Everything You Need to Know About Choosing City Water vs. Well Water

Rochel Maday
Written by Rochel Maday
Reviewed by Joseph Wood
Updated August 4, 2022
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Photo: Sidekick / Adobe Stock

You shouldn’t compromise when it comes to your home’s water

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When you take your morning shower or wash your hands, you might not think about where that water is coming from. But there are two main sources of water for U.S. households: public water from the city or private water from a well.

How Common Is Well Water?

More than 13 million U.S. households have well water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Wells are large holes drilled deep underground that fill up with groundwater. An electric or manual pump pulls the water from the well and sends water up through a pipe to an exit source (like your kitchen sink). 

If you’re considering purchasing a home serviced by a well or thinking about adding a well to your property, here’s what you need to know.

Advantages of Well Water

There are many benefits to using your own private well water.

Well Water Is Affordable

Once you look past the initial costs of installing a well, well water is much more affordable compared to city water. There are no monthly water bills and, if you are using your own septic system, you won’t have to worry about a septic bill either.

Are you considering adding a well to your property? Digging a new well costs about $5,500 on average, or anywhere between $15 to $60 per square foot. You’ll need to hire a local well contractor to do the job.

Well Water Is Green and Healthy

Well water comes straight from the ground. It’s natural, leaving the surrounding ecosystem better protected from run-off chemicals. This means you can also use well water for irrigation and exterior faucets with no water expenses, beyond running a well pump.

Well Water Is Reliable

When a natural disaster strikes, a city’s water supply can be damaged or cut off entirely from residents. While severe floods and other natural disasters can also affect wells, the risk is much lower. Sediment is one sign that your well is compromised. Removing sediment in your water takes some investigating to find the source and solution.

Disadvantages of Well Water

Well water is great for rural homes or for homeowners who want to rely less on city resources, but there are a few disadvantages to be aware of.

Well Water Relies on Electricity

An electric pump delivers well water to your home. So if the power goes out, you won’t have fresh water. There are ways around this, such as having a standby generator or using solar power, but without a backup plan, an extended period without power could be dangerous.

Well Water Is the Responsibility of the Homeowner

A city is responsible for public water, but when you install a well, 100% of the responsibility is on you to monitor and maintain your water quality. Make sure you understand the unique threats of your location (like any heavy mineral deposits) and test your water at least annually. You can purchase a well water testing kit or hire a service to test the water for you. Should your well run dry, you’ll also be responsible for coming up with a solution.

You Need to Filter It 

It’s not uncommon for well water to have sulfur and other dissolved minerals, so you’ll need more extensive filtration systems and treatment systems to filter the water. These natural minerals won’t make the water non-potable, but it can stain toilets and cause issues with the plumbing fixtures if left untreated.

How Common Is City Water?

Woman washes hands in bathroom sink while looking in mirror
Photo: AleksandarNakic / E+ / Getty Images

Most Americans—90%, according to the EPA—get their drinking water from a public water supply. This offers several advantages but also comes with a few setbacks. If your drinking water comes from downtown and not down under, here’s what to keep in mind.

Advantages of City Water

City water is popular, convenient, and offers homeowners unique benefits over well water.

City Water Is Routinely Tested

City water must meet or exceed EPA quality guidelines. Residents are often provided with water testing results once a year and, in some areas, homeowners can request a free water test at any time. Homeowners with city water are notified immediately if their water is unsafe to drink.

City Water Signals Less Financial Risk

Mortgage lenders tend to offer better rates to homeowners with city water. This is because well water is less regulated and can lead to unpredictable issues (like contamination) that may lower property value. In fact, a loan for a home with a well can be declined if the well isn’t fully operational.

“Expenses are often lower for city water because it suggests the house is usually near a fire hydrant,” says Joseph Wood, Expert Review Board member and Boston-based Master Plumber. “This means a home is less likely to burn down than a rural home on a well due to the access to city water supplies.”

City Water Is Widely Available

If you buy a home with a well, it may take some time before it’s fully operational. This is especially true if the property has been vacant for some time. But if you purchase a home with city water, a single phone call is all it takes to have the water turned on.

Disadvantages of City Water

Despite its benefits, city water isn’t without a few concerns.

Fire Hydrants Can Increase Sediment Exposure

Using a fire hydrant will often disrupt dormant sediment in a city supply and send it into local homes when they turn their water on. Hydrant flushing also causes this, and sometimes, city water main breaks can affect the end user. Homeowners on a well don’t have to worry about these potential scenarios.

City Water Can be Expensive

Homeowners are charged by the gallon for city water. If you have a large family or rely on city water for your oversized garden, water bills can quickly add up. City water also includes sewer expenses, as it’s assumed that any water used will also enter the sewer system.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing Well Water vs. City Water

Having trouble deciding which water source is best for you and your property? For many homeowners, the choice comes down to the following factors.

Cost

Well maintenance can be expensive, especially if your well becomes contaminated with bacteria, high levels of nitrate, or heavy metals. But when it comes to daily use, well water is much more affordable than city water, which is charged per gallon.

More affordable: Well water

Maintenance

Homeowners using well water should test their water annually for an average cost of $250. Water pumps may need to be replaced every decade or so, too. In comparison, city water is essentially maintenance-free for homeowners. 

Easier to maintain: City water

Safety

Neither city water nor well water is fully protected from contaminants, which is why routine testing is a must with either option. 

City water testing schedules vary by municipality, but negative findings are immediately reported to affected residents. Well water testing isn’t enforced, but it’s highly recommended at least once per year. 

Contaminated city water can make an entire city sick, where a contaminated well will only impact the household it serves. Wells also have fewer moving parts and fewer opportunities for contamination.

Safer to drink: Well water

Reliability

If you have city water, there's always a chance it can be turned off. A late payment or a natural disaster, for example, can leave you without drinking water. 

On the flip side, wells can run dry during droughts and a power outage can stop a well from pumping. But you know a drought is getting bad enough to dry your well long before it happens and there are backup power options to keep water coming into your home if you’re without electricity for a while. This gives well water a bit of an edge when it comes to reliability.

More reliable: Well water

Where Should Your Water Come From?

The right answer is different for every homeowner. Choosing between well water versus city water really comes down to your budget and how much control you want over your water supply.

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