Well water conditioning

FiziksgeekFebruary 27, 2012

Hello all, first post. Moved into a new house a while back, here are the results of the water test we had done on the well.

turbidity=12 ntu


Odor=none detectable





Nitrate Nitrogen=1.2

Nitrite Nitrogen=none detectable







No Coliforms detected. Water is safe to drink.

The numbers are in mg/l, which is equivalent to ppm if I understand correctly.

Our chief complaint is iron. No "slime" or odor, so I believe no iron bacteria. I am looking for opinions about what type of filter I should install based on the test results above.

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Hardness 12.9 mg/l (ppm) or gpg?

# of people?

# of bathrooms?


Any water hogging appliances?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 1:40PM
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Hardness is in mg/l.

4 people

3.5 bathrooms

SFR...? Flow rate....haven't officially tested it, but got 7gpm out of outside tap.

1 hot tub, ~400 gallons, usually drain and fill ~4 times/year.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2012 at 6:13PM
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    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 8:12AM
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You have several options for iron removal. I don't have time to get detailed right now, but will list them in my order of preference so you can do some research. I'll get back later to answer specific questions:

Pyrolox or Terminox
Green sand
Aeration, settling, filtration
Oxidation, filtration

You need to know what form your iron is in. Is water colored coming out of the tap? Is it clear coming from the tap but changes color if you let it sit for an hour or two?
Are there visible particles in the water?

    Bookmark   February 29, 2012 at 9:19AM
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Thanks for the response!

I've been googling and reading about options for a while. Our water appears pretty clear, when water sits, iron settles out. So in the toilet bowl, in the humidifier, the cat's water dish...anywhere water sits for a while, a layer of iron is left behind. No iron bacteria (no slime or odor) even in the toilet bowl.

I was on another forum, and all the guys just kept telling me to get a softener. But, IMO a softener, although it will remove some iron, that's not what its designed to do, and the resin may be clogged by the iron and require more often replacing. I asked about the Terminox filter, which I from what I can tell is really a combination of aeration and a birm. The guys recommended to stay away from aeration because the air inlets always clog. They said stay away from green sand because of the potassium permanganate, and chlorine (or oxidation) was overkill.

I'd definitely like to hear more about the terminator. I assume the turbidity/color of my water sample is caused by the iron, but I am not sure...

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 11:08AM
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Your levels of hardness=12.9 ppm and iron=1.17 ppm and Manganese=0.04 ppm are easily treated with a softener. A softener would be the easiest and least maintenance intensive solution.

Routine application of Iron Out or a similar product will keep the resin in good condition and you won't be bothering with any obnoxious chemicals for regeneration... just softener salt @ less than $4 a bag.

A correctly sized softener set up for efficient operation treating your water should last a decade easy and most likely longer. I've seen softeners treating iron over 3 ppm and MUCH higher hardness last 15 years plus and then a rebed brings them back for another decade or so.

There are other less convenient and more maintenance intensive solutions which you've mentioned if that's what you'd rather do.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 11:21AM
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I am not sure a terminox or birm filter would be more maintenance intensive....sure, a softener would be cheaper to install, though not by much I think. But the water is already soft....should I be making it softer?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:02PM
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Also, what sort of pressure drop might I see with a softener, terminator, or birm filter?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:20PM
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There is more to a Birm filter than you know...

The water must have a pH of 7.0 to 9.0. In addition, the dissolved oxygen content must be at least 15% of the iron or manganese content. For most wells deeper than 50 feet, an air injector must be used to introduce some additional oxygen in the water prior to the Birm filter. The water should contain no tannins, chlorine, oil or hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor).

Water is either soft (soft = 0 hardness) or it is not. A softener will treat your iron and manganese and hardness while a Birm filter will treat one out of three.

Let us know what you decide... and how it works for you.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:23PM
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The Water Quality Association and the USGS would disagree with you on what "hardness" means.

No federal limit
Soft: Slightly hard: 17.1 to 60 mg/L
Mod. hard: 60 to 120 mg/L
Hard: 120 to 180 mg/L
Very hard: >180 mg/L

The Terminox filter is appealing because if combines air injection with birm and filter ag. Yes, certainly more expensive than just a softener. What maintenance or operational issues might I have with this type of system?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 12:40PM
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There seem to be some misconceptions here about how iron removal works.

The reason I prefer Terminox or Pyrolox is because the media in them acts as a catalyst - no air injection, no chlorine injection, no chemicals or salt to purchase. The systems just do their job with little interaction from the homeowner.

Birm would require air injection, which is not a huge burden to deal with, but does present one more piece of equipment that would require periodic maintenance.

Green sand would require you to deal with potassium permanganate, which, although perfectly doable, is not something the typical homeowner wants to mess with. It's messy, and can be dangerous if not handled properly.

Aeration followed by settling and filtration is actually a good way to go, but only if you have adequate space - the size of the settling tank can be prohibitive. It also involves more equipment than other methods.

Oxidation followed by filtration, suffers from a couple of major drawbacks for homeowners. It is difficult to control where flow is not steady, and flow in a home situation is never steady. Additionally, bleach begins to break down fairly quickly so it would require lots of testing to ensure your system works properly.

Softening, although a viable option for low-levels of iron, is not the best option for you. Your water is soft, so you do not need softening. Given that, a softener is just not the most efficient or the most cost effective method. A softener would cost the same or possibly slightly more than a terminox or pyrolox system and would be much more expensive to operate as you would have to use salt to regenerate. Additionally, your water has sulfates which, although not terribly high, would foul a softener. Terminox or pyrolox would remove the sulfates as well.

With a properly sized system, the pressure drop should not affect your household water to a great degree. You are likely to see about 5-7 psi across the system. Most household well systems operate with a 15 - 20 psi swing. Unless your system is set with an unusually low minimum pressure and your pipes are undersized, you likely won't notice any difference.

Any of the methods I listed will work and work well. You need to decide what is best for you based on how much time you have to interact with the system, cost, comfort level with mechanical maintenance and comfort level with chemical handling.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 7:32PM
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I got confused between the Terminator and Terminox, thought they were the same thing. It sounds like Terminox, Catalox, Prylox, MangOx, they go on and on are just high quality manganese oxide....is one really better than the other? Because its a heavy media, it requires higher backwash rates. I'll try and measure my flow date this weekend to see what size filter I could support.

The Terminator is an air injection system followed by a birm +filter ag. It sounds like this be better in some cases, for example is sulfur was a problems for us as well.

I assume the iron in the water also caused the turbidity/color numbers in our water test. Will a (or similar) also take care of this?

    Bookmark   March 1, 2012 at 9:32PM
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The "Terminator" is just a branded birm and is nothing special. It will have the same pitfalls as any birm filter's air injection system. If you want to go with a birm-type filter, I suspect the Terminator will be more costly than others. Additionally, birm is actually LESS effective at sulfur removal.

Any of the catalytic systems will handle your sulfur removal, as would a greensand filter.

Yes, the iron is most likely the cause of your turbidity. As your water sits, the dissolved iron oxidizes and become small particulate iron. The tiny particles stay suspended, causing turbidity while the larger particles fall to the bottom of the glass.

Any of the iron removal systems will take care of the dissolved iron. All of them, with the exception of the softener, will also remove any iron that is already particulate - this would just cause problems for a softener.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 9:45AM
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Once again, thanks for the feedback. It sounds like a terminox/filox/prylox is the way to go. The only concern is the required slow rate for the backwash. The systems seem to be all over the place. For example, on 1.5cuft systems which seems like what we would want based on the number of people/bathroom have the following backwash requirements:

MangOx 10 gpm


Filox 6.6 gpm

Catalox 10gpm


Filox-R 8.25


Overall, is seems like Filox has a lower backwash requirement, which leads me to conclude that the other media(s) are slightly better, meaning more pure Manganese dioxide, which is heavier, and therefore require a higher backwash flow rate. But how much better could they be?

Again, I have really tested my flow rate properly yet, but that will limit my decision I suspect. I know I get at least 6gpm out of the hose near the hot tub. So I would want a system with at least that as the "service flow rate". Backwash requirements seem to be a little higher than the service flow rates.

Also, the prices for a 1.5cuft system seem to be running $900-$1000. Does that sound about right?

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 1:02PM
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Those price numbers look to be in the right ballpark for 1.5 cu ft. Terminox would run around $800. You may also be able to find a local water treatment company than can get you what you need as well.

Your next step should be to call each of these places and see what they recommend. If they don't have tech support staff, scratch them off your list.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 2:34PM
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Already on it. The guys at the Clean Water Store recommended this assuming I have sufficient flow for the backwash:


They also recommended the add on chlorine regeneration tank so that I can add chlorine to the mix when doing the backwash to keep things extra clean...

    Bookmark   March 2, 2012 at 5:20PM
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I've been contacting places, giving them my test results, and asking their opinion, so as not to lead them to a particular solution. Got a quote back today from Aqua Science, which is kind of local (next state over). They suggested an oxygen chamber birm system, simliar to this one:


Its only 1 cuft, and they recommended half and half birm and carbon. I sent off a message asking a couple of questions, but I suspect the suggested birm because I do have relatively low iron at only ~1.2ppm, and the combo with carbon to take care of the turbidity. And being birm, the required back wash flow rate is lower.

Any thoughts on this proposal?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 6:04PM
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I would not mix birm and carbon. They are probably recommending the GAC (granular activated carbon) because that is what they typically do, but there really isn't a reason for it in your case. More importantly, GAC has a finite life which is shorter than birm, leaving you to replace both on the schedule required by the carbon. Additionally, birm has a specific gravity approximately 6 times as high as GAC, which will cause the GAC to be damaged during normal operation which can cause all sorts of problems. Mixed media is generally a bad idea for this reason.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 6:22PM
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I would agree on not using birm and carbon in the same tank but maybe for different reasons.

During backwash, to get enough flow to expand the birm enough to clean itself, that same force would cause the carbon to piston to the top of the tank reducing the very flow needed to clean the birm. Reducing the flow to accommodate the carbon would leave the birm on the bottom eventually becoming solidified and useless.

separating the two when the carbon is shot is not really a problem because removing the cap and tilting the tank to about 30 degrees you can flush out the carbon with a garden hose. This will leave the birm behind. But, this causes a problem because the gravel bedding will shift and most likely will not resettle completely. all-in-all, not a good idea.

Most birm tanks don't have upper baskets and this too would cause a loss of carbon over time if not immediately during backwash.

Some mixed beds can work but only with carefully selected ingredients/media.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2012 at 8:06PM
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Thanks guys, I believed it was probably not a good idea to mix the two very different media, so I will likely not pursue business with this vendor, or at least not use their recommendations.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2012 at 8:12AM
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