Hard water can be harmful to your appliances, clothes, skin, and hair, which makes it a pretty compelling reason for people to buy water softeners for their home.
To get a better understanding of why you should get a water softener for your home, lets talk about the water softeners work.
How Do Water Softeners Work?
When water is in the ground it passes through soluble minerals and picks up them along the way. All of these minerals that the water picks up (particularly magnesium and calcium) causes the water to react differently to materials around it.
Although it may be beneficial to ingest more calcium and magnesium in your diet, these minerals constantly flowing through your water pipes will cause harm than good to you and your home.
Water softeners work by removing minerals like calcium and magnesium and replacing them with sodium minerals (salt). This is known as ion exchange. The hard-water minerals are filtered out so that you water becomes softer again.
The Science Behind Hard Water
The hardness of a water reflects its overall calcium ions (Ca ++ ) and magnesium (Mg ++ ) content.
Hard water is a water laden with limestone. Water that tends to deposit scaling in your appliances, clog pipes in the house and overuse soap and detergents. It’s usually not wanted due to the problems it can cause for the house and its occupants.
The total hardness is taken into consideration whenever it is necessary to avoid harmful or annoying reactions between the Ca ++ and Mg ++ ions and the products put in contact with the water (soaps in domestic use, many products in industrial processes).
Calculating Hardness of Water:
Hardness is calculated in two ways: in grain per gallon (GPG) or in parts per million CaCO3 (ppm). 1 GPG = 17.1 PPM
According to the Water Quality Association:
Hardness: Water that naturally contains dissolved elements containing calcium and magnesium and sometimes divalent or trivalent elements of metallic origin. The term hardness comes from the fact that water is difficult to use for washing.
When hard water heats up or evaporates, limescale deposits form, posing a major problem in pipes and appliances where hot water circulates. For example, a washing machine will need to be descaled regularly to prevent the accumulation of deposits. Some devices will also see their energy efficiency drop due to the excessive hardness of the water.
In addition, consumers will tend to use more washing powder because the limestone prevents the product from foaming sufficiently. This is when a water softener should be purchased.
Freshwater: less than 1 grain per gallon (- 17.1 ppm)
Slightly hard: 1 to 3.5 grains per gallon (17.1 to 60 ppm)
Medium hard: 3.5 to 7 grain per gallon (60 to 120 ppm)
Hard: 7 to 10.5 grains per gallon (120 to 180 ppm)
Very hard: 11 grain per gallon and over (188 ppm and over)
Signs of Hard Water In Your Home
If you are like most people, you will be surprised to learn in what ways hard water can affect your life. It can dry your skin, dull the color of your clothes, leave stains on dishes and counter tops, and even dull accessories and damage expensive appliances.
You wouldn’t know the cause of these issues unless you can connect the dots. Check out the signs below and see if they are happening to you. There is a good chance hard water is causing the problem if they are.
1) Household appliances
With regards to the hardness of water and household chores, hard water has two problems:
- First, is the formation of limestone deposits (scale), which damage machines and reduce the efficiency of hot water systems, resulting in increased energy expenditure.
- The second problem concerns soaps and detergents. These products are less effective and must therefore be put in larger quantities for an equivalent result. Their use is more expensive and leads to greater water pollution.
2) Tight skin
Is your skin torn, tingling, or irritated? Do you suffer from psoriasis, eczema or dermatitis and your symptoms are particularly present? It may be just the water that you bath with is causing these inconveniences. On particularly sensitive skin, hard water can have unwanted effects such as desquamations (detachments of the upper layer of the epidermis).
3) Dry Hair
Like any other skin, the scalp is sensitive to the effects of limestone. In addition to the possible itching that can be caused, the effects of hard water can be seen directly on the hair: dull, brittle, rough…etc Their fragility and their appearance can be signs that your water is hard.
4) Stiff clothes
Hard water contains dissolved minerals. During the wash, these minerals get caught in the fibers of your clothes and adhere the detergents to the fabrics. In addition, as if that were not enough, these detergent and mineral residues cook on the fabric in the dryer, dulling the colors and leaving the fabric stiff and rough.
Hard water hurts your appliances. The minerals it contains accumulate inside the pipes, resulting in reduced water pressure, increased energy consumption and more work on your devices that wear out more quickly.
The Benefits of Water Softeners
Why, exactly, does someone need (or at least want) a water softener? Well here are a few reasons.
1) Reduces Scaling
We have extremely hard water in Guelph, and that hard water can lead to a lot of scaling on appliances, fixtures, and in piping. None of these things are good, and hard water can diminish the life span of these items. By softening the water you reduce the scaling.
2) Reduces Residue
Now, some people swear that soft water leaves a residue on their skin. Actually, soft water reduces soap residue on clothes and skin. This is a healthier approach, in particular if you are using detergents or soaps that aren’t extremely gentle.
3) Softens Hair
Okay – my wife made me add this one. But kidding aside, hair will be softer and shinier if you are running soft water to your bath or shower.
4) Cleaners Go Further
Ever feel like you needed to put extra soap, shampoo, or detergents into water just to get a lather going? That problem goes away with softened water, and in fact you’ll likely use a lot less of these products once you get a water softener system installed.
For drinking purposes, softened water should be treated prior to consumption. It’s great for bathing and cleaning, but soft water isn’t meant for consumption and it’s not what you want to water your plants or lawn with, either. Note that, particularly if you live in an older home, you may have to run extra water lines if you want to have a “hard” line for the kitchen sink and outside hoses.
If you are convinced you need a water softener for your home then you will need to know what type of softener to buy.
One-Piece Water Softeners vs Two-Piece Water Softeners
I get asked fairly often about the pros and cons of buying a one-piece water softener (cabinet style) vs a two-piece water softener (traditional style). In short, I prefer the two-piece. I believe two-piece water softeners are a better option overall for a couple of reasons.
First, the cabinet-style (one-piece) softeners are, generally, harder to service. Even minor things – such as putting the softener salt in – are a bit finicky, due to the fact that these units have a much smaller lid to access the brine tank. When it comes to repairs, adding complications to service work means adding time – and that means additional costs.
Also bear in mind that if one part fails, such as the tank, you can have a significant issue with weight. Both water and salt are extremely heavy, so removing all of the salt adds up to a lot of time and effort in order to replace the broken item.
Here again, if you are paying a plumber on a time-plus-materials basis, you could add a good amount of time (and money) just to empty the unit.
Those with one-piece softeners should know that these kind of units can be more susceptible to salt bridging. You must be careful not to rupture the tank, so if you’re breaking up the bridging, use something blunt. This is another detriment, as this problem is a non-issue with the two-piece units.
An advantage of the cabinet-style water softeners historically was their small footprint, which is no doubt why I do see these water softeners in small homes and condos fairly regularly.
These days, the two-piece units are much smaller than they used to be. If space is extremely tight, however, you may ultimately need to go with the cabinet style water softener.
Finally, from my experience the one-piece softeners often cost more to purchase than the two-tank systems, and since there is no performance advantage and service costs are typically higher, I tend to recommend a two-tank system to my Guelph clients.
How Much Do Water Softeners Cost?
This price can vary depending on how large your home is and what your needs are. You can get a basic water softener for a few hundred dollars and may pay up to $1000-$2000 for the highest-quality models meant for larger households or businesses.
Of course you need to consider the installation cost. If you want to do it yourself then the costs could be only a couple hundred dollars with your own unit, but you will have to make sure you do it right then.
Its usually best to get a professional plumber to install a water softener in most cases so that you don’t deal with problems in the future.
It is common for plumbers to only install water softeners that you purchase from them because they know how the unit works and can guarantee it is installed correctly and will last you a long time. That is our policy at Will B. Plumbing, as we want to ensure clients that we install water softeners for can rely on them for many years to come.
Sometimes water softeners need repairs so that’s why we recommend buying the water softener from the plumber who installs it. They will know how to quickly solve the problem and not have to stick around too long, saving you money.
Hopefully you found this information helpful. If you live in or around Guelph, Ontario, we sell water heaters and can install them in your Guelph home. If you have further questions about water softeners, please contact me.