Home / Writings / Our Water Treatment System

Our Water Treatment System


The water which naturally comes out of the ground at our house is deep red-brown. Like this:


Natural color of water from the ground:


Needless to say, it takes considerable amounts of processing to get this water to look clear and taste good. This document describes the processing and goes, step-by-step through all of the maintenance required to keep it up and running.


Components of the System


The following picture shows all of the components of the water treatment system:



water tank - A tank of water with a big rubber balloon. As water is pumped into the tank, the balloon shrinks and increases the water pressure in the tank, and by extension, the water pressure in all of the pipes in the house.

water pump - pumps water from the well outside the house into the water tank. Is controlled by the water pressure valve (i.e. when the water pressure is too low, the pump is switched on).

water pressure valve - measures the water pressure in the system and automatically turns on the pump when it gets too low, and then turns off the pump when it gets too high. (the valves look rusty and prone to failure, probably best not to touch them)

sediment filter - holds a big fiber filter which sifts out the worst of the sediment and the largest iron particles from the water. The primary purpose of the sediment filter is to save wear and tear on the valves inside the neutralizer and the softener.

neutralizer tank - holds the neutralizer mineral which "neutralizes" the PH balance of the water. Specifically, this tank neutralizes the acids in the water. Without this, the acidic water would eat away at the pipes (very bad).

neutralizer controls - control when (i.e. what time of night) and how frequently (i.e. how many times a week) the neutralizer back-flushes to clean the neutralizer tank.

softener controls and tank - the purpose of the softener is to remove iron from the water, turning it from unpleasant "hard" water to much more pleasant "soft" water. This is done by minerals in the tank that need to be cleansed every couple of days. The softener controls when (what time of night) and how frequently (how many times a week) the softener is back-flushed to flush out the trapped iron. Trapped iron is flushed into the septic tank.

salt tank - holds solar salt (pebble-sized rock salt crystals) which is used to create salt water. When the water softener needs to clean itself, it uses salt water to wash it's minerals. This "back-flushing" with salt water washes away the accumulated iron which then goes into the septic tank. Inside the salt tank you will find a small plastic tank which contains "ResUp", also known as "mineral reactivator". This blue chemical helps the salt to do a better job when flushing out the water softener.

chemical mixer - mixes a small amount of chlorine from the chemical tank into the water supply. Chlorine is used to take out any stale "rotten egg" smell which might be in the water, and to increase the PH of the water very slightly.

chemical feed pump - pumps the (diluted) chlorine from the chemical tank to the chemical mixer. It is controlled by the water usage meter.

chemical tank - holds diluted chlorine (basically diluted bleach). The chemical pump on the top of the tank pumps the chlorine to the chemical mixer where it is added to the house water.

water usage meter - measures the amount of water used. The primary purpose of the meter is to signal the chemical feed pump to inject more chemical as needed (although it can also be used to see how much water you're using).

drinking water filters - these filter the water, yet again, through a series of carbon and fiber filters to achieve the highest possible purity.

drinking water tank - a small water tank specifically for the drinking water. This tank creates the pressure for the drinking water line.


Water flow diagram

The following diagrams shows the basic components of the water treatment system and how they are interconnected.



how water flows through water treatment

Setting the Controls (whenever power goes out):


Whenever the power goes out in the house (for more than a minute or two), you should check the settings of the water system controls.


Water Softener:


The water softener uses electronic controls to view and manipulate all of its settings. The control box looks like this:

When idle, the display should show the current time-of-day.

to set a new time-of-day:

  1. press "status" to enter command mode
  2. you should see "tod" (time-of-day), wait for a second and the hours will flash
  3. press "+" or "-" to set the current hour, and then press "regen" to advance to minutes
  4. press "+" or "-" to set the current minute
  5. press "status" until you see a blank screen, then press one more time to save your settings

Every other night or so, the water softener needs to cleanse the iron from its filters. This is called "regeneration" and it needs salt water in order to do this properly. Unfortunately, while the softener is regenerating, only hard water is available, so you will probably want it to regenerate late at night, when people are least likely to be using water.

to set the regeneration time:

  1. press "status" to enter command mode
  2. press "status" a second time until you see "tor" (time-of-regeneration)
  3. wait for a second until the time starts to flash
  4. press "+" or "-" to set the current hour, and then press "regen"
  5. press "+" or "-" to set the current minute
  6. press "status" until you see a blank screen, then press one more time to save your settings



The neutralizer is responsible for balancing the PH in your system, essentially neutralizing acids that may be in your water. Since acid can eat away at your pipes, it is very important that the neutralizer run smoothly.

Although it needs to run less frequently, the neutralizer has to cleanse its mineral tank periodically, probably once every second or third day. For this reason, you will need to set the "time-of-day" and "time-of-regeneration" on the neutralizer controls.

The neutralizer controls are mechanical instead of electronic:


setting the time-of-day - lift the entire time dial out (the white dial as well as the grey mechanism behind it) and then rotate it until the current time arrow (the grey teardrop, see above) is pointing to the correct time.

setting the regeneration time - gently twist the white dial (the time dial) until the desired regeneration time is opposite the little grey post (see picture, above). Note that black = PM and white = AM. In order for this to work, you may need to loosen the screw on the face of the dial (and then tighten it after the adjustment is complete)

setting regeneration frequency - To set the frequency of regeneration, push in or pull out the small metal tabs in the regeneration frequency dial (see above). If you want to regenerate every day, push in all of the tabs. For ever other day, pull out every other tab, and so on. Which setting should you use? Probably every other day is fine. You would need to use a water test kit to exactly determine the proper setting.


Replacing Salt (every 2-3 weeks or so):

Every other week you should check that the salt tank has enough salt in it. If there's not enough salt, then the water softener can not create salt water to wash away the iron. When this happens, your water will get hard (and you may start seeing iron stains on toilet bowls, etc.).

The inside of the salt tank looks like this:

The tank above is very low on salt. Purchase bags of solar salt (usually in blue or white bags) from any local hardware store and simply pour the salt into the tank until it is full. It may take 5-6 bags to completely fill a tank if it is very low (checking it frequently will prevent this from happening).

You should also make sure that the "mineral reactivator" tank is full. Mineral reactivator can be found in bottles which look like this:

I'm not sure how it works, but the reactivator is supposed to help the salt do a better job whenever the water softener needs to be cleansed. Pour the reactivator into the plastic tank (see above) until it reaches the fill line.

Replacing the Sediment Filter (once a month):

Once a month you should replace the sediment filter. Since the water is so nasty, the sediment filter fills up very quickly. If you leave the sediment filter in the system for too long, then eventually sediment will get through and start to wear away at the internal moving parts of the neutralizer and softener. You may also experience a drop in water pressure (since the filter is clogged).

The following is a close-up view of the sediment filter (called the "Big Blue", by the way):


Steps to replace the sediment filter:

Step 1: Turn off the water by turning the shut-off valve to off. For all such valves, when the valve runs along the length of the pipe, the water flow is on. When the valve is perpendicular to the pipe, the water flow is off. For example:



water valve is ON

(water is flowing through the pipe)

water valve is OFF

(water can not flow through the pipe)

Step 2: Go to the sink (easiest one is in the basement storage area) and turn on the water to reduce the water pressure in the system. This prevents you from getting sprayed with water when you unscrew the holder. If there is a bucket handy, you may wish to save this water for Step 7, below.

Step 3: Press the pressure release button to release any pressure which may be built up in the sediment filter. This makes it easier to remove the holder. You may want to keep pressing this button as you do Step 4.

Step 4: Using the filter wrench (see picture), unscrew the filter holder. The filter wrench will need to be moved from right to left to remove the filter holder (going in the other direction will cause it to tighten rather than loosen).

Watch out for water! Water will spill out of the filter holder as you loosen it. There is a blue plastic tub in the water closet which you can use to catch water from the filter.

Step 5: Once the filter holder is loose, remove the wrench and then unscrew the blue holder the rest of the way by hand.

Step 6: Take the blue holder to the basement sink. Remove the old sediment filter (the fibrous cylinder inside the holder) and discard it. Usually I will set the filter into one of the basement sinks to drain and dry off before I actually throw it away.

Step 7: Wash out the blue filter holder as best you can (hard to do since the water is off - see Step 2 above).

Step 8: Replace the sediment filter. New sediment filters look like this:


Note Well: Remove the plastic covering on the sediment filter and discard.

Also Note Well: Be sure to remove the paper label! (I neglected to do this once, the filter didn't work too good, and we had low water pressure for a month).

Step 9: The top of the filter holder has a rubber O-ring. If this O-ring looks dry or dirty, you may wish to clean it and smear some Vaseline onto it to make a better seal.

Step 10: Screw the filter holder back on.

Step 11: Use the filter wrench to make sure the filter holder is nice and snug (but don't go overboard on tightening it).

Step 12: Turn the water back on by turning the shut-off valve back to on.

Step 13: Carefully check around the edges of the filter holder that there are no leaks. If there are leaks, turn off the water, remove the holder, and check that the O-ring (see step 9 above) is clean and moist. You may also want to clean the inside of the filter cap (the black part attached to the wall).

Step 14: Cleanup: empty the water in the blue plastic tub into the sink.

Adding Chemical (every 6-8 months):

After neutralizing and softening, the water may have a very slight odor to it. In order to remove this odor, a very small amount of chlorine is added to the water.

The chlorine is stored in a large white-plastic tank in a highly diluted form. Every so often, a small amount of this chlorine solution is injected into and mixed with the water as it flows into the house. The water usage meter controls how often this occurs.

The chemical pump is the black box that's attached to the lid of the chemical tank. It is a "diaphragm impulse pump". This means that the pump has a rubber diaphragm that moves back and forth (electrically) whenever a shot of chemical needs to be added to the water supply. Special fittings on the input and output of the pump are one-way valves (called 'check valves'), which only allow water to flow in one direction. So, when the diaphragm pulls in, water is drawn in from the chemical tank, and when it relaxes back, water is pumped out to the house.

Unfortunately, the problem with a diaphragm impulse pump is that it only works when the diaphragm can pump against liquid. If the interior cavity of the pump is full of air, the pump will not work at all -- and in this case you will need to open up the pump, fill the interior cavity with water, and then close it up again.

So, try and refill the chemical tank before it has gone completely dry. First, this is better for the pump (the diaphragm should always stay wet, if possible). Second, it means that you are less likely to have problems with air inside the pump.

Refilling the Chemical Tank:

Step 1: Add three (3) pints of sodium hypochlorite to the tank. Generally, I like the solution to be a tad stronger than what is listed on the label on the front of the tank.


sodium hypochlorite
(in a half-gallon container)

water jug used to measure out the proper amount of chlorine to be added to the water

Step 2: There should be a garden hose already coiled up in the water closet (if not, fetch one from the garage). Attach the garden hose to one of the faucets after the water filtration system, i.e. right before the water goes to the rest of the house, so that you'll have clean water with which to dilute the chlorine.


Step 3: Fill the chemical tank with water, to within a couple of inches of the top. Make sure that the chlorine is well mixed with the water. If you want, use the plastic pipe (should be behind the chemical tank) to mix the water further.

Step 4: Test that the pump is not "dry", using the following procedure. Also, if there is a small amount of air in the pump, the following procedure will take care of it.

The procedure is as follows:

a.                Open the bypass valve at the top of the water pump (see the close up picture of the pump above), until it is about two-thirds of the way open.

b.                Remove the usage meter control wire from the front of the pump.

c.                Press and hold the manual pump switch. The pump should start pumping (if not, check that the power cord is plugged in correctly).

d.                After a while, water should start flowing out of the bypass tube and back into the chemical tank. If not, you will need to manually prime the pump (go to step 5).

e.                Close the bypass valve.

f.                 Reconnect the usage meter control wire to the front of the pump.

g.               You are done!

Step 5: If the pump is completely dry, then you will need to manually prime the pump. This means dribbling water into the interior pump cavity so that the pump will have some fluids to operate on.

The procedure is as follows:

a.                Unscrew the pump output valve from the pump. This is tricky because all of the tubing gets in the way (sometimes I have to actually turn the pump itself, in the opposite direction).

b.                Look down into the pump. With a cup of water (or something), dribble water down into the pump cavity until it is full.

c.                Tap the pump to make sure you have gotten all of the air out of the cavity. If not, add more water.

d.                Screw the pump output valve back onto the pump.

e.                Repeat step 4 to verify that the pump is now operating properly.


If You Smell Chlorine in Your Water

then turn down the pump volume control.

However, you do not want the volume control to read less than '50', or (according to the manual) the pump efficiency will be compromised.

So, if you still smell chlorine in your water and the control is already at '50', dilute the chlorine in the tank by adding more water instead.

Replenishing Supplies:

The salt, mineral reactivator, sodium hypochlorite, and "Big Blue" filters will all need to be periodically replenished.

salt - purchase from any hardware store (for example, Ace Hardware on forest drive)

everything else - purchase from the Culligan store (south on route 2, just south of the Taco Bell)

Repacking the neutralizer and softener (every 2 years):

The minerals in the neutralizer and softener need to be replenished every couple of years or so. Unfortunately, this can only be done by a certified technician.

So, if you feel it's been a couple of years since the neutralizer and softener have been professionally maintained, call a service person to replenish the minerals in these units. Sometimes this is called "repacking" the units.

Water Testing / Troubleshooting

Water testing kits are available and can be used to see if your water quality falls within acceptable parameters. You can test the water yourself, or call a professional in to do it.

small deviations in PH - can usually be handled by adjusting the amount of chlorine which is injected into the system (the volume control knob), or by adjusting how much water is added to the solution in the chemical tank.

large problems in PH - usually means that the neutralizer is not working well. Try increasing the frequency with which the neutralizer is regenerated (i.e. cleansed), OR have the neutralizer serviced to replenish the minerals it contains.

too much iron - increase the frequency that the softener regenerates, increase the salt dosage of regeneration, OR have the unit serviced.

too little water pressure - replace the sediment filter.

smell of chlorine in the water - dial down the volume dial on the front of the chemical pump, OR add water to the chemical tank to dilute the chlorine mixture.

unpleasant smells in the water - increase the volume dial on the front of the chemical pump, OR add chlorine to the chemical tank to make a more concentrated mixture (and check that the chemical tank is not empty, of course).

Replacing the Drinking Water Filters:

Depending on how much drinking water you have every day, you will likely need to replace the drinking water filters. You should call a professional to do this.

You will know that the filters need to be replaced when the water pressure in the drinking line (the water from the refrigerator upstairs) gets too low.

Emergency or Abnormal Situations:

Sometimes you will need to shut off the water in the system, for example if something somewhere springs a leak. There are many valves available for this.



shutting off the water

There are two valves for shutting off the main water supply. They are shown above as the "main water shutoff valve" and the "secondary water shutoff valve".

bypassing the water treatment system

Technically it is possible to bypass all of the water treatment systems and to have raw water flow through the house.


The raw water is unusable and will stain everything. It is better to shut off the water than to use untreated water. Seriously.

shutting off the water pump

If there is a leak in the pump mechanism itself, then shut off the power switch to the pump, in addition to shutting off the main valves.

bypassing the neutralizer

The neutralizer can be easily bypassed by simply pressing the red button at the back of the controls. This is OK to do for short periods of time. It means that excess acid will be flowing through the pipes, which, over time, will eat them away.