One of the standard tests during a home inspection is a drinking water test. While water treatment facilities and plants are highly regulated and tested frequently, the waterways and piping between homes and water providers are not. Because of this, somewhat frequent testing needs to be done on the drinking water inside our homes. Additionally, well water needs to be tested; water tests for wells have their own standards and requirements.
When asking for a water test during your home inspection, it’s likely that you’ll come across the term “FHA water test.” These tests are common, and have their own set of standards. If you’re considering buying or selling your home, knowing what an FHA water test is can be crucial.
What is the FHA, and Why Does it Require a Specific Water Test?
The FHA is the Federal Housing Administration in the United States, and was founded in 1934. Their sole purpose is to provide mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders throughout the country, as well as its territories. They insure mortgages on a number of different housing properties, including single family homes, multi family homes, residential care facilities, and hospitals. They’re one of the largest mortgage insurers in the world.
The insurance that the FHA provides to lenders is invaluable, and helps to ensure a stable housing market. The purpose of the insurance is to provide lenders with protection if a borrower defaults on their loan. Should this happen, the FHA will pay the remaining unpaid principal balance to the lender, preventing loss. In order to qualify for this insurance, lenders must meet a certain set of requirements. One of those requirements is the FHA water test.
The reason that the FHA requires water testing is the same as wood-destroying insect and roof inspections. These inspections and testing can help to identify any issues before the purchase of the home in question. Issues regarding well water and drinking water safety can be incredibly costly, and can even prevent people from living in the property.
What is an FHA Water Test?
Specifically, FHA water tests are required for any properties that are served by a private well. Because private wells are less regulated than that of water provided by city treatment plants, they’re often more susceptible to contamination over time if they go unchecked.
An FHA water test for well water requires that specific contaminants be tested for, and that they be below thresholds that can cause harm to inhabitants of the property. The three contaminants that require tests are as follows.
Total coliform testing is specifically looking for the measurements of coliform bacteria in well water. Coliform testing includes indicators for fecal coliform as well as E. coli. These bacteria are naturally occurring in many areas, including the digestive tracts of mammals, soils, and insects. While coliform bacteria aren’t dangerous on their own, high levels of them in water are a good indicator of more deadly pathogens and organisms. These pathogens and organisms can include Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
Per FHA requirements, there must be no coliform presence in the drinking water provided by a well. As these bacteria are naturally occurring, this can be an issue for some homeowners with individual wells.
Nitrates & Nitrites, Total
Nitrates are naturally occurring and come from many man-made sources. The most common reasons for nitrates to show up in well water are runoff from fertilizers, leaching from septic tanks, as well as the erosion of natural deposits that contain nitrates. Nitrates in the water supply give no sort of indication of their presence; they can’t be seen, smelled, or tasted, making them especially important to test for. Microorganisms in the soil, water and sewage change the nitrate to nitrite.
Nitrates and nitrites consumed in large quantities can affect the way that blood carries oxygen. In simple terms, it makes it harder for the blood to carry oxygen effectively. In adults, this can cause symptoms such as an increased heart rate, nausea, headaches, and abdominal cramping. It’s also believed that water affected by high amounts of nitrates can increase the risk of cancer. In infants 6 months or younger, however, nitrates are far more problematic. It can cause a condition called methemoglobinemia, more commonly known as blue-baby syndrome. If untreated, this condition can be deadly.
FHA requirements state that the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrates in drinking water from a well is 10mg/L and 1.0mg/L for nitrites.
The last contaminant that’s required to be tested for is lead. Lead in water can be caused by chemical reactions in older plumbing pipes that are known to contain lead, or can result from the erosion of natural deposits of the heavy metal. Lead cannot be seen, smelled, or tested in water, making it highly dangerous, as well.
When exposed to lead in drinking water, infants and children can experience delays in physical or mental development. They can also show slight deficits in attention span and learning abilities. Adults exposed to lead are likely to experience high blood pressure, as well as severe kidney problems.
When testing for lead in water, the permissible exposure limit action level in drinking water from wells is incredibly low, at 0.015mg/L. This should go to show how deadly the substance can be.
Is Water Testing Available Near Me?
If you live on a property where the drinking water is supplied by a well, you may be wondering if water testing is available near you. Due to the fact that these water tests are required by the FHA, they’re all readily available from professional water testing companies or home inspectors. It’s recommended that drinking water, regardless of its source, should be tested every three years. It should be tested more often should you suspect that contaminants are in the water.
If you’re looking to purchase a home using an FHA-approved lender, or you are in need of water testing for personal reasons, ARTI Home Inspections can help. We offer FHA water testing, as well as tests for a wide variety of additional contaminants.