Whole home water filtration instead of inline for plumbing?

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

#1: Post by rsymsick »

Hi everyone! First time posting here after reading so many helpful things throughout the years. I finally upgraded to a plumbable machine, and it should be arriving soon! I purchased from SCG in the US and I have chatted with their technicians and some technicians from Chris Coffee as well about this:

I want to plumb the machine, but I do not really have room to install an inline water filter system. We do not have bad water here in Atlanta as it is, so I was planning on just installing a 3 stage filter (5 micron sediment, 2 activated carbon (coconut fibers)) for the whole house. The technical rep from SCG said that whole home filters are "never great on espresso machines" telling me to avoid doing it to stop headaches right here.

Is there any merit to this? I do not understand why a single stage filter right inline with the machine would be better for it than a whole home system that will deliver the same water. Not to mention if I do not plumb it I will be using single stage filtered water from the fridge.

Do any of you with plumbed machines have house filtration instead of inline?

Thanks for any help on this!

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ira
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#2: Post by ira »

Filters for machines are mostly intended to control scale, not taste. You need to find out the mineral content and composition of your water to know what sort of filter if any you need.

Ira

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Peppersass
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#3: Post by Peppersass »

Ira is right. There's a big difference between filtration to remove sediment and certain undesirable chemicals, which the 3 stage filter you mentioned can do, and a softener that removes minerals to prevent scaling, which can be deadly for espresso machines and isn't great for some plumbing fixtures.

The tech rep might have been thinking about a whole-house softener versus a dedicated softener for the espresso machine. Some whole-house softeners remove all minerals. They're usually Reverse Osmosis or RO softeners. This is great for plumbing fixtures, but usually bad for espresso machines. First, you need a certain level of minerals in the water to properly extract coffee. Second, Depending on the type and input water, RO output water can be acidic, which can corrode the tubes in your espresso machine. Not good.

FWIW, we have a well with relatively hard water -- high carbonate hardness and alkalinity. We have a whole-house sediment filter because there's fine silt in the water that it's believed got stirred up by blasting across the highway a couple of decades ago. The hard water does gradually accumulate on faucets and hot water connections, but we only need to clean them or replace them every 10-20 years or so (28 years in the house, so far.)

For my beloved espresso machine, however, I have a separate, finer sediment filter, an in-line cation softener after the sediment filter, and a carbon filter after the softener. That's a pretty standard setup. All of the carbonate ions in our water are replaced by salt ions, resulting in zero hardness. But the alkalinity and TDS (total dissolved solids) levels remain high. I have no trouble extracting espresso.

There are other types of softening systems. For example, a hydrogen ion exchange system is like an RO system -- it'll remove all the minerals. Most have a bypass valve that allows you to introduce a small amount of tap water to bring the mineral content up to the level necessary for good coffee extraction. However, hydrogen ion systems used with water that has a high chloride content can produce acidic water which, again, is not good for your machine.

First thing to do is get your water tested. If your water is too hard for an espresso machine, you should be able to choose a softening system based on that. It's also a good idea to pick up a home water test kit. This one measures carbonate hardness and alkalinity. It's inexpensive and much more accurate than test strips. This one only measure carbonate hardness, but it's more accurate.

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homeburrero
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#4: Post by homeburrero »

rsymsick wrote:We do not have bad water here in Atlanta as it is.
That's hard to verify via online reports but I agree that appears to be true for City of Atlanta water. Their water reports tell you nothing about calcium hardness, alkalinity, chloride, etc. but if you look at nearby places on the Chattahoochee water source you will see numbers indicating that the water should not need softening for espresso machine use and has low enough chloride numbers that you don't need to resort to RO. To be more sure you can contact your water authority, or have your tap water tested. Folks in the beer brewing community have posted some analysis reports (here's one) that indicate total hardness around 30 mg/L, alkalinity around 20 mg/L (CaCO3 equivalent) and chloride ion around 12 mg/L. Certainly no need for softening, and in my opinion you'd want to steer clear of decarbonizing resin filters (aka WAC resin, aka hydrogen ion exchange filters) which include many of the popular pitcher filters like Pur, Soma, BWT, most Brita (the Brita 'Longlast' is one exception here - it's just activated charcoal and contains no resins.)


rsymsick wrote:The technical rep from SCG said that whole home filters are "never great on espresso machines" telling me to avoid doing it to stop headaches right here.
Is there any merit to this?
Not in my opinion. Without knowing what water you have and what treatment systems you are considering I don't see how anyone can advise for or against a whole house treatment system.


rsymsick wrote:I do not understand why a single stage filter right inline with the machine would be better for it than a whole home system that will deliver the same water. Not to mention if I do not plumb it I will be using single stage filtered water from the fridge.
I agree with your thinking here. Whether whole house or point of use, if it's sized properly and filters are changed properly you should be OK with a particulates plus a simple charcoal block or GAC filter to handle off-tastes, odors, and chlorine. (AFAIK, Atlanta uses chlorine and not chloramine disinfectant - https://www.atlantawatershed.org/wp-con ... n-FAQs.pdf )
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rsymsick (original poster)

#5: Post by rsymsick (original poster) »

Hi Ira,

You are correct that it is typically for softening. I have had my water tested by culligan and one other. With their tests I was at 3gpg for hardness which on the scale 0-3 soft, 3-7 hard (softening optional) 7+ softening. So after talking to the culligan guy he said we could not do their whole home softner without drilling holes in the front of the house for the drain which isn't allowed for my HOA and he said looking at my water we do not need a softner. So then if I use a sediment and carbon for the whole house I should be getting rid of all the other particles etc. Right?

rsymsick (original poster)

#6: Post by rsymsick (original poster) »

Thank you for your great reply! You managed to find out more about my water than I have lol. I did have it tested by culligan and it seems that we will be able to get rid of most of the calcium easily and that you are correct I do not need a softner system. Thank you for all your great info!

rsymsick (original poster)

#7: Post by rsymsick (original poster) »

Peppersass wrote:Ira is right. There's a big difference between filtration to remove sediment and certain undesirable chemicals, which the 3 stage filter you mentioned can do, and a softener that removes minerals to prevent scaling, which can be deadly for espresso machines and isn't great for some plumbing fixtures.

The tech rep might have been thinking about a whole-house softener versus a dedicated softener for the espresso machine. Some whole-house softeners remove all minerals. They're usually Reverse Osmosis or RO softeners. This is great for plumbing fixtures, but usually bad for espresso machines. First, you need a certain level of minerals in the water to properly extract coffee. Second, Depending on the type and input water, RO output water can be acidic, which can corrode the tubes in your espresso machine. Not good.

FWIW, we have a well with relatively hard water -- high carbonate hardness and alkalinity. We have a whole-house sediment filter because there's fine silt in the water that it's believed got stirred up by blasting across the highway a couple of decades ago. The hard water does gradually accumulate on faucets and hot water connections, but we only need to clean them or replace them every 10-20 years or so (28 years in the house, so far.)

For my beloved espresso machine, however, I have a separate, finer sediment filter, an in-line cation softener after the sediment filter, and a carbon filter after the softener. That's a pretty standard setup. All of the carbonate ions in our water are replaced by salt ions, resulting in zero hardness. But the alkalinity and TDS (total dissolved solids) levels remain high. I have no trouble extracting espresso.

There are other types of softening systems. For example, a hydrogen ion exchange system is like an RO system -- it'll remove all the minerals. Most have a bypass valve that allows you to introduce a small amount of tap water to bring the mineral content up to the level necessary for good coffee extraction. However, hydrogen ion systems used with water that has a high chloride content can produce acidic water which, again, is not good for your machine.

First thing to do is get your water tested. If your water is too hard for an espresso machine, you should be able to choose a softening system based on that. It's also a good idea to pick up a home water test kit. This one measures carbonate hardness and alkalinity. It's inexpensive and much more accurate than test strips. This one only measure carbonate hardness, but it's more accurate.

I am assuming reply with quote seems to work to better reply inline? Sorry I am new to forums in general, always just lurked! Had the water tested and the culligan water guy got us on 3gpg. Which he said is technically hard but the scale is 0-3 soft, no need for softner, 3-7 softening optional 7+ worse according to him.

Actually in looking at what La Marzocco says your water should be, we aren't hard enough! Your setup seems great in making sure your machine is never effected by anything. Looking at the data for us, I am thinking a 5micron sediment filter and 2 activated carbons will be fine for my machine. I only went with a PID HX too, so if in 6 years it does need heavy servicing or work done, I am sure upgrade-itis will have already caught on!

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Peppersass
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#8: Post by Peppersass »

Reply with quote is good, but I usually delete parts of the quoted text that aren't directly relevant to my reply. Sometimes that requires moving/adding/removing the hypertext commands that start and end quotes.

It's true that La Marzocco, the SCA and others recommend total hardness levels that are greater than your tap water and, of course, my zero-hardness cation-softened water. I don't recall offhand what the SCA recommends, but I think it's in the 70-100 ppm range. The belief is that this is necessary for complete extraction, but is low enough to avoid scaling, at least at the low end of the range, though it may be advisable to drain the boilers on a regular basis if your total hardness is at the high end of the range.

While descaling could take care of any scaling from that level of total hardness, most of us believe that descaling is potentially risky. First, it may cause bits of scale to break off and lodge in check valves, solenoid valves, thin tubing, flow restrictors, etc., causing many headaches and possible damage to the machines. Second, very thorough flushing is necessary to ensure that no descaling liquid or powers remain in the machine, which may cause corrosion.

As for extraction, salt-based ion-exchange softeners have been around for decades and have been used successfully by thousands of cafes. The level of salt is well below the taste threshold and poses no health risks. I have no difficulty extracting espresso or brewed coffee with my cation water. It's possible that the salt ions substituted for the carbonate ions aid extraction just as effectively as carbonate ions, or in my case it may be that the remaining alkalinity, which is about 150 ppm, aids extraction. I have never seen a blind tasting test that proves water with 70-100 ppm total hardness extracts better flavor than a cation softener. Our own Jim Schulman did an informal taste test in which he concluded that espresso brewed with cation water tasted fine, receiving only very slightly lower marks than espresso brewed with the recommended levels of total hardness. My guess is that some minor adjustment to the espresso extraction parameters (e.g., finer grind, longer shot, longer preinfusion, etc.), will easily make up the very small difference. You can read about it in Jim Schulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ.

FWIW, for a couple of years I switched to a hydrogen ion-exchange system that removed all the hardness and alkalinity, with some tap water mixed in via a bypass valve. I usually set the bypass to around 70 ppm hardness. I couldn't tell any difference in extraction or taste from my cation softener, and eventually went back to it.

IMHO cation softeners are often overlooked as a solution for hard water in favor of more complicated or problematic solutions that may not work any better.

RJB83

#9: Post by RJB83 »

I live in Atlanta, going through the same process as you.

Had Culligan out to the home as well, I live fairly close to the water treatment plant, and my water tested the same hardness as yours.

Reviewed the LaMarzocco website and saw their 90-150PPM recommendations as well, they also suggested using tap water with a Soma water filtration pitcher or expensive bottled waters like Aqua Panna or Poland Springs. (https://home.lamarzoccousa.com/water-for-home-espresso/)

Culligan offers an RO system with a re-mineralization cartridge but I believe it will only get you to about 30ppm. I'm also weary about how the salt exchange in a softening system would impact the taste of espresso.

If you find a workable solution, let me know. I'm leaning towards just getting the whole home carbon filter to remove the nasty stuff in water and leave everything else.

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Peppersass
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#10: Post by Peppersass »

RJB83 wrote:I'm also weary about how the salt exchange in a softening system would impact the taste of espresso.
The salt level is below the taste threshold. Refer to Jim Shulman's Insanely Long Water FAQ. The link is in my post above.