Water quality and plumbing: Making an informed choice
We Australians enjoy well developed and highly safe water treatment and distribution systems. With a heritage spanning decades of standardisation of water treatment, we can be confident in the water quality supplied to our homes. Such high accolades, however, cannot always be applied to the private water distribution in residential homes. The plumbing in our homes is both varied and specific to each house. Residential plumbing has a significant effect on quality of water at our taps.
Water quality issues include build-up of metals, contaminants, sediments and bacteria. The key metal that poses a health risk is lead. The taste, colour and aroma of water are other factors of quality.
We explore key areas of plumbing that raise water quality issues as well as other aspects of retaining the appropriate water quality.
An area that is easy to overlook, since it’s literally buried away, is your service pipe. This is the pipe that connects your house to the main public supply pipe. The service pipe is owned by the homeowner but in some instances the water utility company is responsible for maintaining and replacing it. Service pipes are a known a lead source for older houses and installations which used lead service pipes. Contact your water utility company to find out the state of your service pipe. Old service pipes made of lead should be replaced. If the maintenance of the pipe is within your domain, seek the advice of qualified plumbers on its maintenance and replacement.
Galvanised plumbing belongs to a bygone era. Widely installed during the 1960s, this old plumbing is catastrophic to the water quality in homes. Over the course of time corrosion and scale build-up in the pipes. You can attribute some of these water quality problems to old galvanised plumbing:
- Discoloured water. Colours may range from Red, Brown, Orange and Yellow.
- Water pressure issues.
- Lead contamination. Lead accumulates in the corroded walls of galvanised pipes. It is released to your water even after the original lead source, such as a lead service pipe, has been removed.
Galvanised plumbing, and by extension, lead plumbing, is easy to identify. Galvanised plumbing has a dull gray exterior. Since it’s made of steel, magnets will stick to it. Lead plumbing has a dull, silver gray appearance that easily reveals when scratched. Unlike galvanised pipes, magnets do not stick to lead.
Galvanised plumbing should be replaced. Consult a plumber for an assessment and expert advice.
Replacement of galvanised pipes may not be an option. In such cases, a water filtration device is recommended to remove potential lead in drinking water. Water filters come in various shapes and style. A water filter removes contaminants from the water, reduces odour and improves taste. Use water filters that have been independently certified as meeting all quality standards.
The water from the water utility company is rigorously tested for quality. It’s not a necessity to have a water filter in all homes. Only houses which have galvanised plumbing and might have had lead service lines are recommended to use one. Consider the cost and maintenance needed for a water filter before opting to use one. Over time, a filter will accumulate metals and bacteria and its cartridges will need to be periodically replaced.
Filters are also being used in showers. These shower filters are designed to remove chlorine from bathing water due to the health issues associated with chlorine entering our bodies. We are at higher exposure level to chlorine while taking showers.
Another alternative to sourcing quality water is bottled water. A lot of questions arise about the differentiation of tap water and bottled water. Most of the water sold as bottled springs from the same source as tap water. Is it safer? Manufacturers would argue yes, since the processes it undergoes before it is sold assures its quality. Others, including environmentalist, argue that the environmental impact of plastic bottles and exposure to chemicals in recycled plastic nullifies the water safe argument from manufacturers. Also, the industrial process bottled water undergoes removes important trace minerals found in tap water. Bottled water is expensive compare to bottled water.
Bottled water has its pros and cons. Tap water that has undergone proper filtration however is a better alternative to bottled water.
Basic maintenance to improve water quality
You should take a proactive approach when dealing with water quality issues in your home. Quite a number of measures are available to you. Most of these revolve around having a good maintenance routine. Some of the recommended actions as well as handy tips to undertake are highlighted below:
- Avoid using hot tap water for drinking and cooking. Hot water readily dissolves contaminants, metals and sediments from your water heaters.
- Consider draining your water heater at least once annually. Build-up of sediments, metals and contaminants occurs in your water heater.
- If you haven’t used your tap for several hours, run the tap for two to three minutes before using it. The simple reason for doing this is water that stays in your pipes for long durations slowly loses it quality.
- Water filter cartridges need to be periodically replaced. The manufacturer of your cartridges can provide instructions on doing this.
- Strainers of aerators located at the tip of your faucets collect particles and sediments over time. Clean them routinely. Damaged strainers should be replaced.
- Flush taps using cold water after installing new plumbing. Its recommended to do this for five minutes over a duration of three days.
Water quality issues at you home can be fixed with the right advice and action. We offer specialized plumbing solutions designed to deliver the best plumbing that addresses water quality issues borne from residential plumbing.