Should I ditch the 3-gang Big Blue?

Discussion in 'Water Softener Forum, problems, installation and r' started by flynmoose, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    ****EDITED FOR READABILITY ****

    Hello All,

    Long time lurker. New state, new house, new problems...

    We recently moved into a community well neighborhood in Chapel Hill. The water is supplied by Aqua (private water company) and is tested regularly as part of the NC SWAP (source water assessment program).

    The well head has iron and manganese that was not remediated in the neighborhood until a few years ago. All toilet tanks in the house are black like they have rubber lining (which they don't). No slime - just black and chalky.

    Source Water:
    Iron and Manganese levels in 2005
    (distribution system - not well head)
    Iron .949 mg/L
    Manganese .534 mg/L
    (This is what was running through the house until Aqua put in additional filters at the well head.)

    Iron and Manganese levels in 2012
    Iron - ND
    Manganese - 0.0114 mg/L
    PH 7.1
    Sodium 21 mg/L
    Sulfate 46 mg/L
    Nitrate / Nitrite - ND
    Free Clorine - 0.5-1.9 (avg 1.1) mg/L (no Clorimine when last tested in 2006)
    Total Tri-halo-methanes 6.1-75 ppb
    TDS - 325 (measured with my personal electronic TDS meter)
    Total Harness - 197 mg/L (haven't had measured - as reported in HOA Water Quality Report)

    Aqua water treatment consists of hypoclorination and pressure sand filter to remove the Iron and Manganese.


    Big Blue:
    Previous homeowner installed a Crystal Quest 3-gang filter (3 - 4"x20" Big Blues).
    Filter #1 - 5 Micron Sediment
    Filter #2 - multi-stage (1 micron filter, KDF-55, KDF-85, GAC, 1 micron)
    Filter #3 - Coconut Shell GAC

    I assume the previous owner did this to try to mediate the manganese problem before Aqua added filters at the well head.


    The replacement #2 filter is several hundred dollars direct from the original source and probably still $100-200 if I source it elsewhere.

    When we moved in the filter system was out of service due to a broken housing. It has since been replaced as part of the purchase agreement. We noticed that while it was out of service, the dishwasher smelled after we ran it and the smell went away after we put the filters back in service. So they ARE removing something from the water.

    Static water pressure usually runs 80PSI. I had to replace the first housing which didn't have a pressure port tap - so I don't know the pressure drop across the 3-gang unit. But with high flow, I usually see 50 PSI on the output side of the 3rd filter.

    The plumbing on BB system is a mess. See later post for picture. Probably some head loss just from all the bends and runs.

    Usage:
    5 family (2 adults - 3 pre-teens). Frequent house guests. 3 1/2 bath. Hot tub and koi pond needing periodic makeup water.

    We are on septic. I had 5 years of nightmares with our septic in WI. I'm hesitant to even put backwash down the septic but I don't know where I would send it if I don't and I don't think it is to code around here to release brine/backwash to surface...


    Questions:
    1) Should I ditch the 3-gang filter or possibly canabilize it for potential re-deployment of pre and post filters
    2) Softener - I think I need one! :)
    3) Not a fan of the residual clorine from the community well treatment. I assume the GAC stage is taking care of that now but if I ditch that, should have something else
    4) Since I pay for water (metered) AND all the salt and water have to go into my septic, I'm keen to minimize both water and salt. Does that change my strategy?

    I'm mostly a DIY guy. I'm getting quotes from some local softener dealers but had a bad experience with our supplier in WI and tend to be VERY LEARY of snake oil salesmen in this business. Not opposed to a DIY internet order and

    Once I get this all sorted out, most of the plumbing fixtures will be replaced, an RO system for reefer, ice, and drinking will be installed, and I'm guessing the electric WH will go in a few years given the lack of treated water it has had to deal with...all items for other areas here at Terry Love DIY.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  2. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    1,921
    Location:
    IL
    Most of that I did not follow except to see that the water company has done the hard part for you. I did put in 3 big-blue filter housings. It was easy to do 3 while I was doing it. You don't have to select the ideal filter combo the first time. One of my filter housings is empty, because I had not decided what I wanted there. I also have a 20-5 micron spun polyester cartridge followed by a 1 micron spun polyester filter. Surprisingly I am on about my 10th month. I have new cartridges at the ready.

    Big Blue 4.5 by 20 inch filters and housings are pretty cheap-- but I guess that is relative. I suggest you buy a replacement housing sump (the blue part), although you might be able to find a whole housing with sump for about the price of just a sump. I also suggest you buy a filter wrench, replacement O-rings, some food-grade silicone grease and some 4.5 by 20 filters. I will message you a source or two, but you can find others I am sure. I used polyester, because my water is from a well.

    The O-rings are important maybe, but you don't know until you unscrew the housing. If the previous person put vaseline on the o-rings, they will have swollen and will not be reusable.

    Carbon block filters do more filtering, but they have bigger back pressure.
  3. lifespeed

    lifespeed Member

    Messages:
    320
    Location:
    California
    I would use a real backwashing carbon filter tank. It is a little more $$ up front, but near zero maintenance over the long run. It should provide all the mechanical filtration you will need as your water company sounds like it does OK in that regard. And the chlorine will be removed. Follow that with a softener. Programmed correctly the added load to the septic is minimal, and mitigated by the reduction in soap usage throughout the house. Use filter/softener valves with internal ports equal to or larger than your main water line.

    Big blue is repeated maintenance and pressure drop.
  4. Reach4

    Reach4 Active Member

    Messages:
    1,921
    Location:
    IL
    My 3 BB filter housing follows a backwashing Centaur carbon filter. However flynmoose's water seems to have been already cleaned up by the water company -- except for chlorine. I don't know about fitering that, but it seems to me that for most stuff, 2 ppm of Cl is OK... Do you think that a backwashing carbon filter is warranted for just that?

    You can put 20 GPM through a lot of the BB filters if you select for that. He already has the housings. I would use them, or at least keep the housings in line in case he later wants to insert a filter.
  5. lifespeed

    lifespeed Member

    Messages:
    320
    Location:
    California
    Sure, my opinion. Backwashed carbon is low maintenance, high flow, and nice to get the chlorine out. You wouldn't have to service it for at least 3 years, possibly longer. But if you ask my opinion, I would recommend all three: carbon, softener and then RO to drink.

    It would be convenient to have a BB-type empty filter canister upstream of your treatment to allow introduction of chlorination or other chemicals for rare maintenance tasks like disinfection.
  6. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    Sorry for the long/rambling post. I should have organized my thoughts a little better. (I just tried to clean it up a little.:eek: )

    @Reach4 - DUH, never thought of just leaving one of the housings empty... :Forehead Slap:
    @lifespeed - you are hitting at what got me thinking about this in the first place. Good thought on having an empty BB as an injection port.

    Perhaps @dittohead will weigh in here as his systems are what I was pondering. A small GAC tank on top of a larger resin tank.

    I didn't mention that the plumbing job on the BB setup is 'unusual' to say the least. Not sure why it was plumbed the way it was but it is quite the Frankenstein of elbows and pex. Will post a picture when I have a chance. Would probably just start from scratch if I install a softener - but as pointed out - I already own the setup.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  7. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    [​IMG]
    Sort of hard to see from this angle - but there are two ball valves (yellow handles) and a hose-bib style faucet (blue) immediately behind the expansion tank that make up the bypass. The water comes into the house under the crawl and through this wall. Filtered or unfiltered water (depending on bypass config.) is then fed to DHW and back through the wall to the rest of the house cold water plumbing. I believe that the exterior hosebibs are UNFILTERED at present.

    [​IMG]

    The only explanation I have for this crazy quilt of plumbing is that the previous owner wanted to keep the cabinets you see here. There is not enough room for a softener and salt tank now, so I will have to lose the cabinets. If I keep Big Blue and leave it where it is, I would probably reverse the flow through the housing and then drop down from the left side to the softener and then back to the output side.
  8. Gary Slusser

    Gary Slusser That's all folks!

    You need a pressure reducing valve on your main water line set at like 75 psi so no more housings etc. are broken overnight when the pressure increases due to next to no one on that water system is using water.

    You can not reverse flow through your filters, they are directional and won't work if water flow is reversed. And IMO you are better off with a backwashing carbon filter than the cartridge types or the stacked over/under (combo) type. Another choice is shower head filters and your RO with its own faucet on the sink counter.
  9. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    Thanks for pointing that out Gary. I should have been more specific. I didn't mean just swap the ends as I was aware that the housings are directional (lucky me - they put flow direction arrows right on the housing.)

    But I could dismount the daisy chain and flip the whole unit 180 degrees. Input on the right, exit on the left.

    I like the idea of a separate backwashing filter - except for three reasons. 1) Space, 2) Cost, 3) Water consumption
    1) Adding a separate back wash tank will add another 3-4 sqft of footprint to the system in an already space constrained location.
    2) Even a cheap backwash system is still going add several hundred dollars more MINIMUM to a system (and yes I realize a stacked tank will cost more than a straight softener - but it only has one head which is the most expensive component)
    3) Backwashing a filter will add to my water cost and water down the septic. Again - it will require more volume for a stacked system but I am GUESSING that it would be less since you are using the water for multiple purposes.

    Will just have to quote it out. May not do anything other than add a softener at this point and then not replace the multi-stage in BB when pressure losses get to high.

    Keep'em coming!
  10. ditttohead

    ditttohead Water systems designer, R&D

    Messages:
    1,791
    Location:
    Ontario California
    A BB filter has a maximum capacity of .15 Cu. Ft. of media. This is a tiny amount of carbon for a whole house system. Even a stacked tank design starts at .5 Cu. Ft., obviously a significant increase over a BB style filter. We sell a lot of B for whole house applications, but we never recommend them. They are simply too small for this. GAC has a flow rating of approximately 3 GPM per Cu. Ft. but... we know it can be greatly increased for simple chlorine reduction. Organic chemicals, etc do require the longer contact times for adequate removal.

    Be sure if you keep the BB setup that you install a 3 valve bypass for when the BB o-ring gets damaged, lost, or a housing or some other thing breaks on it. You can live without filtered or soft water, it is difficult to run a house with no water.

    I am not a fan of BB for whole house applications, but they are common. A stacked tank softener with GAC, or 2 seperate tanks is ideal for your application. You can remove the BB once you have the new system installed, I dont really see any reason to keep it except for the chlorine injection idea, not bad, but hard to justify the extra work.
  11. lifespeed

    lifespeed Member

    Messages:
    320
    Location:
    California
    Of course the better solution costs more and is larger than BB! Water use is trivial.
  12. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    It is when you are only paying for electricity - but I'm on a municipal well so I pay for every CUFT of water I use. I would say backwash water would have a larger expense to a system than salt...

    So - sounds like the recommendations are ditch BB (or only keep it for a sediment filter) and use a backwash filter PLUS a softener.

    With 22GH and 5 people in my house - that is a whopper of a softener to keep any reasonable level of salt efficiency, No?

    [RANT]
    My skepticism about local vs DIY is back. One installer (VERY competent and VERY professional, prompt and took his time explaining everything so plus points on customer service), just quoted me $5K for 1.5cuft carbon backwash followed by 2 1.5 cuft softeners twinned with alternating use and a single control head. PLUS 90 service contract after the first year.

    Second one just came out to "evaluate" and then tried to give me a bill for $200 for testing services without having ever mentioned this prior to doing all of the testing (said testing was PH, Iron, and Hardness - titrated). $200 for testing!? I could have had full chemical analysis done including BART for IRB cheaper than that... But he would have taken it off the top for whatever system he quotes me on. (As if that won't just be built into the quote.)

    With NO DISRESPECT at all meant to all of the pros here - I FULLY understand that installers need to make money including on their time for all the systems that they quote but don't sell. I'm in a different line of work but Sales is a big part of my job. AND, I tell vendor partners that quote me lowball prices that they aren't making money so our relationship isn't sustainable.

    But - quote me a FAIR price and don't play games with me.
    [/RANT]

    Board etiquette. I'm now in the "help me build my system" phase. New thread - or just roll with this one?

    I did learn something today though. Evidently code prohibits putting backwash into the septic in this area - so I'm now looking at plumbing a drain to one of my downspout drains which discharge into a non-vegetation area of our wooded lot.

    Thanks everyone for the help thus far!
  13. lifespeed

    lifespeed Member

    Messages:
    320
    Location:
    California
    Obviously you'll save a lot going the DIY route, and these things aren't so complicated to make it an unreasonable approach. You are on the border of justifying the more-expensive twin-tank alternating softener. 5 people and 70 gallons per day and 22 grains requires 7700 grains per day removal. Of course, your actual water use may vary, hopefully less. The largest practical (affordable) single-tank softener is 2.5 cu ft, which is about 50000 grains capacity salted at an efficient 6 lbs/ft. That should give you 6 days between regenerations, more if you are conservative with your water use. The carbon tank would be fine at 2 cu ft, backwashing every 10 days or so. You could probably get both units for under $2K total if you're willing to do the install. It sounds like you may have a minor issue with brine discharge if it can't go into your septic. Vegetation is definitely affected by salty water. Some people bore a "dry well" filled with gravel for softener discharge. I don't know what that would cost.

    If your main water line is 1" or larger I would recommend either Fleck 7000SXT or Clack WS1 valve. Find out if your water is chlorinated or chloramine-ated as the later requires catalytic carbon (Centaur) for removal.
  14. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    Weird - thought I posted a reply earlier today. Must not have hit submit.

    Chlorine tested at an exterior hosebib with the BB in bypass yesterday and was virtually "undetectable". Installer used a little packet in a test vial. Said it should have turned noticeably pink (didn't bring his color reference with him) with 0.5 that a public water system is required to have. Just the faintest coloration of the water. It had a a very slight tint when held against white paper. Installer said it was probably 0.1 PPM Chlorine or less.

    The running test record from the public database for our water shows 0.5 - 1.9ppm so something is wrong right now and the chlorine is low. I want to plan for the high of 1.9ppm and no chloramine.

    Leaning towards a 2cuft catalytic carbon filter with a Fleck 7000SXT combined with either a) 2.5cuft softener with a 7000SXT or twin 2.0cuft with a Fleck 9100SXT. (or I might still look at a combo unit...)
  15. lifespeed

    lifespeed Member

    Messages:
    320
    Location:
    California
    If you could get an idea of your actual (indoor, not irrigation) water usage it would really help you understand if the twin softener was justified from an efficiency perspective. You want to go at least 5 - 7 days between regenerations, or the unused one day's reserve capacity that is "wasted" with a single tank softener starts becoming a significant factor. Assuming 300 - 350 GPD based on 5 people is just that - an assumption. With 4 people in my family I use about 130 GPD of 30 grains hardness water. An assumed 60 - 70 GPD per person usage would calculate that I should have a twin softener for efficiency. Turns out with our conservative water use that would have been a waste of money and space - the single softener rarely regenerates at less than 7 days.
  16. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    I just went back and looked at our water usage in our rental. 7 month average 155 gallons per day (31 gallons per person per day). I know that will go up. 9 yo boy, 8 yo boy, and 5 yo girl. Three teenagers will definitely run through the water!!!

    Those numbers were with 3 full baths, low flow shower heads but old non-HE washer. Currently have 2 low flush toilets, 2 old-school toilets, 3 showers and will be putting in an RO system.

    So 360 GPD is probably too high. But I think it would be wise to assume more than the 31 we are using now. So let's say 45 per person or 225 gallons per day. That is 5000 grains a day or 10 days between regens on a 50K grain unit.

    Now I'm lost on the efficiency math and pros and cons of twin cylinders. Cost-wise: I'm in for a slightly more expensive head, twice as much resin and another tank and all the internal equipment. Probably $4-600 more in expense? Call it $40 a year (over 15 years). If I'm targeting 7 days between regens but only get 6, that works out to 9 more regens a year. 15lbs of salt per regen = 135 lbs = $16-20 worth of salt. Doubt there is $20 worth of extra water in 9 regens.

    OK - you talked me out of a twin! I think....:confused:
  17. Smooky

    Smooky Member

    Messages:
    569
    Location:
    NC
    I would contact Russ Lemax with All Clean Water. He is in your area, he’s honest, he does a good job and his prices are reasonable.

    (919)545-2003 (919)630-7460

    http://www.allcleanwater.com/index.html
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2013
  18. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    @Smooky - done! Russ will be out on Monday.

    That being said, I haven't written off the DIY approach either. Anyone want to way in on my back-of-the-envelope calculations for talking myself out of the twin cylinder approach?

    Last reco. was from LifeSpeed. 2cuft Centaur Carbon followed by 2.5 cuft of resin. Based on my latest water estimates, is that too much or comfortable margin?

    Thanks!
  19. ditttohead

    ditttohead Water systems designer, R&D

    Messages:
    1,791
    Location:
    Ontario California
    twin alternating is great, but rarely needed inresidential applications. If you can get out beyond 5-6 days between regenerations, the efficiency gains of a twin alternating design are minimal. Most commercial applications use twin alternating. A small restaurant uses about the same amount of water a regular size houses uses in a week.

    Many companies will recommend a smaller system due to a lack of understanding of efficiencies. A softener can be highly efficient if designed correctly. LifeSpeed hit it just right and is probably the same I would recommend. I have not read the entire post, but looking at a few posts, I would stick to his recommendation as a great guideline.
  20. flynmoose

    flynmoose New Member

    Messages:
    12
    Location:
    Chapel Hill, North Carolina
    No chloramine in our water. They aren't using ammonia in our system and this proved out with every test that is posted in the public database back to 2006.

    So - with highly variable chlorine of anywhere from 0.1 to 1.9 ppm, do I really need Centaur or will regular GAC do the trick for reasonable SFRs? (Even with 2 showers going and toilet flush, I can't see flow rates over 7-8gpm and I think if I'm reading the charts right, 2cuft of GAC should handle that amount of chlorine at 8gpm.)

    Thoughts?
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