Industry Forum – soft water pipe corrosion

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Vancouver water, mmm, delicious. Mineral free and great for you. But for the copper piping in your residence … not so much. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two experts in the water industry here in Metro Vancouver. Their names are Bill Lee and Mike Seifert. These two water gurus operate a company called 1Clearwater and they had a lot to say about the myth of ‘good old Vancouver water’.

I should start by clarifying that these two told me that our water is actually really good for you/us. Just that it is not good for the miles of copper pipe that intertwines the walls of the buildings that we live in (provided you have not yet saved up the million dollars necessary to own a house here in the greatest city on Earth). ‘So tell me why water that is so good for us can be so bad for our pipes.’ I asked Bill. He replied by telling me that our water tastes so good because we are supplied by rain water that has not had the opportunity to soak thru the various layers of soil that gather minerals (calcium, magnesium and iron) before collecting in the reservoirs that surround our cities. Metro Vancouver sits on a basin of granite. Therefore, the water molecules that course thru the veins of our buildings are still ‘hungry’ for the minerals that they are attracted too.

So what does that mean you ask, well after 30 minutes of grilling Mike and Bill I can tell you. The soft water (mineral free water) that we enjoy drinking and bathing in has a detrimental effect on the copper pipes used to transfer it around the buildings that we live in whereby it is constantly trying to leach minerals off that copper piping … like a magnet. Just as a chain is only as good as its weakest link, a length of copper pipe has minute weak spots as it is an alloy (a mixture of different metals). The water molecules continuously pull at that particular spot (and of course other similar spots) until it breaks thru the outer edge of the pipe creating a ‘pin-hole’ leak. Then this pin-hole leak goes drip, drip, drip over a period of time unknown to the residents of the building, creating mold and of course eventual damage as it starts to come thru the drywall and flooring. Thus creating not only a cost hazard, but also a health hazard. Worse yet, if left unattended for too long the pin-hole leak will eventually become larger causing major damage to the building. And this is happening in 99% of the buildings in Metro Vancouver!

‘So what can you do about it?’ I ask the duo sitting before me. Bill responds by informing me that they have a very intricate computerized water maintenance system that injects just the right amount of a corrosion inhibiting mineral, called Zinc Ortho Phosphate, into the buildings water system that will prevent the soft water from doing the damage explained … as it has satisfied the water molecules natural desire for minerals. Mike then added that this computerized system of theirs closely monitors the buildings domestic water and makes adjustments to compensate as it learns the buildings water trends … and a team of service pros driving cool little cars!

Bill then explained to me that their system is only designed for condominiums, and not houses, as it is not that expensive to repair a pin-hole leak in a single family dwelling. However, in a large building, where water (and particularly hot water) is constantly being re-circulated thru the building, these leaks will begin to show up all over the high-rise. He continued by saying ‘It’s like the old saying ‘Pay for it now or pay for it later’. Unfortunately paying for it later is a lot more expensive. ‘So what does this intricate water maintenance system cost each of the owners of a condo complex?’ I ask. To my amazement Bill responds with ‘Five to ten dollars per month, and that will usually already be covered in their strata fees’. So it became evident that the condo owners just have to make a decision to get a preventative water maintenance system put in as it really costs them nothing compared to the potential tens or hundreds of thousands that it will cost them if they just ignore the inevitable! ‘Sounds like a no-brainer.’ I say. They just smile and then almost at the same time say ‘People are just unaware of what is going on behind their walls’.

Truth be known, I decided to call Bill and Mike to spread some awareness to you, my avid readers, as my mother’s building (approximately 40 years old) just had to be retrofit with new copper piping and it came at no small cost! Worse yet was the months of walking thru the building with the walls and ceilings in the hallways all ripped apart and the water being continuously shut off for hours at a time.   Ughhhh.

I thanked these men for their time and insight and off I went.

 

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