If you are looking at older homes or homes out in the country, chances are you’ll see some that have a private well as their primary water source. We’ll discuss what it usually entails and what to watch out for. But we will stress as always that you want to make sure and have any house you plan to buy inspected before you close on the purchase, and if the home has one, the well. These often go hand in hand with a private septic system. Check out our companion post on septic systems here.
What is a private well?
Older homes were often built in areas where municipal (city) water was not available. With old farm homes the original water source might have been a cistern filled by rain or a well with a hand pump outside. Fortunately, these systems normally will have been upgraded to a modern pressurized well system by now and is the system used for new homes today as they are still being built in areas that don’t have municipal water sources nearby. A typical single family home well consists of the well bored into the ground with some type of electrical pump that pulls the water out of the well on demand. In some cases, the pump is above ground and draws the water out but here in central Indiana most wells are deep enough to require submersed pump which is typically located near the bottom of the well and pumps the water up to the pressure tank. The pressure tank is used so that the water maintains a constant pressure when a spigot or faucet is opened. The pressure tank will have a controller that turns the pump on and off depending on demand. The diagram below (from Axsom-Franke Plumbing’s web site based out of Columbus IN) shows the basic layout of a system utilizing a submersible pump common in central Indiana.
Depending on the water quality from the well there may be added filters and more commonly a water softener (due to the area’s hard water) as part of the complete system servicing a home. It’s also not uncommon to have a reverse osmosis system that further processes the water for drinking and the icemaker in a refrigerator. While each of the additions to the water service help the water quality it’s important to note none of them purify or sterilize the water so water quality is something the homeowner must always be aware of. Regular water testing is recommended just to be sure the well is producing quality water.
What to look for
A seller should have information on a well and you’ll want to make sure and review any documentation they might have. Depending on the age of the home and the well itself you’ll want to look for the equipment such as the pressure tank and if included the water softener. Both these items tend to perform poorly after years of use, and if the water quality is very hard they will wear out sooner. So if the units are older consider asking for a home warranty as they seem more likely to fail within the first year of new owners (probably due to the change in user demands). Since the pump is probably down in the well you’ll want to know if any work has been done recently and the age of the pump if it’s ever been replaced.
When touring the home look for a well head somewhere out in the yard. It’s usually a 5” diameter pipe, these days typically PVC, sticking out of the ground about a foot or so that has a cap and a power conduit to one side similar to the image on the left. Note the distance to things around it as an older installation may not conform to current local ordinances. The most common issue we’ve seen is an improper distance between a well and septic system which is 50’ minimum in Indiana.
Next locate the pressure tank, it’s usually located in the basement or a utility room with the furnace, water heater, etc. You’ll be able to tell if it’s a new unit pretty easily as it will look similar to the image to the right. Older tanks may have issues with keeping pressure so consider the cost of replacing it if it looks rather old. Ask your inspector to look it over carefully if it appears very old. Keep in mind the cost of replacing the pressure tank or the pressure switch which controls the pump is usually minor to the cost of replacing the pump or having a new well dug.
As far as other parts of the system (filters, water softener, etc.) are concerned, these items tend to be replaced on a regular basis so don’t put much faith if they look more than a few years old. Just count on installing new systems after you move in. We’ve found renting equipment like that makes more sense because of the improvements made to these types of systems every year. But it really just depends on the quality of the water from your well. We’ve seen two different well systems on homes next door to each other that have completely different water quality with wells of similar age.
Which brings up the final item for you to check. Be sure and order a water test when you do the inspection. Your inspector knows the proper way to take a sample and will send it to a lab for analysis. It’s not unusual for the test to show poor water quality in a home that someone has been living in. That’s when you ask for the well to be disinfected with chlorine bleach and then retested.
Don’t forget that once you buy a home with a well water system there is some required homeowner maintenance. Filters need replaced and salt added to your water softener if they are part of the system. And regular water testing is recommended. If the test shows bacteria here is a great document from a local home inspector (Center Grove Inspections) on how to disinfect your well: Water Well Care
If you’re in the market for homes that might have a well (older or rural type homes), you’ll want an agent with experience and of course The Derrick Team is here for you. Call or text 317-563-1110 today with any questions you might have.
Found this great video on shocking your well here:
Indiana State Dept of Health information on wells:
More online resources for homeowners with wells:
See more details on the well diagram above at: