Understanding Country Properties

Many people toy with the idea of moving to the country, but shy away because they are not familiar with the different systems.  My husband and I made the move from city life to country life in 1996.  We were attracted to the 15,000 trees and the pond on the property we purchased, but didn't know what to think of the septic, well water and oil heat.  We had to learn fast! 

In the end, none of it was scary and aside from running the well dry when I tried to wash my car, (don't do that!) it was pretty much like living in the city.   Below is the type of conversation I would have with potential buyers to help them understand some of the differences between city and country systems.  


There are 3 types of wells, a dug well, a bored well and a drilled well.  If you are buying a property with a well, I strongly recommend having a professional look at the well to check out the pumps, casing & cover and to do a flow and recovery rate.

If you are on a well, it is recommended that you test your water 3 times a year, which is free through the Government of Ontario.  Otherwise, if you are likely to forget, have an Ultra-Violet system attached to your water system.  The system will purify your water, so you don't have to remember to have it tested.  Most systems will also set off an alarm when the filters need changing or if the equipment is not functioning properly.

Dug Wells

Our well was a dug well, which is almost what it sounds like.  Dug wells tend to be shallow wells as they were generally dug by hand.  Ours was about 30 feet deep, but there was enough water for our household needs and we didn’t give it much thought.

You can usually identify a dug well because they have a diametre of approximately 1 metre which is larger than a drilled or bored well. 

Bored Wells

You will also find Bored Wells where there is a higher water table.  They are constructed using a boring machine.  Bored wells are usually about 50 feet deep, but they can also be 100 feet deep.

Drilled Well

Drilled wells are also known as small diametre wells because they are only about 4-8 inches / 10-20 cm in diametre.  They are constructed with a drill that can go beyond bedrock to access water. 

For more information on wells go to:  Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Affairs 


Septic Systems

There are many types of septic systems now.  The most basic septic system includes a tank or tanks that removes the solids and grease from the raw sewage with a “bed” that dissipates the fluids into the soil.  With proper care, these systems can last a long time.   

There are many misconceptions about living on a septic system that cause alarm with people who are not familiar with them. 

There are some do's and don'ts, but most systems are surprisingly resilient.  It is the bacteria in the septic system that makes it work.  If you keep in mind that you are feeding a living organism, you will naturally reduce your use of chemicals, although it certainly can handle the mindful use of cleaning solutions used day to day.  Of course, pouring a can of unused paint (or oil from an oil change) down the drain, is not a good idea. 

When you buy a property with a septic system, there are many levels of inspection you can have conducted on the system.  The most basic is to have a licenced septic technician pump the tank(s) and give it a good look to let you know whether or not the system appears to be in good working order.  However you can also hire an inspector with a camera to scope out the runs in the bed to be sure they are in good working order.  How far you go with the inspection will depend on your comfort level, but also the age of the system and if there are any signs of deterioration.

For more information, go to Ontario Government Septic Smart

Heating Systems

Heating systems tend to be another area that people who live in the city have never considered.  Most urban areas (if not all!) have natural gas pumped to their house and they pay a monthly heating bill, without giving much thought to the "system".  Many rural homes do not have natural gas available to them.  Currently, people are tending to bring propane gas to their houses, however, there was a time when oil and/or electric heat were the prime sources for rural properties.  I imagine with the eco-push, electric heat might come back into vogue.  

Propane & Oil heat both require a holding tank.  There are rules around where the tank should be located and your home inspector will go through those details to make sure there is not a problem. Insurance also comes into play as the insurance companies seem to frequently change their criteria.  This applies mostly to oil tanks as sometimes they are inside the house and other times they are outside the house.  Propane tanks are always outside.  You can have a forced air system whether you are using propane or oil which heats & cools the entire house. 

We lived with an oil tank in the house when we first moved to the country and had no troubles.  As with propane tanks, the supplier came once a month to fill the tank and we paid a monthly - just like we did in the city! 

Electric heat can be through forced air or baseboard heat.  If it is forced air, your system will feel very much like a gas system as you will have heat registers and can also attach air conditioning.  If it is baseboard heat, each room will have a baseboard that can be individually controlled.  I have seen a lot of baseboard heat in Europe as they tend to heat only the rooms they are using at any given time. 

I hope this information is helpful and allies some of your concerns.  Believe me, if I can make the move to the country, you can, too.  Nothing to be afraid of, except maybe the alien frogs, but that's another story......