Well Water vs City Water: What You Should Know

Learn how well water compares to city water to determine which you should rely on for your home.

By: Rachel Carollo

If you’ve moved into a new home that has access to both well and city water, you have an important decision to make about which option you’ll use.

Over 13 million U.S. households rely on well water, as wells can have advantages in some situations. However, to make an informed decision — it’s best to learn about the differences between well water and city water, including their pros and cons. To help you determine which to choose, we’ve created this guide with everything you should know about both options and ultimately how to guarantee you’re drinking and using the cleanest water.

“Over 13 million U.S. households rely on well water…”

What’s the difference between well water and city water?

Well water comes from a well, which is created by drilling a hole into the ground until it reaches an underground aquifer. While some wells can be hundreds of years old, most have moved away from the pulley and bucket system in favor of a pump that connects directly to a home’s plumbing. 

Well water obtained from a private well is free to use and some people consider it a fresher, more natural source of water because it isn’t chemically treated. However, this also raises safety concerns. Unlike city water, well water is not tested or treated by any regulatory organization, so it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to ensure the well water is safe to drink. While the water may be free, the homeowner is responsible for maintenance costs associated with the well such as equipment repairs and necessary treatments.

By comparison, city water is supplied to your home and the surrounding community by your city government. City water is subject to several laws and regulations that require it to be regularly  tested and treated to ensure it’s safe to drink. With this in mind, city water may be considered safer than untreated well water. However, some contaminants may linger after the treatment process and the water may even be contaminated from pipes on the way from the treatment facility to your home. Furthermore, city water is billed based on usage and can be limited through regulations or shut off during events that require it.

Well water pros and cons

Well water isn’t a choice for everyone, but if you have the option — here are the pros and cons to be aware of.

Well water pros

  • No water bill: You can use as much water as you’d like and never have to worry about a bill when using a private well. The only reason you’d pay is if you’re using city water for wastewater (such as showering, flushing the toilet, etc…), although you can install a septic tank to avoid these costs.
  • High nutrients and minerals: Well water is often packed with naturally-occurring nutrients and minerals because it comes from a natural aquifer instead of run-off or surface water that supplies the city. This can also improve taste, although the increased mineral content also makes well water more susceptible to become hard water which has some negative effects.
  • Increases property value: A private well adds value to a home, increasing the property’s appeal so you can ask for a higher price when selling.

Well water cons

  • Contamination potential: Well water may be susceptible to contamination from surface runoff, in which contaminated water seeps into the soil and contaminates the well’s source. You may think this isn’t likely, but water can be contaminated from sources such as sewage, dead animals, septic tanks, and more. If you live on a large plot of land and/or you aren’t regularly testing your water, you may not recognize a problem and you may consume contaminated water before realizing what’s happened.
  • Maintenance costs: Since you own the well, you’re responsible for maintaining it which includes equipment repairs, replacements, and water treatments to ensure it’s safe to drink.
  • Dependent on electricity: Modern wells use pumps that require electricity to operate, which contributes to your electric bill. Furthermore, your water won’t work if your power goes out, which could be problematic in an emergency.

City water pros and cons

While only some people have access to well water, almost everyone will have the option of city water. If you have access to both, here are the pros and cons of city water to help you decide which you should choose.

City water pros

  • The city is responsible for testing and treatment: City water is highly regulated and tested often to ensure it’s safe for use, so you don’t have to do anything. However, it should be noted that in some cases contaminants can slip through the cracks of the treatment process, and water may also be contaminated while traveling through pipes from the treatment facility to your home.
  • Widespread availability: Unlike well water which is only available in some areas, city water is highly accessible. Even most rural areas have access to city water.

City water cons

  • Water bills: Unlike well water which is free to use, you’ll have to pay for the water you get from your city. Furthermore, water bills have increased 80% in the past decade. Some areas saw even greater increases, such as Austin, TX — where the average water bill increased 154% from $566 in 2010 to $1,435 in 2018. As water bills continue to rise, well water may be an appealing option for those who can choose.
  • Exposure to chemicals: While the treatment process used by cities helps remove contaminants, some people may prefer water that hasn’t been treated by chemicals. Beyond safety, chemicals can also impact the taste, smell, and appearance of tap water.
  • Can be shut off or limited: With a well, you’re in full control of your water. When using city water, the city can shut off your water at any point. Some cities may also try to limit usage through laws that impose financial penalties for exceeding restrictions. For example, during a drought — San Jose Water (in California) set a reduction threshold at 15% of 2019 use and charged $7.13 per unit (748 gallons) that exceeded the restriction.

Is city water better than well water?

City water is better than well water if you don’t want to deal with testing and maintenance to ensure it’s safe to drink. However, those who are willing to maintain private wells will find there are several benefits over city water. Ultimately, you should weigh the pros and cons of each option to determine which makes sense for your home.

Regardless of what you decide, we recommend using a water filter to improve the safety and taste of your water. A whole house water filter will provide clean, great-tasting water from every faucet in your home. If you’re using a private well, you’ll want a filter designed with well water in mind like our Rhino Well Water with UV. The system is third-party certified to reduce bacteria, viruses, and contaminants commonly found in well water.


Rhino® Well Water with UV

Protects from bacteria, viruses and other contaminants commonly found in well water. Lasts for 5 years or 500,000 gallons.

If you’re not using a well but are still interested in a filter to improve the quality of city water, check out our whole house, under sink, and countertop water filters.