Down and Dirty: How to Service or Repair a Well
Last month, we talked about the kinds of wells you might find on private property. This month, let’s look at what to do if you have a well and it’s not… well. Oh, the jokes!
My well, it turns out, has a broken spigot. Because it’s an artesian (or driven) well, the spigot is the only mechanism it has. You can see mine is zip-tied shut – when the neighbor and I tinkered with it, we quickly realized the internal workings of the spigot were shot, and it started spraying water everywhere. A little pressure from a zip tie did the job for now, but I have a plumber coming to replace the spigot so the well is usable again.
Let’s troubleshoot a couple symptoms of an unwell well. [I just can’t stop!]
photo by Amritanshu Sikdar
Water Spraying or Leaking
The majority of wells are deep enough underground that they would never naturally bring water to the surface. So spraying or leaking is indicative of something wrong with the human-added parts of the well.
If the well has a pump, there could be an electrical short or settings got mixed up on the pump control. This could require a plumber and an electrician unless you can find a plumber who specializes in wells.
If the well only has a pipe tap and spigot, the spigot may be corroded or the pipe may have cracked somewhere above ground. Again, a plumber who specializes in wells is going to be your best bet. I reached out to about five different local plumbers, and only two said they were able to work on wells.
photo by Paul Bulai
Water Is the Wrong Color or Has a Smell
This kind of illness in a well can be dangerous. Water can be contaminated by an underground break in the well casing (wall) or when the well starts to run low and mixes a high concentration dirt and minerals in (in a driven well). Wells can also be contaminated by area flooding, a break in a local sewage line, earthquakes, heavy use of fertilizers or nitrates in the yard, or even repairs that you knowingly made to the well.
The CDC recommends testing your well function every spring and testing the water at least once a year. If you can do at-home testing rather than paying for the more expensive state-sponsored testing, obviously save yourself a couple dollars and try one of these well testing kits.
However, if you suspect your well is contaminated, absolutely do not drink or taste it. If the water is not clear or carries any kind of smell, call your local health department, or contact one of these state-certified water testing laboratories.
Water Is Spluttering or Stops Coming Out
Most of the time, spluttering or uneven water flow means there is air in the pipes. And air in the pipes means the water levels in your well have dropped even with or below the pump. A drying-out well can be a frightening prospect, especially for households that rely on that water for daily cooking, cleaning, and hygiene.
Sometimes it’s as simple as calling an expert to come lower the pump further into the well water. But experts estimate a well’s lifetime is somewhere between 20 and 30 years, so if you have an older well, you may be looking at measures to deepen and expand the well into surrounding pockets of water. This can be done through a newer technology called hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which aims high pressured water into the bottom of your existing well, to encourage small fractures around the edges to open up and bring in more water flow.
The bottom line is this: if you’ve been using a well for a long time and notice a change in the water quality, pressure, or availability, call your well specialist. It’s better to catch a problem early on than wait until it’s too late or too expensive.
If you’re new to wells or just bought a home with a well on the property, it’s a good idea to contact a well specialist before you do much with the water source. They can help you understand what type of well you have, how best to maintain it, and how to test it for safety before you get your hands dirty.