How to Get Started in the Water Treatment Business Part 3
By Gary Battenberg
By now you have probably selected the types of water conditioning products for your market area relative to the water quality of the municipal and/or local well water characteristics. In the March issue we covered some formal issues with starting your business and the three rules to live by: 1) testing the water, 2) confirming the hydraulics and 3) specifying the right equipment. In the April issue, we discussed rule #4 where you assess the environmental conditions when selecting the installation site(s) for the equipment. In this installment, we are going to take a detailed approach to water pressure and how to ensure that you collect accurate information and the tools you need to obtain that information. For this exercise, we are going to proceed with the water chemistry from the previous article.
You will notice that the water pressure is excessive when you consider the RO product performance data sheet included with the installation manual and owner’s guide. Let’s talk briefly about what the 2009 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) says about excessive water pressure: ”Where static water pressure in the water supply piping is exceeding eighty (80) pounds per square inch (5.5 bar), an approved-type pressure regulator preceded by an adequate strainer shall be installed and the static pressure reduced to 80 pounds per square inch (5.5 bar) or less.”
Now we’ll take a look at how this important factor relates to the installation process and why it is critical to successful implementation of a treatment system. In Figure 1, the static line pressure at the residence of the prospective customer and the gauge indicates approximately 103 psig (7.1 bar) at 10:30 a.m. Experience has shown that water pressures tend to climb during the early hours of the morning when very low or no water from the municipality is being used. Therefore, it is a good practice to install a ‘lazy arm’ gauge on a hose bib and leave it on overnight; the highest known pressure will be indicated by the resettable indicator the following day. These gauges are available at most plumbing supply houses.
As you can see in Figure 2, the water pressure increased to approximately 119 psig (8.4 bar) overnight as suspected. When this information is combined with the RO product specification bulletin, the prospective customer can be shown why regulating the pressure in their home is not only necessary for UPC compliance but also reinforces manufacturers’ limitations and warranty terms. Attention to this detail will quickly clue the prospective customer into the fact that you are a true professional and that you understand how to apply specific products by creating the proper operating parameters with code approved-type pressure-regulating valve(s). There are many different types of pressure-regulating products on the market for different applications. It is best to specify pressure-regulating systems for the entire service plumbing infrastructure in the home, especially where pressures exceed 80 psig (5.5 bar). Incidentally, the 2012 edition of the UPC is available now, so I would encourage you to get your copy as soon as possible. The information is invaluable to you for the kind of work you are doing.
Figure 3 shows a dual, redundant pressure-reducing valve (PRV) arrangement. The differential pressure gauge feature ensures that no excessive pressure creep can slip past the second PRV and potentially damage the RO system by monitoring the system pressures. Note: the average life of this type of PRV is three years. It is recommended that you make a note in the customer service file that replacement is recommended on or around the third anniversary of the installation.
The pressure gauge in Figure 4 indicates the regulated pressure of the primary PRV from 103 to 119 psig (7.1 bar to 8.2 bar) to be approximately 60 psig (4.1 bar). In Figure 5, the gauge indicates the regulated pressure of the secondary PRV to be approximately 50 psig (3.4 bar).
Your first thought may be that this type of pressure-reducing configuration is too expensive for a prospective customer. This is a mistake that too many companies make by prejudging their customers’ ability to pay for equipment and services. Policies and procedures must be explained to sales, installation and service personnel so that your customers can be fully informed of how to do business with you. Additionally, your insurance company may apply a lower rate for your liability insurance after review of your policies and procedures. Due diligence pays off very well when you know what kind of pressure issues you are faced with in your market area and what your responsibilities are in that regard.
Leak testing—overlooked but necessary
Now that you know how to control excessive pressure, let’s talk about the procedure that is often overlooked: plumbing leaks. A leak-down test is highly recommended and I would suggest that you make it a policy for your sales, service and installation personnel to keep a good pressure-gauge assembly on hand as a vital part of their work. The leak-down test is specifically used to identify a leak in the plumbing system that is not easily seen, such as a dripping sink faucet or hose bib.
The best way to conduct a leak-down test is to attach the pressure gauge to a hose bib or utility sink that is equipped with a spout that has a garden-hose thread. Turn on the water and let the pressure gauge reach full pressure and then close the main service shutoff valve to the house. If there is a leak, the needle of the gauge will slowly fall to zero. If the gauge maintains static pressure after the service valve has been closed, it is a good bet that the fixtures in the home are water-tight. This procedure should be done when the installation crew arrives at the house and the results recorded on the installation order. Then, the installer should search and find the leak. Most of the time, it’s a leaking toilet or water heater temperature and pressure release valve and the installer should note this on the installation form. After the installation is complete, the installer should show the customer where the leak is and explain to the customer that the leak should be repaired as quickly as possible. (Most water treatment dealers are not service repair plumbers; I would recommend aligning your company with a good service plumber who offers prompt and efficient service. Identify the source of the leak, give your customer the plumber’s card and stipulate that the leak must be repaired within 48 hours to avoid exhausting the capacity of the softener.) This is especially true where a softener is installed. A slow leak of less than one-quarter gpm will slip past most meters, and anywhere from 50 to 350 gallons per day (89 to 1,325 liters/day) will slip through the resin bed of a softener unaccounted for, resulting in intermittent hard water to the service plumbing and a lot of customer frustration if not corrected.
When leak information is recorded on the installation order and the customer signs off on the work, they cannot plead ignorance if they fail to follow through on what they agreed to do. This is how you prevent unscheduled call-backs for a preexisting problem. The leak-down test performed up front will again let your customer know that you are a true professional dedicated to your craft as evidenced by your attention to detail. This one small fact will significantly eliminate those frustrating call-backs that could have been avoided in the first place.
If you are not qualified to install water equipment because of licensing restrictions, hire a licensed plumber to teach your installer(s) the proper pipe joining methods for both water and sanitary connections where a drain line is part of the installation. Untrained installers can get you and your company in a lot of trouble if a drain line is tied into a sanitary (drain) system without benefit of an approved air-gap device. If your installer or a plumbing contractor cannot explain what a cross-connection is, you should move with haste to correct this problem. Remember, these details are your responsibility as a business owner. This is where the true test of your equipment provider(s) comes into focus: their ability to counsel you on how to cover your bases. A visit to the local code-compliance officer in your jurisdiction is highly recommended. This person will quickly help you apply for all the necessary licenses, performance bonds and the like, and you can sleep well knowing that you are not contributing to potential health risks associated with cross-connections.
There is much to consider when installing water treatment equipment. Doing it right—in accordance with all the laws, rules and ordinances—may seem a daunting task, but when you work with the authorities, you will find them to be your best ally after a short time. Then they may only spot-check you after they know that you do not shortcut code compliance requirements. If you have ever heard the phrase, “You can’t fight city hall,” this is a prime example of taking it to heart. Work with them, not against them. If you fight them, they can and most times will make life rough for you. They have the authority to do so and the code is subject to their interpretation, in spite of what the book says.
In our next installment, we will look at the problems associated with low-pressure applications and how to make the equipment work properly by understanding how water works for and against you. Stay tuned.
About the author
Gary Battenberg is Managing Director of Santa Fe, NM-based Good Water Company, Inc. He has 30 years experience in the field of water treatment processes, including equipment design and manufacturing utilizing filtration, ion exchange, UV disinfection, RO and ozone technologies. Battenberg is also a member of the WC&P Technical Review Committee. Contact him at email@example.com or at (505) 471-9036.