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When it comes to UK water supplies, depending on where you live, the quality coming out of your tap is certainly not the same
While soft water certainly ‘droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven’, the actual water supply into your house contains minerals dissolved from underground rock, which means there can actually be quite a lot of quality constraints as far as your water is concerned.
Naturally soft rainwater flows underground and picks up calcium and magnesium which make the water hard. This, in turn, can lead to problems all around the home. In fact, there are building regulations that stipulate where water hardness exceeds 200ppm, provision should be made by the water authority to treat the supply that feeds the hot water system in order to counteract any reduction in energy efficiency. However, for existing housing stock and legacy water supply systems, once water enters your home from the mains, it’s homeowner’s job to ensure it stays of the highest quality for drinking, cooking or bathing.
In fact, water in England is generally considered to be ‘very hard’, particularly east of a line between the Severn and Tees estuaries. Water in London, for example, is mostly obtained from the rivers Thames and Lea both of which derive significant proportion of their dry weather flow from springs in limestone and chalk aquifers. Generally, water is mostly hard in urban areas of England where soft water sources are unavailable, though a number of the wealthier industrial cities such as Birmingham and Manchester could afford to build reservoirs, with no exposure to limestone or chalk, and benefit from much softer water. Overall hard water affects around 15 million homes in the UK, mostly with no scale protection.
This is a major cause of energy wastage. 1mm of scale on a heat transfer surface increases energy usage by 7% (The Carbon Trust) which could cost up to £100 extra on annual fuel bills and potentially halve the working life of plumbed-in appliances.
Reassuringly, though metal, bacteria and algae can all get into the water supply, causing discoloration or a tainted taste, the quality of drinking water in the UK is consistently among the best in the world. There are many actions water companies take – from helping reduce pollution to investing in the latest and most innovative water treatment technology – to make sure the water that arrives at your property is wholesome and safe to drink.
However, apart from drinking, the hard water problem can significantly compromise the performance of household appliances and limescale build up in boilers, cylinders and pipes will make the system work harder, become less efficient much quicker (though all boilers will become less efficient eventually) and reduce the flow of hot water quite dramatically. The external evidence of scale is pretty familiar and can be seen on blocked shower heads, streaky shower doors and deposits on taps, but you can also be assured that internal coils, valves and heat exchangers are all equally affected.
One of the best solution is an electronic conditioning device which is fitted on the incoming mains supply to soften the water as it comes into the house and ensures the whole home is protected.
Unfortunately, most of us take our water for granted and amazingly do nothing to deal with hard water problems. We play the hand we are dealt when it comes to both water quality and water pressure: so we turn the tap on for longer and heat the water more often. Along with other behavioural issues when it comes to wasting water and energy, this remains a major barrier in our attempts to become more carbon neutral and use resources more efficiently.
Despite tighter regulations on utility companies, house builders and social landlords, when it comes to the energy required to heat water in our homes, water quality often falls under the radar, resulting in us all still paying more than our pound of flesh in fuel bills and additional costs resulting from the life span of appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, hot water cylinders and boilers being prematurely shortened.