I’ve been relatively inactive on homebrewdad.com since its inception, posting only a few recipes of mine and glossing over the dozens of email threads that blow up my phone every day. I can clearly see that this site’s popularity is booming, and since I’m not interesting enough to have my own home brewing blog, I’m going to share my endeavors here.
This past spring, my fiancée and I moved from the city of Minneapolis to a nearby suburb, leaving behind some of the best brewing water in the upper Midwest. Although I now have enough space to store all of my equipment and sate this hobby’s appetite, I am left with something barely passing as “drinking water”. An antiquated water report reveals a hardness north of 300 ppm which is essentially unusable to brew with, and despite my numerous failed attempts to contact the city for an updated report, I was forced to buy my water from the grocery store.
I should point out that making the transition to “blank slate” Reverse Osmosis water has been a change for the positive. Measuring my mash and sparge volumes has never been easier. It took a couple brew days to get my water adjustments dialed in, but because there is essentially no alkalinity to worry about pH adjustment is very simple. The downside is that I was forced to haul 20 one-gallon jugs with me to the grocery store, spend all that time filling them, then hauling them back. It is extra discouraging step for an already time-consuming day.
Not long ago, I was at my home brew store (which is now a convenient five minute drive) and woefully asked about the water profiles of the towns in the area. While they had no information on the water, the man helping me clued me in on an at-home RO system designed for hydroponics (which they sell equipment for as well) but holds value for home brewers. He went on to say he and his fellow brewing employees use these systems and love the results, reducing the hardness of their water from above 300 ppm to below 6! The scientist in me was intrigued. I did my research, consulted the budget, and then decided to take the plunge.
When I received the setup, I was surprised as to how small the system actually was. It consists of three different filter setups, each one less than a foot tall: a sediment cartridge to collect any large particles that could work its way through the system and damage the other filters, a carbon filter to eliminate any organic material as well as chlorine, and then the RO filter itself to remove nearly 100% of the remaining ions in the water. On the underside of the RO filter there are two outlets: one for the clean RO water and the other for the waste water.
Included in the kit were two mounting brackets which grab onto the center RO filter housing. All you need to do is drill them into a piece of wood (screws included). I was able to install the RO unit above my sink in a matter of minutes (as long as your cordless drill is charged, otherwise you’ll have to wait a day like I did).
The other side filters are clipped in two places to the center RO membrane, keeping the unit as a whole fairly steady. Besides mounting, you need to install the RO membrane into the housing. It’s fairly straight-forward and includes a specialized wrench to remove the cap.
Also included with the setup is the faucet adapter which fit my utility sink perfectly (the same size as a garden hose, for kitchen sinks you may need to buy an additional adapter from the hardware store to connect properly). The only thing not included with this kit is the tubing to connect the faucet adaptor to the unit, as well as for both of the outlets. I was able to get 50’ at the home brew store for $7, which is more than enough to last me for years.
Cutting and connecting the tubing was fairly easy: all of
the connections are clipped compression fittings where you insert the tubing,
pull it back a little, and then insert the clip to compress the connection
together. All of the individual filters come connected with pre-sized tubing
which makes setup very quick. It only took me maybe a half-hour’s worth of work
to install everything.
This unit is designed to operate at an optimal temperature and pressure. At home, you can’t really quantify the water pressure leaving the faucet, so I don’t worry about this so much. Temperature is easy enough to control: the optimal temp is at 77°F while the maximum temp is 105°F, so I start by turning on the cold side to get the system flowing and then slowly turning up the hot side until the water temperature is in the 70’s. It’s not an exact science, but it works well enough for me.
Once on, the waste water flow will be much more significant than the clean water flow, so make sure that you have the waste feeding into the drain. I feed the hose down the drain a little to hold it in place. There is a significant amount of wasted water (anywhere from 2-4x the amount of produced water depending on the system) which makes this unit less eco-friendly than I’d like. However, you can collect the waste water to use for any number of things. If your water isn’t terribly hard to begin with, you could certainly use it for sanitizer solution. My sink is right next to my washer and dryer so I could use it to fill up the washer for laundry.
This unit is advertised to have a 100 Gallons-per-day output, so I decided to put it to the test. I turned on the water flow and timed how long it took to fill a gallon jug, which came in right around 15 minutes. These results were consistent with each consecutive jug I filled, varying by a few minutes as I adjusted the temperature. I think the 100 GPD estimation is close, but results can vary in either direction.
Protip: if you’re filling up a bunch of one-gallon jugs, drill a hole in one of the caps to hold the tubing in place while it fills. Don’t put the cap on fully, but just partially. If you do, then pressure will build up inside the container and eventually pop the lid off. This is a great way to fill jugs while you’re busy.
Since my previous tap water makes my previous sanitizer solution cloudy immediately (which may not completely render it useless, but is still suspect in my mind), I tested this new water by making a new bottle of solution. This picture isn’t ideal, but you can see my finger through the bottle which you couldn’t do with the tap water. Clearly, it’s clear.
Overall, I’ve found the water quality to be excellent. My numbers haven’t fluctuated since switching from store-bought water and the beer quality is just as good as it has ever been. The clean water even tastes better than the tap water: I will fill up jugs just to drink from them.
The only downside I’ve had so far with this system is the sheer amount of time it takes to prepare water. You need to do it ahead of time – you can’t get away with preparing your water on brew day. I use at least 12 gallons on brew day, which would add an additional three hours of time. Furthermore, you can’t really be absent while it runs: you need to change out collection containers on a pretty regular basis. I’ve made the switch from using one-gallon jugs to filling up my 6-gallon fermentors, which means less babysitting.
I paid $80 for the unit compared to paying $0.40 per gallon to fill it at the store (plus the $0.89 I paid for the water + container initially).
80 – 20(0.89) = 62.2 62.2/0.4 = 155 155 + 20 = 175 gallons of water
In order for this investment to be worth it, I need to produce at least 175 gallons of water. Since I use 12 gallons of water for my 6 gallon batches, I would need to have just over 14 brew days to make it worth my money. For my 12 gallon batches, I use 18 gallons of water, which is just under 10 brew days.
Note that this doesn’t factor in water used for drinking, sanitizer water, or making non-beer beverages such as soda or mead. Since the purchase, I’ve made two 4-gallon batches (14 gallons of water), three 6-gallon batches (36 gallons), a 6-gallon batch of mead, and have collected enough water for soda, sanitizer water, and my next brew day. Therefore, I can assume that this investment is worth it for me.
The manufacturer recommends replacing the RO membrane once a year to ensure its effectiveness. I’ve found replacement filters for around $50, which adds another 125-gallons worth of water to make it offset. I’m not sure on the accuracy of their statement though; most RO filters will last a long time as long as they stay hydrated. If you buy this unit and notice a decline in your results, consider replacing it.
I’m very happy with my purchase. I know I’ll get more than my money’s worth out of it and have shaved a bunch of time off of my brew days. It does mean more prep time before brew day, but since I spend a lot of time doing other things in my basement, I can just let it run while I’m busy.
If your brewing water is good as it is now, or
you only cut your water by small amounts for certain batches, I don’t know if
this is an ideal match. But for those of you with terrible water at home, I
highly recommend this product. It should be able to handle even the most
disgusting of waters with ease.
Tags for this post: RO, water, pH, adjustment, filter, profile
Awesome, I'm glad this worked out!
posted by Matt on 2/12/2015 at 11:37:40 AM
Really informative post, Nick. Well done!
posted by homebrewdad on 2/12/2015 at 11:44:15 AM
Ro is so awesome. I want to hug the inventor.
Grab yourself an inexpensive TDS meter and keep your pH meter handy to determine when the filter needs replaced. When you see TDS rise above 30 ppm, then you know you have an issue... but this is also feed based. With my crappy water - a new filter gives me 30 TDS, so I am looking at about 50-60 TDS as my replacement scenario. Also - I suggest an additional activated charcoal filter inline before the RO, despite its prefilter. This will help to increase contact time with the activated charcoal, dramatically reducing chlorine/chloramines which can poison your filter.
posted by mchrispen on 2/12/2015 at 01:28:12 PM
I really love this site. Help me a lot for me choosing the best reverse osmosis system. Thanks!
posted by adamwaddy on 11/01/2015 at 01:46:55 AM
This unit is not FDA approved.
In the instructions: NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION
posted by pppp1500 on 3/03/2016 at 06:35:15 AM