Water and the Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men

We had always intended to use our well as our source of drinking water and domestic hot water use. It had simply made sense to us all along. It seemed to be the most sustainable and logical thing to do.

The only problem was that our water, well, it sucked.

It was very strange to think that our water would be so crappy. We live right on the river. It is our front yard. You’d think the water would be good. Our house is perched about 50-60′ above the river, but our well is bizarrely 140′ deep. (Interestingly, as for our neighbours, one could not find water on his land, the other had to go down 250′ (!!) and the other only 20′ – so strange how in a two mile radius everyone can have such different water tables and all of us are along the water). We’d had it tested when we first bought the land to make sure it was potable. It was, but it really tasted bad. I was also worried as it had caused serious damage to our hot water element in the shop the year before – completely corroding it.

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Still we were determined to make it work. I had read a fair bit about different water treatment systems and really you can make any water drinkable (even salt water through distillation). We had gotten a couple different companies out to test our water and recommend a treatment system – two of the three recommended a Whole House Reverse Osmosis (RO) System.

This type of system is just one step under complete distillation of water in terms of intensity of water treatment. It is major. It takes a LOT of equipment, tanks and processing and is very expensive (in the range of $12,000 to $14,000 for the initial setup, not including the cost of regular filters). There are however, some serious considerations with this system, besides the cost. RO water, is basically demineralized water – it is void of minerals (at least most of them as far as I know). Many people consider this a bad thing. Firstly, the water will try to “remineralize” itself by drawing minerals out of the plumbing pipes that they run through, especially copper – essentially eating it away (that is BAD for pipes). You must use only plastic piping as a result. Secondly, it can draw minerals out of the foods you cook with it making your veggies less mineral dense. Thirdly, it wastes a tonne of water. For every 1 gallon produced of treated water 2 gallons are wasted. Fourthly, some people argue the RO water that you drink will demineralize YOU! Meaning it will do things like take calcium out of your bones leading to a higher risk of osteoporosis. Although some of this information has not been completely proven – it seemed intuitive enough that I really did not like the idea of using RO water. But what other options were there?

Then came Mr. A-hole (although I did not know this at the time of course – I had thought he was pretty O.K.). Yes this is the same septic contractor who has ruined our lives for the past 6 weeks. He adamantly told me that there was “no way” that I would ever need a whole house RO system. “Never!!” He told me he had put one in before, but only because the people really wanted it and not because they needed it. He promised me that he could deliver a system that would give us good water, protect our plumbing, and would not be too costly. He estimated his “worst case scenario” to be $6000. Well, I liked the sounds of that – less than half the price of the other options and none of the drawbacks!

I know what you are thinking: “It must be too good to be true.”

And dammit! You’re so right.

Although we did not find this out until it was ALMOST too late. As in two days before it really would have been too late.

At our infamous coordination meeting, Mr. A-hole finally had taken a water sample (yes, we had talked to him about the water treatment system five months before) and low and behold, our water really did suck! It was basically unusable without having to do the Whole House RO system. Our plumber, at the meeting strongly cautioned us against using this. Beyond the reasons I wrote above, he thought that we would likely then require a stronger, more resilient hot water tank and boiler, that the RO water would still corrode and stain our plumbing fixtures, and then there is the maintenance costs and lifespan of an intensive treatment system like this. He estimated in the range of $100/month for filters and it would last, at most, 15 years before needing replacement. That’s not to mention that actually just hooking up the well to the house is $8000.

Well, isn’t that just great?

So, basically we’d be looking at the following:

– Well hook-up at $8000 + Whole House RO system at $12,000 (minimum) = $20,000 start-up costs

– Ongoing costs $50-100/month for 15 years = $9000-18,000 operational costs

– Replacement at 15 years = $12,000

The best case scenario we’d be looking at over $40,000 in 15 years. That is just ludicrous. There is no way that that is sustainable living.

Really the only other immediately plausible option was to do what our neighbour, who could not find water at his land, did: Get water brought to you.

There are several companies in town who will haul water to you for a small fee. Monthly water bills for residents of town is about $80-90/month. These companies will bring you water to your house for $120-150 per trip, depending on the volume of water needed and distance of travel. I had thought this was completely dumb before – why would you do this if you had a well? But now this seemed to be the only logical thing to do. And with doing some simple cowboy math, it was WAY more affordable then the well option.

– $150/month for 15 years = $27,000

Even if we did not try to be conservative with our water use, this option is so much more affordable then the RO water treatment option we had.

So how were we going to do this?

There were two options we were given: 1. Put a concrete water tank under ground, or 2. Put a big water tank in your mechanical room.

The in-ground tank is good if you don’t have the space in your house, but due to trenching, the cost of the concrete tank itself and piping required, this option comes in at about $6000. Option 2, is a lot cheaper. The indoor tank is a heavy duty poly plastic that costs about $1000. I like saving money so the latter seemed to be the better option. Although I have to admit, I did not have as much time to research this as I would have liked, because we had literally two days to decide (I talked to our neighbour and a friend who both use the indoor tank and have no complaints as well as some suppliers, the water delivery companies, and contractor who installs the in-ground tanks). The foundation was done and the floor was going on (you can’t fit a 2000 gallon tank through the front door – it must go on before the main floor joists are in).

All of this really just gave me another reason to really hate Mr. A-hole, septic contractor. We had based so many decisions in the design of the house – particularly the placement of the Mechanical room in order for easy access to the planned placement of the septic tank and the proximity to the existing well. Ya, it was a good thought, but neither of those things are actually happening anymore as we had intended and in fact, the mechanical room is probably in the worst location possible now given where the new septic placement is and where the water company will have to bring the water to. Grrr!

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But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

– Robert Burns

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But enough about me complaining (I really am sick of hearing myself complain about it), the upside is that we will have really good treated water that will not corrode our pipes, not poison us, and be more affordable in the long-run.

Though now we had seriously 6 hours to get a giant tank and somehow get it into the basement…

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