Water Quality and Water Treatment Systems

2019 May 22
Posted in: Plumbing

We are fortunate to live in a time when one of the world’s most precious resources is freely available, “on tap” for most Americans. Of all the water in our environment, in our oceans, streams, rivers, and lakes, only a tiny percentage is accessible by humans for our domestic, agricultural and industrial needs. There are many laws and standards in place to keep our drinking water safe, but there is still a risk for contamination, and sometimes the very process of sanitizing our water has unintended consequences that can prove damaging to our health. While most people can tolerate and usually aren’t even aware of the contaminants, microbes, and other impurities in their water, those with weak immune systems or chronic illness may experience adverse reactions to their tap water.

In addition to health considerations, different kinds of water can be hard on your home’s plumbing. Hard water describes water that has high amounts of dissolved calcium, magnesium, and other elements. Hard water can cause problems. It makes soap slower to lather (and you need more of it!), irritates the skin, leaves deposits on your faucets, sinks and other areas where water is used. It causes serious and costly problems in your plumbing, creating buildup, or “scaling.” This can cost you money in reduced effectiveness of your home’s systems resulting in higher energy bills and repairs to appliances and plumbing that are affected by the buildup. Think about appliances such as your washing machine, dishwasher, and water heater. Their efficiency can be reduced by up to half in less than two years with untreated hard water, and some fail or require costly repairs long before you’re ready to replace them. Build-up also affects your water pressure in your home. Phoenix has some of the hardest water in the nation, with 16-24 grains of hardness per gallon on average.

Home Water Treatment Systems

Many American households have turned to treating their own water, utilizing everything from a pitcher with a charcoal filter on it to hi-tech systems that treat the water in their entire home. There are many different techniques and technologies, some of them effective, some of them not—achieving little more than a placebo effect on water quality. Not all units can remove all contaminants. Depending on the technology being used, some water softening systems may have adverse side effects such as increased levels of sodium that could aggravate high blood pressure in individuals on a sodium-restricted diet.

If you are thinking about purchasing a home water treatment system, it’s essential to consider the variables with your tap water. What specific contaminants do you need to remove? Sometimes the local water plant may not pick up everything, and what may have made it into your glass, such as chloroform, pesticides, lead, and other people’s medications can be sobering. Learn about the local water quality, what the issues are in your community, and what your unit will need to do to treat your water effectively. Your local water supplier should be able to provide you with a  copy of their annual water quality report. If you are worried about the water quality in your home specifically, it’s possible to use a certified laboratory to test your water. Those who already own or may be considering purchasing a property utilizing well water should have this test done.

Consider the different types of water treatment units. “Point-of-use” units refer to units that are typically less expensive. These are free-standing units such as pitchers, distillers, small reverse osmosis units or tanks with filters inside or attached to a dedicated faucet or appliance (like a refrigerator’s ice maker and cold water spigot). These will only treat the water after it’s traveled through the pipes in your home, so are not effective in addressing buildup and contaminants elsewhere in the home.

A “point-of-entry” device is a device treating the water as it enters your entire home before it hits most of the pipes or enters appliances such as the water heater. These will address the buildup in pipes and plumbing fixtures.

An effective water treatment unit will remove minerals from the water, so your plumbing and fixtures are protected from hard water buildup. Treated, “softer” water will mean less soap used to wash clothes, dishes, and you will not find that awful white scum in water areas like sinks, tubs, and showers.

Overview Of Common Consumer-Grade Water Treatment Units

Water softeners use a chemical additive such as sodium chloride or potassium chloride to remove harmful elements like barium and radium, while at the same time reducing hardness in the water, replacing the “hard” ions with sodium or potassium ions. Adsorptive units use a filter made from a solid material with a large surface area such as carbon to force the pollutants to adhere to it, effectively removing it from the flow of water. A whole house carbon filtration system will make your water taste better by removing chlorine and will also prolong the life of a water softener.

  • Distilling units essentially boil water and collect the vapor. They are great at killing microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria, but most units do not address all of the chemical pollutants that could remain in the water. Distilled water has a distinctive taste that may not be as appealing.
  • Reverse osmosis units pump water through a membrane that traps pollutants. They are not as efficient in water output, but a reverse osmosis system will remove 99% of all contaminants (microbes and chemicals) out of the water.
  • Induction and electromagnetic units transmit a low-frequency electromagnetic signal through your water, reversing the charge on minerals like calcium and magnesium that create buildup in your pipes and on fixtures. The minerals cluster together and are suspended in the water instead of on your pipes and pass through your system with wastewater.

Our Recommendation

For a total water treatment solution you may want to consider utilizing several of the industry standard technologies. Some household units will combine filters and reverse osmosis, for example. We’re happy to make a recommendation for you.  

When choosing a water treatment unit for your home, look for units whose manufacturer’s claims are backed up by certification from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), The NSF Water Treatment Device Certification Program (NSF International), Underwriters Laboratories, or the Water Quality Association.

Do your research carefully to decide what system is best for you. Many of these systems will require professional installation by a plumber. George Brazil Plumbing and Electrical will be happy to evaluate your needs and your home’s plumbing system to help you make a decision and get you on your way to softer water, increased appliance efficiency and greater peace of mind that your home’s plumbing system is protected from hard water buildup!