If you live outside a municipality or in an area not served by public water, your water supply is almost certainly provided by a private well. Water wells tap underground sources of drinkable water called aquifers. In most local counties these are typically water-bearing limestone formations 100 to 200 feet below the surface.
Water Well Problems
The safety of any water supply is largely dependent on the construction and maintenance of the water system. Below is a list of common well system problems that can spell trouble if their symptoms are ignored:
1.Well pump turns on and off continuously when used. A waterlogged pressure tank causes this condition. Draining and repressurizing the pressure tank may correct the problem. If you do not know how to do this, you may need to contact a well contractor.
2.Poor water pressure. There are a number of potential causes for this problem. One of the most common is improper pump setting on the pressure switch. Most pressure switches are set to turn the well pump on at 30 p.s.i. (pounds per square inch) and off at 50 p.s.i. Contact a well contractor to adjust the pressure switch accordingly.
3.The well pump turns on when water is in use. This problem almost always means that there is a leak somewhere in the water system. Check the inside plumbing for leaks. If none are found, check outside for wet spots in the yard between the well and the house. Consult with a well contractor if you cannot determine the source of the leak.
4.Physical defects. Homeowners should periodically inspect their water systems for defects that could affect the safety of their water. If the well casing extends above the ground, make sure the cap fits tightly onto the casing and is in good condition. If the cap is loose, tighten it. If it is damaged, replace it. Check the electrical wiring to the well. Ideally, the wires should be enclosed in metal conduit between the well and ground, and between the basement wall and the pressure switch. If the electrical system appears to be damaged, call a well contractor to repair it immediately.
5.Poor water quality. Water from private systems may contain bacteria, minerals or other impurities that affect its quality. Any private water well may be tested, in our laboratory, for a fee. Samples are routinely tested for coliform bacteria and nitrate levels. Contact the Health Department for information about having your water tested. Installing a water-conditioning unit can reduce water hardness and iron content. Other water quality problems may sometimes be solved through disinfection of the well water distribution system.
Procedure For Disinfection of Well Water Distribution Systems
Disinfection may be accomplished by the use of ordinary household bleach containing chlorine. For the average home well, one to two gallons of bleach will be adequate. Be sure to use regular bleach, not "lemon scented" or other modified bleach products. It is important to remember that even after the well has been disinfected, the water supply is not considered safe until a satisfactory laboratory report has been received.
1. Check the well seal, to be certain of a tight-fitting construction. Replace any worn or damaged parts. A well must be in good condition to prevent contamination.
2. Mix the gallon or two of bleach in a bucket with three or four gallons of water. Water drawn from the contaminated well is satisfactory. Pour the solution directly into the well. Run a garden hose into the well and recirculate the water until you smell the bleach in the water coming out of the hose. Check again to see that the well seal is in good order before closing the well.
3. Turn on each water faucet successively throughout the entire distribution system and let it run until you smell bleach at each tap.
4. Turn off the taps and allow the solution to remain in the water lines for at least two hours. Then run each tap for ten seconds and close again and allow to stand overnight. The water should not be used except for flushing toilets.
5. On the following morning:
a. Connect a garden hose to an outside water faucet and run the water into a road ditch until the disinfectant odor disappears. Then run each tap inside the house to rid the system of any lingering disinfectant.
b. Run each tap until the disinfectant odor disappears.
6. After two days and if the odor of bleach is not detected, re-test your water. It is also recommended that you have the water tested again about two weeks after chlorinating the system to assure that the contamination problem is eliminated. Boil all drinking water for 5 minutes or use bottled water until a satisfactory lab report has been received. Water may also be made safe for drinking by putting 5 drops of unscented bleach into each gallon of water. Let the water stand for 30 minutes before drinking. This method should be used only with water that is clean in appearance and free of odor.
Disinfecting your well in the manner described above should be performed anytime your well is serviced.
Hiring a Water Well Professional
Selecting the right water well professional is somewhat like searching for a new doctor or dentist. All are directly involved in your health. An experienced well professional is your best guarantee of a good supply of clean drinking water. Take the time to learn more to find the right person and company.
To find a well professional or drilling company, ask your neighbors, call your state water well association or local health department, check in the yellow pages of the telephone book under “water well drilling & well pump installations.” Once you’ve identified a few prospective companies, ask a lot of questions.
Ask for two to three references from former customers. Find out how long the company has worked in your area, how many wells they have drilled and how satisfied their customers really are.
• Professional Qualifications
Your well professional should be certified, licensed or registered with your state health or environmental agency. Specific requirements vary from state to state. Ask for proof of proper credentials and well association memberships.
A professional water well driller uses a written contract. The contract should include details of the job and warranties or guarantees, if any.
• Insurance and Bonding
A drilling company and its personnel should be insured. Some states require bonding; some do not. Find out what the law requires.
• Local Geology
An experienced driller knows about the geology of the area in which he or she drills and can clearly explain it to you.
• State and Local Laws
A knowledgeable driller knows state and local regulations that govern well drilling.
• Maintenance and Repair
Timely maintenance and repair services are important to well owners. A company that offers these services can make life easier for you and ensure the proper function of your well system.
Before signing a contract, discuss who is responsible for various aspects of the well construction or repair work.
• Permits, Site Visits, Fees, Etc.
The homeowner or his/her representative typically secures permits required by the local governments or health agency. A driller can tell you what agencies to contact and what fees must be paid. The driller coordinates site visits by inspectors and construction activities.
• Well Location
In most states, strict regulations govern location of the well. A competent driller knows the regulations and will tell you if health officials or other regulators must be present during the well location process.
• Well Capacity
The driller can estimate the water requirements for your household. Help your driller by discussing things like the number of bathrooms, the number of people in the household or anticipated water use for irrigation of lawns and gardens, spas, whirlpool baths or pools.
• Water Quantity/Quality
The quality and quantity of water from your well depends on the geology and hydrology of the area. Well water comes from underground aquifers, which exist throughout the ground at different depths. These “storage spaces” contain different amounts of water. A driller cannot tell you exactly how deep he/she will have to go to get water. An estimate can be based on other wells drilled in your area. A driller cannot predict the exact
quality of the water that will be tapped. What a driller can do is make reasonable judgments about water quality based on previous experience.
• Well Records
Your driller should make a construction record (well log). Ask for a copy. If the law requires an inspection, keep that report as well. Keep repair bills and information on equipment purchases. Well records are very useful for maintenance purposes. Some states require the driller to submit records to regulatory agencies. Ask the driller what your state requires.
Ask the well professional what will be done if water is not reached at the estimated depth. Also, ask what options are available if the water needs some form of treatment.
Finally, discuss the cost of well construction and maintenance or repair. There are several factors that will influence the final cost.
• Depth of Well
The depth of a well is a determining factor in figuring the basic cost of drilling and the cost of pipe, because most drillers charge by the foot. A driller will base estimates on what experience shows is an average depth for your area. If the water first tapped is adequate for your family, then drilling can stop. If not, then drilling may have to go deeper.
• Materials and Equipment
A complete well includes casing material, pipe, a pump, a tank and grout to seal the well. Choose superior quality products to improve the efficiency and longevity of the well.
• State Regulations
Most states require specific construction practices designed to protect health and the groundwater. Some states prohibit use of certain construction materials. Ask the driller how state construction requirements may effect cost.
Labor is usually figured into the charge-per-foot for drilling a well. However, there may be labor costs for installing the pump and tank or for performing repairs on an existing well. Experience teaches a driller to anticipate problems that may occur. However, nature is full of surprises, some of which even the most experienced driller cannot anticipate.
• Cost Effectiveness
Over the long term, the cost of water from your well will be pennies per day. Even factoring in construction and routine maintenance, a private well is still cost effective when compared to other systems.
The Water Systems Council would like to thank the South Atlantic Well Drillers Association, representing water well professionals in the southeast, for providing guidance on selecting a well contractor.