Sunday 21 December 2014

Want to dodge water bills with a well? Here's the drill

Published 02/03/2014 | 02:30

biz toon

IT will be another five months before we find out exactly how much we will have to cough up for the dreaded water charges.

Even if it starts off small, the bill could run into several hundred euro a year – particularly if we follow in the footsteps of other countries who charge people for water. Last year, the average householder in Denmark shelled out about €667 for water. In Sweden, water charges set a typical family back about €477 last year. In certain parts of Britain, some householders can expect to pay €587 for their water and sewerage this year, according to a report published by the think-tank, Tasc, last June.

Water charges are set to kick in towards the end of this year, with the first bills arriving in letter boxes in early 2015. Those bills will come from Irish Water – the semi-state company which was set up to deliver water to Irish homes. Whatever the costs per year, water charges will be yet another blow to our pockets. Chances are, those bills will get more expensive by the year. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which will set the price of water, has approved plenty of gas and electricity price hikes over the years.

Every household is expected to get a free allowance of water, with pensioners and large families likely to either get an extra allowance – or to have their bills capped. However, your chances of staying within any free allowance of water are probably slim. You're also likely to get hit with a standing charge to cover the cost of running the water network – whether you use water or not.

* Will I dodge water charges by having a well?

Having your own private well is one way you could avoid Irish Water's water charges. You won't avoid paying for water completely as you will need to maintain your well and ensure that the water is safe to drink. However, having your own well ultimately means that you, rather than Irish Water or the CER, will be in control of what you spend on water – no matter how much water you use.

* Buying a house with a well

If you want to move house or you're on the hunt for your first home, the easiest and cheapest way to have your own well is to buy a house with one. Doing so should avoid the costs that come with building a well from scratch. Don't walk in blindly, however. If you buy a property with a dodgy well, it could cost you several thousand euro or more to fix it – if you can. If you can't fix the problems with a private well and the well is the only source of water for the property, not only will you not be able to drink the water, you'll also run into enormous difficulties should you try to sell the house.

"Before buying a house with a well, you want a proven certificate of the quantity and quality of water," said Padraig Briody, managing director of the Kildare well-drillers, Patrick Briody & Sons. "Otherwise, your well could run dry or the water could be very heavily contaminated. Problems like this can be very expensive to fix."

If your well runs dry, you will need to hire a reputable well-driller to see if he can find water elsewhere on your land. "If a first drill does not find water, that's a serious problem," said Briody. "It means that you could have to connect to a public water mains or group scheme – or look into rainwater harvesting."

If your nearest public water mains or group water scheme is several kilometres away, it could cost a few grand to connect to one of those systems.

If you're buying a house from someone who is currently living in the property, the well should be working because the resident clearly needs water. Don't accept any assurances from the vendor or estate agent, however – get documentation from them to prove that the well is working, that the water is safe to drink, and that there is an adequate water supply.

* How do I sink a well?

If you are building your own home, it could make sense to build your own well – particularly if your home is far from a public or group water scheme or if the quality of water coming from either of those schemes is poor.

Remember, there must be enough good quality groundwater near your home for you to be able to drill your own well. If you live in Dublin or in other parts of the country where there is not much groundwater, you might not be able to drill a well.

It usually costs several thousand euro to build and kit out your own well.

You first need to drill and line your well. This will typically cost between €2,500 and €3,000, according to Briody. You also need a pump to draw the water from your well and a pressure vessel to control the water pressure. "It costs about €2,000 for the supply and fitting of the pump and pressure vessel," said Briody.

A good water treatment system will keep your water clean and remove hardness in the water. A standard water treatment system could set you back between €2,000 and €2,500.

Every well should be cleaned and disinfected before it is used – to ensure that any harmful bacteria or viruses introduced into the well during construction are removed. You can do this yourself – or you could pay a well company to do so. Disinfection should also be done if you buy a property where the well has not been used for some time.

If building your own well, be sure that you follow the guidelines on water well construction drawn up by the Institute of Geologists of Ireland.

You don't have to get planning permission for a private well – though if you are building a new house, you will need to indicate on the plans where the water source for your home will be.

"You do not need to get planning permission, or any other form of permission to drill a water supply borehole, as long as the quantity that will be pumped is less than five million litres per day," said David Ball, a consultant hydrogeologist who has been involved in the development of guidelines for the drilling and protection of wells. "This quantity is far in excess of the quantity required for a single domestic dwelling, which might use only between 300 and 1,000 litres per day."

* Any grants available?

You may be able to get a grant from your local authority if you're upgrading an existing well – or building a new one. The maximum grant you can get is €2,031.58 or three-quarters of the cost of the work – whichever is less. To be eligible for a grant, your house must be more than seven years old and not connected to either a public or group water scheme. If a grant was given to build or upgrade a well for the property within the last 10 years, you won't be eligible for a grant.

Servicing your well won't cost you a fortune

AS long as your well is a reliable one, it shouldn't cost you more than a couple of hundred euro each year to service it.

Choose a reputable well company to do this for you, or else learn how to do it yourself. If you have an ultra-violet unit removing bacteria from the water in your well, you will normally have to replace the bulb each year.

If you need a water softener, you must clean it regularly.

It is worthwhile checking your water every year to make sure it is safe to drink. If you live near Dublin, you can get your well water tested in Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital in Dublin 2.

A microbiological test, which tells you whether or not your water is fit for drinking, costs €65 in the hospital.

If this is the first time you are getting your water tested, it is also advisable to get a chemistry test – this will set you back another €65.

The chemistry test tells you how hard or soft your water is, the mineral content of your water, and whether or not your water is suitable for washing clothes. If you have a lot of manganese in your water for example, it will stain your clothes when you wash them.

If you don't have the time to drop a water sample to Sir Patrick Dun's, you can hire a company to test your water – but make sure the company does so in a laboratory that is accredited by the Irish National Accreditation Board.

Do you fit the profile of the perfect fraudster? Let's see ...

If you're between 36 and 55 years of age and are working for your boss for more than six years, you could fit the perfect profile of a fraudster.

About 70 per cent of fraudsters are between the ages of 36 and 55, according to a new report by KPMG, which examined the profile of 596 fraudsters. The study found that six out of 10 fraudsters are employed by the organisation that is the victim of the fraud – with 41 per cent employed for more than six years. Most fraudsters colluded with others to defraud their boss. The most common type of fraud is the misappropriation of assets, such as embezzlement. "The intriguing thing about fraud is that it is always morphing; like a strain of flu, you can cure today's strain, but next year, it evolves into something as bad, if not worse," said Phil Ostwalt, global co-ordinator for investigations at KPMG.

If you're considering going to university in Northern Ireland or Britain, or if you have a son or daughter studying there, make sure you or your kids don't run up any debts.

Three out of four British universities have terms and conditions that could prevent students from graduating or enrolling on to the next academic year if they owe money that isn't linked to their tuition fees, such as for university accommodation or childcare, according to a new study by the British consumer watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading.

The study found that some British universities can impose sanctions on students even when they owe small amounts or a debt is disputed.

Men more likely to ignore debt burden

Many people in debt consider suicide before seeking help, according to a new report by Grant Thornton.

The report, Navigating through the emotion of debt, examined the effects of living with debt, and how people reacted to it.

* All of those interviewed by psychologists said they had suicidal thoughts before seeking debt advice.

* Men are more likely than women to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to debt.

* Women are more open and emotional than men when dealing with debt.

* Women often feel guilty about not recognising problems earlier on and are more prone than men to feeling ashamed about debt.

* Most of those who sought help with debt did so after being put under pressure by creditors. Health issues also prompted many people to get advice.

* The problems experienced by people before they got in control of their debt continue to affect them even after they resolve their difficulties.

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