What You Need to Know About Testing Your Well Water
There are many things to consider when testing your well water, from the reasons why you might want or need to, to the specific lab tests you might want to consider, to other considerations, such as EPA drinking water standards, proper sampling techniques, lab certifications and if your house is on a public water supply.
This blog aims to demystify some of these complex scientific concepts.
8 Reasons To Test Your Well Water
1. You Notice a Change in the Quality
If you notice a change in the taste, odor or appearance of your water, it may be a sign that the water quality from your well has changed. A private well is not a guaranteed source either regarding the quality or the yield (how many gallons per minute the well produces). Most drilled wells are very consistent but a well can change for any number of reasons, including but not limited to another well being drilled nearby, a dramatic change in how much water is being pumped out of the well on a daily basis or if there has been either a drought or excessive rain. One unknown is whether the change is temporary or permanent. It is prudent to determine if the well has stabilized before having the water tested. This is because you want the sample to be representative of the quality going forward. Also, you cannot sense most harmful contaminants that may be present in the water, so without a lab test you don’t know if it is safe to use. A sudden change may also be caused by a problem with the pumping system, for example there could be a crack in the pipe between the well and the house. If that is the case, you would contact a pump and well company to troubleshoot the problem. If you have a water treatment system and you notice a sudden change in the water quality, it could be because the system is malfunctioning and needs to be serviced.
2. People in the House Have Gastro-Intestinal Issues
If people who are living in the same house are suffering from an upset stomach it is possible that the water is the source of the problem. Having a lab test for harmful bacteria can be a good starting point.
3. You are Purchasing a House with a Private Well
If you are buying a house with a private well you generally want to have a lab test the water quality, even if the seller recently had the water tested. You are better served to have your own testing done rather than relying on someone else’s data. If the house is not being lived in on a daily basis, then it is wise to run the well for some period of time before taking any samples. You want any samples to be representative of the quality of the water when it is used regularly. If there is water treatment equipment already installed in the house, then from a technical standpoint the water should be tested before and after it passes through the equipment to verify the performance of the equipment and to make sure you are not masking a problem by only testing the treated water.
4. It Has Been Many Years Since the Water Was Tested
In my experience most people test the water when buying a home and do not think about testing it again until they are getting ready to sell. While many wells produce very consistent water quality there is no way to be sure if the quality has changed without a lab test. The real question is, how often should the water be tested? The answer is, it depends, among other things, if you have a known contaminant in your water and equipment to reduce it. Is there a contaminant in one or more of your neighbor’s water supplies. How much does the test cost? For some people the cost (which is frequently $50-200) is a major factor. It really is a question of risk tolerance. Recommendations generally range from once a year to once every five years, assuming no known contamination problem in the area.
5. You are Considering Installing a Treatment System
Many water treatment dealers offer some basic level of water quality testing at no charge. In most cases the testing is limited to non health related parameters such as iron, hardness, pH, TDS (total dissolved solids) and a few others. While this testing can be very informative, unless the water has had a broad spectrum test performed by a lab in the recent past it may make sense to have a comprehensive test done by a lab before spending money on equipment to treat the water. In water treatment as in much of life, one thing can affect another, meaning you do not want to piecemeal the water treatment. You are almost always better off to look at treatment in a comprehensive way, identify all the issues confronting you, then look at solution options.
6. To Verify the Performance of Existing Equipment
Depending on the reason a system was originally installed, you may not need a lab test to know it is working correctly. For example, if equipment was installed to reduce an elevated iron content, it’s obvious if the system isn’t working because everything the water touches will become rust colored. On the other hand, if the issue is an elevated arsenic level, the only way of knowing whether the equipment is reducing the arsenic is by testing the treated water since you cannot tell by the taste, smell or look of the water if it contains arsenic.
7. There is a Contamination Issue in Your Area
If you become aware that there is a contaminant present in some of your neighbors’ wells, you cannot assume that it is at the same level or even present in your well. The only way to know is to have it tested. As an example, we dealt with a neighborhood which had a significant number of homes with an elevated arsenic level in the well water, some at a very high level. However, even in that situation we found an occasional house with no arsenic present. The moral of the story is, assume nothing, get your water tested so you know where you stand.
8. To Satisfy the Health Department
There are situations that sometimes require having a certified lab test your water to demonstrate to the health department that your water is safe to use. Make sure to use a lab that is acceptable to the health department and confirm whether you are allowed to draw the sample or whether an agent representing the health department must draw it.
5 Well Water Tests To Have Done
There are any number of tests a lab can perform. You can choose individual parameters or pick a package of parameters that suits your needs. Some groups to consider include:
The most common parameter in this group is coliform bacteria, which is used as an indicator of pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria and is almost always part of any broad spectrum testing package.
2. Inorganic Compounds
These typically include both health related and nuisance parameters such as iron, hardness, pH, arsenic, lead, nitrate and several others. This group is almost always part of any broad spectrum testing package.
3. (VOC) Volatile Organic Compounds
This is a group of health related contaminants which are not typically part of a broad spectrum testing package. They include industrial solvents and are components of petroleum fuels as well as dry cleaning agents and paint thinners. In my experience most people do not have their water tested for VOCs unless there is a known or suspected problem in their area.
This is a group of radioactive contaminants including radon, uranium and radium. Testing can be done for the individual elements and their various isotopes as well as a gross alpha test which measures a type of radiation emitted by some radioactive elements. This group is not generally part of a broad spectrum testing package. Radon testing is fairly common.
5. (PFAS) Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances
This is a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in the manufacturing of a number of products since the 1940s. Some of which are commonly used in our daily lives including stain and water repellent fabrics, cleaning products, Teflon, firefighting foam and some types of food packaging.
4 Other Considerations
1. EPA Drinking Water Standards
The EPA has two sets of standards for drinking water, primary and secondary. Primary standards are health related and secondary are non health related. For the most part it is these standards against which lab test results are compared and most state and local governments also adopt these as their standards. However, be advised there are exceptions, sometimes they will set a more stringent standard.
2. Proper Sampling Techniques
It is critical when taking a water sample that you adhere to the recommended method of drawing the water, otherwise you may not get a representative result. For example, some sample bottles have a preservative in them so they should not be rinsed out before drawing the water, others cannot have any air in the container at all. If you do not feel comfortable taking the samples yourself then seek out a qualified individual to do it. Depending on the lab, they may offer that service. If not then a local water treatment company is another option. Try to find one that is certified through the Water Quality Association (WQA).
3. Lab Certifications
It is advisable to inquire of the lab what certifications they have and if they are certified for all the tests that they perform.
4. If Your House is on a Public Water Supply
If your water comes from a public water supply, they are required to test it to ensure it meets the EPA standards for drinking water. Some people will still have a lab test their water for parameters that do not have an EPA standard or in case the water quality changed from the time it left the plant until it reached their house.
In this blog we covered a multitude of things to consider when testing your well water:
We hope it was helpful!
If you have any questions, need help understanding any of these concepts or your own unique situation, please feel free to book a free, no-obligation discovery call with us to see how we can help.