By J.W. “Jamie” Wakem

Summary: Today, water treatment professionals are being called upon to address a multitude of changing consumer demands. These changes are creating many newfound opportunities for the water treatment professional while, at the same time, these changes are creating many new challenges.

As the U.S. economy steamed along at an all-time record pace, many individuals throughout different areas of the country experienced unprecedented wealth. The stock market has produced thousands of new millionaires and dramatically increased the wealth of America’s richest families. Consumers’ disposable income is at an all time high and it seems new homes are springing up on any piece of land that has been approved for development. Many of these newly constructed homes are being built on existing lots that have been cleared of older, antiquated residences. The enormous size of some of these newly constructed mega-residences can be mind-boggling. Homes that encompass an area of 15,000-to-30,000 square feet are common today in many parts of the country. In the wealthiest areas of the country, homes can average in size from 40,000-to-60,000 square feet, and in some cases even larger!

Different rules and needs
Today’s water treatment professional is confronted with many new challenges arising from this newfound wealth. Many of the wealthy homeowners demand water that’s “drinking water quality” at virtually every tap in the home. For many water treatment specialists, it has been very difficult to make the transition to these larger-than-life residential applications. Each application seems to have a different set of rules. Staying ahead of the learning curve is an ongoing challenge. Every homeowner has a distinct set of needs and preferences. Most importantly, they want to be assured that their water is of the finest quality and of unlimited supply at all times.

It seems that we’re approaching these new treatment challenges from two traditional market segments: the residential water treatment market and the commercial segment of the industry. Many of the guidelines followed successfully by many water treatment professionals for years may not apply to these new “red carpet” demands. In the past, customer satisfaction was fairly easy to achieve. The typical aspiration was for “quality drinking water” at one or two taps within the home. All that was required was the simple installation of a small drinking water system or reverse osmosis system. The high-end installation has proved to be more difficult.

Champagne wishes
Delivering water that’s “drinking water quality” to multiple locations or to every point within a 65,000 square foot home is not as simple. Consider how many points exist: bathrooms, hot tubs, high volume shower heads (up to 30 gallons per minute flow per head), kitchen sinks, dishwashers, spot-free car washes and boat rinses, guest cottages, etc. As one can see, these opportunities present formidable obstacles that can seem overwhelming to many individuals. Identifying the treatment specifications and recommended treatment technologies require a comprehensive understanding of the options available for commercial water treatment. Most of these homes have existing plumbing in pipe dimensions of two to four inches. On occasion, service flow rates can exceed 100 gallons per minute (gpm)!

“Carwash” showers are showers that consist of six to eight showerheads. They’re enclosed in glass and have become increasingly common in many of these palatial bathrooms. Huge 150-to-500 gallon whirlpool tubs with pricey ($1,500 to $15,000), gold plated fixtures aren’t uncommon. These fixtures require special care and handling. To prevent tarnish or unsightly “spotting,” water with a minimal mineral content is an absolute necessity. Any discoloration of the water will be even more apparent due to the large volume of water in the tubs. To avoid these unsatisfactory results, it’s paramount that you conduct a thorough water analysis in the early design stages of these personalized residential quality water treatment systems. In other words, along with pH, hardness and iron, you’ll need to check chlorine, chloramines, total dissolved solids, color, any objectionable taste and odors, etc. Perhaps a water sample should be sent to one of the independent test labs for an extensive water analysis.

Oceanfront property
Many oceanfront and seaside estates are subject to moist, and at times heavy, salt spray. This spray causes unsightly streaking and crusty salt deposits on windows or any exposed open-air glass structures. Windows and clear “wind screens”—large glass structures used to shelter outdoor bathers from onshore breezes while they enjoy the sun—will need to be washed and rinsed on a continual basis. Rest assured, hard water spots and streaks on these large glass structures don’t exactly scream “glamorous.” As a foresight, many architects are now building spot-reducing window washing systems into house plans to address this very problem.

With so much entertaining to do these days, many large estate homes employ a staff of social secretaries, cooks, housekeepers, chefs, chauffeurs and groundskeepers to name just a few. Clothes and linens need to be washed in commercial-sized washers. Silver and china need to be cleaned in commercial-sized dishwashers and delivered to the dining table spot-free. The kitchen area needs to be large enough to accommodate the proper amount of staff for any given function and many times the food processing equipment utilized is similar to that of a medium-sized restaurant. After all, foreign dignitaries as well as presidential hopefuls can drop in at any given moment. When they do, the water treatment professional responsible for the water quality must make certain that it’s perfect.

Caviar dreams
As one can see, though the needs and requirements of these homeowners are similar in many aspects, the recommended method by which the water treatment professional approaches each project has certain common elements as well as homeowner preferences. Most of the requirements are similar to that of a typical homeowner. However, designing a water treatment system to address individual requirements of the homeowners can still prove to be a daunting challenge. Installations of this size may require several months planning and numerous meetings with an owner, architect, general contractor, plumbing contractor and even the interior designer.

Many systems are designed and installed in stages, sometimes covering a timeframe of 24-to-36 months. The water treatment professional must be capable of carrying these financial burdens for extended periods of time. Application specialists, estimators and installation personnel will be called upon to perform specialty services many months before the actual installation and invoicing of the equipment might take place. A strong financial position will be necessary if the requirement for a “bond” is a prerequisite to qualify as a vendor. Reputable references are a must. The company will need to furnish similar job experiences, the company’s professional qualifications (Water Quality Association certifications add credibility), and demonstrate it will be able to comply with a potentially rigid contractual agreement.

Meeting the requirements of the wealthy homeowner can be an exciting and rewarding challenge. The desired result of the effort is to improve the water quality of the household. With the inclusion of commercial size appliances, exotic fixtures and designer style faucets appearing in residences across the country with no sign of a significant slow down in the economy at this juncture, many water treatment professionals are finding themselves being asked to, “Treat the water of some very interesting and perhaps famous individuals.” Who knows who you might meet on your next sales call! If that opportunity presents itself, be prepared for a challenging experience.

About the author
James “Jamie” W. Wakem II, CWS-VI, CI, CSR, is president of Atlantic Filter Corp. and Waterplex International of West Palm Beach, Fla. He has been involved in the water treatment industry since 1969, and through the years has given numerous seminars covering water treatment, reverse osmosis, and sales and marketing. Wakem is currently on WQA’s board of directors and is a past president of the association. He can be reached at (561) 683-0101, (561) 684-1997 (fax) or email: [email protected]


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