It's time to get the facts on water treatment for your Chicago area home. This convenient guide will help you understand what is going on with your water treatment and guide you in your decision-making process for implementing a whole house water treatment system for your home.
The following FAQs are available:
A Guide to "What Removes What"
|Arsenic||RO (point of use); Arsenic select resin (whole house – commercial)|
|Bacteria||Chlorination, ultra violet light or UF membrane filtration|
|Trihalomethanes||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Lead||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Zinc||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Mercury||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Fluoride||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Sodium||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Pharmaceuticals||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|Total dissolved solids||RO (point of use); RO (whole house)|
|VOCs||RO; granular activated carbon|
|Radon||Granular activated carbon; RO|
|Nitrate||Ion exchange with Nitrate select resin or RO|
|Tannins||Water softener with standard and Tannins resin|
|Color||Granular activated carbon|
Drinking Water Treatment Systems
Why wouldn’t you?
If you get your water from a municipal or community water treatment plant, you may be exposed to harmful by-products, produced during the chlorination water treatment process, called trihalomethanes. THMs are known carcinogens!
You may also exposed to pharmaceuticals and other harmful contaminants, which may have be present in municipal water supplies.
Furthermore, if city water pipes can leak outward, contaminants can seep inward. Otherwise, we would not be hearing about so many “boil water” alerts in the morning newspaper or on the evening news.
If you get your water from a well and enjoy a suburban lifestyle, you may be exposed to harmful bacteria from farm animals, nitrates from fertilizers, pesticides, run-off from septic systems and contaminated water from manufacturing facilities, located miles away.
Please consider these additional concerns:
- Exposure to Chlorine over the span of an entire lifetime (assuming you are on chlorinated water.)
- Chlorine in your drinking water
- Chlorine vapors from shower water
- Lead, leaching from pipes and fixtures.
- Exposure to other heavy metals
- VOCs and PCBs
- Deadly e-coli
- Cancer from exposure much of the above
The most effective and popular water treatment method for residential drinking water is clearly reverse osmosis because it works and it’s affordable.
Because RO systems remove the entire spectrum of drinking water contaminants, including harmful impurities, which are in solution. (See partial list, below.)
- And more!
Typical residential reverse osmosis systems use a six-step process to produce high quality drinking water. These steps include:
- Pre-filtration for sediment.
- Pre-filtration for Chlorine taste and odors.
- Membrane filtration to remove the contaminants listed above.
- Storage tank to store processed water since the process is very efficient (and slow).
- Post filtration on the way of the dedicated faucet for “polishing”.
- Finally, you get great tasting, RO processed water from the dedicated faucet, mounted next to your sink.
Yes and no.
It is correct, water rejected by the reverse osmosis membrane goes to drain because it is contaminated. So, technically this water is “wasted”. However, because reverse osmosis water is used for drinking, cooking and for beverages only, a limited amount of water is processed daily, so very little water is wasted.
Using a residential RO system, the cost per gallon is estimated to run between 4 and 8 cents per gallon. Compare this to bottled water, which is typically over a $1.00 gallon, buying bottled water in 16 ounce bottles.
16 ozs. X 24 = 384 ounces / 128 = 3 gallons. $3.99 per 24 pack / 3 gallons = $1.33 per gallon!
RO is the best and affordable technology to reduce sodium in water.
UF filter systems typically consist of a pre-filter for sediment, a pre-filter for Chlorine taste and odors and a UF membrane for bacteria, cysts and other harmful contaminants, as small as 0.2 micron.
Ultra-Filters do not need storage tanks, because they are “flow-through” filters. There is no reject water, so no water is wasted. They work well under low pressure, and UF filtration is low cost.
UF filtration systems are an excellent alternative to RO for great tasting, high quality water at an affordable price.
Water Softeners and Water Conditioners
When water has high amounts of hardness minerals, such as Calcium and Magnesium, it is considered “hard”. When water has low levels of Calcium and Magnesium, it is considered “soft."
Water above seven grains of Calcium Carbonate per gallon (17 ppm) is considered “hard”.
Typically, when your water is hard, you will see mineral deposits or dishes and glassware; Calcium scale on plumbing fixtures and soap residue on shower walls and doors.
Water softeners use a specially formulated resin, which selectively removes hardness minerals (Calcium and Magnesium) from water using a process called Ion Exchange.
Eventually, the water softener resin will reach its capacity, and it must be cleaned. This is accomplished using brine water, which flows through the resin bed, to remove the hardness minerals.
Salt or potassium salt are used to clean the resin during the regeneration cycle; however, the resin is thoroughly rinsed after the cleaning process so the salt is washed away.
Yes, but a balanced diet of calcium-rich foods, such as vegetables, meat, soy and dairy products are a better source of Calcium.
After Calcium is removed from your skin is softer, so it feels slippery. If you don’t like this slippery feel, realize this is evidence your water softener is doing its job by removing hardness minerals. This should be a positive response, not a negative one.
Yes! It’s a proven fact shampoo is dramatically more effective in soft water, allowing your shampoo to clean your hair better, making it more manageable.
No. You will use dramatically less, washing your clothing in soft water. Consumers typically report savings from 20 to 50 percent, with soft water.
None of these devices physically remove calcium or manganese from water. Therefore, if you want the benefits water softeners provide, you need a water softener system.
No! Years ago, water softeners used time clock control valves, so the resin cleaning process was based on time, not water usage.
Today, automatic control valves are metered, so they regenerate based on water use, not time. This development has made water softeners greatly more efficient, reducing the amount of water and salt needed for the resin cleaning process.
Furthermore, additional features have been added, which further reduce water and salt consumption.
Taste & Odor Filters
This is easily accomplished by using a drinking water system or a whole house filtration system. Drinking water systems are typically installed under the kitchen sink and treat your drinking water only. A whole house taste and odor filter is installed where water enters your house, so you get great tasting, treated water from every water tap in your house.
Granular activated carbon is typically used to remove Chlorine, tastes, odors and harmful chemicals, such as VOCs, from water.
Carbon is an extremely porous material that attracts and holds a wide range of harmful contaminants. Activated carbon is carbon, which has a slight electro-positive charge added to it, making it even more attractive to chemicals and impurities. As the water passes over the positively charged carbon surface, the negative ions of the contaminants are drawn to the surface of the carbon granules.
There are two principal mechanisms by which activated carbon removes contaminants from water; adsorption, and catalytic reduction, a process involving the attraction of negatively-charged contaminant ions to the positively-charged activated carbon. Organic compounds are removed by adsorption and residual disinfectants such as chlorine and chloramines are removed by catalytic reduction.
Activated carbon has an exceptional ability to remove Chlorine, taste, odors, Radon, VOC’s and some heavy metals from water.
Yes, particularly for the removal of chloramines, Hydrogen Sulfide and some trihalomethanes. Otherwise, coconut shell activated carbon is recommended.
It is best to use an automatic backwashing filter for whole house filtration. Backwashing is essential to remove sediment, which may have been captured by the carbon, and to refresh the carbon on a routine basis.
However, whole house taste and odor filters with “in / out” heads may be used. With these, the need for a drain or electricity is eliminated.
Yes, following chemical treatment to remove Chlorine, Hydrogen Peroxide or other water treatment chemicals.
Treatment methods for drinking water for taste and odors include activated carbon filter cartridges, reverse osmosis and ultra-filtration systems.
The "Troublesome Trio" - Iron, Sulfur and Manganese Filters
The orange – brown stains are from Iron. The rotten egg odors are from Hydrogen Sulfide. And black spots are typically from Manganese, contained in your water.
It depends on your well water chemistry.
First, find out if your cold water has sulfur, or if the sulfur odor is coming from the hot water heater. Next, you have to determine what the iron and Manganese levels are. Depending on the concentrations, here are the options:
Water softener – this method is typically used when clear water Iron levels are 2 PPM or below.
Chlorination – Suggested when Iron bacteria and high levels of Hydrogen Sulfide are present. This process includes a water treatment chemical (Chlorine or Hydrogen Peroxide), a chemical feed pump, flow switch, contact tank, carbon filter for de-chlorination, followed by an Iron filter for iron removal.
Backwashing Iron / Sulfur filter with chlorination during backwash (only) – Provides superior performance by removing bacteria from the filter media. Note the media is thoroughly rinsed, so no chemical is added to the filtered water.
Air draw Iron filter using Manganese Dioxide – An ideal “chemical free” approach, providing there is no bacteria present in your water and your well pump is sufficient for proper backwash.
Potassium permanganate Iron & sulfur filter – This type is popular in some areas, and may be considered if a non-chemical approach is not desirable.
Chemical-free – Suggested when bacteria is not present, providing the well pump can provide sufficient flow for proper backwash. These filter use a catalytic media to promote the oxidation process, by utilizing the oxygen content of your water to oxidize Iron, Sulfur and Manganese to form particles so they may be easily removed through filtration.
Birm filter – Provides excellent performance under favorable conditions.
Aeriation – This is old technology, and there are better options available.
Yes. Here is a list of concerns:
- Is disinfection required for bacteria?
- What’s the pH?
- Is pH adjustment required?
- Concentrations of Iron, Hydrogen Sulfide and Manganese?
- Flow rate?
- Water usage per day?
- Does the well pump provide sufficient flow to properly backwash the filter media to be used?
No. Often an Iron / Sulfur filter and water softener are used together to provide high quality water.
This may be possible; however, often the volume of water required for irrigation exceeds the daily capacity of a typical Iron filter used for residential applications. (Evaluation is required.)
Easy. The two most common options are:
- Automatic backwashing filter
- Cartridge filter
They work automatically, with virtually no maintenance and remove higher amounts of particulate.
Low cost; high maintenance; cartridges have limited capacity; and they must be changed.
Acid Water Neutralizers
Acid water neutralizers are needed to prevent corrosion and eliminate the possibility your water will become contaminated.
Signs of low pH are corrosion of plumbing fixtures, pin holes in copper pipes, blue stains on copper pipes and rusting of steel pipes.
Without treatment, good water will turn into contaminated water as heavy metals (such as Lead and Zinc) leach to your water supply.
Corrosion will occur when pH is below 7.0.
Acid Neutralizers typically consists of an automatic backwashing valve, mineral tank and neutralizing filter media, which raises the pH to acceptable levels.
Yes. You will know when this is necessary by periodically testing your water’s pH.
The ideal pH of a residential water system is between 7.0 to 8.0.
No Salt Systems
Salt-free water conditioners, such as magnets, catalytic water conditioners and systems using a catalytic filter media do not physically remove calcium hardness from water. They may prevent scale from attaching to plumbing fixtures and forming inside water pipes, but hardness minerals are not removed from water. For this reason, many benefits provided by water softeners are not realized.
If you want brighter laundry, reduced soap usage, more manageable hair, no spots on dishes and glassware, “silky clean” shower water, you need proven technology, or ion exchange water softeners and conditioners.
A two tank model with activated carbon in one tank and the anti-scale media in a second tank for whole house filtration and treatment may be beneficial with moderate levels of hardness in city water applications.