Taking a Hard Look at Your Water

By Rodney Twyford, NPI Franchise Owner, San Antonio, Texas

showerheadAn overwhelming 85 percent of the United States has hard water, and the cities with the hardest water are Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Antonio and Tampa. In Canada, Yorkton, Laval des Rapids, Beaconsfield and Kitchener are among the cities with the hardest water.

What is hard water, and why is it a concern? The elements that make up water, hydrogen and oxygen, do not account for the foreign ingredients found in every drop of the water we use every day. Most of these other ingredients are considered safe to consume, through municipal sources, but they can be damaging to appliances and the plumbing that distributes water.

The most damaging ingredients found in most hard water are calcium and magnesium. Water picks up high levels of hardness minerals as it trickles through the ground (about seven grains or more per gallon). These hard minerals can cause scaling on metal components, resulting in water-flow restriction, poor fixture operation that can cause damage, leaks and increased energy costs. The more mineral deposits that form around heating elements, the more energy is required to heat the water, which eventually results in high energy costs and equipment failure.

How to Soften Hard Water
While there are many theories on how best to soften water, the most common and widely recognized method is to remove the calcium from the water with technology known as ion exchange. The basics of how this works is with a water softener consisting of a media/resin tank and a salt/brine tank. A common myth is that salt softens water; in fact, it is the resin, charged with sodium or potassium, that does the work. Hard water flows through the resin tank where the sodium-coated resin beads exchange the hardness ions in the water for the sodium or potassium ions they are holding. The result is soft water.

After the resin beads are coated with calcium and magnesium, it’s time to regenerate or clean the beads so they can continue to capture more hard water minerals. This is where the salt tank is needed. The salt creates a brine solution that is pumped into the resin tank to remove the hard minerals from the beads and recharge them with sodium. The used brine solution and hard minerals are drained from the softener, allowing the cycle to start again.

What to Know When Shopping for a Water Softener
The main differences in water softeners are how the equipment accomplishes the process of ion exchange and the cost of the equipment. The two main types of water softeners are demand-initiated regeneration (DIR) and timer-based regeneration.

A timer-based softener will regenerate at a preset time regardless of water use and is not the most efficient type of water softener. The DIR softener is the best model and is required by some municipalities because of its efficiencies. A DIR system meters water use and only regenerates when it needs to, requiring less water, salt and energy to operate.

It is important to only regenerate at a time when water will not be used, typically around 2 a.m., so the time of day will need to be fairly accurately set so the equipment knows when to regenerate. Some systems have dual media tanks where one regenerates while the other softens water. This type of system does not rely on a clock setting or electricity, but it will have more gears constantly moving and may increase the possibility for failures to occur. With that said, don’t let the use of electricity be a deciding factor in your selection, as it is typically equivalent to that of a clock radio. All systems have their pros and cons, so do your research.

As for the cost of a water softener, prices are all over the place, but it is important to know that all ion exchange water softeners basically work the same way to soften the water. So, when shopping, focus on the quality of the equipment and its warranties.

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