Your home’s water quality directly impacts your health and that of your family, but it doesn’t stop there. It also impacts the lifespan and efficiency of appliances like your water heater, dishwasher, clothes washer, and even your home’s faucets and shower heads.
Many people think that water quality is a simple thing, and if you filter out enough contaminants, it will be perfectly fine. However, water quality goes much deeper with a variety of things that you should consider. Discover the three categorical factors that affect water quality and the options you have for improving it.
The Physical Factor
The first category that most people consider is the physical qualities of their water. The most obvious physical parameter is the solids within the liquid. This includes both dissolved and suspended solids, though many people think only of suspended solids because those easily filter out of the water. However, dissolved solids are just as important, especially for your appliances, plants, and pets. There are many other issues that you might understand intrinsically, but they may not be at the top of your mind.
There’s a characteristic called turbidity, a technical term for the water’s cloudiness. Ultimately, cloudiness is the result of undissolved solids in the water. However, not all undissolved solids will cause cloudiness. Water with high turbidity makes most people avoid using it because it gives the appearance of not being clean or pure.
Alongside cloudiness is the water’s color, which is separated into apparent color and true color. Apparent color is the way it looks before running it through a filter to remove undissolved solids. This is more of an aesthetic issue that affects desirability but does not have much to do with health implications.
Taste and odor are two other factors that come to mind when considering whether to use your water. If your water has even a tinge of color or if it smells bad, you’re not going to want to drink it, leaving you purchasing bottled water or risking dehydration.
The Chemical Factor
When you hear about the chemical factor, you may think of chemical contaminants in your water, and this is part of the discussion. However, the reason the chemical contaminants are important is because of what they do to the chemical makeup of the water. This is really the focus for scientists working on water quality.
The first area of discussion for water’s chemical makeup is its pH level. As you may remember from high school chemistry class, pH is the measure of a solution’s acidity or alkalinity. The range considered safe for human consumption is between 6.5 and 8.5, with 7 considered neutral. Standard rainwater usually has a pH of around 5.6 due to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Your water can cause harm to your home, your family and pets, and your lawn and plants when it becomes too acidic or alkaline. There are controllable variables that affect your water’s pH level. We already mentioned how carbon dioxide can make water more acidic, but so can mineral acids and hydrolyzed salts. Conversely, alkalinity in water is commonly caused by hydroxide ions, carbonate ions, and bicarbonate ions.
The other chemical factor most people are at least vaguely familiar with is hardness. Most people tend to notice when they’re using hard water versus softened water, especially when doing dishes or bathing. Hardness refers to the amount of dissolved minerals in the water. The minerals most commonly found in high concentrations are calcium and magnesium. There are also two types of hardness: temporary and permanent. Permanent hardness is what remains in the water after boiling, and it’s usually caused by sulfates and chlorides. Boiling will remove temporary hardness, which is often caused by carbonates and bicarbonates.
Finally, you have the chemicals added to the water, either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional water contamination comes from spills, dumping, and runoff that makes its way into the water supply. However, there’s also intentional chemical alteration from an effort to disinfect the water of biological contaminants. This is usually an infusion of chlorine or chloramine. Although they accomplish the desired goal, these chemicals may make the water less desirable due to the smell and taste. Further, they can cause problems ranging from dry skin to diarrhea, stomachaches, and vomiting when the concentrations are too high.
The Biological Factor
The biological factor refers to various organisms that live in the water. Most people may think of harmful bacteria and viruses, but it doesn’t stop there. There are also protozoa, algae, and coliform organisms.
Bacteria are arguably one of the most important variables to control in residential water. The pipes serving your home must maintain a certain pressure to reduce the risk of bacterial proliferation. This is why you may receive a boil-water notice if the pressure in your municipal system drops for some reason. Bacteria are responsible for several waterborne diseases, including the following.
- Typhoid and paratyphoid fever
Along with bacteria, viruses are among the top concerns for water treatment plans. Waterborne pathogens cause diseases such as hepatitis and poliomyelitis, both of which can produce significant long-term impairment such as liver damage and damage to the nervous system. Viruses are small enough to flow through most filters, often requiring chemical disinfection to prevent widespread infections.
Algae is primarily considered a nuisance contaminant, giving the water a bad taste and odor. However, some strains are problematic, such as blue-green algae, which can harm some animals.
Finally, protozoa perform a vital role in natural bodies of water as they feed on organic particles, algae, and bacteria. Multicellular aquatic animals then feed on protozoa. In some cases, protozoa cause diseases like malaria, giardia, and toxoplasmosis. Unfortunately, protozoa are resistant to many disinfecting agents used in municipal water treatment throughout the United States. This makes proper filtering and passive disinfection, such as UV light, critical to dealing with this type of contaminant.
Options for Improving Water Quality
Because of their ready availability and relatively low cost, filters are the first step that most people consider when looking to improve their water quality. The options start with simple gravity-fed filters that sit on your counter or in your fridge. There are also more substantial filtering devices that install in your plumbing system. These include reverse osmosis systems that can remove even small contaminants like viruses.
Installed filters are available in two options: point-of-use and whole-house, also called point-of-entry. Reverse osmosis is at the high end of these filtration systems because of both the installation cost and the cost of replacement filters. For municipal water, you may only need a simple filter that primarily removes chlorine. This type is substantially less expensive.
Water softeners are another very common component of residential filtration. Not only do softeners make water less irritating to your skin, but as they also remove excess minerals from the water. Consequently, they can extend the life of your home’s water appliances.
If you’re concerned about biological contaminants like bacteria and viruses, you may want to consider a UV treatment option. Ultraviolet light, specifically UV-C, damages the microorganisms’ cellular function. This prevents them from growing or replicating. For a virus, it damages the structure of the DNA so that it cannot proliferate once it enters a host organism.
Homeowners looking for home services they can trust around Las Vegas turn to us at BEST Air Conditioning Plumbing Repair. Besides heating and cooling installation, repair, and maintenance, our award-winning team provides a full range of residential plumbing services such as water filtration. Call today to schedule your water quality consultation with one of our trusted plumbers.