Water pH and what it means to you

The range of the pH scale is from 0 to 14, with 0 being acid and 14 being alkaline. The neutral reading of 7.0 would mean that the solution ( in this case water ) is neither acidic nor alkaline. The term pH is an abbreviation for potential of hydrogen as the balance of hydrogen and hydroxide ions determine the level of acidity or alkalinity.


As with all parameters for drinking water laid down by the E.U. and then adopted by Ireland there is an acceptable level of pH. The difference with pH is that there is an acceptable range within which water should stay. That range is from 6.5 to 7.5, so as long as the reading is within these  two figures the pH is considered acceptable.


In municipal and group water schemes this range should always be maintained by the water treatment company , so should not ordinarily be an issue. The possible exception to this is where hard water is present and causes a problem. The pH of the hard water will be within the acceptable range, but lime-scale can cause havoc with the kettle and showers, not to mention the heating system. The obvious solution is to fit a water softener to deal with the lime-scale.


The one problem with this solution is that you have solved one problem and unknowingly created a situation which is even worse. In some cases where the natural pH of the water unacceptably  low the council will "dose" the low pH water with lime. This has the effect of increasing the pH to bring it into range ( 6.5 – 7.5 ) thereby making it acceptable.


The problem occurs when the water is already hard and lime-scale is detected. Once the water is softened, the "buffer" to the natural acidity of the water is removed and you now have corrosive water. Instead of having lime deposits slowly constricting the flow of water, you now have a situation where the pipe and fittings are slowly being eaten away by corrosive water. One of the tell-tale signs is a "green" discolouration around taps and other fittings. This is the copper being leached out of the pipes and brass fittings and taps. In a couple of cases where I have been called in to investigate the problem, stainless steel cylinders have been eaten through and caused leaks. Another indication of a problem is when blonde or bleached hair starts to go green.  


 In one instance I was called upon to treat the water after a painting process in a factory. The pH range of water being sent to drain in commercial situations is governed also to prevent overly alkaline or acidic water from being discharged into the drainage system and causing an environmental problem. The treatment for high or low pH water is mostly a matter of dosing with a  naturally occurring substance to overcome the imbalance.


So for domestic town water, well systems and commercial and industrial applications the same principles apply, but this would not be a D.I.Y. challenge, there's too much at stake.  The last thing you want to greet you is a collapsed ceiling due to a leak in the attic where a fitting had failed and allowed water to escape.


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