There are many great things about moving your family to a more rural location: fresher air, less noise and pollution, as well as a satisfying sense of independence. However, one thing that often comes with a more off-grid lifestyle is a private well.
Instead of getting water from a pre-treated public supply, houses on private wells are responsible for pumping and sanitizing their own drinking water. Depending on the local environment, nearby sources of contamination, and the type of well water filter being used, this process can look pretty different for different households.
Here are 10 things you should be doing or thinking about if you’re moving to a private well water system.
1. You will be responsible for your water supply
Even though an estimated 15 million American households are connected to wells, there is no government regulation over private well water quality. This means that homeowners are 100% responsible for the safety of their water supply.
As a result, if your well floods, becomes contaminated with bacteria, or is compromised by a toxic spillage, it’s down to you to take steps to solve the issue. It’s important to become knowledgeable about the major water-safety threats in your local environment, how to test well water, as well as the filtration and disinfection methods relevant to each type of pollutant.
2.Not all wells are built the same
Knowing that your property contains a private well is just the beginning of your knowledge-gathering mission. The next step should be to find out exactly what type of well you’re dealing with.
Dug wells are made using conventional construction tools and lined with brick or stone. Due to their ‘handmade’ nature, these wells are normally very shallow, which makes them vulnerable to contamination from surface water runoff.
Bored and driven wells are much bigger, which means they are often able to generate a faster flow rate. While they’re still usually shallow, which means they’re vulnerable to contamination, the more high-tech nature of the drilling means that they can be used in softer earth like silt and clay.
Drilled wells are the norm for modern well construction, where a drilling rig is used to dig deep into the earth, regardless of rock composition. Many drilled wells exceed 1000 feet, and use pumps to retain a decent flow of water to the faucet.
3.Well water can vary widely depending on your geography
No two wells are the same, so try to learn as much as you can about the water quality and geographical features in your local area. Permeable bedrock like sandstone or limestone is likely to mean an easy time achieving a good flow rate, while lots of agriculture or industry combined with a shallow well might be a red flag.
Also think about the property itself, and how it might contribute to well function. What kind of drainage is there on the land, and how well-maintained is the septic tank? One great way to judge drainage is to carefully check the condition of the basement, as an old but still very useful book from the USGS on rural groundwater says.
4.Change your filter cartridges!
No matter the type of well water filtration system you use, some level of maintenance will be required. Systems that use replaceable filter media cartridges need to be monitored for cartridge saturation, while those with big tanks will need regular backwashing.
Despite clear instructions and warnings about decreased effectiveness from filter manufacturers, many people choose to leave their filter media in place long past their expiration. This risks clogging and a spillover of contaminants into the drinking water supply.
Modern filter systems acknowledge users’ reluctance to perform regular maintenance and come with features to make taking care of your filters easier. Wireless tank heads are available that connect to mobile apps, which allow you to set auto-backwashing schedules and monitor performance. Some filter stages are made from see-through casings, which let you gauge cartridge condition with a quick glance.
5.Personally test your well or read a recent report
Because private wells are unregulated, you won’t receive a consumer confidence report or any other kind of breakdown of your water quality. Instead, you’ll want to have your well tested by a private lab, either by taking a sample yourself using a home kit that’s sent off or by contracting a professional to visit your home.
Occasionally, new homeowners will be provided with well water test results when they move in, so it’s always worth asking about any recent testing when viewing a property. Remember that many of the most serious drinking water contaminants cannot be detected by tasting, looking, or smelling your water.
6.Look for possible major contaminants in the local environment
Testing well water is crucial, but there are far simpler and more immediate ways to estimate the quality of well water. Simply by looking for common features of the local environment, it may be possible to guess what kinds of contaminants you’re likely to be dealing with.
Here are some environmental features that the EPA recommends watching out for:
- Intensive farming and agriculture may suggest that groundwater contains nitrates and pesticides
- Old piping is an indication of potential lead corrosion
- Coal mines may cause groundwater to contain higher than average levels of metals and acidity.
- Landfills, junkyards, and gas stations can spill organic chemicals into the land, otherwise known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
7. Filter for the right contaminants
Well water filtration systems are often complex pieces of equipment containing several filter stages. This is because each type of filter is designed to capture specific contaminants. In fact, there is no one-size-fits-all water filter. The most common filter stages for well water in the US include:
KDF or air injection filters, which are designed to capture iron and other naturally occurring metals in groundwater.
Activated carbon filters, which adsorb dissolved organic contaminants to their surface, while allowing water to flow freely through. Organic contaminants are often those substances that affect the smell and taste of water.
Reverse osmosis filters, which use pressure to push water through micro-pore membranes to capture almost all contaminants.
Ultraviolet purifiers, which use UV bulbs to shine high-intensity light through water to inactivate bacteria and viruses. The UV rays are able to disrupt microorganisms on a cellular level, rendering them safe to drink.
Sediment screens, which filter out large particles of rust, dirt, silt, and sand. This reduces the cloudiness of water, as well as increasing the lifespan of appliances and other filter stages.
8. When maintained, wells are a great drinking water source
Even though there’s lots to think about when it comes to running a private well, many people love having their own Independent water source, and wouldn’t go back to being part of the public water system. Owning a well means you get to decide how you treat your water, and when done correctly, can produce results that far surpass your average tap water supply.