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Testing Treated Water Supplies (City Water) vs. Un-Treated Water Supplies (Well Water)

Most drinking water test kits can be used to test a wide variety of water types. The following blog provides a lot of answers to a lot of questions about testing drinking water and the types of kits that you can choose from, when testing your water supply.

    • Treated Water Supply: Treated chemically and/or physically, by a private or public utility. This is many times referred to as a City Water Supply or Tap Water. Special Notes: Public and Private utilities are required by law (in the USA) to test their water. They must make sure the water is safe for end-users. However, some parameters are tested as infrequently as once every three years. Frequency of testing and the number of parameters required to be tested are based on a number of factors, not the least of which is the size of the population using the respective utility (number of gallons distributed to end-users by the utility, per unit of time). Therefore, some parameter concentrations may change between scheduled testing for a water supply or worse, the utility may not be required to test for a parameter that is at toxic levels (because the parameter was not included in their water testing permit). What can you do about this? There is one person that you can trust 100% and you only have to look in the mirror to see that person and say, Don’t Guess…TEST!®
    • Un-Treated Water Supply: Not treated chemically and/or physically, by a private or public utility. This type of water supply can come from numerous sources (see below). Special Notes: The USEPA recommends homeowners using private wells to test their drinking water supplies, one-time per year. Some individual states regulate well water testing, but for the most part, testing well water is up to the individual homeowner. According to which survey you believe, it is estimated that as few as 13-million or as many as 21-million Americans use well water as their primary water source. Many well-water owners have never tested their water supplies. They believe because the water is underground, it is free of contaminants. Nothing could be further from the truth. From a contamination standpoint, well water has far more risks associated with it, than does a city water supply. A chemical spill hundreds of miles away accessing an aquifer, can potentially reach any homeowner that has a well drilled downstream, on the same aquifer. Think of testing your water this way – in the USA, the average American spends $600/year to have their oil changed in their car. Why do we do this? To make sure the car operates at an optimal level and that it lasts, longer. Yet, homeowners with well water supplies ignore testing their water because it “takes too much time” or “is too expensive”. Just by testing your well water one time per year (for much less than it takes to get your oil changed in your car), you can take corrective action against harmful contaminants. Knowledge is a powerful tool…but you have to peruse it, to utilize it. With the resources available to homeowners today, ignorance is no excuse. Test your water and take corrective action (if necessary) and allow your family to operate at an optimal level…allow them to live a longer/healthier life. Don’t Guess…TEST!® We have listed a few types of private water sources below that homeowners use as drinking water supplies and should be tested on a regular basis.
      • Well Water
      • Cistern Water
      • Springs
      • Lakes
      • Rivers
  • OTHER WATER MATRICES: The following water sources can be tested with water test kits, but these supplies are not intended to be used as drinking water supplies.
    • Swimming Pools, Coy Ponds, Landscaping Fountains, Fish Tanks

Of the kits available on the market today for purchase, you will choose between DIY test kits (Do-It- Yourself) where you conduct the test yourself and In-Lab test kits. In-Lab test kits allow you to collect and send your water sample into a laboratory for testing, after which you receive an emailed lab report.

With DIY testing, you gain the convenience of quick results at an inexpensive price. However, with these advantages, you also have limitations. DIY kits can only provide approximate values (ranges) of the respective parameter being tested. Plus, DIY testing is susceptible to background interferences (can yield inconclusive test results). We call DIY testing, “screening” your water. It is far better than doing nothing but cannot be replaced with the accuracy and dependability of In-Lab testing.

With In-Lab test kits, you gain an advantage of in-lab quality controls against background interferences. Most In-Lab testing of drinking water is a ‘total analysis’, meaning all solids and liquids in the respective water sample are being combined and measured for a total value for the parameter being tested. Example: A DIY Lead test kit can only measure Lead that is dissolved (in solution). As noted above, this type of DIY testing is certainly better than not testing at all. However, In-Lab test kits include a digestion process that combines the solid Lead with the liquid Lead, giving you the total Lead that exists in your respective water sample.

Now that you are educated about DIY test kits and In-Lab test kits, we will educate you about choosing a kit specifically for drinking water. There are sometimes differences to consider between a kit that is designed to test a Treated Water Supply (water treated by a city water utility) vs. an Un-Treated Water Supply (usually well water, cisterns and more). For sake of discussion in this blog, we will call these kits City Water test kits and Well Water test kits and we will divide them into DIY test kits vs. In-Lab test kits.

DIY Drinking Water Test Kits: A DIY kit that does not distinguish between testing a City Water supply vs. a Well Water supply, will still test both. However, some of the testing mechanisms in each kit are likely not applicable, to both water types. Example: An all-inclusive kit may test for numerous parameters, including Bacteria and Fluoride. However, Bacteria is rarely applicable for testing a City Water supply (because the utility chlorinates) and Fluoride is rarely applicable for a Well Water supply (because there is no Fluoridation process being contributed by a utility). There are always exceptions to the above rules, such as Fluoride does occur naturally in ground-water in some parts of the world and water from a City Water supply can be Coliform Positive by the time it reaches your faucet (from damaged supply lines etc.)…but it’s rare. If you are going to choose DIY testing, we recommend choosing a kit that is specifically designed to test for a treated water supply (City Water) or an un-treated water supply (Well Water). You are likely to get more bang for your buck!

In-Lab Drinking Water Test Kits: Now you have the chance to get down to the nitty-gritty of what is in your drinking water. Plus, you are going to receive detailed test values to three-decimal places (in most cases), so you can truly make informed decisions about any corrective actions (replace pipes, add a water treatment system to your home, etc.). When choosing an In-Lab Kit, you really want to evaluate what you need to know vs. what you want to know. You should also do some research on the laboratory that is going to be providing the testing. Check for accreditations, certifications, endorsements from 3rd-parties, testing history, and experience, before choosing one of their test kits. Regarding In-Lab test kits, it can be intimidating due to the variety of kits to choose from. However, by using the following deductive reasoning (with Safe Home In-Lab test kits), you will make your decision much simpler by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I want a bacteria test to be included in the kit?
    • No: In this case, you will be choosing a specific Safe Home test kit that does not include a bacteria test kit.
      • Arsenic
      • Glyphosate
      • PFAS
      • Other customized kits (without Bacteria)
    • Yes: In this case, you will be moving on to question #2 (below).
  2. Do I want to conduct the Bacteria test myself or do I want the lab to perform the Bacteria test?
    • I would like to do the Bacteria test myself: By choosing this option you will want to choose one of the Safe Home In-Lab Test Kits that provide a DIY Bacteria test kit. All other testing is conducted at the EPA-certified lab. Since you are conducting the DIY Bacteria test yourself (in the comfort of your home), you also receive free return-shipping of your water sample to our laboratory. Safe Home In-Lab kits that include a DIY Bacteria test kit and include free return-shipping to our laboratory are:
      • Total Lead Test Kit: Provides testing for two water samples for Total Lead (dissolved Lead and solid Lead).
        • Designed for City or Well Water Supplies
      • Basic Test Kit: Tests for 5-different parameters
        • Designed for City or Well Water Supplies
      • Select Test Kit: Tests for 15-different parameters
        • Designed for City or Well Water Supplies
      • Premium Test Kit: Tests for 50-different parameters
        • Designed primarily for City Water Supplies but useful for testing Well Water Supplies.
      • Ultimate Test Kit: Tests for 200-different parameters
        • Designed primarily for Well Water Supplies but useful for testing City Water Supplies.
    • I want the lab to conduct the Bacteria test: By choosing this option, you will want to choose one of the Safe Home Pro In-Lab Test Kits, that provide a sample bottle for you to return your water sample to our laboratory for the testing of bacteria (and any other parameters that may be included in the respective test kit). Since you are sending a water sample to our laboratory for the testing of bacteria, you must ship the kit over-night as instructed. This type of shipping is at your expense.
      • Pro-Inspector Test Kit: Tests for 6-different parameters
        • Designed for City or Well Water Supplies when buying or selling property (HUD, VA, FHA loans etc.)
      • Pro-15 Test Kit: Tests for 15-different parameters
        • Designed for City or Well Water Supplies
      • Pro-50 Test Kit: Tests for 50-different parameters
        • Designed primarily for City Water Supplies but useful for testing Well Water Supplies.
      • Pro-200 Test Kit: Tests for 200-different parameters
        • Designed primarily for Well Water Supplies but useful for testing City Water Supplies.

Whether you test your drinking water with a DIY kit or an In-Lab kit, the #1 question we get from consumers after they have their results from testing is, “what do I do now?”. We recommend that you go online and learn more about the items listed below (regarding the parameters you tested). You may go to our Safe Home Learning Center to find a lot of answers: https://envirotestkits.com/contaminants/. You can also do a lot of your own research.

  1. Learn where many of the parameters could originate from (specifically the parameters being tested in your test kit). This may give you some ideas on how, to take corrective action.
  2. Evaluate if you have any parameters above the USEPA’s recommended guidelines. These guidelines may be referred to as Maximum Contamination Levels, Acceptable or Unacceptable Ranges or Action Levels).
    • Remember, in many cases, no concentration of a respective parameter is safe to consume, even if it is at or below the USEPA’s guidelines. Example: Lead has an Action Level of 15 ppb (parts per billion). This measures the concentration in micro-grams of Lead/liter of water. An Action Level for Lead is issued from the USEPA to city utilities, giving them a required goal to reduce such high levels. This is achieved through water treatment by physical or chemical means, therefore reducing the Lead levels to or below, the Action Level for Lead.
    • The problem with the above – many people believe, if their water is below the Action Level for Lead, it is safe to drink. No level of Lead is safe to consume…period!
  3. With concentrations that are outside the USEPA’s levels/limits, what kind of affects could be challenging my family’s health or contributing to issues with our appliances and plumbing infrastructure.
  4. Seek assistance from water treatment professionals who can design a water treatment system to treat my water contaminant challenges.

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