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What you need to know about your well

You’ve decided to move to the country. Great! You'll love your newfound wide open spaces, especially if you’re moving from the city or the ‘burbs.

As you're searching for your dream country home, look further than how many bedrooms it has and the pretty view from the living room window. Make sure you know where your home's water is coming from.

Wait, what? Water? That's right. One thing many city dwellers don’t typically consider when purchasing rural property is the very real possibility they’ll be living in a house that has a well rather than city- or county-supplied water.

Water isn’t on the list of must-haves when city folks are considering buying a property — they just turn on the tap and it comes out, courtesy of the city water system. It’s a given. But in many rural areas, that infrastructure just isn’t there. According to the EPA, 13 million households in the U.S. rely on private wells. Most of those are in rural areas.

Here are some questions to ask — before you sign on the dotted line — if you’re considering buying a house with a well.

Is the water safe to drink?

This is, by far, the most important thing to get straight. It means the health of your family and pets. Don’t buy a home without testing the well water. This is oftentimes part of the inspection process you go through before purchasing a home, and it can and does fall to the buyer to get the water tested. Check with the county where you’re purchasing the home to see if they do testing for free. If not, contact a state-certified testing lab. To find one in your state, go to the EPA’s website for information.

The lab will test for turbidity (how clear or murky your water is), alkalinity, minerals, toxins and volatile organic compounds like benzene.

What is the flow capacity?

Aka water pressure. Basically, this means how fast the water comes out of the tap. Is your shower going to trickle? Regulations require a flow rate of about three to five gallons per minute, but if you like a good, strong shower, you may want to look for a higher flow rate, between six and 12 gallons per minute. When you’re looking at a property don't DIY the flow rate by simply turning on the tap and seeing how strong the water pressure is. Determining a system’s true flow rate is a job for a water professional.

What is the storage capacity?

Is there enough water for your family's needs? A rule of thumb is that the average family needs 100 to 120 gallons of water per person per day. It's critical to know your well's storage capacity. Pros will tell you that an average drilled well can store about 1.5 gallons per foot. Knowing the depth of the well and pump, you can eyeball the storage capacity, but again, leave this measurement to the pros. It could mean the difference between everyone having enough water to shower in the morning and a mad dash to the bathroom to get in before the water runs out and has to refill. Which can take a long time.

Is the well drilled?

There are three types of wells: dug, bored and drilled. Without writing a manifesto on each type, the general rule is to look for a well that is drilled. Drilled wells are deeper, go into the bedrock, are more reliable and less resistant to contamination than other types of wells.

How old is the well?

The lifespan of a well is usually between 30 and 50 years. If yours was drilled 20 years ago, you'll be looking at replacing parts, the pump and pressure tank sooner rather than later, so you should plug those future costs into your budget.

How far away is the well from your septic system?

If you have a well, chances are good you're also going to have a septic system. Make sure the well is at least 100 feet away from your septic, or you may have problems with the septic leaking into the well and contaminating your water.

What happens if the well has “issues”?

You’ll need to decide what to do if the well in your dream country home has “issues” (including any of the above problems). Maybe you can live with a less-than-ideal flow capacity, but if your well is dug or bored, if it’s at the end of its life cycle, or if it’s too near your septic system, you may have to drill a new well. And that’s not cheap. It might be worth finding another property that doesn’t have those problems. But if you’re set on the home of your dreams, you’ll need to build the cost of the new well into your budget.

At Compeer, we specialize in rural and agricultural loans. If you’re considering buying a property with a well, we’ll be happy to sit down with you and talk about your options.

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