs. A flow test can provide information about the well’s yield.
  • Check for proper construction: The well should meet all local construction and safety standards to prevent contamination.
  • Plan for maintenance: Set aside a budget for regular testing and potential well maintenance to keep the water safe and the system functioning efficiently.

FAQ on well inspections

Well inspections are more important than ever

As our awareness of environmental contaminants grows, so does the importance of ensuring the safety and efficiency of our private water supplies. A thorough well inspection is more than just a checklist item during the homebuying process; it’s a vital step in protecting your health, your investment, and the quality of your daily life. With emerging concerns like PFAS and the critical role water plays in our homes, making sure your well is inspected by a professional has never been more crucial.

If you’re considering buying a home with a well, don’t navigate this process alone. Let HomeLight help you find a top real estate agent who’s experienced with wells and properties in your area of interest. With the right support, you can ensure your well is safe, efficient, and ready to provide your home with clean water for years to come.

Header Image Source: (Derek Torsani / Unsplash)