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Sulfur stress

Germantown has so many wonderful things going for it (see our Connect page, for starters). Ah, but underneath! No, not some seedy cultural underbelly or local haunting. But something formed deep (alas not deep enough) in the earth, eons and eons ago, that burbles up and makes itself known…malodorously. Sometimes it is even accompanied by a foul black, gray or pink (think strawberry smoothie) sludge that surges out of water taps, making washing and drinking unthinkable.

Hello, sulfur!

Like stinkbugs, Germantown’s sulfur was here long before us and will be here long after we are gone. I am assured by smart people (including the guys on This Old House) that it is not harmful to health. Spa treatment, anyone? But it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, pleasant.

Sulfur is a fact of life. And, for the most part, we have found reliable ways to deal with it. Periodically, though, I am summoned into battle at one property or another. Each situation is different, and I won’t pretend to be remotely expert on the biochemistry of hydrogen sulfide. My guiding light for all things “water” is the father-daughter team at Hart Water.

Desiree Hart – with her years of experience and ability to clearly and calmly diagnose even the most baffling set of facts – fully engages as a partner in our war on sulfur. She’s helped us pinpoint problem areas in our systems (for example, electric hot water tanks are veritable breeding grounds for sulfur bacteria and their factory-installed anode rods unlock sulfur gas from water) while steering us away from chemical treatments. At one house, working with a national franchise, we grappled with a capricious peroxide-based system that cost us years of frustration and many expensive (and wasteful) bottles of product that never really worked. Desiree and her dad replaced that apparatus with a chemical-free system that nipped the sulfur in the bud…and requires little maintenance.

So, when it became apparent that sulfur was an issue at another Worth Preserving project in Germantown, I called on Hart yet again. What will work this time?

So far in this house, we’ve installed the same “sulfur break” carbon filter and UV light combo that worked so well for us before. The cold water is now fresh as a daisy. The hot water is a persistent challenge, even after replacing the old, gunked-up hot water tank with a new one (thanks to our plumber Rich Harkins, who also removed the anode rod!). The UV light kills any bacteria (including sulfur), so we’ve deduced that it must be hydrogen sulfide gas causing the problem. Whereas the standard 120-degree temperature setting on a hot water tank makes for a hostile environment for bacteria, it can apparently unleash the gas. So we’re experimenting with setting the temperature closer to 110 degrees.

I have my fingers crossed that this low-tech, more environmental solution will work – though, as someone who has been known to set off smoke alarms when I take a hot shower, I shiver to think about it. The sacrifices one makes!

To be continued…

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