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Keep Your Drinking Water Safe

Maintaining your private well

When you make an offer to purchase a house with a private well, perform a test to analyze water quality. Make your contract contingent on obtaining the desired test results. Use a state-certified laboratory, and if you are allowed to draw water samples yourself, be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

The EPA recommends that you test well water annually for nitrates and coliform bacteria, but the lab may suggest additional tests important for your specific property or region, such as:

  • Testing for pesticides if the home is built on the site of an old orchard or farm.

  • Testing for volatile organic chemicals if an oil tank is buried on the property, or if commercial storage tanks are buried nearby.

  • Testing for lead if the home has lead pipes. Lead tests are important for homes with public water, too, since contamination occurs after the water enters the plumbing.

    The results of your water tests might show contaminants that are offensive, but not health risks. The lab can advise you about the differences between that type of contaminant and dangerous contaminants, and their possible sources.

    Don't hesitate to ask as many questions as it takes to answer all of your concerns. Some types of contamination may not be correctable, so it's important to understand what's causing the problem before you close on the property.

    Faulty Well Components
    If contamination is from faulty well components, the current owner will often agree to make necessary repairs, because once known, contamination is a material fact that must be disclosed to all potential buyers.

    The well should be sanitized after repairs are complete, then re-tested to ensure the problem has truly been corrected.

    Problems That Can Be Corrected
    The casing is a pipe that lines the well shaft. A cracked casing makes it easy for surface water to run directly into the well.

    The well should have a protective barrier of grout in the space between the casing and the sides of the borehole.

    There should be a tight-fitting cap at the top of the casing to prevent water and insects from entering.

    Well Safety Tips

    • Don't store or mix chemicals near the wellhead. A simple spill could go directly into the well.

    • Don't pour pesticides or other dangerous chemicals down the drain.

    • Take care when using chemicals to melt ice in the winter. They can pollute groundwater.

    Other Recommendations

    • Seal abandoned wells. They are a direct route from the surface to groundwater.

    • Fit your house with check valves that keep polluted household water from flowing back into the well.

    • Test your well water annually. Inspect visible well components for signs of problems.

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