What Do Home Inspectors Need to Know About Water Testing?

September 9, 2021 | 
water testing
It’s easy to take for granted that the water that comes out of the tap is clean and safe to drink. The truth is that it’s hard to tell just by looking if a home’s water supply is healthy or harmful. That’s because nearly all contaminants are microscopic. You may be tipped off by cloudiness or a funny odor, but oftentimes there’s just no way to tell at a glance if the water is good or not.

Enter water testing. Water quality testing requires taking samples of a home’s water and testing it for particulates, minerals, and disease-causing bacteria. It’s a specialized service that’s becoming more common, so it may make sense for you to add it to your menu of home inspection services.

Here’s what home inspectors need to know about residential water testing.

The 3 Ws of water testing

Who needs their water tested?

While the EPA requires that all public water supplies are tested regularly, private wells are the responsibility of the owner. The EPA estimates that there are over 13 million private wells in the country, and each of these should be tested to ensure that the water is potable. Any homeowner with a private well or buyer considering a home with a well should have the water tested.

Additionally, some lenders and insurers require water testing as a condition of financing or insuring a home. This makes sense when it comes to protecting their investment, and as these requirements increase, so will the number of people in the market for water testing.

What does a water test consist of?

There are two ways to test well water: with a kit or by sending samples to a lab. The EPA and most state government entities recommend using a certified laboratory, which has the equipment to complete highly accurate tests for a wide range of contaminants. Certified laboratories may send their own employee to collect samples, or they may provide detailed instructions and containers for collecting samples.

Water testing kits provide containers for collection as well as tools for testing. Often these are strips that change colors or other easy-to-read indicators. Kits are easy to use but vary in effectiveness and price, and many are not EPA approved.

When should water be tested?

The CDC recommends that well water be tested once per year for common contaminants, including:

  • Coliform bacteria
  • Nitrates
  • Total dissolved solids
  • pH levels

Additionally, water should be tested whenever there is a change in its color, odor or taste. It’s also a good idea to test well water quality after contamination events, severe flooding, or other natural disasters. 

How to offer water testing services

Even though water testing is typically not required or regulated by states, demand for this service is increasing, and many real estate agents recommend water quality testing as part of a battery of inspections for buyers to consider. 

These recommendations are often made for all types of properties—even those with public water and sewer services. That’s because old water mains and pipes can contribute lead or other dangerous minerals to the water, and these contaminants are not detected by annual public water testing. Public testing is only done at the water treatment source, but drinking water comes into contact with many additional surfaces on the journey from reservoir to tap.

So for home inspectors living in an area with older city infrastructure or areas where private wells are the norm, adding water inspections to your lists of services can make good sense. It’s also one of the rare add-on services that can create a stable of repeat clients for your business, as well owners are advised to repeat testing annually. 

You can choose to offer testing in two ways: with a kit or by collecting samples that you forward to a certified lab for testing. 

If you choose to use a kit, you’ll need to research available products to find the best combination of reliability and price. This is an easy way to provide quick results to clients, and can be an inexpensive upsell or simply a feature you add to your standard inspections to set yourself apart from the competition. 

The downside of a kit is that it may not be accepted by insurers or lenders as an official test, and you’ll need to be upfront about the kit’s limitations with your clients. 

If you choose to work with a lab, you’ll want to choose a certified laboratory nearby. Most states or local boards of health can direct you to a list of providers. In working with a lab, you’ll likely just be collecting the samples, acting as a middleman to get the water tested by professional chemists. Check with the lab about best practices for sample collection so you get good results. They will send you a detailed report to share with your clients, but you may want to work with a representative from the lab to be sure you understand the reports they send so that you can answer your clients’ questions.

Well inspection services

In addition to basic water quality testing, you may also consider offering well inspection services. InterNACHI offers a well inspection course that teaches you to identify problems with wells and collect the water for testing. The course will prepare you to become a Certified Water Quality Tester, a useful designation for marketing your newest service. A well inspection is a useful add-on for any home buyer considering a property with a well and septic system. 

Looking for more ways to build up your home inspection business? Check out the HomeGauge Learning Center for more helpful ideas to take your business to the next level.