Ultraviolet Water Purification: How Do UV Systems Work?

Ultraviolet water purification uses UV light to eliminate harmful effects from microorganisms in water. Discover more about UV purification and how it works.

Darrell Smith
Ultraviolet Water Purification Ultraviolet Water Purification
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Having access to clean drinking water is an absolutely necessary part of living a healthy life. Contaminated water can lead to a variety of life-affecting and even fatal diseases. One way of making water clean and drinkable is through ultraviolet water purification.

Continue reading and we will walk you through everything you need to know: from what UV water treatment is to how it works to why you should consider using this method in your own home.

Water Purification: The Basics

If your home's water system comes from a well or other private system, then you are solely responsible for its treatment and disinfection. A UV water purification system is a chemical-free and highly effective way of treating well water.

If your water comes from a municipal source, then there are certain standards and regulations in place to keep your water treated and safe. However, your water still passes through miles of water pipes that most likely were installed many years ago.

Broken water mains and damaged pipes can allow dangerous contaminants to affect your drinking water. UV water systems can help treat these issues too.

Water Treatment History

Very early on, humans recognized the need for clean and sanitary water. The first water treatment systems were introduced around 2000 BC by both the Greeks and Indians. These people hypothesized that heating water could purify it. They also understood that sand and gravel filtration could clean the water as well.

Around 1700 AD, the first water filters for domestic use became available. In 1854, scientists discovered that cholera and similar diseases were spread through water, which greatly enhanced people's desires for clean drinking water. Chlorine was applied to contaminated water, paving the way for water disinfection.

At the turn of the 20th century, the germicidal properties of UV radiation were discovered. Niels Fensen received the Nobel Prize in 1903 for using UV radiation to treat tuberculosis.

UV started as a popular form of treating waste water, with the first UV water treatment systems installed in France and Germany in 1910. It wasn't until the 1980s that UV really took off as a way of disinfecting drinking water.

What is Ultraviolet Water Purification?

It's important to understand how water quality is actually defined, so we understand what we're treating. Essentially, it's the state of water in reference to its physical and chemical properties.

By using germicidal ultraviolet light, a UV water purification system is able to treat water that is microbiologically unsafe to drink. The physical purifier is a chamber with a UV lamp inside that emits a germicidal wavelength of radiation that deactivates any living organism in the water flowing through the chamber.

What do we mean by “deactivates?” When living organisms like bacteria, parasites, and viruses are exposed to ultraviolet wavelengths, their DNA becomes scrambled. When this happens, not only are these organisms unable to reproduce, but they can also no longer cause illness or infection.

Common water diseases that UV light can eliminate include cholera, e. coli, streptococcus, and salmonella.

How serious are these diseases? Sadly, because they don't have access to clean water, over 800,000 children in the world under the age of five die each year from diarrheal deaths. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 88% of all such deaths are caused by unsanitary drinking water.

The Components of a UV Water Purifier

UV purifiers are relatively simple contraptions. There's a chamber which the water flows through and also a quartz glass sleeve that protects the lamp from making contact with the water. Because the sleeve is transparent, it doesn't affect the UV wavelength, and without it, the lamp wouldn't work properly.

There's also the lamp itself that emits UVC. Of the three types of UV radiation, UVC is the most damaging to microorganisms, which makes it the most effective at purifying water. There are also one or two O-rings to help keep everything connected.

How to Install a UV Water System

Installing an ultraviolet water purifier is a relatively simple process. You're essentially interrupting the waterline running into the house with the UV water system, so that the water flows from the pipes through the UV purifier and out your faucet.

Once it's installed, the quartz glass and the lamp can be replaced and serviced without interrupting your waterline. To disconnect, all you have to do is back it out and reconnect the waterline.

What Does a UV Water System Not Remove?

It's important to point out that a UV water system only deals with living organisms. It does not add chemicals, alter the water's chemistry, or affect the water's odor or taste.

A UV water system will not be able to remove chlorine, heavy metals, man-made substances such as pharmaceuticals or petroleum products, or salts. You can use other filtration processes in tandem with UV radiation to ensure that your water is completely free of contaminants.

It's also worth noting that UV radiation is only effective when the water is clean. If the water is dirty or murky, then you should filter the water first so that the radiation will be better able to penetrate it.

When to Use A UV Water System

You can use a UV water system for a variety of applications. Private well owners could benefit more than most from UV water purifiers since their water supply has no other regulated filtration process. However, households should also consider using the purifier as a point-of-entry disinfectant.

Businesses that use water dispensers directly connected to their water supply could also benefit from a UV water system.

UV systems are also widely utilized to deactivate living organisms in wastewater treatment.

What Size of Purifier Should You Get?

Ultraviolet water purifiers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The proportions of your purifier should be directly correlated to the flow rate of the water that will run through it.

The price of these systems varies along with the sizes. Typically, a standard point-of-entry UV water purifier is going to cost around $400 to $500.

UV Water System Maintenance

Maintenance is a necessary part of owning a UV water system. Then again, pretty much all water treatment systems require some sort of maintenance. Luckily, a UV water purifier requires a limited amount of attention.

The most important thing to remember is that the typical UV lamp lasts around 9,000 hours and needs to be replaced once a year. These lamps use mercury vapor as their fuel, which ignites the UV wavelength. Over time, the mercury fuel inside the lamp dissipates.

Also, the quartz glass sleeve needs to be kept clean. Just like dirt in the water can minimize the lamp's effectiveness, so can a dirty quartz sleeve.

It's recommended that the quartz glass be replaced every two years, and a good time to check on the sleeve is when the lamps is replaced. Because of how brittle the glass is, it's a good idea to keep a spare one on hand.

Should You Get an Ultraviolet Water Purifier?

An ultraviolet water purification system is an effective way to ensure that your water will be free of harmful effects from living organisms. If you source your water from a well, then it's highly recommended that you install either a UV water purifier or a similar contraption.

If your water flows from a municipal source, it's still recommended that you install a UV water system as an extra measure of safety. Remember though that these systems do require electricity to work, so those living in rural areas or intending to use these systems for emergency or survival scenarios may want to think twice about installing one.

There are also a variety of other ways to purify your water. Consider purchasing a water filter pitcher as a handy and easy way to filter water.

In this post: UV water purification, UV systems, ultraviolet water purification
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