Water, Water Everywhere…But You May Have To Test It First.

The real estate market for new and used homes has seldom been stronger. It is definitely a buyer’s market. Water availability and quality has become an item of concern to home buyers and most state and local governments. Some governments, water districts and municipalities are requiring a water analysis or water availability report to be completed before the buyer can occupy the premises. These requirements are primarily directed toward those properties fed by a private water supply, e.g. a shallow or deep well.

Obtaining a water sample is easy. The analysis of the sample is another matter. There are two basic categories of water sample analysis. The first is for health-related characteristics of the water sample. These tests check for such things as cryptosporidium, giardia, E. coli, coliforms and other micro-organisms that are harmful to one’s health including minerals and heavy metals like arsenic. The second is for what are termed objectionable characteristics. These include hardness caused by calcium carbonate and magnesium, iron in both red water and clear water forms, iron bacteria, turbidity ( solids in suspension, usually the hardness minerals), color, odor (most often as hydrogen sulfide, the rotten egg odor), tannins, manganese, sodium, and ph.
Most water tests required by authorities will consist only of the health-related items, however, some objectionable characteristics may have a bearing on the type of water treatment used to successfully treat the former. Therefore, a comprehensive water analysis is preferable.

There are some precautions to observe here. There are something like ten thousand components-potentially harmful to one degree or another-that can be found in water. Testing for them all would be cost prohibitive. Most laboratories will ask to have a form filled out requesting the specific items they should test for. Tests required by government entities will usually specify what things should be tested for as well.

In most cases, the water sample should be drawn right at the top of the wellhead if a private well is involved. The water should run from an open nozzle for a period of time before filling the test sample bottle. Alternately, the sample can be drawn from a spigot at the pump pressure tank. If it is taken from a faucet somewhere else than the above, this location should be specified on the test request form.

If there are concerns about hydrogen sulfide, the rotten egg odor present in some water, a test must be performed for that component as soon as the water sample is drawn. Hydrogen sulfide dissipates as it is exposed to air. Testing for hydrogen sulfide, unless present in uncommonly huge quantities, in a laboratory usually proves negative.

Health-related contaminants can be treated in a limited number of ways. The first is chlorine injection, a method usually specified by state governments for treatment of municipal water supplies. In residential applications, a small chlorine injection pump rests on top of a garbage can size container that holds a chlorine and water solution. Each time the water pump comes on, a sensor turns on the chlorine injector pump, pushing a small amount of the chlorine solution in the water service line thus treating the water supply.
The next method for treating micro-organic contamination is UV systems. This is a metal tube containing an ultraviolet light bulb. Water enters the tube, flowing around the ultraviolet bulb. The ultraviolet rays kill any living organisms present in the water. This method is mandated by water quality regulations for grocery store produce sprays, the fine mist that comes on periodically to moisten the displays of fruits and vegetables. UV manufacturers specify their product is approximately ninety eight per cent effective in killing these harmful organisms.

The last method is reverse osmosis. In this type of treatment, water is forced under pressure through a permeable membrane. The membrane blocks passage of all micro-organisms.
Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages. Application of these products must be carefully weighed according to its proposed use and the number of people using it, taking in to consideration additional treatment methods, such as water softening that may also be required.

In Washington State, a water sample and analysis is required of a private water system as part of the purchase and sale agreement. Understanding the means of accomplishing this and methods of treatment can alleviate some of the stress of buying and selling a home.

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