What Every Realtor
Should  Know About
  Private Drinking
  Water Wells
United States
Environmental Protection
Agency New England


    f you are a real estate agent representing the buyer or the
   seller, you  may have a question about how you  can  best
   inform your client about private well water issues during a
     property transaction. This brochure will help to answer
     your questions.

According to the US  Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA),
it is  estimated that approximately  2.3 million people, or  20%
of New Englanders, rely on private wells for their drinking water
supply.This percentage  increases to more than  40% for  Vermont,
New Hampshire, and Maine. Contaminants, if present in drinking
water at elevated levels, can pose a  risk to families. Many of the
contaminants that can  be present in a private  well are  odorless,
tasteless, and colorless. The only way to identify their presence is to
have the well water tested.

Is Power!
Advise your client to get the
most information possible from
qualified professionals about
both the well water quality and
the condition and functioning
of the entire drinking water sys-
tem. For testing recommenda-
tions and information about
qualified professionals,  it is best to contact the appropriate state
agency, listed in the For More Information section at the end of
this brochure.

                e wen nas taste and odor
               ctive buyer may hesitate to
     ;n offer on the property.

Encourage your seller to have the well tested for
bacteria and other problematic contaminants and
install water treatment if needed.
               [.private well owners should
periodically test their well water to ensure the
quality of their drinking water.
It is best to have the well water tested annually for
at least bacteria, nitrate and nitrite. Other contami-
nants, like arsenic, should be tested for on a less
frequent or as needed basis.
Avoid  Delays!
Testing and inspection prior to listing a property will help avoid
delays in selling the home. Even though the potential buyer's
lending  institution will most likely require testing and inspec-
tion, an inspection commissioned by the home-seller will help
identify any existing problems that should be remedied prior
to listing. This will help to make the home more marketable
and reduce  the risk of problems during the sale. If necessary,
correct any  identified problems. (Note: To ensure public health
protection  in the long-term, state drinking water  agencies
recommend that homeowners arrange to have their private wells
tested annually.)

Safe  water  can  be  a  selling  point!
If there are any objections to testing and inspecting the water
system, you can advise your client that a house with a system
in disrepair or with contaminants present in the water is worth
less money on the market and can take longer to sell. Just like
a home with a new roof will likely sell for more, a home with a
properly functioning water system that provides safe drinking
water is worth more and will be a place of comfort for the new

What tests should  be conducted?
While  this recommendation may vary from  state to  state,
the EPA suggests that an initial test should include coliform
bacteria, nitrates/nitrites, and pH. In addition, the homeowner
should  consult with experts about the need to test for arsenic,
lead, copper, radon, a gross alpha screen, and volatile organic
compounds. For more information on specific testing
suggestions in your state, contact the appropriate state agency.

The  buyer's lending institution will most  likely require that
the well pass a water quality test prior  to  loan approval.
Most lenders require testing for
bacteria, nitrate and lead at a
minimum. Keep in  mind that
these  tests are intended  to
ensure that the lender is not
making a  loan on a property
with a faulty system, in case they
have to repossess the property.
The  testing is not necessarily
required to protect the health of
the residents.

Where  should the  samples   be  taken?
The water sample should be collected from the cold water kitchen
tap. Most water testing laboratories supply their own sample
containers and provide  detailed instructions on  how to
properly collect a water sample. Use the bottles provided and
carefully follow all instructions to obtain a good sample. In some
cases, a laboratory professional may come to the home and
collect  the sample.                                     3

If there is a home water treatment system, a water test should
be done on both the raw water coming into the house before
the treatment system and a separate test after the water has
passed through the treatment system. This will identify the
contaminants that are present and ensure that the treatment
system is functioning properly.

Are  there  any specific state
testing requirements?
State  requirements for private  well testing at the time of
property sale vary from state to state. It is best to check with the
state drinking water agency for requirements. In addition, your
client can ask  the appropriate state agency  about any known
contamination problems in the area to assist in determining
what contaminants to test for.

Where should the water be  tested?
Your  client should arrange to have the water tested at a
state certified  lab. These labs follow accepted procedures for
testing contaminants.  Make sure that the lab is certified to test
for the contaminants  requested.The lab will provide sampling
instructions and collection bottles for taking the water sample,
or in some cases, may send a professional to the home to collect
the samples. Contact  the appropriate state agency for a listing
of certified labs.

What  else should I  know about
water  testing?
Prior to obtaining a water sample  for testing, advise your client
to confirm that the well has no chlorine in it. The well may have


been chlorinated because of a failing bacteria or  other test.
Chlorine would  mask the presence of bacteria  and other
contaminants that may be present in the well water. A pool
chemical  test kit can confirm whether chlorine is present. If
chlorine is present, delay the water test. Remove chlorine from
the well and plumbing by running the water at each  faucet until
no chlorine odor is detected. Wait at least 24 hours after no
chlorine odor is detected before re-testing for the presence of
chlorine and collecting a water sample. Using the pool chemi-
cal test kit prior to sample collection will ensure the continuity
of checking for chlorine each time a sample is collected.

What are  the  costs for testing?
What to test for and how much the test will cost will vary by
state and  lab. Testing can range  from as  little as $5 for an
individual test parameter (like pH) to $250 or more for a  com-
bination of tests covering a wide spectrum of parameters. See
the state drinking water agency contacts for more information.

Once the testing is  done,
how does  my client know the
water  is  safe  to  drink?
The EPA establishes limits on  the concentrations of certain
contaminants that would pose a public health threat if present
in elevated levels in public drinking water supplies.These limits,
or standards, are set to protect public health by ensuring good
quality water. Private well owners are generally not  required to
test their drinking water to meet standards, unless the state has
regulations for private well testing. However, lending compa-
nies may use some of these standards for loan approval. Private
well owners  and potential buyers  can use the public drinking

water standards as guidelines  when evaluating the quality of
private drinking water. For more information on drinking water
quality standards, visit EPA's website: www.epa.gov/safewater
State drinking water agencies may also set advisory levels for
some contaminants, such as sodium, that are either stricter than
the federal standards or  that are not covered by the federal

Are  there  any other  parts of the  water
system  that  need  to  be  inspected?
Yes. In addition  to a well water test, the mechanical workings of
the water system should also be inspected.This includes the well
pump, pressure tank, water treatment system (should one exist),
the condition of the area around the well, and the well's proxim-
ity to potential  contamination sources.The well  itself should be
inspected to ensure tight construction. Also, the well's location
should not be subject to flooding. It is important to advise your
client  to  rely  on  qualified professionals to conduct  the
inspection. Qualified home inspectors can inspect the plumbing
system, such as general age, appearance and performance of the
piping,  storage  tank and/or other water system appliances like
water filters and treatment systems. For any inspection or work
on the well, it is recommended to contract with a registered well
driller or pump installer.

What are  the costs for inspection?
The inspection fee for a  typical one-family house varies geo-
graphically, as does the cost of housing.The knowledge gained
from an inspection  is well worth the cost.  When selecting the
home inspector, the inspector's qualifications, including experi-
ence, training, and  professional  affiliations, should be an impor-
tant consideration.

Where does your client  get
information  on the  age  of the  private
well, the type  of well,  its depth,  and
testing and  maintenance  records?
The current homeowner may have testing and maintenance
records, and well construction information (also known as a
well log, a water well record, or a drilling report). Most states
require that a registered well driller file a well log with the state
drinking water agency or local town hall. However, depending
on the age of the well, this may not have been done. In some
cases, your client may  be able to contact the individual who
constructed the well. If this information is unavailable, then your
client will have to rely on the information produced by the well

Determining the well type—whether dug, driven, or drilled—
can often be done by a visual inspection of the well. For more
information on well types, see the University of Rhode Island
factsheet Drink/ngWbterWe//s at:

How does your client  determine  if the
private  well  will  produce enough water
for  household  needs?
The well log or  drilling report may contain the information on
the well's capacity and yield in gallons per minute. If this infor-
mation is not available, you can contact a registered well driller
to conduct a well yield test. This person will have the equip-
ment and knowledge necessary to  conduct the test.

Most states have private well  construction regulations that
require a minimum well depth based on the yield of the well.
For example, in Rhode Island, a well with a yield of one gallon of
water per minute is required to have a minimum well depth of
300 feet. A minimum well yield of one gallon per minute amounts
to 1,440 gallons of water per day. By comparison, it is estimated
that the average daily water use per person is 75 gallons; for a
family of four this amounts to 300 gallons of water per day.

However, a well producing less than 5 gallons per minute is still
considered low yielding and may not be able to keep up with
too many demands being placed on it at the same time.Water-
use chores may need to be spread out over the week to limit

How does  my  client determine if
the  well  is properly located  away
from potential contaminant  sources?
The potential for contaminants entering a well depends  upon
its placement and construction, as well as the proximity of the
well to potential pollution sources, the condition of the well
casing and well cap, and general construction. States  have
minimum setback distances for wells from  potential contami-
nant sources. Examples include setback distances from septic
tanks, leach fields, agricultural operations, and roads. Older wells,
constructed prior to the  adoption of  these setback require-
ments, may not meet these criteria.  States also issue well
construction regulations or guidelines that ensure a safe water
supply.Your client can contact the state drinking water agency
for specifics.  Encourage your  client to find out more about
private well ownership and use. A guide  entitled, Drinking
Water from Household Wells is available from the EPA to help
answer questions and provide  links to additional information.
The booklet  can  be viewed at www.epa.gov/safewater/
pwellsl.html or it can be ordered by calling the Safe Drinking
Water Hotline at: (800) 426-4791.

For  More  Information

U.S.  EPA New England
EPA's  New England Office has a new campaign to get the word
out to homeowners about the importance of taking precautions
to protect, maintain, and test their private well. Through a
variety of efforts, the campaign will reach the general public, the
real estate community, schools, local officials, and trade associa-
tions like well drillers.

New England  Region  Water Quality  Program
For information and education programs on private well water

Connecticut Department of Public Health
Connecticut's private well water quality regulations are
contained in Public Health Code Section I9-I3-BIOI.
Well construction regulations are contained in PHC Section
19-13-B51 a-m.  Private well regulations are  under the jurisdic-
tion of Connecticut's local health departments.They should be
contacted with any private well questions. Additional informa-
tion may also be obtained by  contacting the Department of
Public Health's  (DPH) Drinking Water Division (DWD) at
(860)  509-7333 or by accessing the DWD's website.

For a list of state certified labs, contact the  Drinking Water
Program in the Division of Health Engineering, Department of
Human  Services (207) 287-1929.

The Environmental Toxicology Program in the Department of
Human  Services  maintains health based  Maximum Exposure
Guidelines (MEGs) for owners of private wells. The toll free
number is (866) 292-3474.

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Water Quality
Program has information on private well water protection and
testing on their web page, www.umaine.edu/waterquality/

Local Boards of Health can adopt regulations requiring a permit
for private drinking water well construction, testing, and abandon-
ment. Contact your local Board of Health for more information.

For more information about types of wells, maintaining wells,
water quality issues and  testing well water, visit the  UMass
Extension website.
www.umass.edu/nrec/watershed water^quality/index.html

For information on state certified laboratories in Massachusetts,
see the  Drinking Water Program at the Massachusetts
Department of Environmental Protection website.

New Hampshire
The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has
extensive information on its website at: www.des.state.nh.us/wseb

• For information concerning laboratory testing of water samples,
  please call an independent certified laboratory in NH or the state
  laboratory at 603-271 -3445. For information concerning water
  quality, treatment and questions concerning the public drinking
  water program, please call 603-271-2513.
• For information on wells, water quantity, and licensed well
  drillers, please call 603-271 -2513.
• For health related information, please call 603-271 -4608.
• For water quality test requirements for new housing, contact
  your local community's code enforcement program.
Some NH communities have local testing requirements. Contact your
local town hall to  learn about any local testing requirements in your

Rhode Island
Rhode Island Department of Health
Regulations for private drinking water well testing at time of
real estate  sale and information on testing and state certified
laboratories. (401) 222-6867.

Rl Department of Environmental Management
To obtain a listing of registered well drillers and pump installers,
regulations pertaining to private drinking water well construc-
tion and abandonment, call (401) 222-4700 or visit the website.


The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension Water
Quality Program has an extensive private well web page with
fact sheets and a program calendar offering private well educa-
tion workshops. See www.uri.edu/ce/wq and click on the Rhode
Island Home*A*Syst Program link.

For technical assistance and other information including health
concerns, testing recommendations for private well owners, fact
sheets, and  diagrams on proper installation  of  wells,  and
information about home water treatment, contact the Vermont
Department of Health at (802) 863-7220  or (800) 439-8550
(from withinVermont).

For more information  about laboratory testing services;
water testing; or to order test kits, contact the Vermont Public
Health Laboratory at (802) 863-7335 or,from withinVermont,
(800)  660-9997.

For information on Vermont Licensed Well Drillers, contact the
Vermont Department of Environmental  Conservation, Water
Supply Division at (802) 241-3400 or (800) 823-6500 (from

Water Systems Council
Water Systems Council is a national organization solely focused
on individual wells and other well-based water systems not regu-
lated under the federal Safe  Drinking Water Act. The Council
offers educational materials and trainings.
Wellcare Hotline: (888) 395-1033
American Ground Water Trust
This national not-for-profit educational organization focuses on
groundwater resource protection.The Trust conducts training
programs and develops educational materials on groundwater
resource protection  including private drinking water well
protection and maintenance.
American Ground Water Trust (603) 228-5444
www.agwt.org or www.privatewell.com