Dealers of drinking water treatment systems today enjoy a growing market of opportunity. However, accompanying this growth is increasing competition, a tightening economy and a far more informed consumer. All of these require dealers to find better ways to differentiate their products and services.
A presentation supported by third-party testing and certification will bring peace of mind to the buyer and dealers closer to the sale.
Making the product sale involves many considerations by the homeowner and, therefore, should be part of every dealer’s sales package. They include such things as price, service delivery, maintenance intervals, warranty and, of course, the performance capability and reliability of the product to address the homeowner’s needs and desires for improved water quality. Building consumer confidence in product performance and reliability requires the dealer to present facts, dispelling any skepticism in the homeowner’s purchasing decision. These “facts” can vary significantly, impacting the dealer’s ability to make a convincing presentation and, ultimately, the product sale. Those dealers representing products tested and certified to American National Standards have a distinct advantage in addressing this need.
Some dealers will rely on data provided by the product manufacturer as produced in the manufacturer’s own laboratory. This commonly is referred to as a “self-declaration” of performance. While it addresses the need for test data, manufacturers’ testing of their own products often brings into question the credibility of the testing and results. Others will use commercial laboratories that have the means of installing a device in the laboratory and testing with challenge water, controlling which contaminants are introduced to the device and evaluating its ability to reduce them. How this testing is done can affect the performance of the system. As the customer of the laboratory, the manufacturer can direct them to conduct testing in a certain way that may influence the final result. This can again bring into question the credibility of the data.
American National Standards
To overcome all these issues of credible data to demonstrate product performance and reliability, the water treatment industry took the first important steps more than 30 years ago. In the early 1970s NSF International (NSF), along with the manufacturers, the Water Quality Improvement Standards and Certification Council, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and other agencies developed the first of the NSF Drinking Water Treatment Unit Standards. The goal was to establish standards by which products would be tested, eliminating variability in test methods and acceptance criteria. Over time this same need and desire led to the development of five more NSF Standards, addressing the diversity of products available in the market for reducing a variety of drinking water contaminants.
To further the standard’s recognition and acceptance both in the United States and around the world, NSF sought and received accreditation by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
This allowed NSF to designate all six NSF Standards as “American National Standards” (NSF/ANSI), reinforcing the need and value to have one set of standards for all related products.
Meeting the Standard
Compliance with the American National Standards is a significant undertaking by the manufacturer and represents many valuable selling points for the dealer. First, the standards address a wide range of product requirements beyond simple contaminant reduction. For example, every material used in the device that comes in contact with the drinking water is independently evaluated. This evaluation determines if individual materials add harmful substances to the drinking water. Homeowners want contaminants reduced, not added.
Toxicologists first evaluate the material formulation as required by the standard. Once all the formulations are reviewed, testing parameters are selected and the product undergoes an aggressive water extraction test. The analysis of the extracted water must show that no contaminants are introduced into the drinking water above regulated levels.
Another critical evaluation required of all treatment devices is structural integrity. This testing generally involves three evaluations. First, a short-term burst pressure test at four times the maximum working pressure is performed for most products. The resulting test pressure often is 500 psig, many times higher than any home would ever experience. The second common evaluation includes testing at a lower pressure but for a longer duration. This test is referred to as the Hydrostatic Pressure Test and is run for 15 minutes at three times the maximum working pressure. The third and final test performed on most systems includes 100,000 continuous cycles from 0 to 150 psig, simulating integrity of the product over its useful life. The single criteria used for all these tests is the absence of any leakage of water from the product during and at the conclusion of the test.
The standard also specifies requirements for product literature and product labeling. These requirements standardize the minimum information to be included in product installation, operation and maintenance instructions, data plate and accompanying literature. In doing so, the homeowner is protected against false or misleading information.
These three sections (i.e. materials, structural integrity and literature) are applicable to all standards and all products. Dealers emphasizing to the homeowner these broad criteria will demonstrate some of the significant measures taken by manufacturers to bring quality and reliability in the product.
The final and most important aspect of the standards is the contaminant reduction testing. Dealers can present to the homeowner many important features of the testing that will help to build confidence in the product.
Manufacturers have a choice as to which contaminant testing they want performed. Once the individual contaminants are selected, the standard specifies the challenge level, test conditions and maximum effluent values. Challenge levels generally are determined using occurrence data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey. Levels are set at 95 percent of the upper end of the survey results, representing extreme test water conditions. Testing of the treatment system is to the full capacity and flow conditions and, in many cases, beyond. For example, adsorptive media making aesthetic claims such as taste, odor and chlorine reduction are evaluated to 100 percent of the system capacity. Conversely, health claims such as lead, MTBE, mercury and arsenic are tested to 200 percent of the claimed capacity. Flow rates are controlled for the aesthetic tests, whereas no flow control is provided during the health-related claims testing.
Products meeting the health related performance criteria at 200 percent can claim only 100 percent, or half of the total tested capacity. This ensures an added level of safety in the event the system is not maintained promptly at the end of the service cycle. For those with performance indication devices, testing is done to 120 percent of life and the reliability of the indication test is evaluated. Further, the manufacturer can claim only one capacity. If one contaminant is not removed as efficiently as another, the manufacturer must claim a reduction capacity that represents the least efficient of all claims, providing another level of conservatism.
Reverse osmosis (RO) systems, as tested to NSF/ANSI Standard 58, also have a number of conservative measures built into the testing. For example, pre- and post-filters are removed from the system during the performance testing. This ensures that only the membrane is providing for the treatment and is not assisted by the other filtration components. The other reason for removing the pre- and post-filters is they generally are capacity-related components, unlike the membrane. Testing of these components, if making related capacity claims, is performed using the other applicable standards.
The test conditions for adsorptive/absorptive media and RO systems includes operation 16 hours/day, far more than a typical home. While this is necessary to accelerate the testing, thereby reducing the cost of the test, it also represents another stress condition. Most systems perform better with longer rest periods. All tests also are performed in duplicate and both systems under test must pass.
Water softeners also are evaluated for a number of performance-related tests, ensuring the claims made by the manufacturer are accurate. Testing performed to determine capacity, for example, requires multiple regenerations to determine softening performance, along with water consumption during regeneration and rinse effectiveness. Related claims also are evaluated, such as the accuracy of the brine system, to determine the amount of salt used in each regeneration cycle.
Certification Ties It All Together
In addition to the many selling points dealers have available for products tested to the requirements of American National Standards, there still are more relating to the process of certification. Certification requires another level of commitment by the manufacturer, further reinforcing the value to the end customer of product quality and integrity. Some examples of the requirements relating to certification include the following.
- Approval of all product modifications prior to making the change, ensuring the change does not negatively impact compliance with the applicable standard.
- Audit of each production facility at least once per year, ensuring the product is manufactured to the proper specifications as certified.
- Retesting of the product every five years, ensuring consistency over time with the test requirements of the applicable standard.
- Potential for product recall and public notice in the event a certified product is found to be out of compliance with the applicable standard.
NSF and the Mark of Distinction
All of these important measures of product performance and reliability are available to those dealers representing products tested and certified to any of the six American National Standards for drinking water treatment units. Currently, nearly 5,000 products are NSF certified to these standards.
Finally, dealers representing NSF Certified products know they are supported by a mark that is unmatched in credibility and recognition. No other certification organization has more experience, capabilities or commitment to the testing and certification services for the water treatment industry and to public health and safety. References to NSF are made regularly in consumer publications, including newspapers, magazines, radio and television. This visibility helps to further enhance the importance of certification and the value it brings to the dealer and ultimately to the homeowner.
Dealers know that the purchase of a drinking water treatment system is an important decision made by a homeowner. They also know that homeowners are more knowledgeable and informed than ever before regarding water quality issues. Making a convincing presentation, as supported by independent, third-party testing and certification to NSF/ANSI Standards, will bring peace of mind and confidence to the buyer and dealers one critical step closer to making the sale.