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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Water from the Earth

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Well water, once the well is drilled, is often practically free.

A good well can yield crisp, chlorine-free water for generations.

But increasingly, home-buyers prefer properties on public water lines, spurred in part by more young couples with two incomes moving to rural areas, several area real estate agents said.

“A large portion of the market wants new and modern conveniences and there is less tolerance for some of the alternative ways of supplying water to a property than there was a number of years ago when the market wasn't as new-construction, subdivision driven,” said Michael Miller, owner and broker of Sulphur Springs Realty Inc. in Toledo.

Wells are much more variable than public water lines.

Although many have plenty of pressure, some in western Lucas County don't produce enough water rapidly enough for residents to do laundry and take a shower at the same time.

Deep wells, typically 60 to 150 feet below ground, often last for decades and their cost is often less than installing public water lines. Drillers typically charge by the foot; the total cost is often $2,000 to $5,000.

Wells that are 15 to 23 feet deep, also called surface wells or sand point wells, are cheaper and typically yield much softer and clearer water than do deep wells. Costs, which include a jet pump in a basement or crawl space inside the home, typically total $1,200 to $1,500. Such wells usually last 10 to 15 years.

Some wells - especially the deepest ones - produce sulfur water, which is perfectly safe but can have such a bad taste that many people decide to treat it. Even wells that produce good water can later produce poor-tasting water if the water table is disturbed by more construction. Typically the deeper a well must be drilled, the more likely sulfur water will flow.

Well water, especially from deep wells, can be hard and require softening for laundry use. Water softeners cost $500 to $2,000 and typically last 20 to 25 years, but depending how hard the water is, the salt bill can be $15 to $20 a month, said Curt Kimball, owner of Kimball Well Drilling in Ottawa County's Clay Township.

Many wells, however, mean no bills for years, interspersed with sizeable expenses at unpredictable times. Pumps typically last at least 12 years and sometimes as long as 40 years. But when they go bad, pumps for deep wells - which are in the well itself - often cost $700 to $1,000, Mr. Kimball said. Electricity costs for pumps are usually a couple of dollars a month. And with most wells, unlike with public water lines, when a power outage hits, the house has no water.

In contrast, the proposed assessment to homeowners in part of Fulton County's Swancreek Township considering a controversial public water line is almost $8,900.

Public lines typically add to the value of a house - but not by that amount.

Joe Newlove, owner of Joe Newlove Real Estate & Auctions in Wauseon, said homes on public water lines sell for about $5,000 more than those with wells. Mr. Miller of Sulphur Springs estimated the difference at 3 to 10 percent of the property value.

What buyers want in a water supply, however, depends largely on where they grew up.

“A buyer that's used to city water, they're not going to like the well water, just because their taste buds are set for city water,” said Brad Mock, owner of Mock's Well Drilling in Swancreek Township. “And folks that have lived on well water all their life like that.”

People who are used to public water sometimes notice an iron taste in well water and are quicker to pick up a slight sulfur smell. Some say, however, that it's harder for those used to well water to adapt to public water; the chlorine offends them.

The number of wells in an area typically is a reflection of how rural it is and how easy it is to get good quality water from wells.

In Lucas County, 5 percent of dwellings, or 8,500 houses, have well water, mostly in townships such as Sylvania, Jerusalem, Providence, Swanton, and Monclova. But even the city of Toledo has 24 residential properties using well water, according to records from the Lucas County auditor.

In Defiance County, one of northwest Ohio's most rural, half the residences have well water, the county health department said. In Fulton County, which has some Toledo bedroom communities and several areas where drilling a good water well is difficult, 37 percent of residences have well water.

Mr. Kimball, the well driller, predicted continued demand for the work that his family has done for four generations.

“They're trying to push public water lines in certain areas,” he said. “But I foresee as long as they're still building houses in the country, we should be busy.”



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