Everything you need to know to set up water treatment at your cabin.
Water Treatment For A Home
The first thing to keep in mind when putting together a plan for how you will treat your water at your cabin is that there is a wide range of water issues. In short, don’t just search the web for answers and think that it will apply to you. You first have to understand what type of water is coming out of your well and then move forward. We will start with a real basic set of steps for you to follow in analyzing how to best set up your water treatment system for your cabin:
- Is you well motor in good shape and able to pump out as much water as you will need?
- Do you have an existing scale issue in your pipes that was caused by not having a water treatment system in place for a long time?
- Do you have an area around your well designated to not plant trees and also to not apply any potentially harmful pesticides or fertilizers?
- Are you aware of how much sediment, minerals, and anything else, is coming directly out of your well?
- How hard/soft do you want your water to be?
- Do you want drinkable water coming out of a faucet, such as your kitchen sink, for people used to drinking city water?
Water Treatment System Basic Configuration
Without going into every possible configuration of water treatment, here are the basics:
- Water comes up from your well, powered by your Well Pump.
- A Pressure Tank will gather a certain amount of water and that is what will feed your home water. By filling the pressure tank, you are sure to have a good amount of water pressure at all times.
- After leaving the Pressure Tank, there will be an offshoot that will lead untreated water out to any outside faucets.
- Here is where the big debate is that you will hear a lot about… now that the water has left the Pressure Tank, it generally goes to the Water Softener. The debate is whether you should put a Whole House Water Filter before, after, or in on both sides of the Water Softener. The answer there depends on your water coming out of your well and your overall water needs for your cabin. More on that later.
- After the softening and filtering is done, cold water will go directly to the house, and water needed for hot water will go to your Hot Water Heater.
- At specific outlets such as a kitchen sink or perhaps a refrigerator with a water delivery system, there can also be a final water treatment stage to perfect the water.
Test Your Water Before You Go Any Further!
Water varies greatly depending on the location of your cabin. Even your neighbor across the street could have vastly different water than you do coming out of your well. First, you want to make sure there is nothing harmful in your water such as lead, bacteria, pesticides, etc.. Next, you will want to know the general makeup of your water, particularly looking for iron, copper, pH level, and trace elements. Finally, you will want to see how much sediment is in your water.
What you will need is a quality water testing kit. You can buy one that you need to mail in, and then wait for the results, but that can be a long wait. Amazon has a highly reviewed, at home test kit that we all use and trust. It gets you the answers that you need immediately: Drinking Water Test Kit – 10 Minute Testing For Lead Bacteria Pesticide Iron Copper and More
After you get your kit, run your first test. If you have anything alarming in there such as a high amount of lead, bacteria, etc., you will want to contact your local municipality, county, or whatever authority is appropriate to discuss your options. Generally, if you are out in the country, you will just have a reading that will detail what is in your water, your pH, and you can visually identify the amount of sediment in your water. Note: Don’t just do one test and move on. Yes, you can start to put together your water system, but keep your water testing kit around and do periodic tests throughout the year to make sure your water is how you want it.
Do You Have An Existing Scale Issue?
This is a quick note if you bought your cabin from a previous owner that didn’t have any sort of water softener or water treatment system in place. Is there a water flow issue at your faucets? Start by taking off all of your faucet screens, shower heads, etc., and inspect them. Get a 5-Gallon bucket and let these sit in some CLR. Replace and see if this solves the issue. If not, you could either have a weak water source, an under-powered or failing well pump, or most likely you have scale in your system.
If you have just mild scale build up, and are planning on adding a water softener, the new water flowing through the system will slowly clean it out. If you have major issues, you will want to flush out the system, or have a plumber help you flush it out. If you are fairly handy, here is an excellent article on cleaning out calcium (works for other types of build ups as well): How to Remove Calcium Buildup in Pipes
Is Your Well, Well?
If you are getting a good amount of pressure for your well, you can skip this, but if you are unhappy with your pressure, read on. Your well might not have been dug correctly, or the pump could be dying or just not powerful enough. It is actually not that big of a deal to have a local well company come out and they can dig it deeper, and / or add a better well pump. It is not that expensive, but make sure to ask around and get several quotes.
The Wellhead and Above Your Well
This may seem like common sense, but it is a common problem and worth mentioning: don’t plant trees and bushes around your wellhead, and don’t use harmful pesticides and fertilizers over your well. For specifics, look up well maintenance for your specific state, and they can guide you as to how to treat the area above your well. In general, keep the area clear around your wellhead, don’t use chemicals above the area surrounding your wellhead, and leave a clear path for heavy equipment so that they can get to your well in case you need further maintenance in the future.
First Step: Well Pressure Tank
The first step of your water treatment system is your Pressure Tank. You don’t want to mess around with this piece of equipment. You want a proven brand that is well-built and well reviewed. We recommend the Amtrol WX-202 Well Pressure Tank, which is one of the best reviewed items anywhere dealing with water treatment on Amazon. This thing is built like a Tank (pardon our pun), and is well designed to fit anywhere. If you have any doubts as to how big of a unit you might need, always go big. If you have the room for a larger tank, make the investment, but the Amtrol Pressure Tank we recommend is plenty big enough for even larger cabins. Please note, that when you purchase a Pressure Tank, you will need a Pressure Gauge, and a Pressure Switch. Both of these items are shown on the Amazon page for the Pressure Tank in a section titled “Frequently Bought Together”.
Second Step: Consider a Whole House Filter
Earlier we mentioned that there is some debate, when you have a well and water softener, as to where to place the Whole House Water Filter. If you ask around, or do a search you will find very reliable sources stating unequivocally that it needs to go before or after. What is the correct? The answer lies in both the quality of the water coming out of your well and your individual water needs.
In general, if you are just adding a water softener to, what they call “polish” the water, you will just need to add a single Whole House Water Filter AFTER your water softener. What you would do is to add a whole house filter and buy carbon filters that get out the trace elements. Think of this as a PUR filter for your cabin, but instead of just on your kitchen faucet, it is for your entire house.
However, most of us cabin owners have one other little issue with our water coming up from the well: Sediment. This is the larger matter that makes your well water cloudy. If you have noticeable sediment in your water that you tested originally, consider adding a Whole House Filter BEFORE your water filter. Here you would use a filter that is designed for gathering just the sediment and not all of the microscopic trace elements.
Most newer water softeners have a built-in filter, but for the very affordable cost of adding a sediment filter before, you will not only increase the life of your water softener, you will increase the ability of your final stage filter to do its job and will be rewarded with exceptional quality water.
We have gone through several types of Whole House Water Filters, and most ended up breaking down or leaking. A few years back we all switched to the DuPont WFHD13001B Universal Heavy Duty Whole House Water Filtration System, which is another item that is built better and tougher than any other on the market. The keywords here are “Heavy Duty” and they mean it. Adding one of these filters before and after allows you to add two stages to your very own water treatment plant, at a very low-cost. Even if you don’t have much of a sediment issue, if you are going to install one, you might as well go through the trouble of adding two. There are various filters for different needs, depending on your water test results. Don’t mess around with other types of Whole House Water Filters, you will thank us.
The Water Softener
There are a lot of new water softeners on the market, and to be honest, understanding how each system works can be daunting. Even with all of the new systems on the market, nothing beats the simple, salt system from GE. The GE GXSH45V 45,100 Grain Water Softener is still, in our opinion, the most reliable, easy to use water softener out there, and it is perfect for a cabin. The front end controls are very easy to use. You keep the thing filled with water, “recharge” it on schedule, and set it to the desired hardness level. The technology going into some of the new systems might seem impressive, but in our experience there are just too many things that go wrong, and when they do, the units become impossible to maintain.
The GE unit is for households with 5 or more people, but with cabin living, sometimes you have to overdo things just to be safe. The Whirlpool WHES30 30,000 Grain Water Softener is a great solution for a cabin with 1-4 people, and has a very similar construction with another reliable and trusted name.
If you want to risk using one of the fancier units that you might have read about, do so at your own risk. The basic and proven design of the salt water softeners from GE and Whirlpool is what you want, however, if you don’t want to be constantly dealing with a gadget that controls the water you drink, bathe in, and cook with.
As much as we may seem “fuddy duddy” on our opinions of water softeners, the newer “tankless” water heaters have us very excited. Half of our editorial team has already switched to these on-demand units, but not without some trial and error along the way.
First, these will only work well if you have the rest of your system running smoothly. You want a nice supply of water on hand, and that means an effective Pressure Tank. Next, you don’t want it dealing with water that hasn’t been softened and filtered, so make sure you have a fairly good system in place. For some units as well, you will need to vent these, but not for our preferred model, the Stiebel Eltron Tempra Plus 29 kW, tankless electric water heater with Self-Modulating Power Technology & Advanced Flow Control. This device does not need to be vented, and will pay for itself in time with the savings you will have over a traditional tank. Note on tankless water heaters: As much as these devices are money savers and extremely convenient, don’t allow the seemingly endless supply of hot water make you forget you have a septic tank. Septic tanks can’t handle a huge influx of water at one time, so still be aware of those constraints.
If you are looking to stay traditional, you can find these at your local hardware, but we do have a final piece of advice: either get the power hooked up to a remotely accessible control, so you can turn it on and off when away, or simply flip the switch on its power when you leave and when you come back. Constantly running hot water heater tanks are the single biggest drain on cabin electric bills.
The Final Step: Delicious Water to Drink
Without question, our favorite final step of a water treatment system is the affordable and efficient PUR 3-Stage Advanced Faucet Water Filter. Everyone is familiar with these, but there is one little “cabin hack” that we have found is great to use with these PUR filters. If you have a cabin in a region that gets very cold, you might want to try this. The unit comes with many washers, and you can experiment with these and make a small cut in one until you get a slow drip. You can also buy these same sized washers at your local hardware. When we leave, we put in an old PUR filter and let it drip. This helps prevent pipes from bursting.
Besides that little trick, the PUR 3-Stage Filter is about the easiest final step you can have to help satisfy the pickiest of guests that want water that tastes as close to city water as you can get. You can buy it, and simply store it until you have a guest that is nervous about drinking from the kitchen faucet, no matter how awesome your filtration system is.
If you want to go that extra, super-potent step for a kitchen faucet that puts out perfect water, we recommend the APEC Top Tier 5-Stage Ultra Safe Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Filter System. This unit will fit under most kitchen sinks, and will give you the best drinking water you can imagine.
Finally, What About Where The Water Goes?
One last note. After talking all this time about the water- what about basic care of your septic tank? Most people know the rules of no egg shells, coffee grounds, and no chlorine bleach. First, get familiar with Affresh products. This is a line of products for cleaning out your appliances, but that won’t hurt what you have going on in your septic tank.
Another item you should never forget, and that is very inexpensive, are laundry tub lint traps. Laundry lint is the enemy of your plumbing, and the fix is very easy, so don’t forget.
Next, you can use Oxygen Bleach if you absolutely need to use that in your laundry. Don’t ever, ever, use drain cleaner. This stuff will be devastating to your septic system. Finally, don’t invest in expensive septic additives to keep your septic tank healthy. Go to your local bulk store and get some old-fashioned brewers yeast. Once a month or so, put a tablespoon into a glass of warmish water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and flush it down the toilet (preferably on the highest floor). A few dollars worth of that stuff should last you a decade.