When purchasing a home, having your water tested is one of the most important inspections to do with a home inspection. Water is an essential part of everyday life, being used for cleaning, cooking, and drinking. Before it makes its way into your home, water has to travel through miles and miles of pipe, which can expose it to contaminants. These contaminants can cause it to smell bad, have off-putting discoloration, and even be harmful to you and your family’s health. Knowing that the water that’s used in your home is safe is crucial to your well-being. Find out why water testing is an essential part of the home buying process.
What Are Water Tests Looking For?
Water tests are used to identify contaminants in water being used in residential and commercial applications. Without testing, there are some key indicators that water is contaminated. These indicators are related to details easily observed without looking for specific contaminants. Water can have an unpleasant smell, be discolored, or contain small debris visible to the naked eye. However, not all contaminants will have an observable physical impact on water, making it difficult to truly know if your water is safe without proper testing.
Here are some of the more common types of water contaminants that can be found in your water supply.
Physical contaminants are classified as matter that impacts the physical appearances or properties of water, like color and smell. Physical contaminants are typically things like naturally occurring sediments or organic materials. They can be thought of as “tea” because they steep in the water and change what it’s composed of.
Elements and compounds like nitrogen, pesticides, and pharmaceutical toxins are considered to be chemical contaminants. These can be naturally occurring, or man-made. Additionally, they don’t have a physical impact on the water in most cases, but sometimes can cause a change in smell or taste.
As the name implies, biological contaminants are made up of microscopic living organisms in the water. Biological contaminants typically consist of bacteria, parasites, viruses and protozoa.
The last type of contaminants looked for when testing water can be radiological contaminants. Radiological contamination occurs when radioactive elements enter the water supply in higher levels than what is acceptable. Some of these radioactive elements are cesium, plutonium, and uranium.
Currently, the EPA has set standards for more than 90 contaminants that can be found in drinking water. These 90 contaminants are then categorized in one of two ways; contaminants that cause acute effects, and those that cause chronic effects.
Contaminants that cause acute effects are noticeable within a few hours of consuming the contaminated water. They are typically biological in nature, and most people’s immune systems will fight off the ill effects. However, when consumed in large numbers or by a person with a compromised immune system, they can be deadly.
Chronic effects are felt over a longer period of time than acute effects. Chemical and radiological contaminants cause chronic effects over time, and often lead to more serious conditions or diseases overall. These can include, but not be limited to, cancer, liver disease, and kidney problems.
How Water Testing Works
When testing water for contaminants, a sample of water will be collected and then the test will be exposed to the water, or the water will be analyzed in a more complex way. Water analysis can’t be done on a DIY basis, and will need to be done by a professional or lab with access to the correct water analysis testing tools.
Do-It-Yourself Water Tests
In most cases, do it yourself water tests will consist of test strips that react to contaminants in water, if they’re present. They can be used when testing water for chemical or biological contaminants, but have a number of drawbacks associated with them. Often, they’ll only alert homeowners to exceptionally high levels of contaminants in the water and don’t offer any insight or finer analysis to the actual levels of water contamination.
Additionally, if you aren’t careful while testing the water, the sample of water can be easily contaminated by outside materials or contaminants. As such, it’s often recommended that water tests be done on a professional basis.
Professional Water Tests
When your water is tested by a professional, such as a water testing company or home inspector, you’re paying for high-quality analysis and thorough results. Most of the time, professional testing will test for a higher number of contaminants than a do-it-yourself test will, and will do it in a more sensitive manner.
Professional water testing companies and home inspectors will also yield expert advice for how to reduce contaminants or prevent them. Depending on the results of their testing, professionals can predict what contaminants may be reaching unhealthy levels, what your pipes are made out of, and whether or not they’ll need to be replaced at any given time.
Water Testing is Required
When applying for Federal Housing Administration loans, VA loans, and loans through other lenders, water testing is a required part of the home inspection process prior to purchase. This requirement is to help identify any costly repairs or remediation prior to purchase, as unsafe drinking water makes a property unlivable.
In these scenarios, water testing and samples must be done by a state-certified laboratory. Neither the buyer, nor the seller, can conduct the water test, as they are both interested parties, and samples may be taken on a dishonest basis.
Should I Test My Water After Buying a Home?
If you already own your home, periodic water testing is a good idea even if you aren’t looking to sell it anytime soon. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that drinking water in the home be tested every 3 years, or as needed. Signs that your water should be tested can include the following:
- Recurring gastrointestinal issues happen in the household
- Hard water becomes more common
- Water is cloudy, frothy, or colored
- Water develops an odor or an unusual taste
- More salt can be tasted in the water
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, having your water tested is a must, as untreated contaminants can lead to severe health problems over time.
If you’re looking for nearby water testing, look no further than ARTI Home Inspections. We offer full spectrum water testing, and can help tailor testing to your personal or real estate needs.