Dirty house water? Clean it up with a whole house filter!

1. a sample of the fuzzy sediment that settled from my blackish-green water sampled (where the iron count was 31.25 ppm). 2. Zack installing a whole house water filter and soldering the copper pipes. 3. The newly installed filter next to a photo of the same filter one month later. They're supposed to last three months! So dirty! 4. The dirty filter compared with a brand new one.

1. a sample of the fuzzy sediment that settled from my blackish-green water sampled (where the iron count was 31.25 ppm). 2. Zack installing a whole house water filter and soldering the copper pipes. 3. The newly installed filter next to a photo of the same filter one month later. They're supposed to last three months! So dirty! 4. The dirty filter compared with a brand new one.

As hard as I try to conserve water, it’s discouraging when the water I DO use comes out in an array of colors ranging from yellowish-brown to blackish-green. Is water the color of sludge even okay for my plants?? Nevermind my skin and insides…

Ever since I bought my house, at completely random times, my water would come out varying shades of murkiness. Operating under the belief that tax-paying citizens are generally entitled to clean water, I kept hounding DeKalb County’s Water and Sanitation Department as well as the Department of Watershed Management to come out and clean up my dirty water. They told me that the problem was most likely iron, which doesn’t make any sense since my pipes are copper all the way from the street to the house and then throughout the house. Nothing galvanized here. They flushed the water lines at the nearest fire hydrant, they replaced the water mains at the top of my yard, and came out to test a few times. Nothing worked nor made sense to them either.

When the Department of Watershed Management came out to test again a few months ago, I also gave them two samples of water that I had taken when it was particularly disgusting. When I got the results (and still no suggestion on appropriate action) on both their samples and my own, I couldn’t believe it and decided I was going to have to figure out a solution on my own.

If you’ve ever had your water tested, these were the results from the testing (ppm = parts per million):

  • .03 ppm = the Environmental Protection Agency’s daily recommended dosage of iron
  • .16 ppm = my cold water
  • .77 ppm = my hot water
  • 3 ppm = a yellowish-brown sample that I took
  • 31.25 ppm = a greenish-black sample that I took

Holy crap! At its finest, my water had over 1000% of the EPA’s daily recommendation! The DWM informed me that while the EPA has its suggestion as to iron levels, “significant amounts of iron don’t actually pose any threat.” Needless to say, I started researching and asking around to see what other people had done to solve their dirty water problems. Someone had mentioned a whole house filter, so I checked it out.

The whole house water filter that I ended up getting cost less than $40 at Home Depot, plus another $11 or so for a pack of two filters. I tackled the job of installation with 3-4 hours on a Sunday afternoon; copper pipes, fittings, and shut-off valve; a small pipe cutter; solder; a blow-torch; and a wonderful boyfriend who knows how to use all of those things. I tried to do a good job of not getting in the way too much. If all of that sounds intimidating, then I would recommend having a professional plumber install the water filter for you.

As you can see by the photos to the right, the whole house water filter worked! For the first time in over two years, I had clean water!! I had set the alarm that comes with the filter to go off after three months, but after one month, my water pressure started dropping, indicating that it was time to change the filter because it was so clogged with sediment and rust. I still don’t know what exactly is causing my dirty water, but it’s happening before the water comes into the house. Perhaps there is a small crack in my pipe? Or a small bit of nail or something rusting? I don’t know, but for now, I’m happy to feel safe drinking my own water again, even if it does mean changing out the filter every month.

If you’ve had this same issue in DeKalb County, please let me know! Thanks!

7 Responses to “Dirty house water? Clean it up with a whole house filter!”
  1. Bob Flynn says:

    That was like an episode of This Old House. Interesting, and ingenious!

  2. Alvin Sims says:

    I have the same problem.My water has been red clay dirt color or gray @times for a week now.This is not the first time.

    • The whole house filter has worked wonders! Granted, I have to change the filter once a month instead of once every three months like it should be, but at least my water is clean. We just installed another one on the other side of my duplex and my neighbors couldn’t believe how quickly the white filter turned a muddy reddish color. Dirty water had come out of their taps occassionally, but they had no idea there was that much sediment and rust that they weren’t seeing. It’s a little scary!

      I’m not sure how much a plumber would charge to come out and install one, but it could definitely be a worthwhile investment! Let me know how it goes!

  3. Tom Williams says:

    I noticed that your hot water line had much higher concentrations. This could be from an old hot water heater that needs to be replaced. There’s a sacrificial metal rod in them that gradually rusts away over time and after that the tank itself can corrode. I’ve had this happen and the result can be some hot tubs that are pretty brown and unsuitable for soaking!

    Another thing to look at is how much sludge (from whatever the source) is still at the bottom of your hot water tank. Since the water sits there for long periods without circulating, a lot of particulates can settle out. Some of it may be picked up again once a hot tap gets opened somewhere, but a lot can build up. I’ve seen a hot water heater that had so much sludge that even after completely draining the water it was still too heavy for the plumber to move!

    • Hi Tom,
      Thanks for the comment – my plumber mentioned the same thing about the hot water heater towards the beginning of this whole process. I told him that the hot water heater was new in 2006, but that was right before I bought the house and I didn’t see the installation. He said they could have even knocked the sacrificial rod and broken it. He actually flushed the line on a couple of occasions, too, and the water would always come back dirty.

      Another mystery is that the water at the outside spigots also comes out filthy – and that pipe diverts before ever passing through the hot water heater.

      I’ve been finding that even the whole house filter won’t work sometimes and water will still come through off-color. It’s so frustrating!

      In good news, at least I found filters online for 1/3 of what they cost in the store and bought 24 of them. 🙂

  4. Barb says:

    I too, am having the same problem in 1 of my rental problems. Department of Watershed Management refuses to come out to do anything. Is there any particular person that you talked to to get them to do water tests? I would love to know how you even got them to come out, because they are refusing to do so, saying that it is a landlord issue.

    • Hi Barb,
      I started out by calling the DeKalb emergency #, which is 404.294.2311, and they set up the appointment for someone to come out and test it (which they did). Nobody seemed particularly interested in the severity of the problem, so I wrote a letter to the Director of Dept. of Watershed Management and Mark Lott (one of the techs) called me back. His # is 770.621.7226.

      You might want to try calling the DeKalb’s lab directly at 770.391.6047. Jay Jones was the senior chemist at the time and his number is 770.391.6055. They’ll test it, but they won’t be able to fix any problems – you’d need DWP for that.

      I hope this helps and good luck! Two years later, my water is still filthy, but the whole house filter is working great.

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