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Water Treatment Specialist Leaves Homeowner Confused!


Question: From Tim
Rockville, Nova Scotia

We bought an old home in Rockville, Nova Scotia, just outside Yarmouth. Our well water passed the bacteria tests but still had a powerful smell, especially the hot water, and was looking a little brown and staining the toilets and bath tub.

We called in a water treatment specialist and he changed the 20” inline filter and generally cleaned up the system of pipes attached to the various components with what seemed like miraculous success.

That was 2 months ago. The water now has the same smell and colouring again.

I changed the filter and the smell went away. While changing the filter I noticed that the filter unit is installed between the pressurized holding tank and the water softener.

Two separate people I have since talked to suggest the filter should be after the water softener before the water is distributed to the entire house.

When I questioned
the water treatment specialist about this, his explanation was that the well water would quickly destroy the water softener if it wasn’t filtered first.

Colleen, I am confused and not too excited about the possibility of having to pay $50 every two months for a new filter.


Colleen’s Response

Hi Tim… thank-you for connecting with me Tim! I can help walk you through this, this certainly sounds like it’s been a little frustrating for you but I think I can paint a much brighter picture. Water systems and water treatment issues can certainly add some grief to one’s life if not operating properly.

Tim the very first thing I would be doing is cleaning the well, it should be disinfected regardless of whether you have a biological issue or not. You would be amazed at what a difference that the shocking / disinfecting and pumping of your well will make… In fact I’ve seen the procedure almost eliminate odors from well water. Although your water test suggests that there is no coliform fecal or E. coli what about your heterotrophic plate count? Those can be gas producing bacteria / anaerobic and definitely cause odor. Although it sounds like you’re dealing with an H2S (hydrogen sulfide gas) issue and perhaps not a severe one if your 20 inch cartridges holding for two months.

So first… you need to consider having the well cleaned. Then step two is to have the water chemistry analyzed. The lab will provide you with a full report, once you have a full report of the chemistry you can then assess the complete picture. Until that time it’s really not possible to give you good advice… I would never make it a practice to advise anyone on water chemistry without a lab report.

I’m assuming that your 20 inch cartridge filter is some kind of a carbon or activated carbon filter as a sediment filter would not subdue odor at all. Yes they will get a little pricey to change out every couple months… Not an ideal situation at all. Initially yes maybe a cheap fix… long-term costly and ineffective!  In your case Tim, you are likely running a 20″ carbon filter and initially it deals with the odor quite nicely.  But carbon works on the absorption principle… Kind of like a sponge, when it is saturated it is spent.  So as the quality of the filter reduces and the saturation increases the odor begins to return.  It will be an ongoing issue for sure!

I typically wouldn’t put a cartridge water filter in front of much of anything… They’re not as efficient as a mechanical filter, they lack capacity, they are costly, they do add additional water system maintenance, they certainly can become a water contamination issue and a breeding ground for bacteria on raw water and they can become a real bottleneck in your water system. Once they exceed a 20 pound differential you will reduce flow and begin to notice pressure loss. But look on the bright side at least you’re running a 20 inch and not a 10 inch… I see that all the time in my area.

If you are dealing with hydrogen sulfide gas which sounds like it may be the case it will be more noticeable on the hot water side for sure… It may also be seasonal and more noticeable in the cold water at certain times. Nonetheless it sounds like you have an older home and more than likely not a brand-new hot water tank. I have also found that changing out the anode in the hot water tank will be very helpful. Anodes are sacrificial that’s why they are installed… In this case you have too many other issues to consider long before you start worrying about anodes. But if you do ever replace an anode please make sure that it is for H2S water… I believe they are zinc and that makes the difference compared to the regular stock anode. If so by chance your hot water tank is brand-new you would definitely want to take a look at the anode issue!

H2S water should not be directly in contact with a water softener, H2S also known as hydrogen sulfide gas is corrosive. It will eventually damage the water conditioning resin, if it’s an old water conditioner the resin may not be in very good condition anyway. But your treatment specialist is correct… The conditioning of the water should more or less be a final stage if there are other water chemistry issues that should be managed first. If there’s H2S in the water it should be knocked out through treatment prior to conditioning. But again Tim we would want to have a good look at the chemistry so we can advise on the best system for this application…. there are many variables.

What you need to know is that water treatment is designed for the water chemistry not the other way around. But to begin with maintenance is the most important thing you can do Tim, when you said the water treatment specialists cleaned up the system I would be more impressed if you told me he had cleaned up the well… it’s the well that’s causing the system to be dirty not the other way around. I would apply and run chlorine through the well and heavily recirculate for a number of hours, I would then take the chlorine through all the lines and the pressure system all the way through every faucet in the home.

Then we need to  leave the entire system in contact with the chlorine for at least 10-12 hours. The next day I would begin recirculation of the well again and pump the system off for a number of hours until we have the chlorine residual reduced to a satisfactory level. Depending on the history of your hot water tank I may or may not tackle it with chlorine, it’s not always a good idea for a number of reasons.

Tim it’s important that before well disinfection takes place that the 20 inch cartridge filter is removed from the housing and the water conditioner needs to be put into bypass. You do not want to run chlorinated water into your water conditioner… Ever! Guaranteed you will fry the resin!

For the well disinfection procedure to be effective we need to run high levels of chlorine… Typically I run as high as 200 ppm, this is not work that should be done by an amateur but by someone who is knowledgeable and preferably with some kind of certification. But bare in mind that you may have an expert in your area who has done this work for a very long time and who is very experienced without a formal certification. I highly advise homeowners to not disinfect their own wells… I have seen a large number of problems as a result over the years… you really need to know what you’re doing!

After all the chlorine is cleared from the system, I would put the well back into service and would not replace the 20 inch cartridge, just operate with an empty housing. After 10 days go ahead and bypass the water conditioner again and take a water sample to the lab for a full water chemistry report. After you’ve taken the water sample go ahead and put your conditioner back in service but leave the 20 inch cartridge empty and monitor the odor. You may notice that the cleaning of the well greatly reduces or eliminates the hydrogen sulfide gas odor… If not then your water treatment should be designed and configured based on the results of the lab report… You mentioned staining, which is likely the result of iron, manganese or both. Again if the well is dirty then cleaning the well may significantly reduce the staining as well… Especially if it’s low-level staining.

Of course the water treatment system should also be designed based on your flow rate and pump capacity… If you bring an expert in to disinfectant and clean your water well, ask him to do also do a flow rate of both the well and your pump if possible. The other question I would have for you is to you have a well log… Also no one as a drilling report? What do you know about your water well? I always take the time I’m spending on a well as an opportunity to learn more about the system, I always run a flow rate test at the same time… I can learn everything about the system generally in just a few hours. If there is no well log available I will always provide a report so the homeowner has something for the future if needed.

I hope this is helpful Tim and not confused to any further. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do… You can always post in comments as I encourage it.



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