For most homes I inspect that have a well as the water source, I perform a water analysis. This is often required by lenders, and many home buyers want to know that the home’s water quality is acceptable whether their lender requires a water analysis or not. Public water supplies come from a water treatment plant that adheres to strict safety guidelines, but wells are the sole responsibility of the homeowner. For this reason, all homeowners who rely on a well as their primary water source should have their water tested periodically for safety.
While we test for several contaminants here at HPI (bacteria, total dissolved solids, nitrates/nitrites, lead and pH), the one that most people are concerned with is bacteria. I’m often surprised by how many water analysis results show the presence of bacteria in well water.
Fortunately, there are options for eliminating bacteria in well water, and I’d like to focus on what I consider to be one of the best options in this article – an ultraviolet (UV) treatment system. Some well owners rely on chlorination to kill bacteria, and this method is generally effective. The problem with chlorination, though, is that it needs to be done manually and fairly often to ensure the well water is safe. Many homeowners aren’t aware that well chlorination should be performed after all heavy amounts of rainfall, and in many areas that’s a common occurrence. This process of chlorinating, or “shocking,” the well consists of manually adding the chlorination, running the water through each fixture until a chlorine odor is apparent, shutting off each fixture, allowing the water to sit for preferably at least 24 hours, and finally purging the plumbing system of all chlorine. Needless to say, this is a very tedious and laborious task that can cause a good bit of inconvenience, although it does not cost much. In addition, certain strains of bacteria are not always killed by chlorination (although most are), so your efforts may not always be completely effective.
On the contrary, UV treatment kills 99.99% of bacteria and is essentially maintenance-free. A UV system consists of a lamp and sleeve, and the lamp emits ultraviolet light that disrupts the DNA of bacteria, which effectively destroys it. Unlike chlorination which has to be done more regularly and requires some know-how, a UV system only requires an annual bulb change to perform its job. In fact, it’s not much more difficult than changing any other light bulb… you just have to take care not to touch the bulb as skin oils can cause damage, similar to changing a vehicle headlight. The UV system works at all times, so there’s no need for tiresome manual labor.
A downside to UV systems is that they only kill microorganisms. They do not eliminate other possible contaminants in well water that may also be harmful. For this reason, many homes with wells are equipped with other treatment systems in addition to a UV system for bacteria, such as filters, a water softening system, etc.
Many would-be rural homeowners assume that having a well means no fees for water, period. While this can be true, it often is not true – especially if you drink the water. In most cases, well owners will want (or need) to have a treatment system in place to ensure their water is safe, and these systems do cost money.
Typically, well drilling companies that provide these systems will give the option of either buying the equipment outright or leasing it on a monthly basis. If you purchase the equipment, you own it but are also responsible for any maintenance, repair or replacement work that arises. If you lease the equipment, you typically pay per month but the company is responsible for any work that needs done at any given time. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of each option based on your particular wants and needs. In any case, having water treatment systems (like a UV system) installed is a good idea for most homeowners with a private water supply.
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