Private Water Sources: What Buyers Should Consider

By Kelly Leighton | Sept. 2, 2021 | 2 min. read

Over 1 million homes in Pennsylvania are not served by community water.

These properties typically receive their water via wells, either drilled or dug, rainwater cisterns and springs, with wells being the most common, according to a recent presentation from Water Resources Extension Associate with Penn State Extension Bryan Swistock. However, Pennsylvania is one of only two states with no construction regulations and 45% of private water sources are never tested.

Private water systems can become contaminated either via naturally occurring problems, like hard water, iron, manganese and sulfur, by homeowner or neighbor contamination, such as letting a dog go to the bathroom near the source or by large scale issues, like mining or gas drilling.

So, what should a homebuyer looking at a home with a private water source consider?

“Water testing is not a requirement, but is typically done. Many pollutants have no obvious symptoms,” said Swistock. He recommends using a Pennsylvania DEP-accredited lab to test the water. Consumers can choose what to test for, but Swistock said the most common are health-related, things like bacteria, copper, lead, nitrate or arsenic. But there are also aesthetic tests, which look for things like hardness, iron and manganese. About 40% tested by Penn State find health-related issues, while 66% are aesthetic. A truly exhaustive test would run about $5,000, he said, but it is not common. Buyers should prioritize what is important to them and test for that. If a test does come back with problematic results, water treatment options are available and generally cost around $1,100.

For Realtors® and their buyers, Swistock said since there is no requirement to treat water from private wells and springs, during real estate transactions, lenders and buyers will dictate treatment. If there is a water treatment system already in place, Swistock advises asking what it is, what problems it is treating, when it was installed and what the maintenance schedule is like.

“Replacing wells can be very expensive. There should be some inspection during a property transaction,” said Swistock.

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