Turning on your faucet should lead to inviting, crystal clear water right?

Unfortunately, many Chicago homeowners have faced tap water that is a little less than ideal, at one time or another. But how do you know if that odd color is dangerous? When should you go with the flow, and when is it time to call in the pros?

Let’s shine some light on the different types of water you may see coming from a Chicago tap. Here’s what to do if you’re faced with…

Dirty, Silty Water

If you notice visible dirt or sediment in the water coming from your tap, the problem is likely external contamination. In Chicago, this dirty, contaminated water is most likely the result of work being done in your neighborhood, rather than coming from the inside of your system itself.

If the city is doing work on a nearby water main, or, say, flushing hydrants near your building, this can kick up rusty, muddy sediment, which finds its way into your system. If you notice dirty water coming from your taps, wait a few hours before continuing to use them; after a while, run your taps and flush your toilets a few times each. The dirty water should filter its way out on its own; if it persists, it’s time to dial up that plumbing pro.

Rusty, Brown Water

If the water coming from your faucets appears to be reddish and rusty, or metallic to the taste, a few sources may be to blame.

Hot Water Heater
First, troubleshoot your taps. If cold water appears to be running clear while hot water is murky, your water heater may be to blame. Call in an expert to take a look at your system – the source of your trouble may be aquatic bacteria, tank corrosion, sediment buildup, or a problem with your anode rod. In any case, you’ll want to at least have a professional flush your water heater.

Rusted Pipes
How old is your Chicago building? When was the last time a plumber did a major overhaul of the pipes that ferry your drinking water? Over time, old galvanized pipes corrode and rust, causing your water to appear rusty coming out of certain taps, but not others. If your pipes are rusty, there’s really only one viable solution: replace those old, worn-down pipes with new ones.

Cloudy, Milky Water

When your water flows out of the tap in your kitchen or bathroom, does it look white or milky? While it may be frightening the first time you see this cloudy water, don’t fret! In essentially every case, this milky water is caused by tiny bubbles and air, rather than any sort of dangerous bacteria or growth.

How can you tell? Fill a clear glass with water and let it sit. If the cloudiness clears up – due to air bubbles moving up and passing out of the water – you know that the issue is just bubbles. How do they get there in the first place? For a more scientific explanation of this phenomenon, we’ll let the U.S. Geological Survey explain:

“… water pressure has something to do with it. The water in the pipes is pressurized to a degree (which helps to get the water all the way from the water tower to your home). Water under pressure holds more air than water that is not pressurized. Once the water comes out of your tap, the water is no longer under pressure and the air comes out of solution as bubbles (similar to a carbonated soft drink).”

The USGS also notes that homeowners tend to see cloudy water more often during the winter, “because the solubility of air in water increases as water pressure increases and/or water temperature decreases.”

So, if your cloudy water clears up, it’s likely completely harmless. If you notice solids hanging out, suspended in your water, it may be time to bring in a plumber.

Have any other questions about your Chicago plumbing and water systems? J. Blanton is here to help! Drop us a line today!