New Jersey home inspectors should be familiar with the components and the operation of private water wells. There are over 400,000 private water wells in New Jersey. There are more than 23 million households that have private water wells for providing potable water in the United States as indicated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
There are three types of private water wells. A dug well is a well that is created by using a shovel or backhoe. They are lined with stones or tiles. These wells are shallow, between 10 and 30 feet deep. The water from a shallow well is retrieved by a bucket and pulley system. The problem with these wells is that they are most prone to contamination. This is an old-fashioned type of well that typically is not seen in a modern home setting.
A driven well is constructed by driving pipe into the ground. These types of wells are also shallow, under 50 feet deep. Driven wells can be contaminated easily because of their shallow depth.
The most common well in NJ is a drilled well and is constructed by a rotary drilling machine. This type of well can be over a thousand feet deep and does require the installation of a lining or casing. Drilled wells have a lower risk of contamination because they are drilled so deep, and they have a continuous casing in which shallow wells do not. The vast majority of well water systems will be of drilled type.
Well water comes from aquifers which are pockets of water deep under the surface of the earth. Aquifers are essentially small reservoirs deep under the earth. Groundwater seeps into the earth and then collects in these geological rock formations because it cannot seep down any further. The water simply gets trapped in these rock formations. You can think of an aquifer as being a large pocket of water deep below the earth.
Although not complex there are several components to a water well. The first component is the well casing. The well casing is the lining of the well. The casing is installed from the top of the well to the bottom of the well. The purpose of the casing is to prevent contamination from getting into the water and to prevent seepage into the well from the sides of the well. It is crucial to keep contaminants out of the well water. The most common materials for well casings or steel, stainless steel, and PVC.
A well head Is located at the top of the well and its purpose is to prevent contaminants, debris, insects, or animals from getting into the water well. Well heads are typically made of steel or aluminum.
There are well screens installed at the bottom of the well. The screens are installed at the bottom of the casing and the screens prevent too much sentiment from entering the water well.
There is a water supply pipe that allows the transfer of water from the bottom of the well up to the well head and then into the house. These pipes are typically made of plastic water supply piping.
There are two different types of well pumps, one is a jet pump, and one is a submersible pump. Jet pumps are commonly used for water wells that are shallow under a depth of 30 feet. Jet pumps are installed above ground and can typically be seen in the basement of the home. Pumps use suction to draw water from the well.
Submersible pumps are pumps that are installed at the bottom of the well and connected to a power source at the surface. These pumps push water through the water supply pipe up to the surface rather than pulling water like a jet pump.
A pressure switch is installed to regulate and supply water pressure. Well pumps are designed to operate when there is water demand only. They are not on continuously. A pressure switch regulates and ensures that a pressure of about 40 psi is maintained in the well water system.
A well water tank or pressure tank is used as a storage vessel for water coming from the well. These tanks are used to maintain pressure throughout the system. The typical American family will use 300 gallons water per day.
A well pumps water into the house from the aquifer and stores water in the pressure tank. From the pressure tank it is supplied to every faucet and fixture in the home through the supply piping in the house. The pressure tank monitors the water level and then once the water level drops to a certain limit the pressure switch will turn on the well pump typically located deep in the well to pump water into the well tank to fill the pressure tank. This is an automatic process.
Often, we will see water softeners installed in homes with water wells. Aquifers located deep in the ground typically have high mineral concentrations, especially magnesium and calcium. The presence of these minerals makes the water hard. Having a water softener can help extend the life of your appliances and protect your water supply piping. A water softener should be considered if water from your private well tests for high levels of magnesium and calcium.
Unfortunately, home inspectors in New Jersey are limited on what they can inspect on a private water well. This is because most of the important components are installed below the level of the ground. However, NJ home inspectors can inspect the well tank or pressure vessel. They should look for any signs of leakage. Also, it is possible to determine the age of the well pressure tank. Providing the age of the pressure tank gives the client an idea of how much life is left in the pressure tank. Typically, a well pressure tank will have a life expectancy of about 15 years. The age can be deciphered through the data plate on the pressure tank itself.
All water supply pipes should be inspected for leakage and corrosion. These pipes will typically be visible around the location of the well tank. The home inspector can also look at the pressure gauge on the tank. Typically, we want pressure in a private water well to be about 40 psi to 60 psi. The pressure gauge if working correctly can indicate water pressure available. Many times we will see the pressure gauge waterlogged and if this is the case, we should recommend replacement.
The New Jersey home inspector can also inspect the wellhead which is located on the exterior of the home. The home inspector should make sure the wellhead is in good condition and is tight and the wiring that enters the well is properly protected and covered to prevent weather exposure. The wellhead should be at least 12 inches above the grade level. Home inspectors should report any wellhead that is under 12 inches high because it is subject to increased vulnerability of contamination.
The next thing that New Jersey home inspectors should look for is poor water pressure in the home. Many times, we will inspect homes that are on a private well and water pressure will be poor. I recommend that New Jersey home inspectors use a multi-fixture water flow test where at least two bathrooms are in use simultaneously to determine if two bathrooms especially showers can be utilized effectively without a significant water pressure drop when fixtures are operated simultaneously. We want our New Jersey home inspection customers to be able to utilize two bathrooms simultaneously without being subjected to low water pressure in the home. Often, we will find that well water is lower in pressure than city water. So, it is important to inspect for low water pressures when we inspect homes that are constructed on a private well.
New Jersey home inspectors can also inspect the jet pump if it is located inside the home. Home inspectors should run water and listen closely for the operation of the jet pump. It should turn on smoothly and it should not be overly noisy. An overly noisy jet pump can mean that the bearings inside the pump are getting worn. Home inspectors should also attempt to identify the age of the jet pump which has a life expectancy of about 10 years.
New Jersey home inspectors should also educate their potential home inspection clients about the private well testing act. This act was signed into law in September 2002. The private well testing act is a law that requires well water testing to be performed when a property is changing hands. The well test can be either performed by the buyer of the property or the seller of the property. In my experience here in New Jersey I have found that typically the seller of the property is the one responsible for this testing requirement but there are times when the buyer can be responsible as well. The private well water testing act is there to protect the buyer of the property so they can understand what the quality of the water is in the water well they are purchasing. The test is useful to understand the quality of the potable water originating from a private water well.
Although as home inspectors in New Jersey we are limited in what we can inspect on a private water well. However, we must understand the components of a well and how it operates so we can properly educate our customers and answer any questions that they may have regarding the well. Clients may also choose to have a professional well inspection performed, which is an option that they have. A professional well inspection will be more in depth regarding its scope and possibly provide more information than a home inspector would.