“How long does a filter last?”
It’s a question we get often as we share about what we do here at Clean Water for Haiti, and it’s a good one to be asking. People want to know if their investment in helping get Haitian families clean water is going to be a long-term thing.
For Chris and I, and our long-term staff, we know that filters can last a long time, because we’ve all had first-hand experience with them in that regard. Before CWH moved to it’s new facilities, the filter in the round house (it was literally a round house) had been working for 14 years, and we only had to clean it a couple of times, because our water source there was clear and the filter didn’t clog up at all. All of our staff are gifted a filter after 1 month of employment, so all CWH employees have had experience with their own filters working for many years. Some of our guys have been with us for over a decade, and their filters are still serving their families well.
But, what about filters that we install in the homes of others, for people who don’t have the same background and experience with the filters that all of us at CWH do? Do those filters last as long, and serve as well?
Last fall a missionary couple that we’ve known for about as long as Chris has lived in Haiti (early 2003) called to ask if we could send one of our filter technicians to check on their filter because it had stopped flowing properly, and none of the user maintenance that we teach our filter owners was working.
Kendy arrived and found one of our “gran moun” filters – one of the “old men” of CWH filters that have been installed. Mike and Marion said that they believed we installed this old man back in 2003, before CWH went through some revision projects to help decrease the size of the filter to make it lighter and use less materials, while maintaining it’s filtration capacity.
This version of the bio-sand filter was the same version that Dr. David Manz designed when he did the first designs for household use. Dr. Manz didn’t ever patent the designs, because he wanted them to be “open source” and free to the world. His goal was to make household water filtration available to anyone who needed it, whether they lived off the grid, or in a developing country with few resources for treating water. Last year Dr. Manz was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence for his work with biosand water filters.
The filter that Mike and Marion had, and that CWH used for the first few years of operation, was a beast. The concrete box itself weighed 330 lbs. That’s before any of the sand and gravel needed for installation was added. Another 90 lbs of sand and gravel goes inside the filter to make it function properly. We recently reinstalled one of our very first filters to use in the guest house, which was the same version that Mike and Marion had, and it took four of our guys to move it into the guest house to install. Can you imagine what our staff had to go through way back in the day when they were installing these things? Or the wear and tear on our delivery trucks?
Kendy, as he was attempting to do the repairs on the filter, commented that it was like working with a stranger. Everything was so different from what we do now in our filter program.
The filter box was bigger and heavier. The sand inside was coarser from what we use now. Instead of a diffuser basin there was a lip on the inside of the filter and a plastic plate (diffuser plate) was used. The lids, while nice varnished wood, were very basic compared to the carved lids we used now that are made by local craftsmen.
Kendy’s tools in his installation kit didn’t match the tube on the filter, so it was difficult to do some of the routine work that our technicians do. In Kendy’s opinion, we’ve made a lot of changes for the better over the years.
After working to do the normal cleaning, the filter wouldn’t run properly. Kendy took all the sand out and washed it, then reinstalled it – twice.
The filter still wouldn’t work, and after exhausting all options he and Evens, our foreman, decided to have Daniel drive a new filter over to Mike and Marion’s to replace the old man filter that had gone into retirement.
While Kendy was working Marion told us how much they had loved using their filter over the years, and told stories of the thousands of gallons of water that it had treated for them in that time. Imagine – 16 years of filtering water!
After Daniel arrived with the new filter, he and Kendy did quick work of installing it for Mike and Marion so they could once again have a working filter in their home. While they were sad to say good-bye to their old friend, Marion really liked the blue filter that Daniel had chosen for her.
So, is this story of a 16 year old filter a common thing for CWH, or a rarity?
Well, the truth is, we don’t know. We DO know that the filters owned by our staff and that are used at the mission compound have served us for over a decade (with the exception of the newest ones installed after we moved), with all the normal maintenance we teach our filter owners.
Part of our service plan to our beneficiaries is to visit their filter one month, three months, and one year after installation. During those visits we make sure the filter is working properly, and we reinforce the maintenance and user education. Because of those visits, and the data that we gather during each one, we know that over 95% of our filters are still being used after the first year. But, we didn’t know what happened beyond that, so we decided to find out. Two years ago we started doing 5 year follow up visits, and tracking that data as well. It turns out that this year, when those visits on filters installed in 2014 were done, over 80% of them were still being used!
Is it worth investing in Clean Water for Haiti, with the hope that you’ll be helping to provide clean water for a family for many years to come?
We think so.