Vacation Home Water Testing: A Guide

Secondary homes have different drinking water requirements than a full-time residence. What are these differences, and what should you do to account for them?

How Your Drinking Water Is Different

Vacation home water differs from your primary resident’s water in two main ways…

Firstly, there is a very good chance that the drinking water at your vacation house comes from a well. This means it’s an independent water system that isn’t treated or tested by a public water system. So if your water has contaminants in it, it’s up to you to test for them and fix things.

Second, the water in a secondary residence will not run for extended periods of time. This inactivity isn’t necessarily a major problem, but it does have some implications about how the water should best be used.

Well Water Testing

If your vacation home uses public water from your community, then you can skip this section entirely because you presumedly have good quality water. You can check your water quality online and confirm that the quality in your area is up to par. A good water test will confirm the water is healthy (checking for coliform bacteria, lead, mercury, and similar compounds) as well as good for your plumbing (checking pH, hardness, and so forth).

How Often To Test

The EPA has excellent resources about well water testing, but it’s a lot to read. To condense things, you’ll generally want to test your private well water once a year.

If you have small child, a pregnant women, an elderly person, or someone who is in some way immunocompromised, you’ll likely want to test more often — either quarterly or twice a year depending on the people who are drinking the water and the types of impurities in your area.

Types of Water Testing

Water testing basically comes in four forms, all of which have their advantages. They are:

  • Municipal water testing
  • Private water testing
  • Mail-in water testing
  • Home test kits

Municipal Testing

Community or municipal water testing is when someone from your local water authority comes to your home, takes a sample of your water, and then tests it. They will deliver the results back to you with their findings and usually some advice about the results.

Municipal water testing usually isn’t free, but you’ll generally pay around $100 (this will vary based on your area) for the level and quality of testing that would cost you well over $1000, so it’s a very good deal. Also the people doing the testing don’t sell water filter or any services, so you are getting 100% impartial advice from them.

So municipal water testing is very high quality and it’s affordable, but what’s the downside? It’s usually very slow. You might need to water 4-8 weeks for someone to come to your home and another 6-10 weeks for results. If you only need to test once a year and you are good at keeping a schedule, this isn’t a problem at all, but it will require some level of planning.

Private Water Testing

Private water testing is done through a local water testing service. They will come do your home, take a water sample, and then tell you about the results. This can normally take under 2 weeks in total, so it’s quick and easy.

The downside of private testing, of course, is that it costs money. A base level water test for safety, pH, and hardness might cost $150-$200. The test required to sell your home might be more like $600, and a full-work up (like you’d get from the municipal testing team) could be upwards of $1400.

Most private testing companies work with high-quality independent labs so you can usually trust the results, though they also usually have water filtration partners, so it’s often they they will try to sell you something to correct the findings. This doesn’t mean they aren’t trustworthy, but it’s worth understanding.

Mail-In Water Tests

An increasingly popular method for water testing are tests you buy online. You buy the test, take the sample yourself, and then mail the water sample to a company who works with a lab to test it. The company then sends the results back to you.

Home Test Kits

The final type, for our purposes, are home test kits where you do the test yourself at home. These kits aren’t delivering professional quality results and they are subject to your own lack of experience with water testing and science in general, so we won’t be discussing them much here.