When you live out in the country vs. the city or the suburbs, there are differences in how water is supplied to your home and how wastewater leaves your home. If you are considering buying a lake home on Whitewater or Rice Lake, it is important to understand the differences, what your responsibilities as a homeowner are, and to make an offer contingent upon the well & septic inspection.
When you are buying a home, it is important to understand how the water is supplied to the home. The water supply influences your water quality, how you monitor it, who to contact if you have concerns, and the tests required before closing.
Public Water Supply vs. Private Well
A public water supply or a private well supplies water to your home.
Public Water Supply
If you get a bill for your water, then you likely rely on a public water supply. Any questions or concerns should be directed to the contact listed on your bill. With a public water supply, you are required to test and correct water-quality problems.
A private well pumps water from your well to your home. A private well is usually located on your property and serves a single home. According to the Wisconsin DNR, a private well may be shared in some cases and can serve no more than 25 people to be considered a private well.
As a private well, you are responsible for testing and maintaining your well. Compared to public water supplies, the homeowner has a bit more leeway on what tests to do and actions to take. The Wisconsin DNR recommends annual testing to keep you and your family safe. There are three routine tests that you should run: bacteria, nitrate, and arsenic (Drinking Water Tests for Private Wells 2021).
Over time, as the homeowner, you are also responsible for well maintenance and any issues that arise. To keep your well working as expected, make sure the well cap is in good condition and secure, keep the area around the well clean, ensure the ground slopes away from the well, and avoid damage to the well casing.
Buying a Home with A Private Well
When it comes to buying a home, you will want a well inspection and a well water test.
The well inspection will provide information on the condition of the well, evaluate if the well is up to code, and determine the water quality. The State of Wisconsin requires a licensed well professional conduct the inspection. If any issues arise from the inspection, the buyer and seller may negotiate the course of action (Learn more about Buying or Selling a Home or Property with a Private Well).
Well Water Test
The well water test will analyze the water and identify any contaminants that may go unidentified based on sight, taste, or smell. Contaminants in water may include bacteria, viruses, parasites, or potential carcinogens (i.e., arsenic and radon). If a contaminant is found, ask a professional for the best course of action to resolve the issue.
Once the water goes down the drain or the toilet is flushed, the wastewater leaves your home and either goes into the sewer system or septic tank.
Sewer vs. Septic
If you live in the city or suburbs, then your wastewater goes into the sewer system. If you live in a rural area where homes are far apart, then you likely have a septic tank.
With a sewer system, water is pumped from your home to the sewer which is made up of more pipes that direct the water to a wastewater treatment plant. At the plant, the water goes through a series of treatments. As part of your property tax bill, there is likely a sewer line item.
A septic tank is a large tank buried underground on your property. The tanks range in sizes. Wastewater flows into the tank on one side and leaves on the other side. Solids settle out of the water and are collected in the tank. The water that leaves the tank flows into a drain field made of perforated pipes. Depending on the size of the tank, the number of people in your house, and the amount of use, you will have to get your septic pumped every few years.
If you have a septic, then you likely have two pipes coming up from the ground and may notice an unpleasant smell every once a while. Similar to a private well, the homeowner is responsible for maintaining the septic.
Buying a Home with a Septic
When buying a home with a septic, you will want to have a septic inspection. Most home buyers include the septic inspection as a contingency. The inspection will check the pipes, ventilation, and drainage to identify potential problems.
Wisconsin State Law requires septic systems to be pumped and inspected every three years. Septic inspection reports are kept on file by Walworth County. This provides homeowners with a maintenance history of the septic system (View Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Sanitation System Inspection Reporting). Walworth county also provides a list of licensed septic haulers (click to view).
Septic systems are costly to replace, so do what you can to protect your septic. When you have a septic, be mindful of what you put down the drain. To prevent clogs, avoid putting grease, oil, paint, hair, paper towels, and other materials down the drain. Also, purchase toilet paper that is septic safe and will break down over time. Single ply is often recommended over double ply toilet paper.
Typically, a septic system needs to be replaced every 20 to 40 years. Over time, leaks, clogs, or tank ruptures may lead to problems. To minimize the chance of backflow problems, be mindful what goes down the drain and pump your septic regularly. If there is a leak, this could lead to well water contamination. If you notice a smell, odd sounds, slow drainage, or backflow, get your septic inspected as soon as possible. Small potential problems can quickly develop into large problems.
Lake Living Water Takeaways
Lakes homes in rural areas, such as Whitewater & Rice Lake homes, have a well and septic. To minimize problems down the road, make sure you get a well inspection, septic inspection, and water quality test so that you know what you are getting yourself into. Also, take the time to educate yourself to best protect and maintain your well & septic.