How to Maintain Your UV System

Posted by
Brock Robinson on June 02, 2023


A UV purification system is a powerful water treatment method that uses UV-C radiation to neutralize harmful bacteria. Microbiologically unsafe organisms, cysts, and pathogens like giardia and salmonella are rendered harmless when exposed to UV rays. However, like all water treatment systems, UV purifiers do require annual maintenance to operate effectively and protect their performance. From changing your UV lamp annually to cleaning your quartz sleeve, taking good care of your UV system is the best way to ensure it is defending you from bacteria and disease.

How often do I need to change my UV lamp?

UV lamps should be replaced once every 12 monthsUV lamps have a lifespan of approximately 9,000 hours. Calculated out, this means the lamp can operate for about 375 days before requiring a replacement. Since technically the lamp is good for about a year and a week, this does provide you with a little wiggle room in the event you forget to order a replacement lamp in time. However, it is always wise to keep an extra lamp on hand or set a reminder to order a new lamp a month before your old one expires. After 9,000 hours, disinfection will no longer occur and you will no longer be protected from any microbiologically unsafe content present in your water. After the UV lamp burns out, you are simply passing water through a tube of glass inside a pipe. 

Whenever you are replacing your UV lamp, it is also important to replace the UV system’s O-rings as well. O-rings ensure a leak-free and watertight seal. However, over time they will weaken and degrade. Installing new O-rings when you replace your lamp ensures that water is unable to escape out of the chamber and damage any of the system’s electrical components.

Why do UV lamps need to be replaced?

UV lamps have a limited lifespan, so water running through the system after the lifespan is exceeded is not treated. The germicidal properties of UV lamps are fueled by mercury. Each glass UV lamp contains beads of mercury that will create electrical arcs that will disinfect in the water. When heat is applied to the lamp, the mercury emits UV-C light. This UV radiation produces germicidal wavelengths capable of neutralizing bacteria. When exposed to the UV-C rays, bacteria are unable to reproduce. The mercury-fueled ultraviolet light radiating from the UV lamp inactivates the microorganisms in the water.

Over the course of the UV lamp’s 9,000-hour lifespan, the mercury will slowly deplete as heat continues to be applied to it. After the 9,000 hours have transpired, the effectiveness of the mercury has been exhausted and the light emitted from the lamp will no longer irradiate any microorganisms in the water.

Though mercury is dangerous at high levels, UV lamps contain only minute amounts of mercury. At no point is the mercury directly exposed to the water and it does not pose any health risks. While mercury also can also have detrimental environmental impacts, UV lamps can be disposed of safely. Just like fluorescent light bulbs, UV lamps can be recycled. The mercury can then be salvaged and reused for other applications. In fact, several states require that all UV bulbs be recycled after they have burnt out. Check with your local hardware stores to see if they have a light bulb recycling drop-off. If not, most manufacturers offer mail-back kits that cover the cost of shipping.

What happens when I reset the UV system’s alarm?

When a UV system’s alarm is reset, it will no longer beep to remind you to change out the bulb. Most UV systems come equipped with an alarm that will go off when the UV lamp is no longer emitting germicidal rays the water is no longer being disinfected. This is a convenient feature that reminds system owners when it is time for them to replace burnt-out bulbs. However, much like the indicator light on the refrigerator telling you to change the filter, some people will turn off the alarm on the ballast to quiet it from beeping.

However, unless you have actually replaced the UV lamp with a replacement bulb, this is a bad idea for two reasons. First and most obviously, the lamp will continue to degrade in its intensity. It will continue to lose efficiency and be altogether ineffective long before the alarm goes off 365 days later. But, additionally, when you don’t replace the UV lamp, the UV system’s ballast will work harder and harder to try and maintain the intensity of the ultraviolet wavelength. Without the mercury to assist, the system overworks itself trying to produce the same UV dosage. This puts unnecessary strain on the system. Whenever a system strains to perform its intended function, you risk damaging the system and seeing a premature reduction in overall performance. So, for both your safety and for the protection of the UV system, it is vital you replace your lamp when the lamp replacement alarm is triggered. 

Learn: How UV water purifiers work | How to remove bacteria from drinking water

How do I know if my UV lamp is working?

UV systems contain sensors that measure the intensity of the UV radiation and an indicator light that displays whether the system is powered on or not. When these sensors detect that UV light is not penetrating the quartz sleeve as well as it should, they will indicate that the sleeve must be cleaned or that the lamp must be changed. Even if your UV system’s sensors are not indicating that it is time to clean the sleeve, it is best to follow a routine cleaning and maintenance schedule.

Do UV systems work during power outages?

No, a UV system relies on a constant supply of electricity, so it will not work during a power outage unless a backup electrical supply is setup. To prevent damaging electrical surges to your UV system, it is recommended that you do not plug any powerful appliances into the same circuit that supplies power to the UV system. A surge protector is also recommended for all UV installations. If you believe that unsafe water flowed through your UV system as a result of a power outage, your water lines must be sanitized and flushed before being used again.

Can I turn my UV system off when I’m not using it?

No, your UV system should not be turned off regardless of whether or not you are passing water through it. First off, if you forget to turn the system back on, you risk exposing your home to contamination. Second, every time you turn off the UV system on and off, it shortens the lamp’s lifespan. The energy used to turn the system back on will eat away at that 9,000-hour lifespan of the lamp. If you are constantly turning the system on and off, you may only get 10 months of disinfection out of the lamp rather than a full year.

If you own a seasonal home, like a cabin or lodge, you can turn off your UV system while you are gone. If you are only planning on spending a few months out of the year at this home, you can turn the lamp off when you leave. However, you will need to be vigilant about keeping track of how many months you are spending at the home and strategically plan when you will replace the lamp. Even if you only spend a handful of months out of the year there, it is still wise to replace the UV lamp at least once every other year. If there are microbiologically unsafe pathogens in your water, it is not worth risking exposure to them just to eke out another few months of life from the UV lamp. Keep in mind that you will also need to flush the system after an extended period of it being powered off.

How to replace your UV lamp

  1. Turn off the water. Locate your water main and turn off all water entering the home. Make sure that all faucets in your home are shut off and no water-using appliances are in use.
  2. Isolate the UV system. Turn off any power being fed to the UV system. If the system is still warm, wait until it has cooled down.
  3. Unscrew the safety cap and remove the lamp plug. Make sure you are wearing protective gloves or handling the lamp with a cloth. The oils on your skin will damage the integrity of the quartz sleeve and lamp.
  4. Remove the UV lamp and sleeve from the chamber. Unscrew the sleeve bolt and discard the old O-rings. You will be replacing these with new O-rings when you install the new lamp. Carefully remove the old lamp from the quartz sleeve.
  5. Clean the quartz sleeve. Take a cloth soaked in CLR and thoroughly clean any stains or discolorations from the quartz sleeve. Be careful, as quartz sleeves are quite fragile and can easily break. If you haven’t replaced your sleeve in several years, you should also take this opportunity to install a new sleeve.
  6. Replace the O-rings on the sleeve.
  7. Install a new UV lamp into the assembly. Be careful not to overtighten the lamp, as it may result in cracking.
  8. Insert the new lamp and sleeve into the system. Make sure the lamp is correctly aligned with the lamp plug before replacing the safety cap.
  9. Turn the water back on and check for leaks. Run water through the system, making sure the performance is unaltered and there are no leaks. As always, refer to your manufacturer’s instructions to check for routine disinfection and maintenance procedures.

Keep in mind, different UV systems will be configurated differently. This may require you to take different steps to extract the sleeve and lamp during replacement. However, whenever you are replacing your UV lamp, you should always take the opportunity to clean the quartz sleeve and replace the O-rings.

Why do UV systems have quartz sleeves?

The quartz sleeve is a transparent tube of glass that prevents dirt and debris from contacting the lamp itself. Because it is transparent, the sleeve allows the germicidal UV wavelengths to transmit through the glass and disinfect the water. Quartz sleeves are specially designed to be transparent to UV light and allow the passage of these UV-C rays. Regular glass is not transparent, and the UV light would not be able to penetrate the glass and neutralize living organisms and bacteria in the water.

The quartz sleeve also serves the important function of separating the water stream from electricity. The quartz sleeve ensures that the water is never making direct contact with the UV lamp or any other electrical component of the UV purification system.

Why do I need to clean my quartz sleeve?

If the quartz sleeve is not clean of dirt and debris, the UV-C radiation will not be effective at disinfecting the water. UV-C light cannot penetrate the glass if it is cloudy or dirtied. Just like bacteria and organisms can hide behind sediment particles, they can slip past the disinfection process if the glass is too hazy for the UV light to pierce. If you have hard water, the calcium and magnesium minerals can create scale deposits on the sleeve. These scale formations will obscure the sleeve’s transparency. If your water contains high levels of iron or manganese, water contaminants notorious for their bright orange stains, the sleeve could become too muddied for the UV-C light to pass through. Even if your water is fairly clear and free from discoloration, over time the sleeve will inevitably become dirtied by its contact with water.

This highlights the necessity for appropriate pre-treatment before your UV system. Since pathogens and bacteria can hide behind particulate matter and slip through the system undetected (known as “shadowing”), a 5-micron prefilter is imperative to any UV system’s performance. This will remove any flakes or particles that could shroud the living organisms in your water. Additionally, if you have hard water, an ion exchange water softener will protect not only your UV system, but also your household appliances like water heaters, showerheads, and dishwashers. Hard water is notorious for the damage it does on a home. Installing a water softener before your UV system will ensure that scale is not crusting up your quartz sleeve and save you from replacing the sleeves multiple times a year. Removing the iron from your water will also increase the longevity of your quartz sleeve, as well as rid your home of undesirable muddy orange stains. 

Learn more: How water softeners work | How to remove iron from well water | How to prevent limescale buildup in your home

How do I clean my quartz sleeve?

Gently clean the sleeve with a cloth soaked in CLR or another mildly acidic cleaning agent like vinegar. This will remove any limescale build-up on the sleeve, as well as any stains, cloudiness, or discolorations present on the tube. Always wear protective gloves, as the oils present on your skin and fingers can blemish the quartz sleeve and damage the glass’s transparency. Never use a rough hand towel or washcloth when cleaning the lamp. If the cloth is too coarse, it will scratch and scrape the glass while you are polishing it. Also, be sure to handle the sleeve gently. The sleeve is very fragile, and any sort of chip or crack will render it ineffective and unusable.

How often do I need to replace my quartz sleeve?

You need to replace your UV system’s quartz sleeve every 2-3 years. After 2-3 years, cleaning the quartz sleeve will no longer sufficiently restore its transparency. Routinely replacing the sleeve will ensure that the water passing through it is adequately disinfected. Depending on your water supply, you may need to replace the sleeve with greater frequency.

It is also a smart idea to always have a spare quartz sleeve on hand. While quartz glass is incredibly effective, it is also extremely brittle. It takes very little force to crack, chip, or outright shatter the sleeve entirely. If you break your sleeve while replacing your lamp, you will be unable to run any water through your home until you acquire another sleeve. So, it is always wise to have a second quartz sleeve on hand as insurance in the event of any damage done to the one currently in use.

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