Travis McKenzie, Sales Director of Aquarius Homes Services joins today’s show to talk about Soft Water and the Kinetico Water System.
Aquarius Homes Services, formerly Aquarius Water Conditioning, specializes in heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical, and water treatment. They provide a water treatment and conditioning system and offer free consultation and baseline testing for homeowners and buyers. Travis mentions that they encounter common customer concerns such as iron or hard water, staining, and build-up. These things affect home appliances and fixtures.
Travis talks about water quality and safety as well as various sources of water and the use of chemicals for treatment. He identifies the substances that are present in water and their potential hazards. He discusses the cons of using chlorine such as its byproduct and trihalomethanes, which are known to be cancer-causing. Bill mentions that there is a low water quality in the Minneapolis area and water conditioning is something that homeowners need to consider.
Travis explains how the Kinetico Water System works and how it provides unlimited conditioned water. He discusses degeneration, the use of salt in the water softening, the levels of water treatment to meet the conditioned quality, and how the system cleans with its own water. Also, he talks about the investment cost and the longevity of the American-built system. He highlights that this machine will prevent damages and clogging of plumbing, fixtures, and appliances.
Learn more about Kinetico Water System and Aquarius Home Services, visit aquariushs.com.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking to all things houses, home inspections, and anything else that’s rattling around in our heads. On today’s episode, we’re excited to have Travis McKenzie with us. Travis works for Aquarius Home Services. They’re a large home services company based here in the Twin Cities. They do heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical, water treatment. I’m sure there’s other services they offer, but I got turned on to Aquarius after listening to a podcast, probably 18 months, maybe two years ago already. It was called Toolbox for the Trades, it’s with ServiceTitan, and they were interviewing Rod Yoder, who was the Director of National Sales for Kinetico. And he shouted out about Aquarius and how they were just doing an amazing job in the Twin Cities market. And at that point, I knew I needed to learn more about this company because I’ve always wondered about Kinetico.
BO: I feel like Kinetico is this magical machine that sits in the basement of people’s homes. It doesn’t run on power then it treats water, and I wanna find out more about it, and I’m hoping that homeowners, if they have one or are thinking about getting a water conditioner, could actually listen to this podcast and make a pretty informed, intelligent decision whether or not this is something they wanna look at. So I hope you enjoy the conversation with Travis. We’re gonna get to know their company a little bit. This is our first conversation that we’ve had and, hopefully, it’s the first of many, because I think they add a tremendous amount of value to homeowners’ lives by being able to keep all the equipment in their home running at tip top shape. Enjoy.
BO: Well, welcome, Travis. I’m excited to have you here to be having this conversation. I’ve come to learn a little bit about Aquarius in my research in our conversations. I noted this in the intro. I got turned on to you guys probably 24 months ago. I heard a podcast from Toolbox for the Trades. ServiceTitan puts out a podcast, and they had the National Director of Sales, Rod Yoder, on… National Director of Sales for Kinetico, Rod Yoder, on, and he was talking about all things Kinetico, and I was just soaking up everything he was saying. And then at the end, he did this amazing shout-out of Aquarius Home Services, and just talked about how your company was just crushing it in this market. And I knew then that I needed to have a conversation with you guys at some point because, as home inspectors, we walk past water conditioning and treatment systems all the time, but we do not inspect them because they’re outside of the guard rails that our industry puts up. Is that a fair way to say it, Reuben?
Reuben Saltzman: Pretty much. Yeah, yeah. They’re not included in our standard of practice. It’s not to say we never touch them, never do anything with them, but we’re not required to do anything with them.
BO: Right. I learned about Aquarius through Rod on the ServiceTitan podcast, and then I reached out to Aquarius and I got in contact with Travis. So Travis, can you take a minute and just talk a little bit about Aquarius, and what you guys do and where you’re located?
TMc: Yeah, absolutely. So Aquarius Home Services was Aquarius Water Conditioning originally, established in 1987 from Jeff Dougherty. So we originally were established as a water treatment organization up until, boy, past five, seven years perhaps, and we’ve expanded into other trades. So we like to say that we were founded on water treatment, but truly, we were founded on service, we just happened to have water treatment. It’s been our vehicle to get us to where we are, build a phenomenal customer base, allow us for some pretty healthy expansion, and again, allow us to get in other trades. So, yeah, we just celebrated our 35-year anniversary this year.
RS: Wow, fantastic.
BO: You’re a service business that just happens to do water treatment when you started, and now you happen to do all sorts of home service offerings. And, Reuben, you talk about that a lot. You’re an education company that just happens to do home inspections.
RS: Exactly, yep.
TMc: I love that, I love that. And that’s something really that hadn’t been realized originally, is the owner of our company, Jeff, which has been a personal friend. I’ve been here for almost 14 years now. You know that it was always water treatment, water treatment, water treatment, and that was his trade. And, as you know, as tradesmen get into the field and end up running a business as a tradesman does, soon realizing that water treatment, like I said, was the vehicle, but anybody can sell water treatment, anybody can sell heating, cooling. Anybody can do that. But the service portion and really meaning it and understanding what’s really behind service and having an entire organization all rowing the same direction and offering that same service and being empowered to do so, that’s something you don’t get with a lot of companies. And I feel that that’s been a very strong root to our organization in particular, which is one of the primary reasons why I’m here.
BO: Yeah, amen. That’s important. And when people welcome you into their home, you just certainly hope, when you leave, they go, “We’re gonna have them back.” Right?
TMc: Absolutely, 100%. We’re in the getting in the home business.
BO: Well, let’s turn to water conditioning, and is that the correct way to say it? Is… Does your machine, the Kinetico Water System, is that a water treatment or a water conditioner?
TMc: Yes to everything. Water treatment, water conditioning, absolutely.
BO: Okay [chuckle] Okay. If you live in the Twin Cities metro area and you’re not in one of the two big cities that pulls their water from the river, you probably need some sort of system to treat the water in your house. There’s not a high level of water quality in this area. So we all know it’s bad, and we know there are some options out there to treat it. Now, Kinetico is unique, and I… Travis, I want you to explain why they’re unique. But just at a high level, you can treat with salt or you cannot treat with salt, right?
RS: But Bill, I wanna pause on that because I know Travis, he’s being polite, but I bet he wants to jump in too when you’re talking about Minneapolis and St. Paul not needing water treated. But we were just discussing amongst the company about this new program that St. Paul has to get rid of all the lead water lines that they have. So it’s like, even if you don’t have hard water, it doesn’t mean that you necessarily have good water. So Travis, I wanna make sure to open it up to you in that department too, just to talk about general water quality and safety, but just wanna expand your answer a little before you go on, So with that… [chuckle] Take it away. You got the next… You got the next 30 minutes. We won’t interrupt.
TMc: I’m gonna have a really hard time filling that if you’ve met me for more than 25 seconds. So one of the things when we’re customer-facing, we really try to be careful about saying the words need. It’s really a personal preference based on the education that we’re able to give the customer. I get that that may sound scripted but it is the truth. We really try to not focus on need-based stuff and just educate that way. So if you’re talking about, let’s just say, city applications. So a city application is you get your water from a municipal well or from the river, whatever, and they run it through a refining process, put it into a tower, I guess, if you will, and pressurize it and it runs to your home. Having municipal water has been one of the greatest things in the history for mankind. They’ve added sanitization to the water to help make sure that we’re not getting sick from things like cholera. It was a huge pandemic or epidemic or whatever you wanna call it I think even just before the 1800, so they decided that we need to do a mass treatment to our city water supplies that we’re all sharing and add chemical such as chlorine to the water, which I’m sure everyone here is familiar with, which is fantastic.
TMc: And chlorine has been one of the greatest things that the city supplies have done for water treatment ever. However, and I guess this would be the but, with good becomes another issue. You’re always creating some other issue. So what happens is they add your chlorine to the city water to help make it safe from virus and bacteria, if that makes sense. The challenge with that is there’s by-products that can take place with the addition of chlorine, stuff called trihalomethanes. These trihalomethanes are known to be cancer-causing. They’re starting to find more research that it’s causing these other issues. So with anything, there’s always another thing that comes. So we are big advocates of saying, “Hey, let us come in, educate you as much as we possibly can, to make an informed decision whether this is something important to you or not.” So in a city water situation, it’s how important are these things to you to be taken out of the water because the city cannot do it, the city cannot do it, and you have a personal choice.
Tessa Murry: Are there health risks then to drinking just city water without removing any of these impurities? What are potential consequences someone could have?
TMc: There are many. I’m going to be extremely careful to go down that rabbit hole in particular. I don’t wanna get into a potential fear thing. But, yes, with anything there can potentially be a health risk. We talked about lead. So I think, Reuben, you brought up the lead earlier. Well, that was a huge issue in Michigan. What the aftermath of that had been, it’s hard to say when people get sick from what. So the answer, Tessa, is yes, there are health concerns that can happen, and this is where it’s the person’s personal preference of how good of level of water treatment they wanna get, based on what we’re able to show them.
TM: What do you have in your house, Travis, can I ask that?
TMc: I decided that water treatment just wasn’t for me. I love my…
TMc: I love my well…
TMc: Yeah, I’ve got a pretty extensive system in my house. I’ve got what’s called pre-filtration to water softening all the way to purification. So I have our pretty standard, best of the best. Luckily, I didn’t need anything above and beyond that, just I didn’t have any other crazy issues, but I’m dealing with something called nitrates in my water. I’m on a farm. I live on a farm. And there are something called nitrates in my water that is a by-product of pesticides and herbicides that they would spread on the farm and ends up in your water supply, and those can create issues over time as well. So of course, for me and my family, I wanna make sure that the nitrates are out of the water as well. I remove those through reverse osmosis.
BO: Okay. And what else do you find in water? Okay, so there’s chlorine that’s used to make it safe to drink. There might be nitrates in there. There’s that big long word that you said that I’ll allow you to say. What else are we battling against?
TMc: Yeah, so I will start with this. I would say the most common reasons that customers call our company is generally the things they can see. So the things that they can see are like iron, or hard water. And hard water itself, for those people that may not be familiar with the term, it’s literally just rocks like lime or calcium carbonate that have dissolved into the water supply and ended up in your home. So I would say 80 plus percent of the reason people are calling us is because their appliances, fixtures, their toilets, their showers, look really poor.
TMc: Yeah, because of the buildup, if that makes sense, and that kinda triggers the call. And from that point, we are able to go in and test for these things. And we test for iron, hard water. We test for nitrates, chlorine, something called tannins that are in people’s water. I don’t know if anyone here is a coffee drinker, tea drinker, maybe wine. Do you drink wine?
BO: All of the above.
TMc: Yeah. So when we deal with private well water, we run into something called tannins a lot, and tannins is simply just decayed vegetation, and really common by wetlands. And as you know from Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, it is a lot of wetlands. So these are the things a lot of people don’t know when they call us because they just see that initial issue, and then we’re able to really unpack that a little bit further for people. Show them a lot of really cool different things we can do with their water, which is really unexpected for people that are not in this industry, and we can touch on that a little bit more as we go if you’d like.
TM: How much does it cost to do the testing, Travis?
TMc: Yeah, so our company does the testing all for free. We do the consultation for free, and that is what we advertise and that’s just a part of service we offer, and from there, we’re very upfront about what this appointment is. We’re coming out for free to analyze what we can with you, and from there, if you determine there’s things in there you wanna fix, absolutely 100% would love to show you how to do it. And we do really cool demonstrations where we can literally show people how we transform their water from what it is to what it could be. So they get a real live experience before they even invest in us, which is really cool.
TM: So they get little samples even, right? Do they get to taste the water and see the difference?
TMc: Yes, they do. Yes, they do. Yes, they do.
TM: Wow. I bet that sells itself to a lot of people.
TMc: It’s really cool, yeah. Well, that’s the thing. You don’t have to go in and be this big, pitchy, over-the-top person. You just show them all these cool things, and you just naturally get excited because it’s stuff people don’t know and they’ve never seen before. And it’s just really cool to start to see when people… When you’re in front of a homeowner or whatever, it’s really cool when you can just see these moments that they start to get it, and you can just see it. And, literally, by the act of just showing them a difference, people feel inspired and motivated just by us showing and telling. It’s pretty cool.
RS: Now, I got a question to piggy back on that. We’re a home inspection company. Most of what we do is real estate transaction-driven. So we’re out there with people who have this very narrow window, and we get a lot of questions from home buyers about water quality, like, “Oh, the water smells funky,” or there’s stains, or this, that or the other. It looks funky. And a lot of the time, we’ll talk to people about having the water tested or putting in a filtration system. But can you guys go out there? Will you get involved in any of that when it relates to a purchase? Let’s say I’m buying a house. I’m concerned about it. Can I call you guys up and say, “Hey, I’m buying this house. I want you to test it. I wanna see what I’m gonna need to do.” Can you get out there that quickly, or is that just something you don’t wanna touch?
TMc: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Whatever… How am I gonna say this so it doesn’t sound super tacky? Whatever we believe is gonna be of the best service for the customer that we are going to ultimately be gaining, absolutely. We’ll go above and beyond and do whatever we need to do to help them get whatever they need to get, whatever it is. I hope that answers your question, but that would be a solid yes, for sure. As long as we’re dealing with the people that are directly involved with what they’re ultimately gonna be tasked to live with.
RS: Okay. I got a follow-up to that. We do testing on water occasionally. We don’t do a whole lot, but it’s definitely not our bread and butter. But we’ll go out to a house, we’ll take samples and we’ll bring it into a lab, like Tri-County Lab or something like that, and then they’ll do the testing on it. We give our customer the results, and we charge enough to make it worth our drive time, but that’s about it. We don’t make any money doing this. Would you be able to provide good enough results that people could use it for a real estate transaction, like testing for nitrates and bacteria on a house that has a well?
TMc: That is a really, really great question. So the answer is probably more leaning towards a no. So there’s limited tests that we do within our ability that allow us to determine what equipment and what solutions are gonna work for them.
BO: Got it.
TMc: Now, there are… There’s another level that’s called a certified lab test, and that would be more to what you’re referring to. That would get maybe to the higher level of arsenic, bacteria and things like that. We, as an organization, do not go that particular direction. Usually they’ll call us when they know they have that level of a problem because they’ve had a certified test done, and we would come in and show them solutions on how to get it done. So I would say we’re not really considered a water testing company, we are a fix it business by installing and recommending water treatment, if that makes sense.
BO: You really dial it in is what you do. It’s like once the thumbs up or thumbs down has been established, you come in and we see that… “Okay, what level do you wanna get to? Do you want the base model or the LE model,” right?
TMc: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. So with our baseline testing, that usually is enough to get us where we need to go unless things, again, like I had said to Reuben before, are a little bit more extreme, like a coliform bacteria probably is one of the more common things people have heard of, which is bacteria from fecal matter, which sounds super great. Just the thought alone of… [chuckle] Is just pretty disgusting. However, it’s extremely common in people’s well water, especially if they’re by farms or wetlands. You just can’t avoid these types of things. Whatever has been in the ground for as long as the Earth has existed, you have the potential of that ending up in your water supply, good, bad or indifferent. It just is. And it’s nobody’s fault other than human beings living on the planet Earth.
BO: Yeah. And there’s a lot of shallow wells around the countryside, especially when you get to the lake country. There’s sand points that have been driven down 20-25 feet and they hit enough pressure and enough water to be useful for that cabin. I remember the first house we grew up in. My dad used to… He was a witcher, so he’d go out and find that vein and then he would have somebody come over and pound the sand point and it was like…
TM: Didn’t know that, Bill.
RS: I didn’t either.
BO: Yeah, he’s one of those guys, but…
TMc: But witcher. He said a witcher, not a witch.
BO: Oh, it depends on the day. Let’s be honest.
RS: Oh, he’d pull out the old divining rod and he’d find the water?
BO: Yeah, and then he’d take his wedding ring and put it on a string and drop it in a glass of water and it’d move back and forth, and however many times it clicked the side of the…
TM: Where did he learn this from?
BO: I don’t know. There’s just old-timers around the countryside that have… Either you have the electrical energy in your body to do it or you don’t. I don’t know how it works, but…
TM: Did you try it? Did you… Did he ever teach you?
BO: No, my dad didn’t spend a lot of time teaching me things. I was out on my own at a young age, so… I’m kidding.
BO: Mel, you know we love you, you know we love you, so…
BO: Alright, so…
BO: Let’s talk about this a little bit. In the countryside, you have private wells, you have private septic treatment systems, and they have to be a certain distance apart, but that doesn’t always mean that people do a good job of maintaining them, and sometimes they get old and… Or there’s… It’s next to a large livestock operator, whatever it could be. Do you see this fecal matter showing up often in country living situations?
TMc: Yeah, we hear of it often enough. Yeah. It will be a reason people will call us to tackle that, which there are a few different treatment methods to handle it. And it is fairly easy to handle, but yeah, we do run into it from time to time. But I will say, the most common reason for calls is literally because of hard water staining, build-up, things that are affecting their appliances and fixture. That’s really the nugget that gets us the phone calls, I guess I should say. And people really are starting to understand that water treatment is really an insurance policy for their plumbing and their fixtures. It’s an insurance policy. It keeps their things from breaking, damaging, clogging, plugging up. And you probably know for sure that the amount of plumbing and appliances and fixtures, the amount that people invest in that for their house, is significant. So simply having a machine in their house, that is, again, high quality, will last a long time, can be extremely efficient… It sounds like a sales pitch. Extremely efficient is a huge insurance policy to make sure that this stuff stays in good shape and really prevent from future issues that could be severe.
BO: Okay, let’s touch broadly on costs. I don’t wanna pin you down on it, and then move to the efficiency of the machine. What does that insurance policy costs on a yearly basis if you had to ballpark it, an average unit in an average home using the Kinetico system. What does it cost to operate that?
TMc: Yeah. So you’re specifically talking about operation itself, not the investment in it, from…
BO: Well, give it to me both ways. So, okay, so what’s yearly operation, and then perhaps we just amortize this out over the life cycle of this unit and we give two numbers.
TMc: Yeah. So, again, when I use the word investment, I do mean investment, and that’s really where we’re putting our money into an insurance policy. And I’ll go through a couple of the reasons why there has a payback on it, if that’s fair.
TMc: So I would just take a stab and say… Boy, it’s tough. With the different ranges of water, the worse the water, the more potential maintenance that obviously is gonna be required. So I’ll just say, if I were to throw out an average of maybe a couple hundred dollars a year, which would be maybe changing some filters and filling up some salt from time to time on a standard operation. I think that would be probably fair, and that may be what I would say your recurring cost, I suppose.
BO: The insurance policy?
TMc: Yeah, I would say that it would probably be fair for the insurance policy. As far as an investment for water treatment professionally installed as a whole, I’ll just go ahead and give you the ranges. We have been in many, many situations where people have invested upwards of $16,000, $17,000 in their home to treat their water. And initially that does seem significant. So when we come in and we literally show people the different avenues and path they can take to fix their situation or enhance their situation, you would not believe that they tend to be our absolute top fans. It’s pretty incredible. Now, to go more down towards the more economical end, we’ll have people that would invest as low as 1500. It could be as low as 300, depending on what we’re doing, and really anything in between. And that seems like such a huge range, but that’s true, which is why we have professionals that go in to diagnose, analyze, and have these discussions with our customers so they really understand what’s out there, what they can and have the option to do, with essentially their insurance policy, right?
BO: Yeah. Well, Tessa, I was waiting for you to jump in and say… Just before Travis answered the question, I thought you were gonna say, “It depends.”
RS: “It depends.” Yeah, I was waiting for that too.
TMc: Oh God. Waiting…
TM: For me.
TMc: They are waiting all half hour to get that out.
BO: But I will say this, I think 16 grand doesn’t sound like a huge number. I thought you were gonna say something maybe 2x that. Because some of these situations can be pretty complicated, and if you’re taking a machine and if this machine lasts 15 years or even 20 years, that’s not that big of a deal when you start looking at it. So I’m not shocked by that number. I think for a Cadillac version of something, 16 or 15 or wherever you’re at there, doesn’t sound outrageous.
TMc: Yeah, and when you’re getting up to that level of investment, there’s usually multiple issues that we’re trying to solve. At this point in time in the story of water treatment and its development, there’s really not a good way to just say, “This is one size fix all. Whatever you have, I’ve got this one thing and we’re just… This gonna care of everything.” As of today, that doesn’t necessarily exist. Not saying that some day that it will. I’m certain it will, I’m certain it’ll get there. So that’s really why it’s extremely important for us to test the water, analyze the water, and actually know what the heck we’re talking about. People that are gonna invest and trust in a company like this, they better feel confident that we know what the heck we’re doing. So there’s a lot of different elements and all these different elements may need to be treated with different solutions, I guess I should say without getting overly complex. There’s different media, there’s different systems, there’s different tools that will treat things differently, and a lot of these you don’t wanna combine ’cause it could create issues for the customer and hence create issues for a company and just have a bad relationship, so…
BO: Can we kinda get to the nuts and bolts of this machine? Why is it different? Let’s start there, compared to a normal machine that’s got a reservoir that you fill with salt.
TMc: So if I can…
BO: You can do whatever you want, Travis. This is our forum.
TMc: I can tend to get way, way into the weeds here. I’m gonna really try not to do that. So how a water… Is that okay if I just briefly explain just a water softener?
TMc: That’s the more common thing people know. So water softeners are extremely cool and they’re very… They’re not well understood, but they’re really cool. So in a water softener, think of the water softener as a tank, it’s a tube. Inside that tube, there’s these tiny, tiny little beads called resin. These resin beads have a… It’s like a magnetic charge to them. So these magnet beads have a negative charge to them, they’re made that way. So this negative charge inside of any water softener, not just Kinetico, it’s any water software, and this is just the miracle of water softening as a whole, it’s really cool. So what happens is these beads are filled inside of this tube, that of which is your water softening unit. What happens is as the water runs through the tube of beads, these beads literally pull the hard water element, calcium carbonate, calcium, hard water rock, it literally separates it from the water on contact. Really pretty cool. So if you just imagine a magnet and holding a magnet up over a bunch of paper clips or whatever, it’s attracting all of those paper clips. Of course, I’m on a podcast, no one can see my hands so…
BO: Well, it helps us though. [chuckle]
TMc: Yeah. I am a very handsy talker, so you’re not gonna get that from the podcast. Alright, I digress. Anyway, so if you could just imagine that magnet picking up all those paper clips, that’s what’s happening inside that water conditioning unit, is it’s separating out the hard water and, I guess, iron, which is rust as well. So what happens is, eventually, inside that water softener… You’ve got one tank and inside that water softener, if all of those beads have collected as much hard water as they can… And I’m gonna ask a question to you here. If all of those beads have collected as much hard water as they can and they’re full, if you continue to use your water in the house, what do you think you’ll get?
TM: Hard water.
TMc: You got it. Spot on. Because…
TM: Yay, I was worried there. [chuckle]
TMc: I know you guys are sweating. Upper lips… It was terrible.
TM: I’m getting nervous.
TMc: I was really nervous for you. So those beads can’t… They cannot take on any more hard water, so then they have to clean themselves. When they go through the cleaning process, people are familiar with the term regeneration. Regeneration is simply just the water softener taking its… Taking a bath, that’s all it is. So now you have salt. And a lot of people don’t understand why salt or potassium is used in a water softener. They think the salt is softening, that’s the common perception. So what happens is when this water softener, when all the beads are completely full, they have to be cleaned. And what happens is the system automatically takes in a sodium chloride or salt dosage, and that sodium or salt acts like soap does for us. We clean ourselves… Well, hopefully, most of us clean ourselves with soap and your hands are dirty, and that soap acts just like salt does to a water softener. They clean themselves with salt, we clean ourselves with soap. It’s the same principle. So now those beads are free of all of that hard water bad damaging element and it’s replaced with sodium. So sodium is a soft element. So this is where the term soft water, hard water. Hard water has rocks, soft water has soft element. So now when you’re…
TM: I did not know that. So I was thinking that salt got mixed in with the water you’re drinking and… But you’re not… That’s not the case. The salt stays in the tank and it’s just used to flush out all of the hard elements from the beads?
TMc: Both. You are correct on both. So with water softening, yes, you will still get a little bit of sodium that comes into your house, which is why we’ll call water softening, we’ll call it working water because it’s the water that you’re bathing in, you’re washing with, you’re doing dishes, you’re doing all that stuff. It doesn’t necessarily make the water better for consumption, that’s a different process. So that would be one of our additional conversations that we have with our customers is, “We’ve got your working water fixed. So your appliances, your fixtures… This is your insurance policy for your home. The next phase would be water purification or water filtering or refining, whatever you wanna call it.
TM: Or like reverse osmosis or something.
TMc: Reverse osmosis is extremely common. You hit it right on the head.
RS: Let me pause on that one though, ’cause while you’re talking about drinking softened water, what is your thoughts on drinking softened water?
TMc: So my thoughts on drinking softened water, I would say that it would not be beneficial for human health, but it wouldn’t really necessarily send you backwards either, not in the extremes. We do encourage people to go the direction of your reverse osmosis or water refining just for the sake that a lot of people think that when they buy water softeners, the water will be healthy, it’s going to make it healthy. And it really doesn’t, but it does make the home healthier, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s consumption water. So we really wanna be careful when we’re talking about that because…
RS: But it’s not bad, right? It’s not bad to drink softened water.
TMc: Correct, yeah.
RS: Got it.
TMc: There is nothing in there that is gonna create a toxin, if you will, that’ll cause health issues that way. Yeah.
RS: Alright. So help me with this one. This has just been something that bothers me to no end. Why is it that every home in Minnesota, when I say every, I mean most, if they’ve got a water softener, they’ve got an un-softened line going to the kitchen? Why do we do that, Travis?
TMc: Yeah, that’s a super awesome question. That is an awesome question. So we are adamant about fixing that when we put in our equipment. Oh, let…
RS: Love you, guys.
TMc: I’m gonna give you the… I’m gonna give you the Travis answer here.
RS: Love you, guys. Alright, come on.
TMc: If you ever have me back, you’ll start to hear what that… Understand what that means more and more. So here’s the situation. I would say, first and foremost it’s… The industry has had over the years, an extreme reluctance to educate customers at the level that we believe we do. You know what, I’ll just say it. It’s taking the time with customers to really help explain why things are done the way they’re done. So here’s the situation is there’s a stigma that potentially plumbers, or water treatment installers, have about making sure the customer doesn’t drink soft water, making sure that it doesn’t happen. Well, the problem is it’s really the customer’s choice if we educate them appropriately. Situation is they can drink soft water all they want. People do it all the time. It adds a little bit of sodium to the diet, so for people that don’t want that little bit of added sodium, it’s something they may wanna steer clear of. But, again, it’s the customer’s choice based on our education. So what has happened in the industry and maybe people that aren’t truly water treatment professionals, is they just make the decision for the customer and they leave part of their water untreated, which does not, in my opinion, really serve them as best as they should be served.
TMc: This is almost like giving a customer an ultimatum and just making the decision for the customer, instead of taking your time and actually educating them talking about what water softening and water treatment does and doesn’t do, and then letting the customer decide. Plus, this is another thing, is many, many companies fear their own price. Many companies fear their own price. So they’re scared potentially to get into this conversation with customers and really educate them about why whole home water management is important which requires levels of water treatment to get you where you should be. Instead, they just leave the kitchen faucet line untreated, which is not fixing their water. They’re only getting 50% of the treatment, which means they’re still gonna get scale buildup at the kitchen sink, which is where everybody goes. It’s where everybody sees… It’s a lot of times the focal point of most people’s homes…
TMc: And they’ve had a complete another disservice done. And, again, this is the Travis answer, emotionally driven perhaps, but it’s to me an extreme disservice, the industry is just making that decision for the customer ’cause they don’t wanna get into these… They don’t wanna get into the education that we spend our time doing, and I just don’t think it’s fair to the consumer, in my opinion.
RS: And let me just jump on that for a second. My last house is in Maple Grove and didn’t have softened water going to the cold side, and my faucet would get destroyed about once a year. I’ve got Delta faucets and they got a lifetime warranty, and I’d have to call Delta once a year and have them send me out a new faucet ’cause something just would stop working. And my coffee makers, my coffee makers wouldn’t last for more than a year. They’d get all calcified even though I used vinegar and all that stuff. And I’d constantly have the white stuff all over my sink and around the faucet. It was just constantly nasty. And finally, I’d bypassed the bypass and I put softened to my kitchen faucet and all of these problems went away overnight. And it was the first thing I did at the house that I live in now, and zero problems whatsoever.
TMc: There you go.
RS: I absolutely love it. So I think it’s just a disservice to let people destroy their faucets and their coffee makers and everything else. Okay, I’m done. Thank you.
TMc: Yeah. No, thank you. You’re spot on. It’s exciting for me ’cause, again, like I said earlier, when people get it, it’s really cool to see… It’s just really cool to see because, not to be dramatic about this, but you gotta think about the effect that water has in the home and how often we use it and how much it touches, yet there’s a massive amount of people that just don’t pay attention to it either because they don’t know enough or they think that other people take care of it. They think they think the city takes care of it for me. Yeah, to a point, but you need to do your due diligence to understand the full effect.
BO: It’s a little bit like code in building. You get the lowest common denominator of a building if you follow code. If you just use the water that the city provides, it’s like the lowest common denominator water. And it probably isn’t gonna hurt you, but it’s probably not gonna do you any favors left alone for a long period of time.
TMc: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There’s a really cool… I totally stole this, and we’re probably gonna run out of time here, but I totally stole this. Think of city water like a steak, or think of water as though you’re gonna eat a steak. The city does a really good job putting the wrapper on that steak, which they’ll do chlorine or chloramines. Chloramines, by the way, on city water is chlorine mixed with ammonia, and they mix these together and they send it into the home. Whether you wanna live with that in your house or not, totally up to you, but we encourage removal of it. So the point is, think of water as the steak, the wrapper as chlorine or chloramines. It protects the product. That wrapper protects the product. So imagine that you’re going into a grocery store and you’re buying the steak, or your butcher shop, you’re buying the steak and it’s wrapped and you bring it home. You want the product, that of which is the steak, so you leave the wrapper on, fire up your grill, throw that steak with the wrapper on right on the grill. You cook it all together. And that rapper melts around that steak, and everyone’s like, “No, but it’s good, it’s good. You want the wrapper.”
TMc: Yeah, you did. But you want the product, so you need to unpack that steak, if that makes sense. So this is what I envision water treatment, again, based on what I stole from really a conversation someone had with me was, with water treatment, you wanna unwrap that wrapper because the product you want is the water. And that can be considered with city water or well water but it just happens to relate to chlorine. Chlorine serves a purpose. It’s amazing, it’s great, and no one should ever say that it’s bad. And if you ever hear that in a house that someone’s bashing it, it’s not correct. It’s great, until it reaches your house. Now you wanna unwrap that steak and you want that product. That’s your responsibility. That’s what…
BO: That’s a good segue. So how does the Kinetico system unwrap the steak?
TMc: Yeah. So I totally went down a rabbit hole. So I started with the beads, didn’t I, and then we went in a whole different direction. Told you that was gonna happen.
BO: That’s okay, that’s okay.
TMc: So started with the beads, so the basic principle of water softening is that, salt cleans the beads, the beads are regenerated and now it can treat your water again until it needs to clean itself. So what Kinetico has done… Kinetico came into the industry in 1970 and it was designed by two engineers, oddly enough, of course. So what happened is they realized that with basic water softening technology, they were still having problems with hard water buildup. There were still signs that the system could not keep up with the average household water use. And as we’ve continued to move forward as a society, our water usage has just gotten to be more and more and more and more and more, so the conventional water softener method, which we call them single tank electrics, which are the most common water softeners that you can get from almost anywhere, including us, we carry the basic as well as Kinetico. So they realized that the conventional technology is not prepared to handle your erratic water usage in the home. So what Kinetico has done is they’ve essentially connected two water softener tanks together, then they’ve coupled that with a non-electric head. So Kineticos right now that we know of are the only non-electric operational unit in the industry, and again, we’ve been doing it for an amazingly long amount of time, and we’ve got it pretty much perfected.
TMc: So what happens is, when one water softener tank cannot treat your water… Let’s just say you’re doing a load of laundry and you’re gonna hop in a bath or shower or whatever, and all of a sudden your water softener is now like, “I’m full. I cannot treat the water anymore. All my beads are full.” Well, I asked you earlier, what happens when your water softener is full? You keep using water and you’re gonna get hard water, which is what you’re trying to not have. So what happens is when one Kinetico tank cannot treat the water anymore on-demand while you’re using your water in your house, that one tank is now gonna automatically go into self-cleaning mode. It’s gonna automatically kick in right now while your washer is going, while you’re doing a shower, and while whatever. While that tank is cleaning itself, the alternate tank is now continuously treating your water without interruption, and that cycle happens back and forth, back and forth. So Kinetico is… One of their big claim to fame is, you are money back guaranteed water quality because we will not run out of softened or conditioned water. You will not run it out. You…
BO: Even with five teenagers?
TMc: Even with five, even with eight, whatever that is. Two-hour long showers…
TMc: It totally fine for our equipment, which is really cool that we were able to actually offer… We were the only one in the industry that offers a 100% money back performance guarantee largely because of that. That’s one of the big things.
TM: That principle of reminds me why some people might choose to put in an on-demand water heater in their house instead of using a tank water heater, where they’ve got lots of people showering all at one time, or three kids back to back to back, whatever, they run out of hot water. So they put in a tankless water heater, an on-demand one, and they never have to worry about running out.
TMc: Beautiful. Absolutely, absolutely. Very well said. Totally agree. So this would give you just like a tankless, demand-initiated water heater, this unit, Kinetico brand, gets you unlimited treated water, which honestly speaking, isn’t that what you think you’re paying for?
TM: Yeah, unless you’re educated you would just assume, right?
TMc: Right. That’s part of our process is helping educate what’s standard in the industry and what’s not. And because of that, Kineticos will tend to be a little bit more of a higher investment than your standard technology, just by nature, because it’s doing more, and people understand that and they’re like, “Yeah, okay. Well, that makes sense.” And, again, this is why we put in 6000 plus units a year across Minnesota and Wisconsin. People love them. It’s huge. So with that being said, that alternate technology allows us to have consistent treated water no matter what. I said we couple it with a non-electric head. The great part about non-electric head is it’s consistent. So you don’t get timers, you don’t have microprocessors, you don’t have overseas microchips that you can’t get. [chuckle] We’re all maybe familiar with that with our vehicles right now. But there’s no overseas microchips, 100% of our product is American-built, American-made, every piece, every part is right here in the US, which is really cool too, in my opinion anyway. And you don’t have to deal with any programming. You don’t have to… You don’t have to do anything.
TMc: So the system is set. We set it to the water quality we test, and it just treats your water on demand, as you would expect it to do. So if your power ever goes out, you don’t have to go and mess around with your water softener after you’ve went ahead and reset all your clocks in your house, in your microwave and all that stuff. This is just consistent standard. The other really cool part about Kineticos is their longevity. They are known to be one of, if not the longest lasting water treatment unit that is made right now, largely because the system itself cleans itself with its own clean water bath. So the product water that you’re trying to get in your house with soft water is what it uses to clean itself off with. Standard technology, it uses the same hard contaminated water to clean itself. So it’s like you cleaning yourself with hard water, when you clean yourself with hard water, you have to use more soap, you have to use more products, you have to use lotion, you… All of that stuff. So that’s where a drawback to conventional technology is, is they’re always contaminating themselves with the same water you’re trying to not have, which limits the life, it builds up that crust inside the head, inside the unit, and they just generally don’t tend to last as long and require a little bit more maintenance.
TM: What’s the average life span, Travis, of a system like that that just uses hard water to clean itself versus like a Kinetico?
TMc: Yeah, it’s gonna vary from water supply and from state to state, obviously. It depends. I really wish I was quick witted enough to have gotten that earlier. Let’s just say Maple Grove. I think, Reuben, you lived in Maple Grove?
TMc: So Maple Grove, if you are talking about standard technology, standard usage, Maple Grove tends to have a pretty hard water. It’s around 20 to 30 grams, which is pretty severe. Anything over 10 is considered extreme. Maple Grove tends to be in the 20s or 30s. When you kinda get more of the West Metro, it gets a little worse. So average life, we tend to see can be anywhere from three years to eight years on conventional technology before they may start requiring some more maintenance.
TMc: How you know? Generally, what happens is people don’t necessarily recognize it until the unit just dies completely, what people aren’t realizing it’s been dying a slow death. This is very morbid. This is supposed to be really happy, but they start going out. As you continue to use it, it goes out, and it starts to die a slow death, and then you really don’t realize until it’s gone gone. Now, in contrast…
TM: I’m sure people get really salty not knowing that it’s doing a slow death, huh…
TMc: Was that a pun?
TM: Which is more obvious? Yeah.
TMc: Yeah, I think we’re done here.
RS: We better wrap.
TM: I know. What time is it?
TMc: I think that did it.
TMc: You will generally find Kineticos will generally be in that 15… We’ve had units out there for up to 40 years.
TMc: It’s phenomenal. Again, a little bit more of an investment, but the longevity and consistency you get with it is absolutely phenomenal.
TM: There’s a big difference between three and 40 years. Crazy.
TMc: [chuckle] On the two extremes, yes.
BO: Takeaway from this conversation is Kinetico will clean itself in its own clean water.
BO: It does not use salt, or does it use salt?
TMc: It uses salt. We just use… The claim to fame for Kinetico is we use the least amount of salt in the industry, and we’re the most efficient partially for the reason that we do clean ourself… Kinetico cleans itself with its own clean water. There are some other elements to it that make that more efficient, but that’s a big one.
BO: What does that mean in terms of the environment? I’ve never considered how much salt gets dumped into the environment because of treatment. Is that a thing?
TMc: Yeah, it is, and the industry has been more and more aware of it now. There are really three big main factors that are leading to, we would say, chloride contaminant. When you talk about salt, it’s sodium chloride. Chloride is really seemingly becoming the topic of issue, and they say there are three main contributing factors. Number one factor is road salt. The amount of road salt that is distributed on our roadways in, obviously, the northern hemisphere here is phenomenal. So that’d be issue number one. Two and three would be water conditioning, water treatment, water softening, and then farm… They spray chemicals that contain chlorides for keeping dust down on roads, possibly stuff on farms.
TMc: So there are three main contributing factors to that that they have found, and, yeah, they’re trying to take measures to make people more aware of reducing your salt usage, for sure. You can’t get away from it. When we’re talking the water treatment industry as a whole right now, the technology just isn’t there to eliminate salt and still have the benefit that people are looking for, which is lower cleaning products, less cleaning products, less soap. All of these things are contaminants in their own way themselves, so water treatment helps combat them, but then if we could get a system in that reduces the amount of chemicals and cleaning products and plastic that you use in your home, and you can have as little salt usage as possible, Kinetico has gotten really good grades on top system for that solution. Unfortunately today, getting rid of salt through water conditioning just isn’t feasible yet.
BO: Interesting. Okay, very good. Now, you treat this water and you send this water that went through the Kinetico’s conditioning system to the kitchen tap, is it good to drink?
TMc: So are you saying if you’re just doing the water softening?
BO: Yeah. Are you cleaning it up enough that you’re gonna… Is this the best water I can use for my coffee?
TMc: Yeah. Generally, no. Generally, no. So earlier I had separated two terms, and one term would be working water, the other term would be simply drinking water. Surprise, surprise. So working water, Bill, to your point would be really, really good for everything other than what I would say drinking. Not that it’s going to harm you, it just doesn’t get you that drinking water quality that you would expect because there is a little sodium in the water yet, and it doesn’t necessarily make the water… We’re not out-claiming that this is just gonna make the water taste any better. It’s gonna remove those damaging elements for all of your plumbing and fixtures. It’s the insurance policy for the home.
BO: Okay, very good.
TMc: Then the next piece of water treatment generally would be sanitization, if you’re out a private well or some cities. Sanitization can be done by UV, really common, and UV really just helps control bacteria. Bacteria is… It’s an invader that can happen at any point in time on any water supply. Have you ever heard of boil water advisories, the city water? Well, that’s why they do that, because they have either detected bacteria in the water or there had been a break in the main where there could be potential bacteria. So, anyway, you’re gonna have your working water, then you’re gonna have a consideration if you wanna sanitize your water for your home, and then last would be refining, which would be purification. Reverse osmosis would be a consideration, and what that would really do is refine the water down to remove salts, metals and really any inorganics from your water that are left over. And that would get you the water you’re talking about, which would be great for coffee, tea. For the whisky drinkers, if they wanna add a little water, that’s a great tool for that. Yeah, so that would be your consumption water after softening. So it’s a refining process, if you can vision that.
BO: And just visually speaking, you have to have the process for going from working water to the clean water, and then when you go… You need another system to process the third level, the highest level package.
TMc: Yeah. That is generally encouraged. There are people that have a more moderate level of water hardness that they can put in reverse osmosis without water softening. There is that, but for us, knowing what we know, we do encourage what we call whole home water management, which is a step process.
BO: It’s three layers to get to that final product.
TMc: Yeah, which again can be up to five layers, depending on what kind of things people have in their water. Yeah.
BO: Oh, interesting. Okay, okay. Circling back to this salt in the environment post-water treatment, does a standard electric tank system just dump more in than a Kinetico system because it’s washing periodically, or is that not really a thing?
TMc: I guess if we talk in terms of efficiencies, there’s a couple of things is, number one, making sure that the standard conventional system is actually set right, which, if I were to guess a percentage, I would say 50 to 60% of the time, they’re not even set appropriately for what they’re trying to do. So what will happen is, a lot of times regenerating or cleaning themselves more than they have to. So by nature, because they’re not set appropriately because they got thrown out of whack somewhere along the line due to a power outage or a customer messing around with it because it’s not working right, whatever, it by nature could be going off a lot more often than it needs to and causing excessive salt to go into our environment. Absolutely, so that would be one thing. The other thing too, is if they feel their water conditioner maybe isn’t working all that well, maybe it’s not going up, maybe it’s not regenerating enough, so they’re like, “Oh, I don’t use that much salt,” but the output is, is they’re having hard ‘ issues in the house and having to use more soap, more cleaning detergents, more CLR, more chemicals.
TMc: So they’re really combating and being defensive with their problem. So it’s just trying to find that balance, and that’s where we really have found, as well as other people that have endorsed our products, have found that Kinetico really has that… As of today, has that perfect balance of efficiency and consistency and longevity. It has that all in one package, which is really cool.
BO: I’m gonna go out on a limb here. Reuben, Tessa, you’ve seen enough of this first-hand, but the average homeowner is not prepared to be adjusting their water softener, their water conditioning system [chuckle] and getting it right. [chuckle]
TM: I’m not, and I’m a home inspector. I’ve learned a lot from listening to this podcast today.
BO: Yeah. And we forget, you just… Life is busy, and if you’re always having to remember to do and monitoring all of this stuff, boy, there’s… You’re gonna fall down at some point in time. So a set it and forget it type of unit just… It feels like it’s appropriate for the pace of life in 2022.
TMc: I love that. I’m gonna steal that from you.
BO: Okay. Well then, you’re welcome to it. [chuckle]
TMc: Thank you… Before you claim royalties, I got it.
BO: I have no royalties to anything. Listen, I think we should maybe begin to put a close on this conversation. It just… It feels like the beginning ’cause I wanna know about all these other layers you can stack on and how you get to that really… That beautiful water where you could use this water to distill whiskey if you wanted to, right? There’s so little I know about water. It’s just… To me, water treatment is magical, just like air conditioning is magical. It just… It’s this process that happens and some really smart people have set it up and I’m the beneficiary of them, right? And so… But I’m curious… I’m a curious sort, and I like to understand the why behind it. Tessa and Reuben, they’re smart. They get this at the molecular level. I simply don’t.
TM: Ha ha. Not at all. I failed at chemistry, Bill. [chuckle]
BO: Travis, can you tell everybody the service area you cover and how to get a hold of you, because I think everybody would be well served to just have a consultation and see what’s coming out of their tap, even if you think your system’s dialed in. Let’s see if it really is.
TMc: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So the service area that Aquarius Home Services covers is pretty extensive and growing. I would say most all of Wisconsin. I guess we’ll just keep it extremely vague, I won’t be able to break down city by city. And I would say Minnesota. I guess not exact here, but if you take Highway 94, we’re primarily north of Highway 94 and cover most of Minnesota north of 94 for the most part. But we do bleed into areas south of that a little bit obviously. But, yeah, if you just go all the way from… If you’re familiar with Willmar, Minnesota, Alexandria, Minnesota, Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, all the way up to Green Bay, Wisconsin, we would definitely be your people.
BO: Okay. So you can treat water here at your home and you could also treat it at the cabin. It would be incredibly consistent, and you’d never be wondering how much metal is on that anode rod corroding away inside your water…
TMc: Yeah, there’s a whole another subject you could get into. There’s odor and anode rod in water heaters and the effect water has on that. That’s a whole another rabbit hole. You offered to get a hold of us. Best way is aquariushs.com would by far be the best way to get a hold of us.
BO: Outstanding. So if you need water treatment, if you need HVAC, plumbing and electrical, are all those services available to that area you talked about?
TMc: Yeah, and growing. So as we’ve been expanding, water treatment has been the primary expansion and we are adding all of these other services as we go. So there are certain pockets right now that may not carry heating and cooling specifically, but our big mission by the end of this year is to have all services in all of our markets, which is a… It’s a feat within itself to get that.
BO: No kidding. It’s… Growth is a… It’s a challenge all of its own. Reuben, you know all too well. [chuckle]
RS: Oh, my goodness, yes.
BO: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention at the end of this, I talked to earlier… Rod Yoder, the National Sales Director of Kinetico, I heard him on this podcast in… Travis, I just wanna give you a moment, ’cause Rod’s no longer with us, and we went through a very similar event with the original owner of Structure Tech too, so let’s give him the proper recognition.
TMc: Yeah. Rod had been with Kinetico for a long time, and if there were any individual that you would ever meet that could make you smile and make you just feel like you could open up and be a friend and talk to and laugh with, I’ll tell you, there’s very few people in my life I’ve ever met that you can just get that immediate connection with, and I think that’s probably something that I’ve been able to take away from him and try to keep myself balanced in that. Extremely caring person, extremely intelligent. Yeah, just an all-around fantastic guy that touched a lot of people. And when we and when Kinetico had lost him, it was a… Was and is still a pretty big blow, so… Yeah, I think… Yeah, he’s been missed for sure.
BO: Well, pumps to the sky for Rod. We have our own story with Rick here. Both of them are gone too soon because of a terrible pandemic and, you know what, every day is a gift. That’s all I’ll say.
BO: So, Travis, thank you for the time. This went longer than we normally go, but this is outstanding information, and you guys are… You feel like you’re Structure Tech to the core. I know you’re not, but your heart is in education, Reuben’s heart is in education. I just think what do you do for the community is important, and I wanna thank you for your time today. I hope this is the beginning of many conversations, and really appreciate you joining us today.
TMc: Bill, Reuben, Tessa, great to meet you guys. Like I said, hopefully, this won’t be the last either.
TM: I’ve got a lot more questions for you, Travis.
RS: I’d love to have a part two. Hope you’ll come on.
TMc: Any of my co-workers that hear you say this went longer than most, they’re gonna say, “Was Travis on the podcast?”
TMc: Everything I’m involved with goes long so this would be the norm.
BO: Well, thank you again. Everybody, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. Thanks for listening. We will catch you next time.