water treatment

seanc_bbSeptember 5, 2010

I need advice on filtering my well water. I just had the water tested(spigot directly after pump) with the following results...

calcium 18

chloride 26

color 90

turbidity 30.6

sulfate 13

ph 6.92

sodium 8.54

iron 6.85

manganese .244

magnesium 3.27

caco3 58.4

The water leaves red/rust stains on *everything*. It turns red when heated and literally tastes like rust smells.

I am doing my best to research, but everything I am coming across is a sales pitch and am trying to see clearly on what I should be doing.

Money is not a concern, I want good water throughout my home, we would even do whole home RO if it makes sense....

thanks in advance!

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Okay, first let us start with the basics - could you please provide units on your analysis. I could assume units, but would prefer not.

Second, it is necessary to know the form of your iron - particulate? dissolved? This will determine appropriate treatment.

Is this a new house? If not, what did the previous owners do, if anything? I am guessing you are on a well. Is that correct? Do your neighbors experience the same issues? What are they doing to treat their water? Is your lawn okay? Does the water appear to be damaging plants?

Third, a whole home RO is generally not a good idea. RO water, because it has so few ions in it, is very aggressive - there is a reason water is called the universal solvent - and will dissolve your piping over time. If your piping were all plastic, a whole-house RO would be a viable, but impractical option.

If you can answer the above questions, I will gladly help. I'm sure others will be along as well.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 8:47PM
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Apologies, I thought some of the units were "standard"...

calcium 18 mg/L
chloride 26 mg/L
sulfate 13 mg/L
ph 6.92
sodium 8.54 mg/L
magnesium 3.27 mg/L
caco3 58.4 mg/L

The four that were called out as "exceeds advisory" were
color 90 PCU (note max advisory level of 15)
turbidity 30.6 NTU (note max advisory level of 5)
iron 6.85 mg/L (note max advisory level of .3)
manganese .244 mg/L (note max advisory level of .05)

The report does not say the type of iron, it only says the iron and manganese test are "maximum containment level"

The well is considered safe by state of Connecticut standards.

The house was built in 1770. The well is a of unknown age and honestly I do not even know it is drilled or dug. The apparent cap is in the middle of a concrete deck and the cap has not been lifted as yet. The local water district records only go back to 1970 and they have no records for my house. It is not the original well, which is also still in place but no longer connected.

Neighbors generally speaking, all say there well water is "crap" and there are both drilled and dug wells on my street.

We haven't watered the lawn or plants, so I can't say how the vegetation would respond...

The previous owner was an elderly(94) year old woman. There was a very old softening system that was in poor condition in place that was removed prior to us moving in. This was a salt based system. I need to get my home inspection report out of storage as the water test was performed with that system in place.

Everything in the house that water touched had rust on it and the home inspection report noted rust in all the tanks. They have all since been drained which is all fine and dandy, but it doesn't solve my issue.


    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 12:12PM
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First, your water is not terribly hard (hardness = calcium + magnesium) so let's ignore that for just a bit. Your primary problem is the iron and manganese. Fortunately, treatment is the same for both. If the iron is particulate, it may be removed via filtration. However, if it is colloidal particulate iron, filtration will be difficult to impossible without coagulating (using a substance that causes the particles to come together) first. If the iron is dissolved, it must be removed via ion exchange or by oxidizing and filtering it. This is why it is important to know the type of iron.

As to treatment possibilities, there are several:

1) Softener: A softener with specialty resin is capable of removing dissolved iron, up to 7 ppm (mg/L) but asking a softener to remove iron at those upper limits is really pushing it so I would not recommend this method. In addition, a softener would become plugged if you have particulate iron.

2) Oxidation/Filtration: An oxidizer such as ozone, air, or chlorine may be used to react with the iron and force it to become particulate iron that can then be removed via filtration. A typical setup would involve the oxidizing unit, a holding tank, then a media filter. This type of system is not something your typical homeowner will be able to maintain themselves - you would want a water treatment pro that you trust.

3) Oxidizing filtration media: This type of treatment consists of a sealed tank filled with one of several media. Water passes through and is oxidized and filtered by the media. These are relatively easy to operate and what I would recommend for the average homeowner. There are basically three different media that can be used:

a) manganese greensand: water runs through for treatment. The media must be regenerated with potassium permanganate (care must be taken with dealing with potassium permanganate as it readily dies organic material, such as your skin, a purple-brown color)

b) birm: This media acts as a catalyst to force oxidation of iron. While it does not need to be regenerated, it does need fairly high dissolved oxygen in the water. If you water does not have adequate dissolved oxygen (and it probably doesn't since it is well water), air injection would be necessary.

c) pyrolox: an ore that oxidized then filters the iron out. It does not need regeneration, but needs to be backwashed (to rinse out the iron) at a high rate, 25 - 30 gallons per square foot. This is my personal preferrence, but understand that the backwash rate is critical.

As you can see, all treatment has a certain inconvenience factor. What I would do is find a local water treatment company to test your water and make recommendations for treatment. Do not share your water tests with them - a compitent water professional will do their own tests. Just make sure they are testing for both types of iron.

If you are a confidant DIYer, there are places where you can purchase treatment systems and install then yourself. Unfortunately, DIY means you only have yourself to blame if something goes wrong.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 1:08PM
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Follow Alice down the rabbit hole... he's taking you in the right direction.

An alternative to DIY and for your water I recommend it...

Hit the Yellow Pages and call at least three local water treatment pros. Make sure you call at least one of the big dogs like Kinetico or Culligan for comparison and at least a couple independent pros. DON'T TELL THEM YOU HAD YOUR WATER TESTED.

Give each an opportunity to offer suggestions and provide you with a quote to meet your water treatment needs. IGNORE ANY THAT DON'T TEST YOUR WATER THEMSELVES as they can't speak intelligently to water treatment without knowing what needs to be treated.

Ask lots of questions. Softening the entire house or just the water heater (IMO a bad idea)? Warranty, parts & labor or just parts, how long and on exactly what? Install, permits required, licensed plumber? Routine maintenance and costs? Do they stock parts? Response time for emergency (water leak) calls? If they don't explain things to your satisfaction that is a good indicator of how you'll be treated after the sale.

After they've gone use your water test to compare with theirs. Are all your treatment needs being addressed?

Ask your neighbors if they have any water treatment experience. They might tell you who's good or who to avoid.

Come back here and post the specific recommendations and hardware components with the costs and we'll give you our opinions.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 2:47PM
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So pyrolox sounds great, but it also sounds like it has tremendous water demand to operate, or am I not getting the math right?

Anecdotally, my wife kids were playing with the hose on a hot day and unfortunately left it wide open for about 30-40 minutes.

The water ran dark dark brown indicating no doubt that the well had run nearly dry, or at least the pick up had dropped into the muck at the bottom.

I'm guessing this represented 300-400 gallons of water.

How many sq ft is a typical filter?

I'll be calling several dealers tomorrow to get them to evaluate and make recommendations.

I will report progress back hear.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 7:12PM
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The pyrolox has a high water demand only during backwash, which should be done every 3 - 4 days. There are a couple of newer pyrolox-type media, Terminox and Catalox, that purport to do the same thing with only 7 gpm required for backwash. I have not used them before - they look good on paper, but that is all I can tell you about them.

Typical media volume for any of the oxidizing/filtering media would be one - three square feet depending on the type of media you use, water conditions and usage.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2010 at 8:23PM
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additional info.

We had our first independent guy come today, he tested the water and said it is ferrous iron. I'll have his exact proposal later today and he also guarantees we will get the desired water chemistry when his system is installed.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 11:56AM
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A good start and make sure that pro puts that guarantee in writing on his quote.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 1:10PM
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Still waiting on the written proposal from the first guy to evaluate our water.

The second pro tested the water and came up with a

4.5 ppm iron
.06 manganese
7 GPG hardness
6.6 ph
0 ppm sulfur.

I wasn't here when he tested. I ran the water for 15 full minutes before taking my samples when I had it lab tested and am assuming that would contribute to discrepancy in test results, as well as test sensitivity of a lab vs what the guy has with him on the truck.

Anyways, his proposal is a "Iwwt-40 water softener with 6 day skipper wheel"

300 lbs of salt included.

I am not interested in a salt based system if there are alternatives, and based on Alice's post, there is a better way(oxidizing system).

This proposal was slight less than 2K installed, 1 yr labor warranty, 5 year valve warrantly and 10 years on the tank.

No mention at all of a gaurantee on water chemistry though.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 6:23PM
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"6 day skipper wheel" sounds like a timer based softener... not salt or water efficient and very dated technology. An amazing lack of details ion that quote. If they won't go into detail then pass.

I'd recommend you make it a point to be there for every quote.
Have these people come at YOUR convenience.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 7:02PM
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Just so we are clear. The oxidation/filtration system I tentatively recommend will not remove hardness from your water, only iron and manganese. If hardness is a problem (and you may very well find it to be if 7 gpg is correct), a softener would be necessary as well.

Ask a few additional questions of any water treatment pro if they suggest a softener to cure all of your water issues: What specific resin will the unit contain? Is this different from a standard softener and, if so, how? Given the iron in my water, do I need to take any additional steps to regenerate the softener?

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 7:09PM
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So, my main concern is the rust/iron as it is out and out destructive.

The hardness is not an issue, soaps suds up fine, we just have spotting on stainless dishes when they dry, and I can live with that.

My water test from the state certified test lab was 58.4 mg/L for caco3, which I am assuming(maybe incorrectly) is hardness.

7 grains per gallon tranlates to almost 120 mg/L, so there is another obvious discrepancy with my test results becuase he is almost double with his test.

I'm not suggesting the test was dishonest, but I wish I could understand the discrepancy.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 8:37PM
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The WQA classifies 7gpg hardness as moderately hard to hard.


Hardness of 7 grains is destructive inside and hidden. Hardness is not just an aesthetic problem manifesting as a few spots. Setting aside the savings in soaps and detergents that soft water will give you, the longer service life of appliances, fixtures, valves, plumbing, and clothes that soft water promotes is a considerable savings over time.

An added benefit to softening your water is that it will reduce and remove a great deal of the scale that has formed in your plumbing and valves.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 8:49PM
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Thanks Lurker.

I need to figure out how to I resolve the discrepancy though. My test results from the lab have the hardness measured at 58.4mg/L which translates to 3.4 GPG, which from what I can gather is quite good.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 9:16PM
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The differences can just be that well water changes... as you posted, you ran the water for 15 minutes before sampling. How long ago was that test?

If you're there when the pros come you can make sure the same sampling technique is observed for each test.

Hardness is the easiest test to do and each pro can follow your requirements under your watchful eyes.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 9:27PM
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BTW....salt is, like, really cheap. Don't make a bag or two any part of your decision. The important thing is to get the system right. If it is, you may expect a couple of decades of good performance.

If you're like me, I suspect you really don't want to do this twice. You're really into it, now. Pay attention. A few bucks extra right now compared with what the future WILL hold may not be make/break decision factor.

Household water quality is important, IMHO. In that regard, I'm not very objective. IMHO, household water supply needs to be right and dependable. I'm biased that way.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 9:55PM
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The discrepancy is actually very easy to explain. The lab where you sent your samples uses a better test with a low error. The local water pros, in the interest of time and money, use one of two testing methods. 1) They can use a simple color titration, which can be very accurate, but requires them to decide when the color has changed. These guys are usually quite consistent among the tests they do, meaning they will usually be inaccurate by approximately the same percentage, but most have never "calibrated" their testing with numbers from a lab. They can be off by a lot, particularly in the lower hardness concentrations. 2) A lazy and/or cheap water treatment person will use test strips, for even lower accuracy.

Bottom line - believe the lab.

A note of caution: If you decide a softener is not necessary at this time, I would still plan for the potential to install one later, downstream from the iron removal unit.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 10:58PM
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You said in your original post "Money is not a concern, I want good water throughout my home...".

Get the softener... it's really the right way to do it along with the iron treatment you settle on.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2010 at 11:09PM
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We received our second proposal.

The water company is recommending a Water Right Sanitizer 1054 followed by a Big Blue inline sediment filter.

This is a chlorine based system.

He made a second option, though not his first choice, of a Fleck Birm/Iron filter followed by a fleck 32,000 grain softener followed by a inline sediment filter.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2010 at 1:39PM
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sean - Second proposal - did he explain what he was trying to do and what each component would accomplish? What were his water chemistry test results?

His primary proposal is to oxidize the dissolved iron using chlorine, then use the zeolite crystal media (if I am looking at the correct system) to soften your water and partially remove iron, then the sediment filter to remove the rest of the iron. It sounds somewhat intriguing, but I am concerned about using crystals vs ion exchange beads - pressure drop should be greater and backwash should be more difficult, but I am looking for media specifications to confirm. I am always leery of an all-in-one system because they are much more difficult to work on. It will take some research on my part to be of more help on this one.

His second option is more standard, but did he mention any method to increase dissolved oxygen in your water? Did he test your water for dissolved oxygen? This would have required him to obtain a sample without first exposing it to air, so water from your faucet would not work.

Did the rep explain his reason for preferring one system over the other? Did he seem competent or did he seem to be repeating a sales brochure? Did he provide any before and after test results from anywhere in your area where one of his primary recommendation is installed?

For both of the water pros you have spoken to, did they offer any service after install? Guarantees? Does one of them strike you as more competent than the other?

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 12:36PM
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Oh, shoot, I was mistaken about the second proposal's first option. The chlorination is actually only during the backwash. The unit is relying solely on ion exchange to remove the iron, a different animal entirely from what I initially though. I apologize for making an assumption without verifying first.

With that in mind, I would be highly suspect of this unit for your particular water. In order for the zeolite the unit uses to remove iron, it actually needs a fairly high calcium:iron ratio. Your water, however, has quite low calcium. The system specifies a bare minimum of 3 gpg calcium, which you don't have, according to your lab results. You would need a calcite system in front of the Water Right Sanitizer to ensure adequate calcium, effectively creating a hardness problem in order to solve the iron problem and then removing the calcium. Their web site also does not list specs for the media, only specs for the units - I don't care for that. All media manufacturers have specifications for their products - if this manufacturer does not make theirs readily available it makes me wonder if they just don't like the way they compare to the competition.

Gotta say - I am a little disappointed in the pros in your area. Unfortunately, as I found when I worked in the water treatment industry, most of the folks I worked with were salespeople, not chemists of engineers. Sad, but true, and the reason I could not longer continue in the industry - I was more interested in problem solving than sales.

Bottom line: First, if there are any other water treatment folks in your area, talk to them as well. Second, if these two are your only possibilities, and what they have proposed is the only options they have available to them, and you want to have the benefit of someone to call if you have a problem, the birm option is likely the best one for your water. One caveat, as mentioned earlier, - test dissolved oxygen and ensure you either have it naturally or install an injection system to make it so. Assuming the lab is correct (given the choice I will take a lab over semi-trained field testers any day) your calcium is too low to make ion exchange (softener, zeolites, Water Right system) for iron removal a good option.

If you are feeling confidant and want to DIY, you have more options, but less help. Something only you can decide.

Justalurker may be correct as well - you may find that you want a softener once the iron is gone. I prefer to err on the side of minimum equipment to maintain and knock off the largest problem first and see if anything else rears its head after that. As long as your plumbing plans for the possibility of a softener, it will be simple to add one later.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 1:09PM
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Nobody tested oxygen, and his the second proposal only mentioned that my iron tested at 4PPM.

I am disheartened now.

If my water was your water, what exactly would you install?

I am pretty handy, the only thing I have no skill at all with would be soldering pipes, but I can always line up my plumber to splice something in that I purchase.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2010 at 5:50PM
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Seanc..I also live in CT and am looking for a treatment for iron/manganese. My water results are similar to yours...was wondering what treatment you decided on. I am looking at Terminox ISM (budgetwater.com) I had a water softener, but my water is the same as yours 58 mg/L...the softener is no longer working and I need to get the dissolved iron out.
Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2010 at 11:23PM
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