By Gary Battenberg

How is your venture into the water conditioning business going so far? By now, perhaps, you may have found some areas of due diligence to be daunting, but don’t lose heart. Your hard work will pay off if you stay the course. In the March issue, I made it clear that it is absolutely necessary for you to identify the type(s) of water for which you will be providing services to remediate problems with both ground water and municipally supplied water. Then I spoke about the three rules to live by: testing the water, confirming the hydraulics and then specifying the right equipment. Following the three rules, we talked about your search for a supplier and a list of questions to ask them to help you make an informed decision in selecting the right equipment for your market. Finally, I cautioned you on carefully considering the environmental conditions of the installation site and that is rule #4. In this installment, we will be discussing water chemistry, hydraulic challenges and environmental conditions in more detail to help clarify those points.

Let’s begin with the city water market and the chemistry with which you are dealing. A strong word of caution is called for here: Never, ever attack a municipality or other public water utility by claiming that they are supplying water that is not safe for use. The municipal and public water treatment industry enjoys one of the finest service records in our country. You can probably count on one hand the times that there has been a service interruption of a municipal or public water supply. You take it for granted that when you open a tap in your home, water will be there for use and you never give a second thought. They have their problems, but they do a very good job of making their problems transparent to their customers. As long as the water meets US EPA requirements for potability, the municipality has met its obligation to its customers. You don’t need scare tactics to be successful in this business. Let your market indicators be your best ally in providing high quality water for POU and POE products.

How can I do this, you may ask? Consider the drinking water products and services in your market. Do you see a lot of bottled water in the hands of the consumers? Have you checked to see how much linear shelf space is dedicated to bottled and packaged water products in the grocery store? How about water vending machines and bottled water for home and office delivery (HOD)? How about water stores where you can fill your own bottles for a small price and buy other water related products? When you attend a home show, how many companies specialize in water treatment? These are only a few of the indicators that you can use to gauge your drinking water market.

When the consumer seeks out alternatives to their domestically supplied water for drinking and food preparation, they are telling you and the water utility that there is a problem. Again, don’t blame the municipality because they cannot provide the higher quality of bottled water at an affordable fee. If they did, your water bill would be equal to or higher than your house payment. They have their hands full just complying with regulatory requirements. If your public water contains high chlorine or chloramines levels, associated tastes and odors are no doubt the root cause, making it very profitable for drinking water providers in your market. Aesthetically speaking, especially where chloramines are present as indicated by the yellow cast to the water, the water probably is not very appealing or thirst quenching. This is one of the easiest markets to break into, because you can provide everything from basic sediment and carbon filtration to the more advanced POU products (such as RO and distillation) to resolve and improve aesthetic, taste and odor issues.

Let’s take an example of a city water application where your prospective customer’s primary concern is the quality of their drinking water and they are interested in an RO appliance for high-quality water for drinking, beverage and food preparation. Is the challenge water chemistry within the application limits established by your equipment manufacturer? What is the available water pressure? Is it high or low and is the line pressure within the application limits of the product? Where do they want it installed? Let’s look at a scenario and see if you can identify any potential problems.

Example:

Water hardness………….. 8 grains per gallon. (139.2 ppm) (136.8 mg/L)
TDS……………………… 590 milligrams per liter.
pH………………………….. 7.8
Chlorine……………………. 1.6 mg/L
Fluoride……………………. 0.6 mg/L
Water temperature……… 61°F (16.1°C)
Water pressure…………… 112 (7.9 bar) psig

Most RO manufacturers will tell you that the water chemistry is within the application limits for their products. But, will they counsel you on the problem of excessive pressure? If you look carefully, most suppliers’ specifications limit the maximum working pressure to 100 psig (7.0 bar). It is not the purification components such as housings, fittings and tubing that are in question here because those components are tested to 300 psig (21.27 bar) for WQA/NSF certification. The pressure tank or accumulator is the weak link in these components and therefore, the maximum pressure rating is 100 psig (7.0 bar). While most RO products are equipped with an automatic shutoff valve that closes at two-thirds line pressure, there are a number of more advanced products that allow the accumulator to achieve 90 to 95 percent of the feed pressure. In this case, that can allow the accumulator to achieve 100 to 106 psig (7.0 – 7.5 bar), which voids the manufacturer’s warranty and poses a danger to both your customer and your service personnel. For this reason, it is advisable to counsel your prospect on the importance of regulating the pressure not only for their drinking water appliance, but also to protect the service plumbing and appurtenances. Hint: Remember the Uniform Plumbing Code and recommended operating pressure for water heaters? Even though a water heater may withstand a maximum operating pressure of 150 psig (10.6 bar), this number is maximum number just as a water conditioning manufacturer stipulates a maximum working pressure of 100 – 120 psig (7.0 – 8.5 bar) for their products. We will look at pressure problems and the methods for correcting them in greater detail in our next article in this series.

Let’s look at environmental issues involved with installation, start-up and maintenance of a water system. Always avoid extreme temperature variations for all types of water treatment equipment. Typically, an RO system is installed under the kitchen sink; that is the most logical choice for the appliance because it is typically designed to fit the tight confinement of the sub-sink cabinet. There are other alternate locations such as a climate controlled basement or even a utility room. Avoid crawl spaces and other areas where it is virtually impossible to maintain a bacteriologically sound environment. An RO system can be installed in a garage, but it is generally not advisable, because of the accumulation of exhaust, dust and other contaminants that may plate out on the surfaces of the product and could easily allow contamination when servicing. Temperatures in an un-insulated garage can drop below freezing or heat up to over 120-130°F (48.8-54.4°C). These temperatures will void the manufacturers’ warranties and can (and most probably will) cause considerable frustration for both you and your customer. An interesting point of fact here is that most RO systems (those equipped with TFC membranes) have a maximum feed water temperature of 113°F (45°C). While the system may operate at that temperature, the water is not very thirst quenching and extended exposure to higher temperatures will seriously affect the performance of the RO in a negative way.

Further to the environmental consideration, think about the safety of your installation and service personnel. If they have to deal with snakes, rodents and insects when attempting installation and service, I strongly suggest that you contact your factory representative and the factory technical director and schedule training for the dealer’s installation and service personnel at the dealers’ location. Field training in the actual market on how to properly assess an installation site and select the right location for both your customer and your personnel is the best school there is. This training will ensure sound advice on safe installation and service procedures as well as meeting code compliance in accordance with all State and local laws rules and ordinances that would apply to your business. Remember, it is these employees that are the final step in the relationship between you and your company and they will have a direct bearing on how that relationship will mature in the future.

In the next installment, we will talk more about water pressure issues and the related problems with the extremes in this area. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make sure you understand how important water pressure and its control are to the health and success of your business. Subsequent articles will deal specifically with regulating pressure and code compliance when interfacing water treatment equipment with the service plumbing and sanitary infrastructures of a typical residential installation. Stay tuned!

About the author
Gary Battenberg is Managing Director of Santa Fe, NM-based Good Water Company, Inc. He has 29 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 gary@goodwatercompany.com or at (505) 471-9036.

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