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Your use of well water or city water often depends on your location. However, understanding the key differences between well water and city water — like water quality, costs, and the effect on home insurance — can help you decide which option might work best for you.
In this article, you’ll learn some of the key differences between well water and city water.
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Well water vs. city water: What’s the difference?
Well water comes from a private well on your property that’s dug deep enough to tap into your property’s groundwater. The water is then pumped directly into your home’s plumbing.
Well water comes free of charge, but you can expect to pay a little each month for the pump’s electricity. However, you’ll be responsible for testing the water for contaminants and covering the cost of treatment.
City water comes from a municipal water supply and typically originates from either a groundwater or surface water source. Federal law requires the water to be treated for safety. The city water company bills for your home’s water usage. How much you’ll spend each month depends on home much water your household uses.
How well water works
Well water is a private water supply most often found in rural areas that don’t have access to city water supplies. Wells can be dug/bored wells, driven wells, and drilled wells.
Wells tap into groundwater and use an electric pump to bring water into your house. Well water is free since it comes from your own property. You’ll need to pay for the electricity that runs the well pump, but costs are typically minimal. You can also use solar power, which can come in handy during a power outage, to keep your well running.
If you need a new well, however, installation can be costly, averaging between $3,500 and $16,000. Costs could even run as high as $25,000 depending on well depth. You may also need to install your own septic system, which can cost up to $10,000.
With a well, your home’s tap water supply isn’t dependent on your municipal water supply. But you’ll be responsible for ensuring the quality of your drinking water since private drinking sources aren’t regulated. Sometimes this may require a filtration system for minerals and heavy metals or a water softener for hard water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 in 5 private wells have at least one contaminant that can affect your health.
Pros and cons of well water
Is well water right for you? Consider these pros and cons.
No water bill: Aside from minimal electricity charges to run the well, you won’t have to pay for water usage.
Ability to live off the grid: With a well, you can have access to a water supply in very rural areas without having to rely on city water.
Natural water supply: Unlike city water, which is typically treated with harsh chemicals, well water often includes beneficial minerals and may only require filtration.
Water quality may not be on par with city water: Private wells can contain contaminants that may make the water unhealthy to drink.
Responsible for testing water: It’s important to check your well water quality regularly and treat for contaminants when necessary, which could be costly.
May lose water access: Wells run on electricity, so you’ll need a backup power source to use the sink and flush your toilets if you lose power.
How city water works
City water systems are most common in the suburbs and urban areas. The water supply typically comes from groundwater or surface water, like lakes and rivers.
Depending on the public water supply, a series of different treatments are used to ensure safe water quality. These can include coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection. Surface water typically requires more treatment than groundwater.
City water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The EPA is responsible for setting drinking water quality standards and monitoring those that enforce these standards, like states, local authorities, and water suppliers.
Pros and cons of city water
Is city water right for you? Consider these pros and cons.
Regulated water quality: City water is federally mandated to go through a series of treatments for safety, and water quality is tested regularly.
Continuous water supply: If you’re hooked up to city water, you won’t generally lose access to your water supply, even if the power goes out.
No drilling required: City water is piped into your home from the main water supply, so there’s no need to drill a well on your property.
City water isn’t free: You’ll have to pay for any water that you use, which could run up your monthly water bill if you’re not careful about water conservation.
Not always available: If you live in a rural area, your house may not be hooked up to the city water supply, meaning you’ll have no choice but to use well water.
Water requires chemical treatment: City water goes through a series of treatments, which sometimes includes bleach and chlorine to disinfect and fluoride to improve taste.
How water source affects home insurance
Homeowners insurance generally covers damage from a natural disaster to your water source — including city water lines and wells. Other types of damage to your water source typically aren’t covered, but you can add additional insurance coverage to help protect your finances.
For example, if you have city water, most insurers won’t cover sewer and water backups, but you can add this coverage to your policy. You can also purchase service line coverage to protect yourself financially if your main water line or well gets damaged.
Standard home insurance also doesn’t cover water damage related to flooding, but you can add flood insurance to your policy if you live in aflood zone.
It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that if your house suffers extensive water damage, you could be denied insurance coverage.
Well or city water: Which should you choose?
Depending on where you live, you may not be able to choose between well or city water. If you’re in a rural location, well water may be your only option. In the suburbs and urban areas, your home may already be hooked up to the municipal water supply, or you may not have access to land where you can drill a well.
While well water is free, it’s not always safe to drink. Plus, if you need to provide maintenance on your existing well or drill for a new well, it could cost you thousands of dollars. City water, on the other hand, is required by federal law to be treated for safety. But if you have city water, your local water company will charge you for any water your household uses.
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Well water vs. city water FAQs
Here’s a closer look at some commonly asked questions that can help you decide between well water or city water.
Unlike city water, well water doesn’t cost anything except the electricity to run the pump. But you’re responsible for covering the cost of testing and treating well water for contamination. Plus, if your well needs maintenance or you need to drill for a new well, costs can add up fast.
How can you tell if you have well or city water?
You can call the local water company to see if you’re hooked up to city water. If it doesn’t have a record of your address for billing, it’s likely you have a well — especially if you live in a rural area.
Is well water better for the environment?
Well water can be better for the environment than city water since it comes straight from the ground and isn’t treated with chemicals. Some wells also use a solar pump to get the water from the well to your house, which can save on electricity.
Is well water better for your health?
It depends. While some wells naturally have clean drinking water, well water isn’t always regulated or treated for contaminants like city water. According to the CDC, 1 in 5 wells are contaminated with at least one chemical that can affect health.
Sarah Archambault enjoys helping people figure out smarter ways to use their money. She covers auto financing, banking, credit cards, credit health, insurance, and personal loans. She’s created and edited content for Credit Karma, Experian and Sound Dollar, along with banks, financial institutions, and insurance companies.