Why Test Your Water

Home Inspector with STLhomeinspector.com

Water absorbs dissolved minerals, organic compounds
and organisms as it moves through the air and soil into
surface and ground water supplies. Unacceptable materials
may find their way into the water due to some of our

Public water systems are required to regular test and
treat water for certain contaminants according to the
rules and regulations set by the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Testing
your water from a public system could indicate problems
in your home's plumbing, connections or treatment system.

Most private systems are in rural or suburban areas.
Private well owners are responsible for monitoring the
quality of their water. Testing for possible contaminants
on a regular schedule is the only way to be certain your
water supply is safe.

Occasional problems do occur in the state's water
supplies. Nuisance problems generally do not present a
health risk, but the water may not be acceptable for all
household activities. The most common nuisance problems
are objectionable taste, odor, color and hardness. Once
properly identified, these problems can often be
corrected with water treatment systems.

Testing for every possible contaminant is unnecessary
and expensive. This will help you identify the tests you
need for your water supply. Testing confirms a problem
exists so appropriate treatment can be recommended and
you do not purchase expensive, unnecessary treatment

Which Tests?

Your first concern is to provide your family with a
safe source of water. Private well-owners should test for
total coliform bacteria and nitrate. The presence or
absence of bacteria or nitrate often indicates the safety
of your water supply. Testing must be done to detect
these contaminants since both are typically invisible,
odorless and tasteless.

Coliform bacteria are found in the digestive tract of
all birds and mammals. Most coliform bacteria are not
harmful themselves, but point to an unsanitary condition
and possible presence of disease causing agents. In some
cases the bacteria are found in the pipes or well and not
the water supply itself.

Sources of nitrate include food, water and soil. High
levels of nitrate in the water supply can cause infant
cyanosis (blue baby) in children under six months.
Chronic, long-term risks are not known at this time. Like
coliform bacteria, the presence of nitrate indicates the
possibility other contaminants.

The following table lists problems found in water
supplies and the appropriate tests to request. You should
review your particular concerns with your county Health
Department, Cooperative Extension office or water testing
lab when selecting the appropriate tests.

Problem or Concern Test
Frothy, Foamy Detergents
Black flakes Manganese
Brown or Yellow Iron, Tannic Acid
Stains on fixtures
or clothing:
Red or Brown Iron
Black Manganese
Green or Blue Copper
Odor or Taste:
Bitter Nitrate, Sulfates
Rotten Egg Hydrogen Sulfide
Metallic pH, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Lead
Salty Total Dissolved Solids, Chloride,
Septic, Musty, Earthy Total Coliform Bacteria,Iron
Soapy Detergents (Surfactants)
Gasoline or Oil Hydrocarbon Scan,Aromatic Volatile
Organic Chemicals
White deposits on Hardness
pots and fixtures,
soap scum
Discoloration of Fluoride
children's teeth
Family or guests Total Coliform Bacteria,
become ill Nitrate, Sulfates
Water supply used for Nitrate
infant less than six
months old
Corrosion of plumbing Corrosivity, pH, Lead, Iron, Zinc,
Manganese, Copper Sulfates,Chloride

If You Suspect or Observe Test
Contamination from:
Old lead pipe or solder Lead, Copper, pH, Zinc
Leaking fuel tank Hydrocarbon Scan, Aromatic
Volatile Organic Chemicals
Coal mining Total Dissolved Solids,Iron,
Sulfates, pH, Corrosion
Index, Manganese,
Aluminum,Arsenic, Selenium
Gas and oil drilling Total Dissolved Solids,
Chloride, Sodium,
Barium,Lead, pH, Corrosion
Index, Strontium, Volatile
Organic Scan
Landfill Total Dissolved Solids, pH,
Volatile Organic Scan, Heavy
Metal Scan
Septic systems Total Coliform Bacteria,
Nitrate, Detergents, Total
Dissolved Solids, Chloride,
Sodium, Sulfates
Land application of sludge Total Coliform Bacteria,
Nitrate, Metals
(Lead, Cadmium)
Intensive agriculture Total Coliform practices
Bacteria, Nitrate, Pesticide
Scan, pH, Total Dissolved
Livestock feedlots Total Coliform Bacteria,
Nitrate, Total Dissolved
Solids, Total Organic Carbons
Road salt Total Dissolved Solids,
Chloride, Sodium

When To Test

Private wells should be tested yearly for coliform
bacteria, nitrate, hardness and pH. Tests for iron,
sulfates and chloride should be done every three to five
years. If you are expecting a baby in your home you
should test for nitrate at the beginning of the
pregnancy. Depending on the test results, you may wish to
test again before bringing the baby home and during the
baby's first six months.

Even if you have a public water supply your water
should be tested for total coliform bacteria if you make
any changes in your plumbing or water treatment system
which could introduce a contaminant. Before buying a new
house have the water tested for bacteria and nitrate to
insure its quality. Lending agencies often require the
bacteria test before approving a loan.

If you have an old or shallow well, it is especially
important to test your water regularly. Older methods of
well construction, and the well's location in relation to
septic or livestock facilities on many farms, makes older
and shallow wells prone to contamination.

You should test for bacteria if your well head becomes
flooded or submerged. Following a chemical spill or leak
within 500 feet of your well, test your water for
possible contamination. Also test your water supply if
your neighbors have found contamination.
Report unknown contamination or objectionable taste,
odor or color in a private well to: Department of Public


Discuss your water problems with your county Health
Department or water testing lab. After contacting the lab
your next step will be to take the sample. Follow the
instructions from the lab closely. Keep a record of the
test results. The records will show any change in your
water quality you may not have noticed. Records are also
necessary if you need to prove an outside activity, such
as a spill or leak, affected your water supply.

Home screening tests

Currently on the market are screening tests to
conduct various water tests in your home, such as tests
for hardness, iron or nitrate. Many public agencies also
conduct screening programs as a public service.
Keep in mind these tests are a simplified version of
the tests conducted by a lab. The results do not indicate
if your water is safe to drink, only whether your sample
contains the tested contaminant and the approximate
level. These screening tests serve as useful tools for
indicating if further testing is needed. If the results
are positive, you should follow up with a test from a


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Show All Comments
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

Good post Bill, hope your getting settled and back in the swing.


Oct 10, 2008 04:35 PM #1
Billy Boerner
STLhomeinspector.com - Saint Louis, MO
Home Inspector

I sure am.  Thanks for stopping by Jack.  :)

Oct 27, 2008 04:57 AM #2
Gene Allen
Fathom Realty - Cary, NC
Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate

Our water travels 75 miles from NC through pipes, is dumped in water resevoir, then treated and piped some more and you think there might be something bad in there? that could still be usable.  Just kidding of course.

Oct 30, 2008 02:55 PM #3
Bill Dean
Haggerty Team St. Louis, Mo. - Fenton, MO
William Dean - Broker, Salesperson

Great post,

Especially for those who live in Jaff Co. where septic tanks are sooo common! and  Wow, Gene's comment really makes you appreciate how good our St. Lou water is!!!   Thanks, Bill

May 10, 2009 01:02 PM #4
Baker Home Inspection and Commercial Properties Inspections
Baker Residential and Commercial Properties Inspections - Springfield, VT
Home and Commercial Properties Inspections Vermont

Howdy and Morning Billy

Mighty fine blog post on why folks should have their water tested. How are thing going back home in Mo.

Baker Home and Commercial Properties Indpections Blog Signature

Jan 05, 2010 04:07 PM #5
Baker Home Inspection and Commercial Properties Inspections
Baker Residential and Commercial Properties Inspections - Springfield, VT
Home and Commercial Properties Inspections Vermont

Billy, I was checking to see if you have started being active on your blog here agin or not. Looks like your not.

Jul 18, 2013 10:23 PM #6
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Billy Boerner

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