A covered dug well in Fredericksburg, Virginia Credit: Courtesy of Mary Jo Farthing

Accessing your own water via a well is sometimes necessary, sometimes preferred. But creating a well is not as easy as digging until you locate water and then installing a pump. Here’s what you should know before you drill a well.

First, location matters. You don’t want to dig a well near waste-related systems on your property. “Establish where the leach field and septic tank are on the property. They need to be a certain distance away from the well to protect your drinking water,” said Sharon White, office manager at Sunco Pump and Well Drilling Inc. in Sabattus, Maine.

Then, consider who will drill the well. It’s not recommended to DIY this project since you cannot determine water quality without special knowledge and equipment. Reputable well drilling companies have the equipment, experience and knowledge to assess the water quality for a well site, and the best location on your property for a well, White said.

The good news is there are benefits to having a well. “Well water tends to be better,” White said. “It’s only your source of water, and you don’t have to pay a town bill to use the water. A well also increases the resale value of your home.”

Now, what kind of well do you need?

Types of Wells

Dug Well

There are three main types of wells, said Roger Skillings, a certified well driller and pump installer, and president of Skillings and Sons Inc., which has locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. A dug well is usually 8 to 14 feet deep and dug with a backhoe. It is best for sand and gravel, and dependent on the surrounding water table.

“Dug wells are influenced by the water table. If the area around the dug well has a horse corral, there’s a chance you’ll get run off,” Skillings said. A dug well works best in an area away from roads and livestock, Skillings said.

Screen Well

A wash well, or a screen well, as it can also be called, is usually 10 to 25 feet deep, Skillings said. They’re generally 1¼ to 2 inches in diameter, and dependent on sand and gravel for the drilling installation process. The sand and gravel filter the water, creating a permeable access layer to the water table. You would only need a screen well if the terrain around your well had small particles deep underground.

A screen well has the best quality water of the three wells, because the water is sucked through a screen with the pump, Skillings said. He also added these kinds of wells typically have less issues than the rest.

Drilled Well

A drilled well, or artesian well, as it is also known, is drilled deep underground, Skillings said. This type of well is best used with ledgerock, or bedrock.

A submersible pump is added at the bottom to pump the water out. “If the bedrock has low iron and mineral levels, it’s a dependable water source,” Skillings said.

Which well is right for you?

There are several considerations you should mull when choosing the right type of well for your property. Among them is soil type, which makes some wells better than others, Skillings said. Proximity to roads and livestock should also be a consideration.

Experts suggest that the deeper drilled well is superior to the dug well.

“A dug well can get you by, but you never know when it will dry up. They’re only generally between 15 and 20 feet deep, so that doesn’t leave a lot of reserve water,” White said.

Dug wells only reach the top of the water table, which makes them dependent on the height of the water’s surface. They can become unreliable or even dry up if the water table’s level fluctuates too much.

Once your well is drilled

The well is there, now what? Before you start using that water, you need to ensure it is safe for consumption. White recommends a basic water test of your well before you use the water, “including arsenic and radon,” especially before drinking, she said.

Also, it’s essential to keep good records on the well installation and maintenance. The one drawback to having a well is there can be no warning when something goes wrong, White said. The pump and tank system can last up to 30 years, but once the system dies, that’s it.

“If you notice a pressure difference or if the water acts different, let someone know. That could be a sign there’s an issue,” White said.

If you have any problems with your well, Skillings recommends talking with the well driller. “A professional is the best person to talk to,” Skillings said.