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Millions of Americans get their drinking water from a municipal water source. City water is provided to the majority of regions in the US – as long as the region has a public water system in place.
If you live in a small town or rural area, on the other hand, you may not have access to a city supply. In this case, private wells may be used to provide water to individual or multiple households.
There are pros and cons of both well water and city water, and if you currently use city water but you’re considering building your own well, this well water vs city water guide will provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.
What is Well Water?
Well water is sourced from a private well and comes directly from the earth. A well is made by drilling a hole in the ground to reach a layer of permeable rock known as the aquifer. A pump system is then installed, which is used to transport the water up towards your home.
Unlike city water, well water doesn’t come from a public treatment center, so it’s not disinfected with chemicals to eliminate harmful pathogens. While well water is naturally filtered to some extent by the rock and soil layers it moves through, there’s a high chance that some bacteria, protozoa and viruses remain. You can avoid contamination by making sure your well is sealed properly and water has plenty of time to travel from the aquifer to the surface of the ground – but using a well water filter is also highly recommended to keep you safe.
If you’re a new homeowner and your property comes with a private well, you’ll need to take on the responsibility of testing your well once a year for certain impurities, and once every three years for others. Your water doesn’t have to legally comply with the EPA’s standards, but for the sake of your own health, you need to make sure it’s safe to drink.
Advantages of Well Water
No monthly water bill
Because your private well is a part of your property, rather than being connected to your public water supply, you don’t have to pay for the water treatment process (although you will have to pay for your own treatment – more on that later). Because of that, there’s no monthly bill to save for, which is an obvious bonus if you’re on a tight budget or you just don’t like to waste money. Another cost benefit of well water is that it can increase the value of your property.
No disruptions to your water supply
When you own your own private well, you get to decide if and when any maintenance is performed. You don’t have to worry about having your water supply suddenly cut off when service or maintenance is taking place, as you may with city water. Emergency situations or natural disasters could also limit or cut off your access, and this is less likely to happen when the water only has to travel from your back yard.
Healthier drinking water option
Unless you choose to disinfect your well water with chlorine, you won’t have to consume small amounts of chemicals as you would with city water. Well water also has the added bonus of containing healthy minerals from the ground. Many of these minerals can support our overall health and wellbeing. Some minerals also improve the taste of fresh well water, especially as there’s no chemical after-taste.
You have control
With a private well, you can control what your water tastes like and what it contains. You can use your own filtration systems to filter your water, and you can be certain of exactly where your water is coming from. You’ll also know for sure what your water travels through – for example, if you hate the idea of drinking lead in your water, you can simply make sure you don’t have lead pipes connecting your well to your home.
Disadvantages of Well Water
It needs electricity
While you won’t have to pay any water bills to use well water, one of the cons is that you will have to pay a higher electricity bill to operate your well water pump. This is also a negative when it comes to power, as if you do have a power cut, you’ll no longer have access to water from your well. For that reason, if you have a well, it’s wise to make sure you have a backup generator for emergency use.
It may not be clean
It’s unlikely that well water from any private source in the US is clean enough to drink as it is. You’ll have to spend some additional money on buying and maintaining filtration and water softener solutions that can treat hard water minerals and filter common impurities that contaminate well water like iron, sulfur and bacteria. This should help to improve your water quality, including taste and smell, and make it safe to drink.
It’s your responsibility
Owning a well is more of a responsibility than getting your water from a public source. It’s your job to schedule regular well water tests for water quality, maintain your filtration systems, and arrange for maintenance or damage repair when a problem arises. It’s important that you understand what you’re responsible for when it comes to well water vs public water.
Water may be contaminated
Worse than unclean water is contaminated water. While unclean water may smell bad, taste unpleasant and leave stains across your whole house, fresh well water that contains contamination impurities like bacteria or pollutants such as nitrates and pesticides may pose a serious health risk. That’s why you’ll need to filter your well water, and regular tests and maintenance are so important – especially if you live near a sewer or septic system.
What is City or Municipal Water?
If you live in a municipality, you’ll most likely receive potable water from your local authority. You’ll need to pay for this water, and it’ll be available whenever you turn on your tap.
Generally, city water comes from streams, lakes, rivers or wells, and is known as surface water. This surface water is treated with chlorination before it’s sent through underground pipes into our homes. That means it’s pretty much guaranteed that your tap water won’t contain any harmful contaminants like coliform bacteria – although it will contain a small amount of disinfectant chemicals.
Homeowners who receive city water don’t need to worry about getting their water tested to make sure it’s safe, though it’s important to be aware that being safe doesn’t mean city water is clean, and city water contains chemicals because of the disinfection process.
Advantages of City Water
When looking at well water vs city water, it’s clear that city water is a lot more convenient. Aside from natural disasters and emergencies, you should always have instant access to your city water. Public water systems tend to be very reliable, which should give you peace of mind if you like to always be prepared.
You don’t need to worry about the costs of getting your city water tested for harmful pathogens and figuring out how to go about filtering them out. Homeowners who get their water from cities aren’t responsible for maintaining the water pipes leading to their home, either – that’s the local authority’s job, and any costs fall on them. You can save money by simply having less responsibility.
Because city water has already been disinfected, you don’t need to carry out your own means of disinfection. That can save you time and money, and you won’t have to think about the cost of maintaining your own disinfection system.
Disadvantages of Municipal Water
The EPA regulates chlorine use in city water, and the current accepted levels are 4 parts per million (PPM) or 4 milligrams per liter (mg/L). But even low levels of chemicals can have health effects, and you may not like the idea of drinking them at all.
May contain traces of contaminants
Just because city water is treated to remove the likes of bacteria such as E. Coli, it may still contain traces of contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and fluoride. These contaminants aren’t considered prominent enough to cause us harm, but again, you may not want to consume even small quantities in your water.
Out of your control
City water is in your local authority’s control, not your own. One of the biggest cons of this is that there’s nothing you can do about the disinfection technique used in your city water, and you’ll need to remove the likes of chlorine and fluoride yourself if you don’t like that they’re added to your water. You also don’t have control over how your water gets to your home – it may, for instance, pass through lead pipes, and this metal may leach into your water.
Monthly water bills
You’ll need to pay monthly bills to receive city water. While the cost of water generally isn’t too high, your bills can rack up if you have a big family and multiple bathrooms.
City Water vs Well Water: Which is Better?
Looking at the well water vs city water pros and cons, it’s difficult to say which solution is better than the other. It just depends on what level of control – and therefore responsibility – you’d like to have when it comes to your drinking water source.
Responsibility & Maintainece
Comparing well water vs city water when it comes to your responsibility as a homeowner, an obvious difference is that you’ll need to do much more when you have a well. If you’d rather have on-demand water with more reliability, the city water pros may appeal to you more. If you actually like having more control over your water, city water may be a disadvantage.
Contaminants & Quality
When looking at well water vs city water in terms of your health, each source contains a different range of contaminants, with the most prominent source of contaminants being well water. City water has been treated, so you don’t necessarily need a filtration system to benefit from clean water in your whole house (unless you want to eliminate harmful chemicals).
Well water can become contaminated, whether from pollution, naturally-occurring impurities or even nearby sewer or septic tanks. Both well water and city water contain hard water minerals, so you may need to install a water softener in both instances.
Which source of water will cover you best in a natural disaster – well water or city water? It depends on the situation at hand. A natural disaster could cause your city water to become contaminated or cut off your supply of water.
If you have a well at your property, you need to think about the cons of local contamination and how your safety might be affected by the requirement for electricity to use well water. Your well pump and other components may also be damaged by a disaster such as an earthquake. There are risks to both well and city sources in this case, and it’s always best to have an emergency supply of water at your house as a precaution.
Considering cost, you may find the idea of a monthly water bill less appealing than the costs of owning a house with a well.
While well water & city water have differences in terms of cost frequency – you’ll need to pay a monthly bill with city water whereas a well water system will require larger, less frequent bills for maintenance, pump and pressure tank replacements, and professional water testing – it’ll still likely work out cheaper in the long run to own a well.
The biggest difference between using well water or city water is the quality. But remember, whether you opt for city water or you build your own well, you can always achieve the same quality of water through water filtration. The right water filtration system or combination of filters can reduce or eliminate contamination bacteria, chemicals, nitrate, iron, pollutants, and heavy metals. There are always options for treating your water, no matter where you source it from.