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Keep Your Home’s Water Safe with Tips from Mike Holmes

Mike Holmes
Mike Holmes

Mediaplanet spoke with CTV’s Mike Holmes about how you can ensure you have safe drinking water in your home.

Why is water safety important to you?

Water is our most precious resource and it needs to be protected and preserved for today and for future generations. There’s no excuse for all Canadians not to have clean, safe water. For the people who live near Lake Ontario, it’s our only source for drinking water, and it’s vital that we preserve it.

For concerned homeowners, what are the steps they should take to ensure their tap water is safe to drink?

That’s simple. Homeowners should get their water tested periodically to make sure it’s safe to drink. Test kits are available through your local health office or municipality. According to Health Canada, acceptable lead levels are five parts per billion, so get your water tested to make sure it’s safe. Also, remember that it may be the piping in the home itself that can cause contamination, so you can have a licensed plumber or home inspector investigate the type and age of your plumbing to make sure it’s safe. 

Homeowners on private well systems should get their water tested at least twice a year, at the source and the tap — make sure it’s tested for radon, too. If radon levels in your well water are high, there’s an aeration technology called Airwell that will mitigate that for you.

When it comes to elevated lead levels in drinking water, what are most homeowners unaware of?

Lead in drinking water is known to cause health-related conditions such as hypertension, miscarriages, and cardiovascular disease in adults, as well as developmental issues in unborn babies and young children. 

What types of homes are more at risk than others?

Older homes built before the 1980s may have pipes made from galvanized steel, which can contain lead. Lead was also used in the soldering of pipes until 1990, but since then has been prohibited by the National Plumbing Code of Canada. When replacing the service lines and drains, most municipalities or utility providers are only responsible for the service to the curb stop, which is usually in your lawn, on your driveway, or at the property line, and the homeowner is responsible for the pipes leading to the house and within the property. If there has only been a partial replacement, lead may still make its way into the water, meaning that if you as a homeowner have upgraded your water pipes and the city or town you live in hasn’t made the necessary upgrades, you could still be at risk and vice versa. As a side note, according to the City of Toronto, most apartment buildings, condos, and multi-residential buildings don’t have lead pipes regardless of age because lead is too soft to handle the pressure for this type of construction.

What are the most common water safety- related repairs needed for older homes?

Older homes will have pipes made of galvanized steel, which over time will break, get clogged, and corrode from the inside, causing: 

  1. rust (iron) in the water;
  2. low water volume or pressure due to the decrease in the diameter of the pipe; and 
  3. issues with your electrical hot water tank as rust particles break down the electrical elements.

I highly recommend that homeowners re-plumb their lines with copper, stainless steel, or a combination of plastic (PVC, PEX, or CPVC) piping. Work with your plumber to find the solution that best suits your needs.

Can homeowners do this themselves, or should they hire a licensed professional?

I would always suggest that homeowners consult with a licensed professional plumber, especially if you have an older home with outdated plumbing. A professional can identify what needs to be done, both inside your home and for the service lines to your home.

For those who are unable to replace their pipes, what are some other solutions you would recommend to them?

To reduce your exposure to lead, Health Canada suggests that you only use cold water for drinking, cooking, and preparing baby formula. Also, remember to flush out your pipes after a period of sitting and let your tap run for approximately one minute to clear the pipes.

I also recommend investing in a water filtration system, especially if you’re on well water. The main goal of water filtration systems is to improve the overall taste of water, as they remove chlorine, trace heavy metals, and organic compounds. There are many options available, like electrically-charged devices to prevent build-up, filtered pitchers, faucet mount and under-counter units, and whole house filters. Do your research and work with your plumber to find the best solution. Bottom line — contact your municipality to find out the status of the water service line upgrades and get your water tested.  

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