Water well and propane heating
June 24, 2008 11:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering moving to a nice house twenty miles away from the big city I'm currently in, but the new home uses a water well--I don't know exactly what type at the moment, but let us assume I won't need a bucket--and propane for heating. What should I expect from these in regards to water quality, water pressure, cost of propane versus gas provided by public utilities, and anything else those experienced with these systems can think of.
posted by mithiirym to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
If your water comes from your own private well, you'll need to pay for periodic testing in regard to water quality (my parents-in-law live on a farm and their water comes from a private well, and they have yearly testing done to make sure the water is safe to drink). As far as your propane, you'll probably have a propane tank on your property that is refilled as needed by a propane provider. Depending on where you are, there may be several providers to choose from and you'll have to call them and find out about the cost (my parents-in-law also use a propane service and I have no idea what their cost is versus city utilities, but I've never heard them complain).
posted by amyms at 12:15 AM on June 25, 2008

Propane costs about the same as gasoline, per gallon, and has about the same
heating power. It's more potent than natural gas, cubic foot per cubic foot at STP.
It comes out of a tank that has a gauge on it. You can monitor your usage of it.

A well? There's not time to tell you everything you need to know. Get the water
tested, not so much for safety but to indicate what kind of state the well is in.
Water pressure is a consequence of technology (like a pressure boosting system).
If it's working, you should expect the same water pressure you have in the city.

One thing you won't be able to do is take it for granted. The first mistake that "city
people" make when they move to the country is that they waste water flagrantly,
and they temporarily pump their well dry. My neighbor once pumped 80,000 gallons
in a week, just because she was stupid.

There's something that you didn't mention, that you're probably going to have to
get familiar with: septic system. Find out where your poop goes, and the last time
that system was serviced.

The biggest problem you have is that you will have to be aware, and considerate of,
systems that most "city people" take for granted. If you have a landlord, then she'll
take care of you. If you're on your own, you can expect to become more familiar
with your water system, heating system and septic system; or become more familiar
with the people that take care of such systems for you.

Unless you have an engineering bent, get ready to occasionally write 4 digits checks,
with no notice, to continue enjoying the luxuries of running water and indoor plumbing.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:19 AM on June 25, 2008

Does your big city have a reservoir? If so, expect the well water to taste like crap in comparison.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 12:30 AM on June 25, 2008

get ready to occasionally write 4 digits checks

That's not necessarily true. If you're buying the place, a good inspector will tell you if there are any maintenance issues regarding your well and your plumbing. If everything is in good shape, and you take care of it once its yours, you'll be fine.
posted by amyms at 12:36 AM on June 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seriously, the septic is the bigger worry. It is not impossible that the system in place is no longer up to code. This is extremely variable by location.

Well water can actually taste far superior to city water, but that is subjective. But the well should be deep, and at the opposite side of the property from the septic.
posted by Goofyy at 1:36 AM on June 25, 2008

We have a private well, and our water tastes great. We have our water quality tested every two years for safety. If you're buying instead of renting you need to make sure you get the test before closing, since correcting water problems could be a very expensive proposition. Oh, and our water pressure is a little wimpy compared to what we were used to with city water. For our showers we fixed this by installing water saving shower heads.

As for propane, we use it for our kitchen stove and a gas fireplace. In our neck of the woods, you choose your supplier and they keep your tank full, which means you're at the whim of whatever the market price is. The propane company actually owns the tank so you can't shop around for prices whenever you need a fill.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:28 AM on June 25, 2008

Also, the cost of the occasional Brita filter is nothing compared to being out of the city. There are many ways to mitigate less-than-great tasting water, but not so many for living in a city. (Just moved from Brooklyn to the country....)
posted by nevercalm at 4:54 AM on June 25, 2008

there are no "hard fast rules" for well water quality. I have been in areas where private wells provide the best water you ever tasted with no treatment needed, and other places where you need to spend a fortune on water treatment only to get your water to taste and smell decent. The same is true of public water in different areas.

for that matter, i've seen both public water, and private wells with "fire hydrant" type pressure, and others that are so bad you always know when somebody flushes a toilet while you are getting a shower.

Biggest thing to remember: with a well, you are your own water company! nobody is testing your water regularly to make sure there is nothing bad happening, like with a public system. Just because your water tastes and smells fine, doesn't mean that it is fine. Test at least once a year.

conservation is important: if we have people staying with us, or host a big party, it is not uncommon to run our well dry. it usually takes a couple hours to "recharge". major annoyance at the very least

Other thing to remember about a well is, no power/no shower! unlike city water that works during an outage, a private well relies on electricity. You need to get into the habit of keeping some water around, at least so you can brush and flush while the power is out. Think about getting a whole house generator that runs on propane and comes on automatically if the new house is in an area prone to outages. it's a much better investment than that 52" plasma, for about the same price!!

our current home has private well/propane/CITY SEWER so you may have a similiar set-up

propane is no big deal. our tank is buried in the back yard, propane company fills it regularly based on our usage pattern. we only ran out once, and that's because i was doing work on the house during some frigid days in January. I had my miter saw and tile cutter set up on my back deck, and was going in and out of the house constantly, many times leaving the sliding door open, so my heater was constantly running. This year i am going to do a direct hook-up to my gas grill, so bye-bye to lugging those 20lb tanks back and forth to the grocery store to overpay for what i already have at home
posted by Mr_Chips at 5:11 AM on June 25, 2008

If you're just moving in, go ahead and make sure your well and your (or anyone else's) septic system aren't sharing fluids. You don't want to catch whatever might be living in your neighbor's ass. But we drank well water for years, never did testing (this was in the old days, when people weren't so paranoid -- and there were no neighbors), and never had trouble other than sometimes running out of water. You might have to get a water truck to come and fill up your reservoir if it's not filling rapidly enough on its own.

But about moving to a house twenty miles away from the city: if you're going into the city for everything (work, school, shopping, recreation, socializing), gasoline prices, not propane prices, might become your worry. Also, you may be adding ages to your family's commute and taking those ages off your family's life, unless you call it living to drive and drive and drive to and from the city you thought you were escaping.
posted by pracowity at 5:43 AM on June 25, 2008

Agreeing with Mr_Chips on the wide variety in well water quality. Here in our area of VA, the well water is (generally) leaps and bounds above city water in quality and taste. But previous posters are correct that you'll need to make sure you don't waste water-- we have had our well run dry carelessly several times by the woman who rents one of our barns.

We've had both oil and propane tanks in our backyard, and overall, I prefer the propane (cleaner), so you're well set up there. Like everyone said, the truck just comes and fills you up every so often. Be sure to ask the fuel company what kind of schedule they have you on. Once we were inadvertantly put on the 'call for refill' list (as opposed to the 'fill us up every x months' list), and the oil went dangerously low and we had a massive bill to pay when we finally did get filled up.

Nthing the suggestion for a propane-powered generator, too. There's nothing like a week without power, and after that first week with the generator, you'll feel like it has paid for itself! Also agreeing that you need to check on the septic vs. sewer situation, although a well-maintained septic can be just fine (unfortunately you sometimes have to open it up for $$ in order to find out if it has been well-maintained).

Enjoy your new home!
posted by weezetr at 5:48 AM on June 25, 2008

The water will not be chlorinated. Then again, it doesn't hang around in a water tower or open reservoir or go through miles and miles of water pipes, so it doesn't need to be. It will more than likely taste different. Whether this is good or bad depends on where in the country you are, whether the city water is well or not (many cities have wells for their water), and personal opinion. Have the water tested every couple of years, if only for pesticide/fertiliser residue.

There is a pump at the well point which feeds the water into a pressure tank in the house. The pump is electric -- when the power goes out, you will eventually lose water pressure. Depending upon where you are, it may be possible to run the well dry -- we've never had that problem, but people in other areas may. What is much easier to do is to run the water out faster than the wellpump can fill the pressure tank, so the tank runs dry.

Do check on the septic/sewer options. It's something you need to know. If septic, make sure it's up to code (if you're buying, make this a part of your offer). Biannual checks on the tank/field are a good idea if it's an older field, even if it is up to code.

Find out if the propane company will do regular top-ups. Filling the tank once or twice a year can be big $$; and getting regular top-ups will lessen the budget impact, even if it doesn't cost less on an annual basis.
posted by jlkr at 8:42 AM on June 25, 2008

Well water is not fluoridated. So if you have kids, you will want to talk to their dentist about using a fluoride supplementing toothpaste or gel.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:03 PM on June 25, 2008

You can own your own propane tank if you wish, and buy propane from whichever provider you like. Depending on how much capacity your tank has v.s. how much propane you use, you might not want to get it filled all the way -- if you find out thereĀ“s a leak in the system, it gets expensive. I would also suggest locking your tank. If you only use propane in the winter, buy it before the first cold snap or you will have an unpleasant few days, this is their busy time.
posted by yohko at 2:14 PM on June 25, 2008

If you will own the house, consider buying your own propane tank. If the tank belongs to a company, you can only get your propane from that company. As yohko pointed out, if you own the tank, you can shop around for the best propane price. In my area, the cost can vary considerably.

Also, if you're not on a regular top-it-off plan, find out what is the minimum amount of propane that they will deliver. The company I'm stuck with will deliver a minimum of 200 gallons--which the last time I called was $765.
posted by PatoPata at 2:58 PM on June 25, 2008

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