By Greg Reyneke
As a plumbing professional, you work with water every day. You know how to deliver it, you know how to route it around a home and you know how to drain it away after it has been used.
This is what you do and have done for years; you know what you’re doing. So why aren’t you comfortable ‘getting your feet wet’ in the water treatment industry?
Maybe it is just a lack of education and no partner who you can trust to help you succeed.
Water quality affects every aspect of life in today’s modern society. This multi-billion dollar industry affects homes, business and industry at every level. As a plumbing professional, it is your responsibility and privilege to provide your clients with the very best water for their home and family.
Problem with ‘normal’ water
Every day, thousands of billions of tons of water evaporate from the earth’s surface into the atmosphere. Water vapor eventually cools to form clouds and then falls back to earth as precipitation.
On its way from the clouds to your client’s faucet, soft rainwater dissolves and absorbs a part of almost everything is passes. The falling rain cleans the air as it falls. Unfortunately the impurities that were removed from the air have not left; they have just been relocated by the water.
Rain falls onto the ground, collecting additional sediments like rust, sand and algae. Water eventually finds its way to a surface water supply or percolates downward and collects in an aquifer. As it percolates through the earth, the water can further absorb hardness minerals, iron, heavy metals, radioactivity, organic contaminants and many other complex elements and compounds.
Water can also collect numerous harmful, man-made chemical impurities throughout this cycle. These synthetic chemicals are generally odorless, colorless and tasteless, as well as often life-threatening.
The statement, ‘my parents drank this water for 75 years and it never hurt them’, is no longer a valid excuse to not be concerned with water quality. There has been a massive global increase in harmful chemical waste over the last 50 years.
The scientific and medical community has not had time or the ability to study the long-term effects of the more than 70,000 harmful chemicals that can be found in use today. Approximately 1,000 new synthetic chemical compounds are entering the industrial marketplace each and every year.
Precipitation falls upon commercial and municipal dumpsites, toxic waste sites, industrial refuse depots, military test sites, leach fields, mining operations and farmer’s fields, where it dissolves minute amounts of toxic chemicals and carries them along. The US Government estimated in 1986 that close to two percent of the nation’s groundwater supplies were moderately polluted by sources such as hazardous waste dumps and leaking landfills.
Industrial wastewater is also a major source of water contamination. When certain chemicals come in contact with others, they create new compounds. Chemicals that are considered generally acceptable in controlled amounts may react with other elements and/or chemicals to form new compounds that could be highly carcinogenic.
Chlorine is one of the best-publicized examples; it reacts with organic matter in water and forms deadly trihalomethanes (THMs). As many as 50 percent of your clients refuse to drink their tap water due to health concerns as well as objectionable tastes and odors produced by chlorine and its carcinogenic byproducts.
Hard water is probably the single largest threat facing the American home in the 21st century. Hard water can coat your client’s family, home and appliances with thousands of pounds of inorganic mineral rock-scale each and every year.
Hard water slowly destroys everything it touches. Left untreated, it costs money, ruins your client’s lifestyle and can even lower the value of their home.
No one needs to tell them that they’re living with hard water. Soap doesn’t lather easily, glasses are cloudy after washing, a ring forms around the bathtub, faucets and shower heads are crusty, laundering results are poor and there are many other easily recognized signs.
There are several degrees of water hardness. Even moderately hard water can seriously damage the plumbing system in your client’s home and, in time, cause inconvenient and expensive problems.
Hard water is loaded with a variety of impurities that react with soap to form a gummy, insoluble curd. This soap curd clings stubbornly to everything it touches. The ring around a bathtub is curd. That same curd causes hair to become dull and hard to manage.
Soap curd clogs skin pores and prevents natural oils from moisturizing the skin. This dryness causes itching and can even aggravate skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and acne. Soap curd is especially noticeable by the scummy film it forms on dishes, glassware, walls and floors.
Hardness and other dissolved solids combine to form the residue seen as spots on glasses, crockery, cutlery and shower enclosures. Laundry washed in hard water takes on a gray color and wears out faster than expected. With hard water in your client’s washing machine, it’s almost impossible to wash clothes white – even when you use large amounts of detergent and bleach.
Minerals and insoluble particles in hard water trap dirt and soap curd in the fabric of your client’s clothes and linens. These deposits give fabric a dull gray ‘washed-out’ look and cause the clothing fibers to deteriorate faster.
Baking with hard water imparts an undesirable taste from the hardness minerals into your client’s food. Tea, coffee and other beverages prepared with hard water taste awful and often contain flakes of insoluble hardness minerals.
Perhaps the greatest damage done by hard water is the damage that can’t be easily seen until it is too late. Water heaters, humidifiers, boilers and household pipes become lined with an increasingly thick layer of calcium and magnesium scale. As this scale builds up, the water flow in pipes diminishes to such a point that new piping is sometimes the only option to remedy the situation.
Hard water scale inside a water heater forms an insulating layer that prevents the burners or heating elements from heating the water efficiently. Just one-eighth inch of scale inside the tank can require as much as 30 percent more fuel to heat the water to the desired temperature.
The Crimes of Hard Water
√ Increased water heating costs
√ Damaged clothing
√ Excessive soap consumption
√ Pipe scaling
√ Faucet and fixture deterioration
√ Skin problems
√ Unpalatable food
√ Undesirable tastes and odors
Progressive plumbers are adopting environmentally efficient practices both for the benefit of the environment and for LEED credits on their projects. These LEED credits are US Green Building Council rating measurements for the environmental effectiveness of construction.
Softening, conditioning, or filtering the water in your client’s home will not only enhance their lifestyle, but also help them lower their net carbon footprint. Many devices on the market are touted as ‘salt-free softeners, which claim softening alternatives.
Look for products that have been certified by credible third-parties like the DVGW (Deutsche Vereinigung des Gas- und Wasserfaches e.V. – Technisch-wissenschaftlicher Verein). This is the German technical and scientific association for gas and water certification effectiveness for hardness scale control.
Partnerships that work
One of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your water treatment adventure is to find a vendor who doesn’t just ‘sell you stuff,’ but is actually interested in your success. Good vendors not only will provide you with innovative products and solutions; they will also be able to train and support you.
There are many great vendors who will be able to guide, counsel and mentor you in the nuances of this exciting industry. Look for vendors who have talented people on staff who have actually run a water treatment dealership, understand plumbing codes and especially how to run a business.
When selecting water treatment equipment for your clients, consider the following:
High water hardness: The harder the water, the larger the system must be to remove contaminants effectively. If the system is too large, however, it will waste water and salt while potentially allowing your client’s system to be contaminated with bacteria. Resist the urge to oversize, in spite of what that salesman may tell you.
High water pressure: Municipalities in many regions could never have foreseen the massive population influx that has occurred. Cities are now forced to increase net pressures in piping distribution systems to push as much water as they can to new housing developments. These high pressures can raise attrition rates and cause premature failure in equipment. Look for equipment that is built to the highest quality standards.
Low water temperatures: Although cold water tastes good, it is not good at all for water softening, conditioning or filtration equipment. Cold water has been proven to reduce system operating capacities by as much as 60 percent. Improperly sized systems will have a much greater chance of failing when the winter influent water is as cold as it is here. Look for systems with high kinetic resins and proper electronic controls
Chlorine and chloramine: All ion exchange-based water softening, conditioning and filtration systems can degrade at a minimum average rate of five to 10 percent per year (attrition) due to chlorine alone. Choose systems that contain high quality media with slower chlorine attrition rate than traditional softening resins.
Iron and heavy metals: Resin attrition is further exacerbated by factors such as high water consumption, inadequate regenerations, elevated chlorine levels, iron and heavy metals in water. Even after leaving the city plant meeting or exceeding US EPA minimum standards, water can absorb and collect contaminants such as copper, zinc, lead, rust, manganese and a host of others before it even reaches your client’s home. These are obviously potentially harmful to humans, but even more dangerous to the water equipment unless it is specifically designed to address these threats.
Heterotrophic plate count bacteria (HPCs): Most cities produce water that is free of harmful bacteria and safe to consume. However, HPCs can exist in piping, water meters, fittings and regulating valves. These HPCs are benign but can be the growth medium for potentially pathogenic bacteria. HPCs can grow and colonize in a water system in as little as four days, even with chlorine or chloramines in the water. If the water system that you installed is not specifically sized and designed to address HPC growth issues, then it could be a ticking bacterial time bomb. Look for systems that incorporate electronic disinfectant injection during each regeneration cycle to minimize the risk of bacterial contamination in your client’s home.
Future-proof: Look for water treatment equipment that is designed to adapt to future technologies. Many reputable vendors now provide systems with built-in software upgrade ports and handheld programmers to ensure that you can keep your clients systems current with the latest software technologies. Look for equipment than can also be expanded or upgraded in the field to enhance capacity and accommodate for resin attrition.
Continuing education is key
Learn everything that you possibly can about this exciting field. Publications like WC&P magazine are packed with helpful information; read the articles and make use of the ‘Ask the Expert’ feature now published in their new on-line ezine, POU-POeNews. Both are available for free domestic subscription at www.wcponline.com.
There are also a number of great industry organizations. WQA provides excellent training and certification courses.
As a plumbing professional, your clients are counting on you to steer them in the right direction and protect them from the impurities that can be found in water. You are the local water quality expert.
Welcome to the water improvement industry; your life will never be the same!
About the author
Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI, is currently General Manager at Intermountain Soft Water in Lindon, UT and serves on the WC&P Technical Review Committee. He also serves on the advisory board of the Smart Dealer Network, a non-profit trade association dedicated to helping independent water treatment dealers succeed and reach their full potential in today’s changing world.