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A Domestic R.O. Water System

Inner Circle Member Forum >> General Discussion >> A Domestic R.O. Water System

Bob Niland

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Posted: 9/11/2018 10:11:34 PM
Edited: 1/28/2019 12:32:34 PM (1)
 

A Domestic RO Water System

Edition: 2018-09-11


Context

drinking water faucetUndoctored Blog: Beware: What’s in that glass of water?
Although the Undoctored and Wheat Belly program caution about gut flora antagonists, including treated municipal water, the programs don’t presently endorse any specific drinking water product solutions. The present article considers choice considerations, and what one Inner Circle member elected to do about it. This is not specifically an endorsement of the filter system chosen.

At right: a sink-mounted drinking water faucet. This particular one is provisioned by a reverse osmosis (RO) system cable of delivering about one gallon per minute (2 fl.oz./sec) for a couple of minutes before it needs to catch up (which takes hours). In typical daily use, we actually never see the flow rate slack.

Table of Contents

Introduction
General Alternatives
Process Technology
Logistic Considerations
Filtration Validation
Ingredient-Free Water
System Tour

Introduction

Drinking water in most U.S. homes is alarming. If it kills your house plants, or you can’t make fermented foods with it, or it has a chlorinated odor, it’s not fit for human consumption, just due to microbiome effects, if not thyroid effects.

If it’s from a public water supply, residual treatment chemicals (many highly persistent chlorides, such as chloramine) are quite likely, with some likelihood of additional fluoride compounds you might not desire, if not adverse minerals leeched out of incautiously chosen legacy pipes (e.g. asbestos). The antiseptic amendments are not a conspiracy. The goal of having public water supplies be potable imposes a requirement to not just sterilize the source water, but to also control pathogens from plant to faucet. That has unintended consequences in most current implementations.

Even if you are on well water, excess regional minerals and residual farming or industrial chemicals could be still a concern.Return to TOC ]

General Alternatives

The alternatives include, broadly:
• retail bottled water
• commercial water delivery
• home water distilling
• counter-top filters
• under-counter filters
• whole-house systems

Before exploring solutions, you need to scope the problem (what needs to come out of the water), and the logistical goals (system capacity, cost per gallon, workload, space available, regulatory constraints, etc.)

Having your water tested might be worthwhile, to avoid under-filtering or over-filtering. Don’t over-test, either. If on public water get the most recent water quality report from the system operator. There’s no point testing for what they already admit is in there.

Or just fix it. We’ve had ours tested for hardness, and it’s very hard water, basically liquid limestone, and lots of sediment. We’ve never had it tested for agricultural residues, but suspect them, so never used it for drinking. We have a whole-house filter for most of the sediment, and a water softener for utility use, but didn’t want to drink or cook with the softened water.

Bottled water solutions are a nuisance, speaking as a household that lately ended two different forms of that (one outside the scope of this article). You have to hump ’em home from the store, store them full, store them empty, and dispose of them. They are also almost always made of plastic, sometimes the relatively harmless HDPE /2\ or LDPE /4\, but too often PETE /1\, and easily some plastic that out-gasses concerning compounds, claims of BPA-free to the contrary notwithstanding. If refillable, who is washing them, and with what?

Commercial water delivery reduces the stewardship hassle a bit, won’t change the economics much, requires dedicated floor space, but places some focus on a point above. The bottles are re-used (often literally until they start leaking at customer premises). How are the bottles being washed and/or sanitized?

In my last job outside the home, the employer had water coolers with national-brand-name delivered jugs. About annually, there would be a distinct detergent flavor to the water. What does your microbiome think of that? For the same price, you can probably beat that service.

Home distiller: been there, done that. Noisy, power-hungry, heat-producing, humidity-generating. Then you might spend more kilowatts to refrigerate and cool the condensed water, which is still pretty hot as freshly made. The more junk you need to get out of the water, the more clean-up is needed with a still. With hard water, you need an ample vinegar budget for frequent, annoying demineralizations. When I ran the numbers on power alone, it was just as cheap to buy bottled water, and a lot less trouble.

Counter-top filters range from simple Brita-style activated charcoal filter pitchers to what are really under-counter systems in a big counter-top box (the size of a microwave oven, if not larger). We have a Brita, but it’s a backup, and we aren’t super confident that it does all that much for the calcium carbonate, esp. over the rated life of each cartridge.

If the system is really just an RO in a box, it’s going to have a brine tank that must be emptied regularly, or need a connection to your DWV system, or at least be able to run some inelegant tubing to a sink.

Our counter top space is also entirely spoken for, so more elaborate c-top devices simply didn’t make the cut (entirely apart from brine complications).

remote RO installationUnder-counter systems are available in a challenging variety and a wide range of prices. In our case, as with the counter-top, we didn’t want to surrender the under-counter space (plus, routine system stewardship is an awkward affair under-counter).

So what we did instead was to get an under-counter system, but install it remotely, shown at right (system tour at end of article). The product depicted here is a Pure Water Products ro003

Whole house systems may filter the water for all domestic uses, possibly including some that don’t really need it, like washing the car or the laundry. On the other hand, do you really want to water the garden or lawn with municipal halogen compounds that kill house plants?

A real benefit could be in bathing. If our house had been on muni water treated with chloramine, I would not want to shower with it. Skin, eye, ear and orifice microbiomes — yes, they’re a thing, and even less understood than gut flora. Point-of-use showerhead filters are available. If they’re intended for chlorine removal, make sure the claims specifically include chloramine.

Major considerations for whole house are the capital and consumable expenses, and the need for a high peak capacity, which might require a holding tank as large as your hot water heater.Return to TOC ]

Process Technology

What type of filtration system to select depends on the problem to be solved. System types broadly include:
• simple sieving filters (fine screens, dense media)
• ionic methods (e.g. activated charcoal)
• osmotic (e.g. RO)
• chemical methods (e.g. catalytic, reactive media)
• biological methods (algae)
• phase-change methods (e.g. distillation)
or some combination thereof.

If your only concern is for example, chloramine, you can get filters that remove just that. The demand for such filters is interesting. I seriously doubt that it’s being driven by microbiome enthusiasts. I suspect it’s largely epicurean (people don’t like drinking treated muni water just due to taste) and to a lesser extent fluoridation fret (where those people also want to remove the chlorine compounds).Return to TOC ]

Logistic Considerations

• regulatory issues
system capacity
system price
consumable sourcing and prices
system stewardship
installation expense
operational validation

Regulatory
There are two main legal considerations, which may not apply to you at all.

1. Plumbing work
If you live in a guild-afflicted or nanny state, you may be obliged to hire a licensed plumber for even the most trivial work. A permit may be required. In any event, any tapping into supply and waste water systems requires someone who has basic competence in these matters.

2. Brine
Reverse osmosis systems discharge at least 1× waste water for each gallon filtered, but more typically 4×. As with water softeners, there may be local legal constraints on installation and use of such systems. In any event, the drinking water contribution to any water bill is going to rise a tad. At our residence, the waste water all goes back into the ground we got it from, and we get to drink it again in 20 years or so.Return to TOC ]

System Capacity
is usually limited by the slowest element of the filter systems, which would be the RO membrane in an RO system. In the U.S., systems are usually rated in gpd (gallons per day), and typically start at about 20 gpd.

Without a holding tank, the live output of a typical under-counter RO system is quite literally a trickle. 20 gpd is only 1.8 fl.oz. per minute. Filling an 8 oz. glass would be frustratingly slow. Holding tanks have a bladder at the center seam, and are lightly pre-pressurized so that when the filtered water fills them, the bladder compresses the air until it rises to near water supply pressure, at about 60% full. So a "4 gallon" tank has a useful capacity of about 2½ gallons. For simple consumption, choosing a tank that holds one gallon per resident is probably a safe target. Don’t forget the pets and the house plants.Return to TOC ]

System Price
Anything more elaborate than a turn-key connection-less counter-top solution needs to include consideration of
$ the kit as advertised,
$ things that really aren’t optional,
$ possibly a suitable structure to mount it on,
$ additional fiddly bits to hook it into house systems,
$ installation expense,
$ sink modifications in many cases,
$ initial consumables if not included, and
$ instrumentation for on-going checking of water quality.

The advertised system or kit price may not be the total initial capital expense. Does it include a faucet? Check also for options that would be wise to have (in particular some way to assess system status). Make sure the initial consumables are included. For a system of any complexity or distance, expect to need a few more fittings, and some extra tubing.

We elected to get the RO system bundle with a permeate pump, as it nearly eliminates the system pressure drop at the tank, allowing full rated gpd.

Under-counter systems usually include sufficient runs of tubing, and fittings (often blind/vampire) for tapping into common supply and drain lines. In our case, we needed an extra 50 ft. of tubing, plus a 1-in. tee, shut-off valve and reducing fitting. The installation was near a basement sump pump, conveniently.

Regardless of system rate and tank size, instantaneous rate is going to be limited by pressure and pipe size. Typical under-counter systems use ¼-inch OD polyethylene tubing, which is 0.170-inch ID. At typical household water pressures, expect about 1 gpm.Return to TOC ]

Consumables
matter. A cheap system can easily be more expensive in the long run if you need to replace elements in 5 stages multiple times a year (and two of those stages you didn’t need anyway), and the elements are only available from Bespoke Water Systems, at high prices, except that they went out of business shortly after you got the system.

Find out what element sizes are used, who sells them, and for how much. Do you need to stock a replacement set? Probably not. If you are replacing based on some measured marker (like TDS), the measuring device provides ample warning. If on a calendar basis, just set a calendar event on your mobile device.Return to TOC ]

Stewardship
Make sure you know what the expected replacement cycle is, and with how much hassle at the system. Clearly the system needs shut-offs at various points in the flow. Ours are at supply, tank, and system outlet (plus the faucet). Can the system be drained to minimize spillage when pulling cartridges?Return to TOC ]

Installation
If you have to hire a plumber, get a quote. If sink, counter-top, floor, wall or structure penetrations are required, make sure that’s accounted for.

For an actual under-counter install, get the dimensions of the system, and find out what support it needs. Include clearance for filter removals. In our case, a frame was easily constructed from lumber scraps left over from other projects. A couple of brackets were bought to support the tank shelf.

At point-of-use, a porcelain sink that lacks a spare escutcheon opening, or a marble counter beneath, is going to require special tools, and perhaps a tradesperson other than a generic plumber. In our case, the counter-top was already open below the stainless steel sink, but the escutcheon hole was not there. I coincidentally had a ¾-in. sheet metal punch, otherwise a tool purchase would have been required.Return to TOC ]

Operational Validation

Follow vendor instructions for break-in.

Have a plan for checking system performance. Our system came with a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter (not shown), that checks water conductivity. In a properly working system, TDS should measure pretty close to bottled distilled water, which leads to the next consideration…Return to TOC ]

Ingredient-Free Water

Whether charcoal filtered, RO filtered or flat out distilled, you now have what is essentially content-free water, which is very far from ancestral stream water loaded with minerals (and, to be sure, some pathogens). The WB/Undoctored recommendations for magnesium supplementation are due in large part to this modern filtered water depletion problem.

Consider adding some trace minerals to at least some servings of that water. Our household routine is that the daily serving of Mg-water (made with RO water) gets ancient mined salt added to it. We’re presently using coarse Redmond Real Salt in a mill. 3-4 cranks into 16 fluid ounces of water. This restores some of the trace, but makes no real contribution to Mg and iodine in particular.Return to TOC ]


remote RO installationSystem Tour

Your system probably won’t look exactly like this, but a tour might give you some things to ponder.

Note that no electrical connections are shown. While not exactly fluidic logic, most RO systems are water-operated, running on the pressure differential from between the supply and point of use. In this case, the brine outlet of the RO membrane (3) operates the permeate pump (4), which then moves the mostly-filtered water to the tank (5).

  1. Not shown: 1-inch PVC tee spliced into water supply, after supply expansion tank and whole-house sediment filter, but before water softener.
     
  2. Supply shut-off valve and reducing fittings: to connect to the ¼-in polyethylene tubing use (which in this case relies on John Guest-type push fittings: no compression fittings, no threaded or solvent fittings, and no soldering).
     
  3. Pre-filter: this is a carbon filter, and might be a bit superfluous, as we already have a sediment filter, but I see it as enhancing the lifetime of the RO membrane and post-filter.
     
  4. Reverse osmosis (RO) membrane: this has three connections, an inlet, a filtered water outlet, and a brine (waste) water outlet.
     
  5. Permeate pump: the brine flow (left side) is the motor side. The right (pump) side is the permeate (filtered water) flow. This isolates the RO membrane from the back-pressure of the tank, and also enforces the brine/permeate ratio. Permeate flow here is probably ¼ of brine flow, as this is a 4:1 system. This particular permeate pump clicks, which lets you know it’s working, but might be annoying in some installations. Silent pumps are available.
     
  6. Holding tank: this is a nominal 4 gallon tank, with a useful capacity of 2½ gallons. We could continuously dispense perhaps 2 gallons before we’d notice the flow diminishing. The tank fitting has a shut-off valve so that the tank doesn’t have to be discharged during system servicing (but it might as well be anyway, because these bladder tanks need to be re-pressurized periodically — a bicycle tire pump suffices).
     
  7. faucet line routingPost-filter: this is another carbon filter. I frankly haven’t studied the cartridges to see how they differ.
     
  8. Output line and shutoff valve: this feeds about 50 feet of tubing to the dedicated faucet at the kitchen sink.
     
  9. Brine line: this dumps directly into our main sump pump. The drop line has a check valve (and there are other check valves in the system).

Tubing installation for our system was expedient. A ¼-in. drill sufficed for all penetrations (although an extended length bit was needed through the cabinet floor and sub-floor). The run was tie-wrapped to the existing cold water plumbing for most of the route, and secured by cable clamps elsewhere.Return to TOC ]

___________
Bob Niland [disclosures] [topics] [abbreviations]

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Bob Niland

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Posted: 9/11/2018 10:13:51 PM
Edited: 9/11/2018 10:17:37 PM (1)
 
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Posted: 9/12/2018 7:09:50 PM
 
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Posted: 9/12/2018 11:18:44 PM
 
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Bob Niland

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Posted: 6/10/2019 10:09:39 AM
 
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The information on this forum is not intended to represent a medical diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice in any form, as it is general information and cannot be relied upon without consultation with your physician. The information on this forum is not intended nor is it implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
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