When you get your water from a private well instead of from a public source, the water your family uses for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing is your responsibility.
If you can identify the warning signs of potential problems, you can avoid the hassle of having no running water in your home, or worse yet, compromising your health and safety because of poor water quality.
We’ve identified some of the most common signs that a residential well is having issues or that there could be a contamination concern.
1. Your Faucets are Sputtering
You turn on the kitchen sink, but before you see any water, there’s a blast of air and then short bursts of water spit out before it flows normally.
This probably means there is air in your plumbing system, and if it’s happening on a regular basis, it could mean your well pump needs servicing. The fix may be as simple as replacing a failing valve, or it could be a sign the drop pipe connected to the pump is damaged.
There’s also the possibility your well pump may need to be lowered because the water table has dropped and the pump is drawing in air.
2. Your Electricity Bill is High
If you have a private well and your jaw drops when you open your utility bill, it could also be thanks to the pump.
One of the first signs many homeowners get that their well pump is failing or needs to be lowered is a gradually increasing electric bill. This is because the pump is running continuously or cycling on and off all the time as it tries to maintain water pressure.
3. You Hear Strange Sounds
Are your pipes groaning and moaning? Is your well pump making loud humming, grinding, or growling noises?
These are signs that there are potential problems with your pump, and you should contact a professional to check things out as soon as possible to avoid damage.
4. Something Looks, Smells, or Tastes Strange
Even more obvious than odd noises in your plumbing system is the occurrence of strange odors, tastes, or murkiness in your well water.
Any time there is a noticeable change in your well water’s taste, smell, or appearance, it is best to have it checked by a professional.
Undesirable changes in your home’s water could indicate the presence of many different things. They may not necessarily pose an immediate risk to your health, but they do affect the aesthetics of your water.
For instance, a metallic taste could be a sign your water is high in iron and manganese. If your water smells like sulfur or rotten eggs, it may be the result of hydrogen sulfide coming from decaying organic matter in the groundwater.
Murky water is yet another sign of potential pump problems. It could mean water levels have dropped too low or that dirt is in the pump.
Causes of Discoloration in Water:
- Reddish/brown: Iron or manganese. May cause staining.
- Blue/green: Copper. Corrosive water may be leaching from pipes.
- Yellow: Suspended organic particles. Common in shallow wells.
- White/cloudy: High turbidity. Large amount of fine inorganic and organic particles.
5. Poorly Installed or Damaged Well Caps
It’s important to have a properly installed well cap or cover because if not, contaminants can enter your home’s water supply. If the cover on top of your well casing is damaged, insects and animals could crawl inside, decompose, and elevate bacteria levels, causing diarrhea and other digestive issues if consumed.
The well cap should be at least six inches off the ground, and homeowners should avoid growing plants or building boxes around the well casing.
A properly sealed well cap is the first line of defense against non-point source pollution such as runoff of pesticides, herbicides, and elements from nearby roads. Keep an eye on the cover of your well to make sure it’s in good shape.
6. Signs of Agricultural Contamination
Since many homes with well water are located in rural areas, agricultural runoff can be a common culprit of contamination. It may be from livestock waste (manure) or from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that are spread on nearby farm fields.
As the rain washes over agricultural land, it can pick up chemicals from these contaminants, which eventually enter the groundwater that is feeding your well.
Of particular concern are nitrates, which occur naturally in soil, and usually aren’t a concern at normal levels, which are under 10 parts per million for healthy adults.
However, concentrations can be excessive when they enter the groundwater supply from fertilizer and animal waste. Nitrates pose a specific health risk to pregnant women and young children. Babies should not consume water containing nitrates until they are older than 6 months.
Nitrates have no color, taste, or odor in water, so if there are contamination concerns, it’s best to have your home’s water tested for nitrates to make sure it is safe for your family.
It’s important to choose the right location for a domestic well to avoid potential contamination from agricultural sources. For example, you wouldn’t want your well downhill from a nearby livestock facility. The same goes for wells near septic systems and landfills. Wells should be located on higher ground whenever possible.
7. Signs of Salt Contamination
In areas of the country where winter weather is a factor, road salts can become another potential well water contaminant. It washes off roadways and infiltrates the groundwater.
The salt or sodium chloride (NaCl) is not a health concern to most people, unless you are on a sodium-restricted diet. However, it can impact the quality of your water, effecting the taste and leaving a white residue behind.
In one case, some residents in Connecticut had to switch to bottled water after the sodium and chloride levels in their well water made it unusable. An investigation suggested it could have come from runoff at a nearby prison’s parking lot.
If you live along a major roadway that gets salt spread on it regularly or downhill from a parking lot, you may want to keep an eye on your water quality after the snow melts.
Other Common Well Water Contaminants
Certain contaminants in groundwater are natural elements that get picked up as water dissolves rock and soil in your region.
For example, elements like uranium, radon, and arsenic occur naturally, but may be found at elevated levels in certain parts of the country depending on the geological makeup of the land.
Levels of coliform bacteria are another sign of possible health risks in your water. While many coliform bacteria are harmless, elevated total levels may indicate the likelihood of pathogens, such as viruses that can make people sick.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that about 20 percent of homes with private wells contain at least one contaminant at a level of concern.
Most private wells produce hard water. That’s because they are accessing groundwater, which has moved through rock and soil dissolving minerals like calcium and magnesium along the way.
Nearly every home with a private well deals with hardness, which could cause plenty of problems, from unsightly iron stains and soap scum to dry skin and spotty dishes. Hard can also cause appliances like your water heater to wear out quickly. Homes with private wells should have a water softener to help avoid these issues. Find out more about how a water softener works here on our blog.
What Can You Do?
Schedule a water test at your home or bring a sample into our store. This test identifies secondary contaminants in your water that may cause aesthetic effects in drinking water (such as bad taste, funny odor or coloring of water) and cosmetic effects (such as tooth or skin discoloration). These same contaminants can cause cloudiness in water, stains on fixtures or in laundry and mineral buildups that can damage appliances.
After the test is complete we will match your specific water problem with the correct technology and equipment needed to solve your issues. All with no obligation. Your water is tested by a technician, not a salesman.
Originally written and published by Water Care