Photograph of  this open well in a home basement - many concerns

Drinking Water Test Steps
How to collect a water test sample for well potability tests / bacteria tests

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Well water testing guidelines for home buyers and home owners.

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How to Conduct A Well Water or Drinking Water Test

Photograph of  this open well in a home basement - many concernsUsing New York as an example, New York State home inspectors must be licensed by the state - a credential which provides an assurance of some mimimal or ground floor level of expertise and ethical conduct.

That license does not address water testing nor other environmental inspections or tests.

New York State licenses water testing laboratories; the lab processing of a water test sample must be processed by a state certified testing laboratory; the NYS DOH maintains an active lab list, and as well, your local water test labs will be glad to confirm that their certification is active, as if not they could not legally work in the state.

Some water testing laboratories also provide water sample collection services using their own employees, but all of the labs I've spoken with also are happy to accept third-party-collected samples.

Home owners, building occupants, and home inspectors as well as others are permitted to collect a water test sample, just as is any property homeowner.

The sample must be collected using containers and using a procedure specified by the water test lab who is going to process the sample; those requirements vary depending on the water test package selected; there may also be delivery time constraints, such as a maximum number of hours between sample collection and the time of delivery to the lab; those times also vary by test.

Water Test Procedure Example: Coliform Test = Bacteria Test = Potability Test for Drinking Water

Dripping water at a faucet (C) Daniel FriedmanA P/A test is a simple "present or absent" test for an unacceptable level of coliform bacteria in drinking water. This is one of the simplest tests performed, but it requires at least a sterile container of appropriate size, usually provided by the water test lab. Some water test collection bottles from some labs may also contain a chemical or preservative.

To conduct a basic coliform bacteria P/A test the tester who wants honest, representative results will follow instructions from the water test lab if they vary from the steps I give below, but should also address all of the concerns addressed by this procedure.

  1. Select an appropriate test location to draw water; most use the kitchen sink, presuming that that's where people are most likely to draw drinking water and because that faucet is usually active; taking a water sample from a rarely-used faucet increases the chance of skewing the test by local contaminants at the faucet.
  2. Remove the faucet strainer so as to avoid the effects of bacteria or debris therein, without sticking a dirty finger up into the faucet opening;
  3. Do not bother with voo-doo impress-the-client junk science such as waving a cigarette lighter or match under the faucet. The "sterilization" effect by such a step is nil. A match or lighter is not going to get a sink faucet hot enough to sterilize anything; all you are accomplishing is sooting up the faucet.
  4. Run enough water before collecting the sample to be sure that water being tested is collected from the water source, not just what may have been sitting in a water pressure tank or pipe system
  5. Collect the required sample in an appropriate lab-provided container, without sticking a dirty finger inside the container nor inside its cap;
  6. Record appropriate information: test consultant, client, date, time, property owner name, property location, collection point, observations of site conditions that may affect the results (Horse barn manure runoff running into the well-pit, for example).

    Typically water test labs provide a water test documenation form that specifies the information required by the laboratory.
  7. Deliver the sample to a certified test lab within the requisite period (typically 24 hours)
  8. Provide the lab report as well a syour own site observations to the client (if you are not the end client yourself). The water test lab report will indicate the test performed and the results, including an indication of whether or not the test results meet the state requirements for safe drinking water.

    If you are an independent test consultant or home inspector, just as with a home inspection report, the water test results must go to the client, not to other parties with conflicting interests.

    However in my OPINION, in this case as in any other in which a building professional at a site observes conditions that in his/her opinion could or are likely to put the present site occupants at risk has a moral and ethical obligation to let such people know immediately.

    The water test collecting consulant consultant may arrange for the report to be mailed directly to the client but should also receive a copy. An independent inspector who collects a water test or other environmental sample should also be prepared to assist the client in understanding and responding to the test results, answering questions about what the test results mean to the client or to the building occupants.

    A water test consultant who does not include this level of service is not providing a useful, professional level of service.

Watch out: I have ONLY described a general procedure for one specific test: a coliform P/A test (PA - Coliform Bacteria Test), and even for that test the laboratory may have different procedural details that the test consultant must follow. And test procedures for conducting other types of water tests are definitely different from what I described above. At WATER QUALITY TEST CHOICES & WATER TEST FEES we list the most common water quality or water contaminant tests performed on drinking water systems.

Also see Choices of Water Tests& Fees: A Summary of Types of Water Tests, Degrees of Comprehensive Water Testing, Details of Water Test Parameters. and also check out CHEATING ON WATER TESTS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

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