Be your own DIY Water Detective!

So, you just found the “perfect home” for your family and you are now under contract. Congratulations, my friend…I am truly happy for you!

In a few days you’ll most likely be scrutinizing every inch of your new home and making sure all is as it should be. You and your home inspector will undoubtedly be looking at about a million and one things during this process. If your new home happens to receive its water supply from a private well, you’ll definitely want to have the water tested for various health and non-health related concerns, as part of this process.

Prior to receiving your test results, there are a few simple “homeowner CSI” steps you  can take to get an idea if your well water may or may not have potential problems.

Lets’ take a look at 5 quick and easy inspections you can perform yourself, in literally less than 5 minutes time.


1. Smell the Water

Checking for subtle or strong odors is a great way to inspect for potential issues with a home’s water supply. Hydrogen Sulfide (rotten egg), metallic smells and even organic odors are just a few you’ll want be on the lookout (or “smell-out”) for.

Grab a glass from the cupboard (or bring one with you if the house is vacant). Turn on the kitchen faucet wile holding a glass directly below the spout. Getting as close as you can, without getting a nose-full of tap water, smell for possible odors coming out of the faucet as the glass is simultaneously being filled with both water and air bubbles.

By aerating and intensifying the water (forcing it to splash bubbles into the glass), there’s a good chance you’ll be able to detect odors that your nose might not have been able to pick up on if you had simply placed your nose near the faucet itself.

2. Taste the Water

I know…pretty obvious one here. but you’d be amazed how many home buyers never check to see how their water tastes.

The steps are pretty much the same as as above, when you checked for odors coming from the fresh faucet water. Take the same exact glass full of water you just smelled and immediately taste the water.

See if you can detect any hint of metallic or organic flavors in the water. Metalic flavors might be a good indication that the water is high in minerals such as Iron or Manganese.

3. Check the Toilet Tank Water

Not the most glamorous of steps, I’ll admit, but nonetheless this is a very important one. Toilet tanks are great little hiding places for water related problems you might not notice in other parts of the home.

After removing the lid off of one of the bathroom toilets, you’ll want to see how the overall quality or color of the water looks, both in the water itself, on the surface of the water and on the sides of the tank.

Keep an eye out for excessive amounts of red-ish, brown or even black colorations in the tank. Most tanks will have some amount of these colors but an excessive amount of these may mean you have overly high concentrations of problem causing minerals such as Iron or Manganese in your water.

4. Look at Tubs, Sink Drains and Dishwashers

Very similar to step 3, above. These are all very good places to look for possible issues with excessive mineral concentrations.

Red, Brown or Black Stains

Red and/or Brownish colored stains are extremely common on these areas…especially if one particular fixture happens to get cleaned less than the others in the home. Could be a good clue that the water supply is high in Iron or Manganese.

White Calcification Build-up

If you happen to notice any amount of a whiteish colored buildup (most noticeable on chrome fixtures) there may be an issue with excessive calcium “hardness” to the water.

At first glance it’s easy for this to look like simple soap scum buildup. Try taking your finger and rubbing away the discoloration. If it won’t budge, there’s a good chance the water is too hard.

Another Little DIY “Water Detective” Tip: Take a look at any clear glasses or dishware found in the cabinets or in the dishwasher. Do you see any signs of calcification buildup? 

Hard water can literally ruin expensive appliances, heating systems (sky-rocketing fuel bills) and fixtures. Anything greater than than 60 mg/L will cause problems. This is something you’ll definitely want to be aware of before purchasing the home.

Bluish-Green Stains

You’ll also want to keep a close eye out for bluish-green looking stains, too.

If you see blue or green looking stains, there is a very good possibility that the home’s water has a pH balance that is too low, or acidic. When this happens the pH starts to literally chew away at the insides of any metal surfaces it comes in contact with, such as copper household piping, faucet fixtures and water heating systems.

Like excessive hardness, you’ll want to take low pH very seriously. If it’s not addressed early on, plumbing repairs, water damage and system replacements could end up being quite costly for you down the road.

5. Inspect the Pipes

Expanding on number 4, take a minute or two to examine the visible copper piping in the basement (if the basement is finished, you can look at the plumbing connections around the furnace).

Are there sections of piping that appear to be newer than others? Do any of the plumbing joints have that bluish-green staining we mentioned before? Are there water stains on the concrete floor below any of the plumbing.

These are just a few simple to notice tell-tale signs that problems may have occurred in the past. Your standard “Mortgage” water test performed by your home inspector should be able to help confirm any possible issues (pH, Hardness etc) you come across.

What to Test For

If the home you are purchasing (or the home you currently live in) is in Maine we recommend performing the following water tests as part of your home inspection/home purchase.

Health Related

Arsenic (part of most standard mortgage tests)


Uranium (especially in areas like Raymond, Casco & Naples)

Coli-form Bacteria & E-Coli (also part of most standard mortgage tests)


Non-Health Related

Standard Mortgage Test (generally includes Arsenic, Bacteria, Sodium, Chlorides, Hardness, pH, Iron and Manganese)