Thursday, January 10, 2019

When Buying a House get a Well Inspection

If you are buying a house, you need to make sure that you will have an adequate and safe water supply. A house with a well should have an inspection of the well and its equipment. Most people get a home inspection when they buy a house. Home inspections are not mandatory, but are a good idea. Though they can be weaponized for negotiations, mostly home inspections should allow a buy to make an informed decision of the purchase. The typical house inspection starts looks at the house from roof to the foundation, and most major house system (plumbing, electrical, heating, etc.). They look for indications of faulty wiring, water damage that might indicate mold, infiltration, roof leaks etc. Most inspections also include tests for radon gas. However, home inspections do not typically include inspection of the well nor do they assure the proper functioning of the septic system. These are essential components of an inspection for homes that have these items.

A failed septic system could cost as much as $40,000 to replace the system. An inadequate well or failed well could cost $10,000-$20,000 to replace, but that does not guarantee that an adequate well can be drilled. Not every well produces adequate good quality water. So, before you buy that house, make sure the well is working and the water is of good quality. The Water Systems Council puts out a Guide to Evaluating Water Wells for Home Inspectors at a minimum make sure that is properly filled out by a knowledgeable person. It is best to hire a licensed well driller for this examine the condition of the well.

The essential elements of a well inspection are:
  • Reviewing the Well’s History
  • Examining the Well’s Location
  • Inspecting Well Components
  • Testing the Water Quality
  • Determining the Well Yield/Flow rate

Reviewing the Well’s History. Most states require a permit to drill a well and well drillers to be licensed. There are a few locations where a shallow dug well does not require a permit or license. Do not ever buy a house with a shallow dug well. It is the first to dry out in a drought and very susceptible to pollution. All modern drilled wells should have a well log on file with the local regulators. In Virginia that is the local Health Department. The log will have various details like depth, the types of soil encountered and water zones, the static water level at the time of completion and yield. Depth and casing are also reported. Your well inspector should be able to tell you a lot about your well from the log.

Examining the Well’s Location. The area of the well should be up-gradient of any potential nearby sources of pollution and water should flow away from the well head and comply with regulatory separation requirements for things like property lines, septic systems, foundations, etc.

Inspecting Well Components. The well casing should extend at least 12 inches above the ground surface and should not have any cracks or holes. The well should have a sanitary well cap that is securely attached to the well casing. There are two types of pumps: a jet pump that is above ground and a submersible pump in the well. Jet pumps are only used on shallow wells that you do not want, so the pump should be submerged in the well. Make sure you know the age of the pump- submersible pumps are designed to last about 17 years with normal household use. The pressure tank and wiring should be examined for age and damage.

Testing the Water Quality. In Virginia our Rural Household Water Quality water clinics test for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. This is a good list to test for. Note that is there is water treatment equipment in the house test both before and after the treatment equipment to understand the quality of the water, if treatment is necessary and if the water treatment equipment is working properly.

Determining the Well Yield/Flow. This has to be done by a well driller. The next best proxy is to turn on the outside hoses (away from the house) and run them for a few hours. The flow rate of a hose is dependent on the diameter (there is more than one), the pressure most pressure tanks provide 30-40 psi and the length of the hose (the pressure falls in a longer hose). So use a 5 gallon bucket and see how long it takes to fill. My 100 foot hose flows at about 4 gallons a minute. So every hour that the hose runs represents about 150 feet of storage depth in the well. Basically, after a few hours you know that the well is recharging faster than the hose is running. You can increase the flow rate by using a short hose. This simple test will tell you if the well yield is adequate to support a household. (Most households can live easily on 5-6 gallons a minute. Ten gallons a minute is the typical pump rate.)


  1. What, if anything, is the county doing to help protect the integrity of our well water in the face of rampant and out of control development in the western part of the county?