How to Determine If Water Quality Tests Are Worth It for Your Family

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated September 29, 2015
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  • Public water supplies are generally safe.

  • You should test public water if you suspect cross-contamination.

  • If you’re on a private water supply, you should test at least once a year.

  • Most municipalities offer free water tests.

  • Private companies also offer free water tests, but you should do additional research.

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Clean, safe water is vital; however, it isn’t always a given. Water quality testing can point out problems you might overlook, but it’s not necessary for every home. If you’re considering a test, it’s vital to be aware of where your water supply comes from, as well as when and where to have it tested. These tests are worth it in many situations, but whether you should test your water quality depends on a number of factors.

Water Quality Testing for Private vs. Public Sources

When considering whether a water test is worth your while, the main dilemma comes down to where you’re getting your water. Is it from a public source, or are you on a well or other form of private water supply?

Water from a public system gets monitored and must meet requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unless there is a specific concern regarding cross-contamination, these supplies are generally considered safe.

However, if your water comes from a private supply, there are no regulations to ensure water quality—this responsibility falls on the homeowner. It’s important to test well water and other private sources at least once a year to assure everything is contamination-free. You should also test your water if you do any repairs on the well or the piping system. Contact a local well pump repair service, and they can assist you with this process.

Potential Cross-Contamination in Public Water Supply

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Even if you’re on a public water supply, there is a chance of contamination due to sewage leaks, minerals in piping, and other forms of cross-contamination. According to the EPA’s home water testing guidelines, you should test your water if:

  • You suspect there might be lead in your home’s plumbing system.

  • There is corrosion on your plumbing pipes.

  • You’re thinking about purchasing a home water treatment unit.

  • There is a change in your water’s taste, color, odor, or clarity.

  • You have unexplained gastrointestinal illnesses in your family.

  • You have stained laundry or water fixtures.

  • You have coal, gas drilling, or intense agricultural operations nearby.

  • Your home is near a landfill, factory, junkyard, or dry-cleaning business.

  • Someone in your household is pregnant.

The EPA document also notes specific tests for different signs of contaminated water, so be sure to give it a read if you’re considering a home water quality test. If you suspect issues with your home’s plumbing system, be sure to contact a local plumber to come and have a look.

Testing and Water Quality Reports From Your Local Government

If you’re wondering if water quality testing is worth it in a financial sense, there are actually ways to do it for free. For those on public water supply, most local governments will offer free testing kits to ensure the safety of their water. You can also review water quality reports online without having to run a test. Again, if you suspect cross-contamination or someone in your household is pregnant, it’s important to get the test either way.

Considering Free Water Testing From Private Companies

When it comes to any free water testing offered by home improvement stores, water filtration companies, and other entities with commercial interests, it’s important to be a discerning consumer. It’s not that you can’t utilize these tests, but you may not want to rely on them on their own.

Whether it’s for water softening or filtration, responsible companies will encourage you to get a test from your local government before making a purchase. Some will even perform their own water tests and compare results with you to find the best solution.

How to Know If Water Quality Tests Are Worth It for You

In short, whether or not a water quality test makes sense for your family will come down to your unique needs. A water quality test is not only worth it, but recommended, in these cases: 

  • You use well water or another form of private water supply (test your water quality yearly in this case).

  • You’re on a private supply and recently did repairs.

  • You’re on a public water supply and have concerns about cross-contamination or one of the other factors listed earlier.

Improving Your Home’s Drinking Water

If you are having issues with your home’s water supply, there are ways to make it safer in general or even purify it in case of an emergency. Your exact solution will depend on the specific issues with your water, but there are a few general tips you can follow. According to the CDC, having clean, bottled water delivered right to your home can be a good temporary option, as can boiling water, which you can learn more about on the CDC site. 

To rid clean tap water of most chemicals and heavy metals, whole-home filtration systems are an excellent solution. However, these can get pretty pricey and complicated to install, so they’re not for everyone. If you’re not ready to take on this project, water filter pitchers or sink-mounted filters are a great alternative.

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