As professional home inspectors, we understand the importance of clean and uncontaminated water for every home. Public water utilities are required to test and monitor their supply’s quality. However, if you rely on a private well, only you, the homeowner, can ensure your water supply is safe.

There are numerous potential water contaminants that can affect its taste, smell and overall potability. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified over 80 different contaminants that impact water quality. Unfortunately, many private wells are not constructed properly, and there's often a lack of state-wide standards or regulatory authority for wells.

Total Coliform (TC) Bacteria

WIN Home Inspector Performing Water Quality Test

Total Coliform (TC) bacteria in your water can be harmful if consumed. Bacteria can enter your water supply at various points, including the well itself, treatment systems or faucets. Ultra-Violet (UV) systems are typically the most common treatment methods, installed at common water entry points and killing bacteria as water passes through. The UV bulb should be replaced annually, a step many homeowners overlook.

Laboratory analysis using a microscope can confirm the presence of coliform bacteria, with any result other than zero indicating unsafe water. If bacteria are found in your water, we recommend contacting a qualified plumber, well contractor or water treatment specialist. It's crucial to avoid using straight chlorine bleach in wells, as it can damage the well's components.

When performing a chlorine shock treatment, it's essential to run water through all home spigots, including exterior ones, until the smell of chlorine is detected at each. Let the system rest for at least 12 hours. After the chlorine smell is gone from all fixtures, conduct a retest to ensure the bacteria issue is resolved. This process is vital during real estate transactions to maintain the settlement schedule.

Nitrate and Nitrite

Nitrate (NO3) and nitrite (NO2) are common well water contaminants, often indicating nearby farm runoff or septic systems. The EPA sets maximum allowable levels for these contaminants. Boiling water with high nitrate or nitrite levels is not advised, as it can increase concentration and risks, especially to infants and the elderly. Reverse osmosis systems, installed by licensed plumbers, are commonly used to address high nitrate or nitrite levels.

Lead and Iron

Lead and iron can also contaminate well water. Lead, used in pipe fusing until the 1980s, can leach into water over time, posing significant health risks. EPA standards consider water with lead concentrations under 0.015 mg/L and iron concentrations under 0.3 mg/L as acceptable. The highest lead concentrations are usually found in the first draw of water after a period of inactivity. New homes can still experience lead contamination, as some newer plumbing fixtures can also leach lead.

Testing for Water Contaminants

Water Quality Test by WIN Home Inspector

WIN Home Inspection identifies bacteria, nitrates and other contaminants through our Water Quality Test. Our Healthy Home Check allows you to combine this essential service with a comprehensive yet shortened inspection checklist highlighting areas of repair. Contact your local WIN Home Inspector for locational service information.

Additional tests, such as those required by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and Veterans Affairs (VA), cover a broader range of contaminants. The accuracy of lab results depends on proper water sample collection, and any deviation in the sampling procedure can lead to inaccurate results.

Some lenders may require raw water samples, bypassing any installed treatment systems. It's wise to check with the lender for specific requirements before ordering a water quality analysis. Regular retesting every 14 months is recommended to monitor for new contamination sources, allowing for seasonal variation.

For more information on Water Quality Tests, you can visit our Water Quality Test service page. Here, you'll find details on each test, the contaminants they detect and how to address high levels. You can also learn about Well Flow Test, another preemptive measure you can take to ensure a safe water supply.

Author Bio:

Josh Rogers

As a former professional home inspector and Training Specialist at WIN Home Inspection, Josh has years of experience in both performing and teaching home inspections, infrared scans, radon testing, mold testing, and more.