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The Ultimate Guide to Well Owner Maintenance

By Alisen Boada

As a private well owner, you have greater control over the water entering your home, but this also means you are primarily the one responsible for its maintenance and safety. Proper installation, regular testing, and selecting the right water treatment prevents contamination from damaging your well. These steps will also save you money and keep your water supply safe for everyone who uses it.  We’ll cover some essential tips for keeping your private well system in top shape while covering:

  • Installation
  • Protecting your well
  • Monitoring well performance
  • Retiring unused wells
  • When to inspect and test your water
  • Well water treatment options
  • How to Check Your Well for Proper Construction and Installation

    Poor construction can lead to issues, like sediment and contamination, that can affect the well’s  yield and safety. There are a few well components and features you can check to make sure it was built correctly: 

  • Well casing: The top of your well casing should be at least a foot above ground. This keeps unwanted pests and surface water from getting into your well. The space between the outside of the well casing and the borehole wall (or annular space) should also be fully sealed with grout

  • Well cap: A sanitary well cap is your first line of defense against surface contamination. Regularly check the condition of the cap, making sure that it is securely attached and able to keep out insects and rodents.

  • Location: Also be sure your well isn’t located in an area prone to surface runoff (e.g. a low lying field next to agriculture or a busy road) .

  • Elevation: The ground surrounding your well should slope away from the well in order to prevent water pooling. 

  • Having a copy of your well log will give you a clearer picture of how your well was built. Always use a licensed or certified contractor when a well is constructed or serviced.

    Water Well Components Diagram

    How To Protect Well Water

    It’s important to keep the area surrounding your well free from any possible sources of contamination. While states vary in the distance required to create a protective zone, common guidance states: 

    Avoid using any chemicals within a 100 feet radius of your well.

    Consider this your well’s protection zone and don’t use anything inside of it that you wouldn't want to end up in your drinking water. This includes substances like:

  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Herbicides
  • Motor Oil
  • Paints

  • Extend the protection zone if there is any slope above your well that might lead to run off from a wider area. Also make sure this area is protected from any pollutants that might be coming from nearby roads or surface water.

    Gardening and Landscaping

    When landscaping near your well, take care when performing activities that could damage your casing, like using a lawn mower. Roots from plants and trees can also potentially damage your well casing. 

    Keep short-rooted plants at least 4 feet away from your well, and larger plants at least 20 to 30 feet away.

    Septic Systems

    Wells should be installed a minimum of 50 feet away from your septic tank and at least 100 feet from the septic system’s drainfield, although these suggested distances can vary among states.

    A part of good well maintenance also means taking care of any waste systems you have on your property. Pump your septic system at least every 3-5 years to avoid unprocessed water flowing into the drainfield and potentially reaching your groundwater. 

    New home additions, like waste or chemical storage, should be built in accordance with your well’s protective zone requirements.

    Water Well Contamination Distance

    Is My Well Performing Normally?

    Good maintenance can help sustain the amount of water you are able to pump from a well (also referred to as well yield, flow, or performance). 

    Well yield tends to decrease over time, especially if it was not initially installed correctly. While decreases in flow are sometimes caused by persistent droughts, more often decreases in well yield over time is related to changes in the well’s water quality.

    This can include occurrences like:

  • Build up from mineral deposits and microorganisms
  • Sediment blocking the well from the aquifer
  • Damage from pumping sand and sediment
  • Corrosion in the well screen or casing 

  • Various contaminants, both microbial and chemical, can be the cause behind these changes. Regular water testing and inspection can help you identify and successfully treat the culprit.

    How Often Should You Perform Well Inspections?

    You should give your well an inspection at least once a year, even if you know your well was properly constructed. Over time, cracks and other forms of corrosion can occur that compromise the integrity of your well and the quality of your home’s drinking water.
    Your annual water well checkup should include:

  • A flow test
  • Visual inspection
  • Checking valves
  • Electrical testing
  • Bacteria and nitrate tests
  • Signs You Need a Well Inspection

    You should schedule an inspection after any drastic changes in your well’s water quality or flow.

    Other signs that your well may need inspection include:

  • Unusually high electricity bill
  • Sputtering faucets
  • Strange sounds from pipes or pump
  • Damaged well cap

  • If you observe any issues, or if it has been over three years since a professional has inspected your well, contact a contractor licensed to perform well inspections.

    Signs you may need a well inspection

    Why Should You Test Your Well Water?

    Even if your well has been properly built, placed, and has passed all inspections, it is still important to regularly test your drinking water. You should definitely test your water any time there is a change in taste, odor, or appearance, or after your well system is serviced. It’s helpful to learn to identify different symptoms of contamination. However, it’s important to note that many pollutants don’t have easily detectable signs, so regular water testing is the only way to monitor water quality over time.

    Groundwater is susceptible to a range of hazards from microbes and organic contaminants to inorganic chemicals and radiological pollutants. But some should be tested for more often than others.

    How Often to Test Well Water?

    For routine monitoring, different contaminants can be tested at different frequencies

    Annually:

  • Test your well water for coliform bacteria and nitrates. Coliform testing is more effective during wetter months, especially in the spring before weather gets too hot. 
  • Consider annually testing for arsenic if you live in an area with naturally high levels. 
  • 3-5 Years:

  • Test your water’s pH, hardness, and total dissolved solids (TDS). These readings can serve indicators of other contaminants in your drinking water to test for. 
  • Test for volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and synthetic organic chemicals (SOCs), especially any related to nearby land use risks—like trihalomethanes (THMs) and pesticides. 
  • Test for lead
  • 5-10 Years:

  • Test for organic contaminants, inorganic chemicals, and radiological pollutants—like iron, pesticides, and uranium (see the table for more examples).  
  • However, test for these pollutants more frequently if there have been noticeable changes to your water quality or nearby land use—like agriculture or drilling—that could lead to runoff in the local groundwater.

  • It’s also a good practice to test your well water whenever there are major land use changes visible from your property, like gas drilling, agriculture, or industrial activity. 
    Check your state’s well maintenance requirements to see if additional routine testing is needed.

    Well Life Maintenance Checklist

    How to Test Your Well’s Water Quality

    To test your water confidently and accurately you need to find a certified laboratory. “Free” tests and DIY kits have major drawbacks compared to a professional lab. Testing your water with a lab is easy, especially with Tap Score Well Water Testing.
    Learn how to test your well water

    Well Water Treatment Options

    Nearly all water quality problems can be successfully resolved with the right treatment. Point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU) devices and disinfection techniques allow you to treat your well water before it enters your home, at the tap where it will be used, or a combination of both. 

    POE Well Water Treatments

    POE systems filter your well water as it enters your home, so that treated water goes out to every tap. The following are a few examples of available POE systems available for private wells:

    POE Well Water Treatments Read more about:
  • Water softeners
  • Ultraviolet lights
  • Carbon filters
  • POU Well Water Treatments

    POU systems treat your well water at individual taps or where it gets used within the house. The following are a few examples of available POU systems available for private wells:

    POU Well Water Treatments
    Read more about:
  • Carbon filters
  • Reverse osmosis
  • When Is Shock Chlorination Necessary?

    If you’ve tested your water and detected certain types of bacterial or viral contamination, then shock chlorination is probably a good treatment option.
    Read more about which microbes are readily killed by chlorine and how to shock chlorinate your well.

    What Should You Do with Unused Wells?

    While a properly maintained well can last for decades, there may come a point—due to natural causes, abandonment, or equipment failure—when it can longer be used. Unused wells should be correctly sealed by a licensed well contractor before they are abandoned. 
    Improperly abandoned wells that remain unsealed can pose a big risk to the environment and your health. This is because unsealed wells are a direct pathway for pollutants to contaminate your local groundwater. This affects not only your property, but anyone who is drawing water from the same aquifer. 

    Old wells with larger openings are also potential safety hazards for small children and animals. Contact a certified well systems professional if you need to decommission a well at the end of its lifespan or if you find an abandoned well on your property.

    Conclusion

    A private well is a clean and reliable source of drinking water if it is properly installed, maintained, and tested on a regular basis in order to ensure safe water quality. The following are a few key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Installation: Make sure your well has a secure sanitary cap, is fully sealed between the casing and the borehole, and isn’t in a spot where runoff can pool around it.

  • Protect: Don’t use anything you wouldn't want to end up in your drinking water within 100 feet of your well.

  • Monitor: Changes in your water quality and well yield are signs you need an inspection.

  • Inspection & Testing: Even if everything is flowing smoothly, schedule a well inspection at least once a year and annually test for coliform and nitrates. 

  • Treatment: Use water testing to find the best treatment options for keeping your well’s water contaminant-free and refreshing. 

  • Decommissioning: Hire a professional to properly seal unused wells to protect your local groundwater.

  • Remember that while certain maintenance and testing can be done by the well owner, hire a qualified well systems professional to perform any cleaning or disinfection for your safety and that of your well system. 

    If you’re looking for a certified contractor for your annual inspection, contact us. We can help you find a licensed professional and answer any questions on well water quality issues and testing.

    Water testing made easy 
    It's hard to get trustworthy advice when it comes to your drinking water, so we made Tips for Taps to help answer your questions. Order a Tap Score Water Test and receive personalized support from professional engineers and scientists by phone, email and chat.

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