Plumbing Improvements: Tying in Water Softeners and Filters

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Chemicals in water—a nemesis of homeowners—can be both a nuisance and a hazard, especially when they leave mineral deposits in supply pipes, give water an unpleasant taste and smell, leave a hard-water ring around the tub, and cause health problems. Tap water that contains rust, chlorine, sulfur, or other unwanted substances may need to be treated with a water softener or purified with a water filter.

Softening your water

All water softeners operate by substituting sodium (salt) for calcium, magnesium, or iron, any of which can cause hard water. A water softener not only eliminates soap scum but also pre vents the buildup of harmful minerals in such water-using appliances as water heaters.

But adding sodium to the water supply can be a potential health problem for people who need to restrict their intake of salt. One way to avoid this problem is to hook up the softener only to the hot water pipes—those used for bathing and washing.

The softening unit attaches to the main supply pipe just past the point where the water enters the house. To install the unit, you’ll need to tap into the main supply pipe in one of two places. You can either install the softener before the hot and cold water pipes branch off, so that all the water is softened, or you can install it only on the hot water pipe, a health-wise decision. In either case, check local codes for extending piping (see “The planning sequence”). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for in stalling the softener.

Purifying your water

The various types of water purifiers on the market today are each effective against different kinds of contaminants. The three main types are distillers, activated carbon filters, and reverse-osmosis purifiers. A fourth type of water treatment—ultraviolet—is sometimes incorporated into a system to kill microorganisms.


Ill. 66. Countertop distillers boil water, turning it to steam. Cooling vapor condenses and is stored as clean water in a separate chamber.

Distillers. Distillers kill bacteria and remove such minerals as magnesium and calcium. But they do not remove contaminants that evaporate with water, such as solvents, pesticides, and gases.

Most distillers are containers that sit on the countertop (see Ill. 66). You fill the distiller with water, which is then boiled, causing steam to rise. The steam condenses and collects in a separate chamber. You pour or pump out the purified water when you need it.

Most distillers are portable and don’t require a plumbing hookup. How ever, they have some important disadvantages: For each gallon of clean water they produce, distillers can consume up to 3½ kilowatt hours of electricity and take up to 5 hours to complete the job.

Activated carbon filters. As water passes through an activated carbon filter, solid particles, some organic contaminants, and inorganic chemicals are captured and held. But carbon filters don’t remove dissolved solids or bacteria. In fact, they can incubate bacteria, which means that filter cartridges must be replaced at least twice a year, depending on use.

If a filter sits unused for more than a few days—such as while you’re on vacation—always let the water run to purge bacteria.

Carbon filters come in several styles: beneath-the-counter, countertop, and faucet mounted. Because a car bon filter’s effectiveness is directly related to the amount of activated char coal it contains, small, faucet-end models are relatively ineffective.


Ill. 67. Carbon filter installation depends on whether the water supply pipe is horizontal (A) or vertical (B). Installing two gate valves allows you to shut off the water supply and control backflow when you change the filter core.

Carbon filters are tied directly into the plumbing, usually beneath the kitchen sink, and don’t require any electricity. When it’s time to change the filter core, you simply close the gate valves to shut off the water, unscrew the filter body from the cap, and re place the used filter with a new one.

Because the filter must be installed in an upright position, the installation method depends on whether you’re tying into a horizontal or vertical line.

+ Installing in a horizontal pipe. To attach a water filter to a horizontal pipe (see Ill. 67A), cut out a length of pipe where the filter will be installed. Thread a gate valve onto a nipple at each side of the filter and attach the valve with compression fittings (or unions if the pipe is galvanized).

+ Installing in a vertical pipe. If the filter is being installed in a vertical pipe (see Ill. 67B), cut out a section of pipe, install piping with four elbows as shown, and attach the filter in the lower horizontal leg. Attach gate valves as described above.

Reverse-osmosis purifiers. Reverse osmosis systems remove all sorts of impurities from water, which is why they’re used extensively in hospitals and laboratories. They work by forcing pressurized water through a membrane that blocks everything but chemically pure water molecules (see Ill. 68).

Often, a purifier is used in combi nation with carbon filters that remove sediment before it reaches the membrane and enhance the taste of the water after it leaves.

The clean water is stored in a tank, normally located under the sink, and is delivered through a separate, small faucet. The water may also be routed to a hot water dispenser and an icemaker. Polluted water is delivered to the sink drainpipe.

+ Hooking up a reverse-osmosis purifier. The purifier’s faucet typically fits in a hole at the rear of the sink rim. If your sink isn’t equipped with a hole or knockout for this purpose, you may be able to have a plumber drill a hole for you. An easier and less expensive solution is to mount the faucet in the countertop, letting the faucet over hang the sink.

The filter unit is usually located under the sink with the tank. Connections are made with flexible plastic tubing or with soft copper supply pipe. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installation and for connection to the cold water sup ply pipe (also see Ill. 53).

+ Hooking up to a hot water dispenser and icemaker. One purifier can route clean water not only to the sink but also to a hot water dispenser and icemaker.

All you need to do is add a compression tee to the tube that carries clean water from the filter and route flexible plastic tubing or soft copper supply pipe to each additional appliance. For more information about connections, see “Adding a Hot Water Dispenser”.


Ill. 68. Reverse-osmosis water purifier connects directly to the water supply pipe. Water travels through a pre-filter, a reverse-osmosis membrane, and a post-filter. Clean water is held in an undersink storage tank and is delivered through a separate faucet.

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Updated: Tuesday, December 14, 2010 0:43