Why Should You Use Reverse Osmosis Water? (RO)
When getting into the hobby of marine tanks, the basic consideration is water. Without it, nothing in your tank would live for long. In comparison to freshwater tanks, marine tanks need pristine water quality to maintain success. So what water is available to the average person?
Nitrates are part of nature in the ocean, and likewise, in aquariums. As waste breaks down in the water, it cycles from ammonia to nitrite to nitrates. The first two are highly toxic to marine life, so it is important to test aquarium water regularly, to make sure it tests zero for these.
Nitrates, on the other hand, aren't completely bad. Few organisms require nitrates, but small levels are beneficial to some. Both micro and macro algae love the stuff, while fish only tolerate it. Invertebrates suffer from it, if the levels are too high. However, studies have shown that a little is required to keep clams happy. In order for aquarium water to match nature's sea water as closely as possible, nitrates must be kept down to no more than 10-20 ppm (parts per million).
Tap Water: anything can be in your tap water, and most are undesirable for your tank.
Well Water: similar to above, with the risk of metals, high alkalinity and sicilicates from farm fertilizer run off.
Distilled Water: available in many food stores, depending on method of distillation they are (supposedly pure)
Reverse Osmosis water: often available at local pet stores, but often not properly filtered; the best practice is to have you own at home Reverse Osmosis filter.
One of the things about water is you simply don't know what's in it until you test it yourself. Fluoride, Chlorine, Chloramines, Nitrates, Phosphates, and even metals.... none of which can be added to your marine tank safely. Many of these compounds will create nuisance algae and may even lead to premature death of various livestock. Buying water from stores that promise it is filtered may be safe, but you don't really know when they changed their filters, do you? The water at the LFS may be safe to use, if they are keeping up with the schedule of changing their filters. Look in your local fish store display tanks. Are they algae free, or is there an outbreak in many tanks? If you see a lot of algae, their water might not be the best choice to use.
If you opt to use tap water because it saves you money, you'll need to add some type of de chlorinator to protect your livestock from chlorine. Kordons AmQuel Plus is excellent, and I used it for years. But how much does that cost over time? And how much is your time worth, when you have to spend hours and hours battling green hair algae or worse?
Getting a Reverse Osmosis unit of your own is a highly recommended and wise decision to make. The up front cost of a unit can vary depending on where you buy it. There are many styles with a variety of options, and they can range from about $100 to $400 or more.
When shopping, here are a few things to consider:
Gallons per Day: How quickly do you want to make water? A 100gpd unit will produce a little over 4 gallons an hour. When you need water in a hurry, you don't want to be waiting for a 25 or 50gpd unit to produce water! Rule of thumb here is the bigger the better.
Filter Sizes: The common filter size is 10", and if you buy a unit with that size, you'll be able to shop around for refill cartridges from many vendors.
Clear Canisters: The Spectra Pure, Poly Bio Marine Kold-Steril, Coralife Pure Flo all offer clear canisters. If you get a unit with solid white 'sumps', you can't tell what is going on. Clear acrylic sumps allow you to see if water is in each section, and you can visually inspect the unit to see when something needs changing.
The benefit of having a unit in your home is that you can make pure water as you need it, 24 hours a day. Installation takes about 10 minutes, under ideal conditions. You won't have to carry heavy containers of water (5 or more gallons weighs a lot!) out of the store, load it into your vehicle, then unload it at your house and carry it to your tank. Another great benefit is you will know exactly when your filters were changed last. You can even test your unit to make sure your water is safe. A TDS meter (Total Dissolved Solids) will measure the water quality; zero is the goal.
In conclusion if you add up the cost of the water you are purchasing or the chemicals you buy to de chlorinate your tap water; you will quickly notice that in very little time an RO unit will pay for itself. The benefits will include piece of mind with a marine tank that will be easier to Maintenance and look that much better from it!
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