Water treatment is one of the fastest growing add-on revenue streams across the U.S., according to Glen Blavet, founder and CEO of HALO Water Systems.
“Water quality has grown 300% across the U.S. since the pandemic began,” Blavet says. “People are at home, and they’re looking to improve their quality of life and their health, so they’re looking at the water they’re drinking out of the tap.”
Blavet, a former plumbing and HVAC contracting business owner, founded HALO Water Systems after seeing numerous TV ads for whole-house water filtration. Seeing there was nothing in the market for plumbers to bring to their customer base, he started from scratch, with much trial and error. His company was built for plumbing contractors and technicians.
“We are founded by a contractor for contractors,” he says. “Our company grew 35% in 2019, and 40% in 2020. If plumbers are not offering water quality as an add-on every day, on every call, they’re missing the boat.”
Residential market installations on the rise
Eric Yeggy, director of technical affairs, Water Quality Association, explains that in the wake of the pandemic, while commercial and industrial installations of water treatment systems have fallen, residential installations have skyrocketed.
“COVID-19 and the lockdowns have shut down businesses and office buildings so they’re partially vacant, at least,” he says. “Additionally, everybody has limited budgets to spend on building improvements for water treatment. Meanwhile, people have been staying in their homes — working from home, and are very interested in having good water quality and water that tastes good.
“I felt a lot of people were either using bottled water or got their water at work where there was an RO system in the lounge or a refrigerator filter,” Yeggy continues. “And now, they’re stuck at home and don’t have access to those things. So, they’re like, ‘I miss the good water quality,’ and they have a system installed. I think the desire to have good water quality has always been there. People have been trying to improve their water since the middle ages.”
Yeggy notes that though COVID-19 has spurred interest in water quality and water treatment sales, COVID-19 was never found in the drinking water supply.
“Part of the information we put out is there was no evidence the virus was ever being transmitted through the water supply,” he says. “If somebody is trying to sell a homeowner a water treatment device because they’re trying to scare them that COVID-19 might be in their water — that’s a scare tactic; it’s not real.”
Blavet notes the largest market trend is whole-house water filtration systems.
“An average family of four spends about a thousand dollars per year on bottled water,” he explains. “They can normally add a whole-house point-of-entry system and finance it for less than they’re spending on bottled water today. Once you break it down for them, they want to put that money toward a system that’s going to protect the health and safety of their family members and their home.”
According to John Cardiff, executive vice president of sales and business development for Canature WaterGroup, the largest trend in the market is the widespread use of Granular Activated Carbon (GAC) in whole house point of entry treatment.
“Increased levels of disinfection chemicals used by municipalities are causing consumers to want to remove these chemicals after the water enters the home,” he says. “They are experiencing everything from minor issues such as taste and odor to major issues such as leaks in plumbing systems caused by high levels of these chemicals. Carbon is used for the reduction of Chlorine, and Catalytic carbon is used for the reduction of Chloramines. These are ideal filtration media to solve these issues for the homeowner.”
Cardiff notes that plumbers should ensure carbon filtration products are designed properly to manufacturers’ specifications.
“Point-of-entry (POE) carbon filtration is a little different from point-of-use (POU),” he explains. “Carbon requires a certain amount of contact time for the removal of these disinfection chemicals, so proper design of the filtration system is key to providing a quality product to the consumer. Look for a POE carbon filter that is third-party certified for performance under NSF/ANSI 42 standards for chlorine removal.”
New threats to water quality
According to Cardiff, the biggest challenge the industry is currently facing lies in emerging contaminants and emerging disinfection by-products from the use of Chloramines.
“Some of these are well known and others are not well known, but understanding these contaminants and how to properly treat them is a big challenge,” he says. “It takes time for regulators to set guidelines around their limits as well as certification bodies to develop standards for manufacturers to design and certify their products to.”
Yeggy points to vacant buildings as the greatest industry challenge.
“I could talk about other things like lead or emerging contaminants, but they’re always there,” he explains. “However, COVID-19 has taken the stage, so to speak. These vacant buildings that have experienced long periods of stagnation, which is the ideal conditions for microbial growth within water lines. So the premise plumbing, needs to be flushed out and sanitized, and all of that has to be done in a way which won’t damage or further contaminate the water treatment systems. Then, the water treatment systems need to be cleaned and sanitized.”
The Water Quality Association has published several technical resources over the past year to help public officials, building owners as well as plumbers and water treatment providers with these types of challenges.
“The greatest risks with stagnation are obviously microbial —things like Legionella and more —but also corrosion,” Yeggy says. “Corrosion can be a big problem, as can disinfection by-products in stagnant lines. You might go turn the water back on and discover you have leaks everywhere. So, there are a lot of different issues.”
On Dec. 22, 2020, the EPA finalized the first major update to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) in nearly 30 years. The new rule requires testing in schools and childcare facilities while also establishing a trigger level to jumpstart lead mitigation earlier and in more communities.
Under the new rule, the action level for lead in drinking water will remain at 15 parts per billion, but a new trigger level will be added at 10 parts per billion. Following the testing procedures for public water systems laid out in the rule, additional planning, monitoring and treatment will be required when lead is detected at or above that trigger level.
However, the EPA recently announced a delay of the March 16 effective date for the LCR revisions to allow for further review, including a new public comment period. The rule will now become effective June 17. The delay does not change the compliance date of Jan. 16, 2024.
“This is another significant step forward in acknowledging the value and need for point-of-use technologies,” Tom Bruursema, WQA associate executive director for member and public engagement, says in a news release. “These products offer a final barrier of protection for homeowners who may be concerned about the quality of their drinking water.”
Yeggy concurred, saying consumers and homeowners are going to become more aware of lead in their drinking water as the new rule is implemented.
“There are inexpensive treatment solutions which can be installed to remove all the contaminants that we’re finding in people’s water supply,” Yeggy says. “This includes the regulated contaminants like lead, arsenic and nitrate radium, but there’s also treatment solutions available for the unregulated and the emerging contaminants of PFOS and strontium. So the challenge becomes training on how to select, install and configure water treatment systems, which is not normally included in the training for plumbers. However, plumbers who want to offer drinking water treatment solutions to their customers can get trained and certified through WQA — many of them already are.”
Cardiff notes the revisions to the LCR are really good about protecting the consumer.
“The impact is an increased level of consumer awareness around lead in drinking water,” he says. “Even though proper flushing of affected water lines can reduce the lead concentration well below the >15 ug/l MAC, consumers want to protect their health and the health of their families by installing DWTU’s designed for lead removal. The industry has had to react to provide solutions to accommodate this increased demand. Again, it is important to look for products that are third-party certified for the removal of lead. Reverse Osmosis drinking water systems are a common solution, and can be certified to NSF/ANSI 58 standards that can include lead under this certification.”
The plumber’s role
According to Yeggy, plumbing contractors absolutely have a role in the water quality industry.
“It’s becoming more obvious as people become aware of these issues that there is a role there for the plumbers in order to help people understand what their options are,” he says. “When new homes are going up now, they’re thinking about these things in advance — people are looking at whether or not there is water treatment installed in the home already.”
Cardiff explains that in most cases, the plumber is the first person the consumer calls to repair their plumbing system, so that opens the door to water treatment.
“Many plumbing system failures are caused by poor water quality,” he says. “Whether it is scaling in water heaters and pipes caused by excessive hardness to leaking toilets, faucets or even pinholes in copper pipes caused by chlorine or chloramines, the plumber should not only repair the issue with the plumbing system, but also identify the root problem causing the issue and offer a solution to fix it. Plumbers are trusted advisors to homeowners. They are the professional homeowners look to when it comes to their plumbing system, which should include water quality products.”
Commercial applications are no different, and in some cases, even more important where water quality is concerned, Cardiff adds.
“Commercial dishwashers and water heaters require soft water to operate properly,” he says. “Coffee shops and restaurants require quality drinking water to serve to their patrons. Car washes require soft water for their detergents to be effective and reverse osmosis systems are used to provide the spot free rinse feature at all car washes. These are just a few examples of commercial opportunities that plumbers should get involved with in the commercial space. Again, in many cases, the plumber is there fixing or replacing components of the plumbing system that have failed due to poor water quality. They should take it one step further and offer water treatment solutions to these commercial businesses to protect their investment and provide a better quality product or experience to their customers.”
Blavet notes the most difficult part is getting contractors and technicians to do the initial water test.
“It’s actually all about getting the plumbers to do the water test — it doesn’t have to be difficult,” he says. “We promote water quality awareness as part of every service call. It’s free; it’s simple; and it’s fun. We provide them with a water test kit. Most people don’t even realize they have more chlorine in their tap water than what’s recommended for a swimming pool. The good news is it’s treatable. The plumber’s creed is to protect the health and safety of the nation. Why would it be any different when you’re inside a home or building? I say all the time, ‘if it’s not fun and it’s not easy, it’s not HALO.’”
HALO has an online training program for contractors to get certified in water treatment and HALO systems. The company also has an online option builders for contractors to use to help determine the best systems for their customers.
“They can build options that come with their logo, their pricing, the technician’s name, the customer’s name and a list of options. This is all built with the contractor in mind.”
Since the pandemic has sparked an increased awareness and interest in quality of life and health in general, water treatment will continue to grow in popularity, Blavet predicts.
“We’re not going to get out of this pandemic right away, and water treatment is going to get better. People are concerned about their health and safety. People are concerned about what they’re putting into their bodies. We’re already trending for more than 30% growth in 2021. It’s so crazy.”
Yeggy notes there are still many things that can be done to improve water quality, especially efforts to prevent contamination of the water supplies in the first place.
“PFOS are an entirely a man-made problem,” he explains. “They aren’t a naturally occurring thing. Improvements to our infrastructure with replacement of lead service lines would also help, but in the end, there are many contaminants in the water that come from natural sources. So we’re always going to need drinking water treatment solutions. Arsenic is a good example. A lot of the arsenic in private wells is just naturally occurring in the geology. It’s never going to go away.”
As for what’s next for the water quality industry, Yeggy predicts increased demand for more energy efficient water appliances, which in turn, can be easily damaged by poor water quality.
“That is going to continue driving the need for these final barrier treatment solutions in homes and buildings. As contractors are installing that equipment, we’re seeing that they’re specifying a treatment solution to provide soft water in order to protect those appliances, because otherwise they’re going to be destroyed in very short manner.”
Additionally, Yeggy says researchers are going to continue to find new water quality problems as they continue testing water.
“I’m a chemist,” he notes. “In the world of chemistry, we call water the universal solvent, because it’s very good at dissolving all the materials it comes in contact with. So even when you’re on a municipal supply, they treat the water to a very high level of quality, and then they send it through miles of pipe to reach your home or your business. It’s inevitably going to pick up contaminants during that trip. As our infrastructure is aging, this problem is only accelerating. You can imagine that as pipe gets older, it just makes the problem worse. And that’s always going to drive the need for these final barrier water treatment solutions in homes and buildings.
“Many of the water quality problems that we see are much easier and cheaper to fix in the home and the business because the nature of water is to pick up the contaminants from anything it touches,” he adds. “So the best engineering solutions are always going to be to remove those contaminants as close as possible to the point where we need to use the water in order to minimize the opportunity for recontamination. That’s always going to be important, and will become more important over the next five years as contractors are looking to build new structures and refurbish existing buildings.”
Cardiff agrees that aging infrastructure plays a large role in water quality issues across North America.
“Boil water advisories are ever increasing and typically are a result of water main breaks due to aging infrastructure,” he says. “High levels of lead are caused in part by lead service lines feeding older homes. To upgrade these water mains is a huge undertaking, let alone the expense. Municipalities treat water to meet government guidelines, which they should, but with aging infrastructure, a host of emerging contaminants and byproducts from disinfection chemicals, it is really up to the consumer to treat the water once it enters their home. In my opinion, it is virtually impossible to guarantee a consumer they will have the highest quality drinking water in their home unless they take it upon themselves to install their own treatment system.”