What tests to request to decide on water filter system

Water analysis, treatment, and mineral recipes for optimum taste and equipment health.
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Randy G.

#1: Post by Randy G. »

Tldr; what tests should I request from a lab to determine what water treatment system to get? I would prefer to not use RO if at all possible.

I am close(r) to deciding on a water treatment setup for my soon to be ordered Decent. There is a local lab at which I can get water tested. I am on my own private well and for drinking it tastes pretty good with just a carbon filter. But scaling is a problem. I had the two-cartridge system from Chris Coffee (softener and carbon filters). That kept scaling at nearly zero, but want to do what I can for the best tasting espresso as well. I would like to avoid RO because of the wasteful nature of that process. So what tests should I request?
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homeburrero
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#2: Post by homeburrero »

Here's what I'd ask for that probably are above and beyond the usual safe drinking water tests for well water potability:

Carbonate/bicarbonate or total alkalinity
(or alkalinity panel -- includes alkalinity, pH, and conductivity)

Hardness metals - magnesium and calcium
(you can use those to calculate total hardness, and use calcium for LSI calculation)

TDS (you can get away without this if you have a conductivity measurement -- you can use conductivity to estimate TDS close enough for LSI calculations)

chloride - you can skip this if you know your water source has <5 ppm chloride

iron - you can skip this if you know your water source has <1 ppm iron.

silica - you can skip this if you know that your water source has <5 ppm silica

Those cutoff levels for chloride, iron, and silica are very conservative, are about the lowest levels I've seen in espresso machine recommendations.

Most labs will use Inductively Coupled Plasma - Atomic Emission Spectroscopy analysis to get your values for calcium, magnesium, iron, etc., so you might pay 30 bucks for the first metal and another 5 bucks for each additional one.
Pat
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Randy G. (original poster)

#3: Post by Randy G. (original poster) »

Thank you, Pat. W e had a water test done to have the well checked for benzene after the fire (required for the granting of the building permit). We have been drinking it for 32 years so know it is safe. Your info gives us a good starting point.
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Randy G. (original poster)

#4: Post by Randy G. (original poster) »

Received my water report. Would those more knowledgeable than I as to water condition and treatments (which is most anyone) please recommend the level and type of treatment filters would be best. Be aware that:
1 - I will not install RO
2 - I will not haul in water from the machines in town
3 - The machine will be plumbed to the home's water system (no jugs)

The report:
GENERAL MINERALS
Alkalinity as CaCO3 mg/l 169
Calcium mg/l 23.5
Magnesium mg/l 30.9
Bicarbonate mg/l 206
Carbonate mg/l No Data (lowest level tested = 5)
Hydroxide mg/l No Data (lowest level tested = 5)

METALS
Silica (SiO2) mg/l 34.0
Silicon mg/l 15.9

thank you
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homeburrero
Team HB

#5: Post by homeburrero »

Converting your numbers to conventional CaCO3 equivalents you have
alkalinity 169 mg/L
calcium hardness 58.8 mg/L
total hardness 186 mg/L

Your carbonate hardness in this case is equal to your alkalinity, 169 mg/L CaCO3 equivalent or 9.5 °dKH (German degrees).

It will scale if you don't soften it. In my opinion your most machine healthy option would be to just use a good old-fashioned conventional softener (a SAC resin that exchanges sodium for hardness minerals). That would drop your total hardness very low and keep the same alkalinity, and it would not acidify your water. It should not cause limescale problems if you're diligent about changing the softener cartridge before its softening capacity is depleted. You can get convenient and relatively economical setups based on generic 10" filter housings fro coffee equipment vendors (here's one example from CCS: https://www.chriscoffee.com/collections ... ion-system )

The alkalinity would be above the usual 100 mg/L level often recommended as max for good taste, but espresso is very tolerant of high alkalinity so I think I'd not worry about that.


The alternative would be to use a decarbonizing filter (a WAC resin that exchanges hydrogen ions for hardness minerals.) This would lower your hardness and your alkalinity by roughly equal amounts and would acidify your water - three things that work together to reduce limescale deposits. It's not recommended when you have corrosive chloride in the water and if you have low alkalinity. I assume you have low chloride in your area since didn't have that tested, and your level of alkalinity is about right for this type of filter. (When hardness and alkalinity are very high, decarbonizers may make the water too acidic.) These filters come with adjustable bypass heads that are typically set per instructions based on carbonate hardness. If I used this option I'd use an alkalinity( KH) drop titration kit to test the output and try to dial it in so as to get 60 - 90 mg/L. You can get these types of filters from many vendors; the Mavea C150 and the BWT bestmax are examples. The BWT bestmax premium, which replaces some calcium with magnesium is not needed here - your magnesium is already relatively high.

Your silica, at 34 mg/L as SiO2, is higher than some vendors recommend, but you can't reduce that without going to RO. It's at a level roughly equal to Volvic water and people have been using that in espresso machines a long time.
Pat
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Randy G. (original poster)

#6: Post by Randy G. (original poster) »

Thank you, Pat! With my plumbed Vibiemme Double what I did was use the blue generic filter holders from Chris Coffee with an ion exchange softening cartridge and separate carbon filter finish and a post-filter pressure regulator. Scale was basically zero with that setup. I will study what you said and take the appropriate steps. I already have the Decent refill accessory kit so I can get started on the plumbing and be ready when the machine arrives.

Once again, thank you.
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Peppersass
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#7: Post by Peppersass »

Our well water is very close to yours in hardness and alkalinity -- about 180-200 ppm and 150 ppm, respectively. I've used a cation softener for most of the nearly 12 years I've owned my GS/3 AV, and scale has never been an issue. Extraction hasn't been an issue, either. My theory is that either the sodium or alkalinity minerals aid extraction in whatever way the carbonate hardness does.

I think the best source on softening options and extraction is Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ.

As you're getting a pretty expensive machine, I would invest in high-quality hardness test kit and use it on a regular basis so you know when to replace the cartridge. I recommend this Hach hardness test kit. It's not very expensive and is more accurate than cheaper kits. The resolution is only 17 ppm, but that should be fine if you test your water regularly.

Personally, being OCD about everything espresso, I use the more expensive high-resolution Hach hardness kit and the Hach alkalinity kit. The hardness kit goes down to 1 ppm. I have a rechargeable cation system, and I want to know ASAP when the resin needs to be recharged (unfortunately, it appears that Chris Coffee doesn't sell rechargeable softeners anymore.) I got the alkalinity kit so I could calculate scaling potential, but in retrospect it's probably overkill. I probably could have used the alkalinity test from this inexpensive kit and saved some money.

About a year or so after I got my GS/3, I switched to an Everpure Claris softener for about 18 months. That's a hydrogen ion exchange system that produces RO and has a bypass valve to mix in tap water. I set the bypass for roughly 50-70 ppm hardness and somewhat lower alkalinity. I couldn't detect any difference in the extraction capability between this system and my cation system. I did try going up to 100 ppm briefly, but that didn't make a difference, either. I switched back to the cation softener when I learned that it can produce acidic water when high levels of chloride are present. The lab test I had from when we bought our house didn't include chloride levels, but I measured the pH of the Claris output at something like 6.4, which was below La Marzocco's recommendation. Much later, I learned that the low pH was likely from dissolved CO2 in our water, which is common in areas with heavy limestone deposits like ours. The dissolved CO2 produces carbonic acid, which lowers the pH. But it's not a problem for the espresso machine because the CO2 comes out of solution when the water is heated.

As to the dangers of scaling, a couple of days ago my wife reported that the Bonavita drip machine she uses was stopping after only half the water was used. She uses tap water in that machine. We've owned it for less than one year -- since August 2020 -- and have never descaled it. That was a mistake. I tried several descales using Bonavita's descaled packet and some stronger powder I have on hand, but that didn't fix it. I had to take the machine apart and dig out large clumps of very hard scale from the water feed tube and the boiler. A thin layer of scale on the inside walls of the boiler is so hard that I couldn't get it all out, even after soaking it in descaler all day. The machine is working well now, and I've put a label on it telling me when to descale next (every 60 days instead of Bonavita's recommended 90 days.)

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Randy G. (original poster)

#8: Post by Randy G. (original poster) »

Thank you Dick,
I ran the Chris Coffee two-cartridge (ion exchange + carbon) system on my Vibiemme for a number of years and checked it regularly. I never had scale. My motivation was to see if there was anything more I could do in terms of taste. I will be getting the Cris Coffee system again as whatever benefits I would get with a more "advanced" system seems to be minimal at best. I had gone through Jim's FAQ in the past, and it led me to this system the first time. But I am putting a lot of effort into my creating my last (don't laugh) espresso bar and wanted to make sure that I was doing what I can to make it right.
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apple2k
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#9: Post by apple2k »

You could use a 3m esp124 cartridge too, takes almost all the hardness out of very hard Los Angeles water, this was recommended to me by a good espresso repair place and he said over 8 years of using the 3m his plumbed in machine has 0 scale and 0 corrosion

The 3M had the added benefit of being very cost effective and easy to swap out with new cartridges

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homeburrero
Team HB

#10: Post by homeburrero »

apple2k wrote:You could use a 3m esp124 cartridge too...The 3M had the added benefit of being very cost effective and easy to swap out with new cartridges
Yes. The 3M ESP124-T is a conventional SAC softener (sodium exchange) combined with a particulate and charcoal filter in one easy change cartridge. The Homeland HCWS, sold by some espresso equipment suppliers is similar. Either would work and the replacement cartridge (which can be used for 1 year max **) cost is in the $40 - $50 neighborhood. They have softening capacities of 1100 grains (3M 124-T) and 1700 grains (Homeland HCWS). You divide your CaCO3 hardness by 17.1 to get grains per gallon, so at a total hardness of 186 mg/L you have about 11 gpg, and so the 3M would be depleted in appx. 100 gallons.

With conventional softening you can't use a TDS meter to check if your softening resin may be depleted. The drop titration hardness test kits that Dick recommended would work well for that. For conventional softeners you always use your total hardness to estimate capacity and to monitor effectiveness.

** Edit addition: Since posting this I've come across advice that these filters be used no longer than 6 months. For example: https://clivecoffee.zendesk.com/hc/en-u ... stallation: "Clive recommends you test your water regularly for appropriate hardness level. Replace cartridges after softening 1700 grains of hardness, or every 6 months." The 6 months may be prudent with respect to avoiding possible microbial growth in the filter.
Pat
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