The picturesque setting of this central Pennsylvania home gave no indication of the trouble lurking below.
Seth Thomas and his wife Sabrina went to an auction a few years ago to buy their retirement home, situated serenely on a hill above a small pond. “With all that clean surface water, and with fish and waterfowl attracted to the property, who would’ve guessed that we’d struggle with the problems we encountered?” he notes.
Four days after moving into the rural “move-in ready” home, the three-acre property’s only working well ran dry. The Thomas’ soon learned the house had a drip well, capable of replenishing water at a rate of a quarter-gallon a minute (15 gallons an hour). That’s not very good.
When they purchased it, they knew the property and home needed work, but they soon learned their expectations weren’t very realistic.
In addition to needing a new roof and siding, insulation, electrical work, septic system and the elimination of all existing HVAC, they took estimates for the complete replacement of plumbing and well water systems.
Water Woes Abound
“The toughest, most difficult to design and install was the water quality system,” Seth Thomas explains. As a recently retired scientist, he takes some pride in his ability to do online research and — when he connects with industry experts on the phone — in challenging them with tough questions.
“When I got the first of several calls from Seth, I knew I was dealing with a very bright guy who wanted straight answers,” says Ryan Lessing, a water quality expert from Watts who works out of the company’s office in San Antonio. “Seth had a lot of issues going on below ground at the new property.
“It’s surrounded on three sides by a large dairy farm in operation for 50 years or more,” he continues. “So when I saw that the main well had high nitrates and was inundated with coliform bacteria, I was glad to hear that, in addition to two sediment filters, they had a UV light in place. They also had unusual hardness but no type of [water] softener.”
The Thomas’ water quantity problem had to be solved, too, so they brought in a well driller to drill a new well.
New Well, New Issues
While the new 650-foot well was a lot deeper than the original 300-foot one, it presented some unique problems of its own. The new well couldn’t quite sustain a gallon a minute and produced water with a sulfur-rich, rotten-egg smell indicating a high volume of hydrogen sulfide, as well as a type of bacteria that thrives in it.
“What became quickly apparent to me was the Thomas’ issues were unusual in that they had distinctly different problems to deal with on the same small property — different bacteria, unusual hardness, nitrates and hydrogen sulfide — and it was a home, not a commercial enterprise that could simply sink loads of money into solving water quality issues,” Lessing notes.
Sadly, the Thomas’ began to regret purchasing the property, chiefly because of the hopelessness that Sabrina Thomas began to express at the multitude of problems they encountered with the poor quality of water below the ground.
But this only pushed her husband harder. They’d already invested heavily in the home and property. They couldn’t let water be their undoing.
“One thing Seth learned during his months of research was that the adage, ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way,’ usually applies to water problems,” Lessing adds. “There’s an incredibly wide range of water quality technology available today, all specifically designed to handle water quality issues, and Seth was diving deeper into solutions.”
“He was a man on a mission,” Sabrina Thomas says. “Thank goodness he found Ryan [Lessing] and Vince [Youndt]; the three of them designed a system to solve our problems affordably. Seth assured me we could keep the house; the mechanical equipment needed to fix the problem was realistic and wouldn’t wipe out our savings.”
Vince Youndt owns Vertex Mechanical, a full-service plumbing and mechanical contracting firm based in Stevens, Pa. Youndt knew the Thomas’ from work performed at their previous home.
“Unfortunately, it’s no longer uncommon to find homes with multiple water quality issues,” Youndt notes. “But I can say for sure that the solution we found for the Thomas’ is one we’re sure to repeat for other home or business owners.”
Research and several conversations with Lessing and Youndt led Seth Thomas to solutions consisting of a Stenner chlorine dosing system, a Watts OneFlow anti-scale system, a Watts SmartStream ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection system, a Watts charcoal filtration system and a point-of-use reverse osmosis system in the kitchen. (See Figure 1.)
The most important facet of the antimicrobial water treatment system is the UV disinfection technology. UV systems are highly effective in the war against water-borne, chlorine-resistant protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium that cause gastric illnesses; bacteria such as coliform, E. coli and salmonella; and other viruses and parasites. They require no backwashing, no chemicals and minimal maintenance.
“I especially appreciate the [SmartStream’s] auto lamp dimming function which reduces the unit’s energy consumption [during standby, no-flow periods] by almost 50 percent,” Seth Thomas says. “And, because I monitor and maintain the systems, I like the touch-screen diagnostics to quickly provide information such as remaining lamp life.”
TAC: Alternative to Softening
The home’s water hardness also needed to be treated, he adds. However, a standard water softening system wouldn’t do because of the need for constant backwashing. “With our water problems, I wasn’t about to use a high volume of water for that,” Thomas explains.
Other issues cited by the Thomas’ would be the expense of salt for a softening system and then the steady infusion of salt into the home’s small septic field.
“We didn’t want any of that, if it could be helped,” said Sabrina. “So when we learned that the OneFlow would treat the water, to prevent lime scale buildup, without using salt and lots of water for backwashing, and doesn’t even require electricity, we were interested.”
OneFlow equipment, also known as TAC (template-assisted crystallization) technology, comes in a wide range of sizes (0.5 to 450 gallons/minute) and has broad applicability for the residential and commercial markets, Lessing notes. It’s become a strong alternative to salt-based water softening for scale prevention. The technology falls into a category of water treatment often referred to as physical water treatment.
TAC media consists of small polymeric beads with an external coating. The technology influences the water solution on the media surface such that hardness ions and their counter-ions (bicarbonate) combine to form inert, microscopic “seed crystals.”
The volume of seed crystals provides an enormous area for growth of remaining hardness ions still in solution. When the remaining dissolved ions reach their solubility shift, they attach to the seed crystals and continue harmlessly downstream, eventually to be consumed or slip down the drain.
“The science behind all this equipment is fascinating,” Seth Thomas says. “But equally cool for us is, with Ryan and Vince, we found a water treatment recipe for our home that makes such good sense.”
It was on a winter day earlier this year that two Vertex technicians, Jared Fox and Mike Elmer, went to the Thomas’ house to install the equipment. “It was a bit tight in the mechanical room, but we found a way to accomplish it,” Elmer says.
Sabrina Thomas notes: “Best of all, with the treatment system in place, we can now drink water right out of the ground with no concerns. The water quality below the ground looks just as nice as the water in the creek.”