Make sure the water treatment units you sell meet the proper standards.

I asked my biochemist son, who is currently finishing his Ph.D., whether he would like to be involved in water chemistry. After all, I said, your father has some connections.

His response was short, sweet and to the point, “What, are you crazy? Water is constantly changing.” He went on to fully explain how difficult the chemistry of water really is.

Yet often times you are asked to determine what is the best method for treating water. Well, if a biochemist says it is extremely difficult, imagine what it is like for a nonbiochemist plumbing contractor.

So, how do you go about offering your customers quality water treatment systems?

First, you should know that some of the best snake oil salesmen have offered a special means of treating water for perfect health. This is not something that is new; this has been going on since man started drinking water.

Early in my profession, I had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of Illinois Water Survey, which is world-renowned for its involvement in water treatment and water quality. It is charged by the State of Illinois with assuring the quality of water within the state.

When I met with one of its famous water chemistry scientists, he walked me through what he called his museum of useless water treatment systems. It was fascinating.

There were 100-year-old black boxes that purported to increase your health. There was nothing inside this huge box, just a water passageway.

There were early magnets that were going to solve water ills.

All of the items had been debunked by the Illinois Water Survey. Not one item treated water. Some actually made the water supply more dangerous. Yet, with each item, snake oil salesmen made a lot of money selling nothing to the public.

None of you wants to be accused of selling nothing to your customers.

Selling Clean Water

I recently encountered a major manufacturer that was selling water treatment systems in a big box store. The water treatment system was set up so a do-it-yourselfer could easily install the system with a minimal amount of tools. No need for an expensive plumbing contractor to install the unit.

When you read the directions, they instructed the installer to drill a hole into the drain, after the trap under your sink. That is where the discharge line would connect. My first thought was, “Oh my God, they want you to have a direct connection between the drinking water treatment unit and the sewer.” Imagine what that will do to the people drinking from the unit after a drainage back up.

So, how do you avoid snake oil salesmen or dangerous treatment systems?

A few years ago, NSF International started developing a series of standards that regulate water treatment systems. It is not just one, but many different types of standards. Each standard regulates the type of water treatment system.

Five of the NSF standards are listed in the plumbing codes: NSF 42, NSF 44, NSF 53, NSF 58, and NSF 62. As referenced standards, that means the water filters and treatment systems must conform to the standards. However, many of these units are installed after initial construction, without the benefit of a permit. Hence, there are violations of the code with the installation of unapproved units.

NSF 42 is the standard that regulates water treatment units for aesthetic effects. These units are not designed to remove any chemicals that may be considered harmful. Basically, the units are treating the water for taste and odor, or T&O, as well as the removal of rust and chlorine. Water that tastes or smells awful is often not considered harmful; you just don’t like drinking the water. NSF 42 units will remove the bad taste and odor of the water. There are various degrees of removal that are possible.

NSF 53 units treat the water for health effects. Unlike NSF 42 units, these units do remove harmful chemicals or substances from the drinking water.

NSF 44 regulates cation exchange water softeners. Softening water is still the most popular form of water treatment in the country.

NSF 62 is for distillation units. Distilling water brings the water close to its pure form. I remember installing a distillation unit on the water supplying the coffee makers at a truck stop on a major trucking highway. My father told the owner that, after installing the unit, the coffee tastes like crap. The owner said that it made the coffee purer. The truckers didn’t agree, and eventually the unit was removed.

That is not to pick on distilled water; it is simply that many people will not care for the taste of distilled water. Another thing to consider is, because the water is very pure, it will pick up contaminants more quickly when it comes in contact with a substance.

The last standard in the group is NSF 58. This standard is for reverse osmosis, or RO, units. A reverse osmosis unit also removes contaminants from the drinking water. The units rely on a membrane that allows water to pass through, but blocks the contaminants and discharges them to the drain. Most RO units discharge three gallons of water for every gallon of water that passes through the unit.

The plumbing codes require RO unit drains to connect to the drainage system through an indirect waste by an air gap. But all of you knew that an air gap would be required.

Before you consider any water filtration system, make sure the units meet the NSF standards. The units are required to be third-party certified or listed. While NSF International lists the majority of the units that comply with the NSF standards, it is not required to have an NSF listing. Any laboratory qualified to certify such units can list a water filtration unit.

Don’t be caught installing a noncertified unit that doesn’t comply with any NSF standard. Make sure you provide your customers with the best.