As homeowners pay attention to the quality of their home water, you may have questions about water purification and water softeners. In particular, many homes in the Capital District contain hard water and require water softeners. But, what are water softeners?
What is hard water?
Water that contains high amounts of dissolved minerals, such as calcium or magnesium, is considered hard water.
Homeowners take notice of hard water because it results in mineral buildup in their water pipes and heating systems. Additionally, and more importantly, hard water reduces efficiency and increases energy costs by as much as 30%. As a result, hard water reduces the performance and lifespan of your water-related appliances. Plus, washing machines or dishwashers lose efficiency because the minerals bind with soap and detergent.
Not sure if your home contains hard water? Here are the common warning signs:
- water spots on dishes or glasses.
- soap scum in the shower and sink.
- dulled hair and clogged pores.
- scratchy or hard clothes after doing the laundry.
- increased difficulty in household chores.
- reduced water flow and pressure.
What are water softeners?
Water softeners alleviate the impact of hard water by removing the minerals before the water enters your home supply. For example, properly installed water softeners create better water quality and extend the life of appliances, such as the washing machine and dishwasher.
How do water softeners work?
Water softeners treat the water supply before it enters your home by removing the impurities before the water travels through the pipes and into your water-using appliances. As a result, water softeners prevent hard water from coming out of the faucets in the bathroom and kitchen (or wherever you may have faucets).
Essentially, all water softeners operate under the same principle called ion exchange. Softeners trade the minerals (i.e., magnesium or calcium) for something else, in most cases sodium. The process starts with the heart of a water softener system, the mineral tank.
The mineral tank is filled with small polystyrene beads (aka resin or zeolite), which carries a negative charge. The beads in the softeners attract the minerals contained in the water. As the water flows through the mineral tank in the softener, a separate brine tank creates a brine solution from common household salt. Salt contains sodium ions, which contain positive charges. As the process continues, the water flows into the mineral tank where the calcium and/or magnesium ions in the water move to the beads, replacing the sodium ions. Then, the sodium ions enter the water. Finally, once the minerals saturate the beads, the unit enters a regenerating cycle, in which the mineral tank is flushed of excess brine and the brine tank is refilled.
What are the benefits of water softeners?
From increased longevity of major household appliances to better hair, water softeners have a wide range of benefits.
- Increased longevity of the washing machine and dishwasher (and coffee machine!).
- Decreased amount of cleaning agents and excess water draining back into the local groundwater and/or water system.
- Reduction or elimination of lime scale.
- Improved health from easier use of chemical free soaps and bathing with mineral free water.
- Improved water flow and water pressure that reduces build-up in plumbing lines and pipes.
- Reduce hot water heater energy consumption through increased efficiency.
How do I choose the right water softener?
Like most things in your home, there are plenty of options. Fortunately, water softeners come i two types and the major difference between water softener systems is the number of tanks. In a one tank system, there is a single tank or cabinet-style system. And the main benefit is that this system requires less space because the softener’s brine tank resides inside of the salt tank. Conversely, in a two tank system, there is a separate salt tank, which provides more options for the hard water capacity of the unit.
Upon determining if a one or two tank system is right for your family and home, there are a handful of water softener systems. To narrow down the water softener options, start by asking yourself a few questions.
- Does your family use a lot of water?
- How much softening power does your home need?
- Are you willing to complete routine maintenance?
In selecting the proper water softener, then focus on the capacity of the softener to remove the minerals from water without frequent regeneration. For example, water softeners are sold in several sizes and each are rated by the number of grains of hardness they can remove from water between regenerations. The idea is to get a unit that will go multiple days between recharges. Ideally, the water softener can also handle periods of larger-than-normal water usage. To determine the right size water softener for your family, then follow a pretty straightforward calculation.
- Multiple the number of people in your home by 75.
- Multiple this number by grains per gallon (GPG) hard water minerals in your home water.
- The answer is the size of water softener capacity required for your family.
So, for example, figure that a family of five uses 375 gallons of water per day (5 X 75). If your water has 10 GPG, you have 3,750 GPG of hardness minerals (375 X 10) requiring removal each day. As a result, selecting the proper water softener for your home means understanding your water needs.
SALT-BASED WATER SOFTENER SYSTEMS
In a salt-based water softener system the household water cycles through two tanks. The first tank contains resin beads, while the second tank contains brine. Salt-based systems require a regular ‘regeneration’, which occurs when the hard water ions flush out of the system. The regeneration process makes these systems effective at providing clean water throughout your home.
SALT-FREE WATER SOFTENER SYSTEMS
Overall, a salt-free water softener is not as effective as the standard salt-based water softener. In a salt-free water softener system the household water regenerates with a potassium-chloride salt substitute rather than sodium. The system prevents minerals from being deposited into the home water flow. As a result, the system limits build-up in pipes and water-using appliances. For those homeowners and families concerned about sodium (or salt intake), then this system might be a worthwhile option.
MAGNETIC WATER SOFTENER SYSTEMS
Magnetic softeners are only temporary (the field ‘paralyzes’ minerals for up to 48 hours). In a magnetic water softener system the household water flows through a magnetic field. The magnetic field changes the electromagnetic properties of the calcium-carbonate minerals so they are repelled by pipes. The system includes a plug-in device that clips onto the incoming water pipe to create the magnetic field.
DUAL-TANK WATER SOFTENER SYSTEMS
In a dual-tank water softener system there is one tank that regenerates while the other tank is in use. For large families or homes with particularly hard water, the dual-tank system works because there will always be available water. Of course, the dual-tank system requires plenty of space and requires installation near the main inbound water line so it can supply the entire house. This systems requires a drain for backwashing as well. If you choose a model that requires electrical power, be sure the circuit is located nearby.
Interested in learning more about the quality of the water in your home? Not sure if a water softener or the type of water softener is right for you? Contact A.Johnson to learn how a water softener may improve the quality of your home water.