This isn’t a post about water conservation

by DaniGirl on November 5, 2010 · 7 comments

in The ongoing saga of the house

Today’s post was supposed to be the next in my fledgling series on accidental environmentalism, and how moving to a well and septic system and a larger plot of land has helped one family become more aware of its environmental footprint.

That was the plan, anyway, until today turned into a panic of messages and service calls. A day does not unfold well when it starts out with you turning on the tap for your 5:45 am shower — and nothing happens. All is well that ends well, though, and water was once again flowing through our taps (and toilets!) by lunchtime. Turns out a $4 switch can subvert $8,000 worth of pumps, pressure tanks and filters. Who knew?

This semi-rural living thing has been an education and a half. Rather than talking about water conservation (and hoo-boy, not having any water AT ALL sure erases any propensity to take your water for granted!) I’ll tell you a little bit about the system we installed, and why I am so pleased with it. When it works.

When we first looked at the house, in addition to the building inspection we paid for a septic inspection and a well inspection. The total cost of the three inspections, which ran concurrently, came to a little less than $1400. And they paid for themselves more than tenfold. If you are even considering buying a house with a well and septic system, DO NOT SKIMP on these costs.

I thought the weak link in the chain would be the 40+ year old septic tank, but it seems to be (touch wood!) glugging along just fine. The building inspection suggested a new roof was in order, and the well inspection opened up a whole cauldron of trouble. Turns out the well construction was grandfathered, and any changes to the system would require that it be brought up to code, which would be about a $4000 expense. The water pressure was horribly low, which would make me insane, so we knew we would at least want a new pump, and the water softener was as old as the house, so it too would likely need to be upgraded. Those two changes would necessitate bringing the well up to code, which meant literally meant bringing it up, so the well head was above ground instead of below.

We had the water quality tested, and though it showed no harmful bacteria, it did show extreme hardness, which refers to the mineral content in the water. Hard water is common to Ottawa, but the well water was hard even by those standards. A new water softener would address that. The testing also showed high iron and sulphur counts. Neither of those is a health issue, but a high iron content leads to rust stains and sulphur gives off that rotten-egg smell and taste — not terribly pleasant. So we ordered a filter to remedy those. And the water as drawn from the well also showed fairly high sodium levels, which was only exacerbated by the sodium used by the water softener to counter the hardness in the water. High sodium levels are not really a problem for cooking or cleaning water, but just as you should monitor your sodium levels in the foods you eat, minimizing the sodium in your drinking water is also a good idea. So, we also invested in a under-the-counter reverse-osmosis unit for the kitchen, which provides a separate spigot with reduced sodium water. We use that spigot for drinking water, coffee, pet water and some cooking. And finally, I grew up in southern Ontario where the Walkerton tragedy is still a current event, so we had a UV backup filter installed to kill any bacteria that might potentially be introduced into the well water at some future date.

Long story a little less long, we haggled on the price of the house until the seller dropped it enough to accommodate the upgrades to the roof and water system, then built that price back into the mortgage through the bank. We now have a brand new roof and the Cadillac of well, pump and filter systems — apparently, at the mercy of a $4 switch, as we found out this morning!

The water? Is awesome. I used to buy Brita filters for my kitchen tap when I was on city water, as I found the taste horrible. Did you know they actually add ammonia to the water? The water through the reverse-osmosis system is divine. And the softened water is so amazing on my hair and skin. I even kind of like the salty taste of the water when I’m showering — reminds me of my friends’ saltwater pools. The only thing that’s a little annoying is that every time you draw water from the reverse-osmosis unit, you can hear it dripping for hours as it fills back up again. It’s a constant trickling sound in the kitchen sink that makes me have to pee!

We still have a little bit more work to do on the pump system. It’s on house power, so if there is a power failure, we lose our water too. We’re getting a small generator to power the pump, and the sump pump. (I need a whole other blog post to tell you what I am continuing to learn — and spend! — with regard to the sump pump.)

So that’s the saga of our new water system, and how we’re learning to live with it. Soon, I’ll get you that post I mentioned about water conservation. And tonight, I will enjoy the shower that I didn’t get to take this morning just a little bit more!


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lee November 5, 2010 at 5:13 pm

So glad you’re back up and running!

Wow, you’ve had to learn so much in such a short time. Glad it’s been worth it!

2 freemommiestuff November 5, 2010 at 7:07 pm

http://bit.ly/4EQ38v This isn’t a post about water conservation: Today’s post was supposed … http://bit.ly/al3AHr http://bit.ly/5bAgvn

3 Sasha November 5, 2010 at 11:23 pm

We moved back to the city a year ago. I have to admit I just wasn’t up for the challenges you’re facing. 
Our first failure was the septic pump. I cried. It’s good to be aware of your environmental footprint, but my awareness of the ‘footprint’ left by sewage seeping into the crawlspace was a leeetle bit too much. 

4 Nat November 6, 2010 at 9:22 pm

We grew up in Aylmer with a septic system and a well, water softener, sump pump, etc. etc. etc. Honestly, keep an eye on your septic tank, a good eye. Seems to me, 90 per cent of the issues with that house were septic/well related. Not for everyone all that.

On the subject of water and conservation and all that, you might want to watch flow. http://www.flowthefilm.com/ Definitely give you a different take on water.

5 stevex November 7, 2010 at 8:56 am

This sounds so familiar. We made a similar move about a year ago. Make sure you add notes to your calendar to replace the RO filters and membrane, UV lamp, and add salt, at the various intervals.

Another thing you could add, since you’re already essentially drinking spring water, is a carbonator. That’s not part of the water system, it’s an appliance you can buy, but it lets you get all the way to Perrier quality sparkling water from your reverse osmosis tap.

I won’t suggest any specific ones lest you think I’m spamming but google for Carbonator (and add Canada since you can’t ship the things across the border thanks to the CO2 tank) and you’ll find some.

6 Jen Hughes November 11, 2010 at 12:07 am

My parents’ water is AWFUL. Their well head is above ground, and they have it tested fairly regularly, but it tastes like sh*te. The sulfur, the iron, the sodium, it’s all there. My mom claims that it’s fine, but she’s obviously just used to it. I’m quite sure they wouldn’t be willing to shell out for the major upgrades at this point though.

When you shower/wash your hands there, it feels like you can’t rinse the soap off. Does that mean it’s hard or soft? I can never figure it out.

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