What to Know When Buying a Home With Well Water and a Septic System

Laura Hennigan
Written by Laura Hennigan
Updated October 18, 2021
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If you’re curious about what it means to live with well water and a septic tank, here’s what you need to know

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From grabbing a drink to brushing your teeth to making a meal, we rely on water constantly for everyday life. If you’re considering a home purchase in a more rural area, one important factor to think about is where your water utilities will originate. Access to a municipal water and sewer line may not be available, so you might be introduced to a well water and septic tank system for the first time. 

Before you move forward with that rural homestead purchase, you will want to be familiar with living with well water and a septic tank.

How Does a Well and Septic Tank System Work?

You may not give much thought to where your water comes from, but a well and septic system will require a bit of knowledge in order to keep everything running smoothly. While the concept is simple in theory, there are several different parts that homeowners should be aware of.

What Is a Well?

In simplest terms, a well is a hole drilled into the ground that provides access to water. A pump and pipe system is used to pull water out of the ground, and then a screen filters out unwanted particles to help avoid clogs. Because groundwater sources can be exposed to bacteria and chemicals, wells can easily be contaminated if built incorrectly.Every well is made up of four important components:

  • Casing made from steel, PVC pipe, or concrete pipe. The casing maintains open access in the ground while preventing any leakage into the well from the surrounding area.

  • Grout is used as a sealant to fill in any cracks or spaces around the outside of the well, preventing contaminants from getting in.

  • Filter screen made from stainless steel or slotted PVC pipe keeps gravel, sand, and other debris out of the well.

  • Gravel is packed around the outside of the filter screen to prevent debris from entering the well or clogging the screen.

What Is a Septic System?

A septic system is an underground wastewater structure that consists of a septic tank and a drain field. These systems are commonly found in rural areas without access to centralized municipal sewers.

All the wastewater from a home’s kitchen, faucets, and bathrooms exits through one main drainage pipe into the tank, a water-tight container buried in the ground. The tank then holds all the wastewater, slowly separating the solids (which sink to the bottom) and the oils (which float to the top). Because sludge builds up over time, septic tanks need to be pumped every two to three years.

Eventually, the liquid (called effluent) is released from the tank and distributed into the drain field, which is a shallow, covered trench of unsaturated soil. The drain field treats and disperses the wastewater, eliminating much of the bacteria as it filters into the soil.

Well and Septic vs. City Water and Sewer

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While many homeowners use well water and a septic tank because municipal resources aren’t available, some people choose these systems purposely. If you have the choice, both city water and well water are different and have pros and cons you should review.

Pros of Well Water and Septic Systems

  • Since you are using a private well, there is no monthly water bill

  • Well water is fresher, and full of nutrients and minerals

  • Well water usually remains safe and uncontaminated during natural disasters

Cons of Well Water and Septic Systems

  • Potential water contamination from the septic tank, chemicals, or other pollutants

  • Owner responsibility for all maintenance and repairs

  • Expensive to replace, as a new septic system will cost anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000

Pros of City Water and Sewer Systems

  • The city is responsible for water quality, service, and testing

  • Minimal owner upkeep is needed

  • Well water usually remains safe and uncontaminated during natural disasters

Cons of City Water and Sewer Systems

  • High homeowner bills for annual usage

  • Potential system breakdowns or delayed maintenance

  • Drinking water is not as fresh and can include more chemicals

Have a System Inspection Before Buying a Home

Wells and septic systems are frequently excluded from traditional home inspections, but it’s vitally important that you have a thorough inspection completed before going forward with a purchase. 

If your general home inspector does not have an additional septic license, you will need to hire a separate licensed septic inspector to come out. While this will likely incur an additional fee, the quality of the system will have long-term effects on the health and safety of your family.

Well Location Is Important

You can find a well head easily by looking for a 6-inch capped pipe that will be sticking about a foot out of the ground. Make sure that this pipe is at least 50 feet away from the corner of the house, and at least 100 feet away from the septic drain field.

Septic Systems and Drinking Water

In order to keep your drinking water as clean as possible, it’s important to make sure your septic system is working properly. Things like a clogged pipe or drainage problems can potentially cause overflow. 

It’s recommended that you have your tank pumped every three to four years, and watch for any warning signs, such as an odor in the yard or standing water near the drain field.

Avoid DIY Septic Systems

A well and septic system need to be installed by a professional contractor, period. There is too much contamination risk with any well that has been self-dug or bored. Avoid purchasing a home where the system has not been professionally laid out and tested. 

Well water and septic tanks sometimes get a bad rap, but they’re actually very functional and provide many benefits. If you’re new to this type of water setup, do some research and consult with a local septic expert about what the upkeep will look like. With regular maintenance, these systems can work well for years.

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