Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa are areas of hard water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, nearly 85 percent of American households have hard water, including homes getting their water from city (municipal) water and well water sources. The two most common minerals that result in the hardness of the water are calcium and magnesium.
Many people don’t understand how water gets “hard” from these minerals. When rain water moves down through soil and rocks, it dissolves magnesium, calcium, and other things which become part of the water source. Unfortunately, many other contaminants can also be absorbed through this process.
To combat hard water and the problems associated with it, the process known as “water softening” was invented to reduce the hardness of water – returning it to its natural “soft” state.
Common Problems Associated with Hard Water
Over time mineral deposits from hard water can ravage your entire plumbing system as well as your appliances. The accumulation of these minerals can clog your plumbing system (pipes, faucets, etc.). Eventually the clogging causes pressure throughout your plumbing system.
While hard water minerals are not typically a health hazard, recent research has found a link between its consumption and some diseases. We recommend talking with your doctor to learn more about this.
Signs of Hard Water in Your Home
The minerals in hard water may not be toxic, but they can cause a number of problems around your home. One of the most common signs you have it is that you notice your hands, body, and hair feel slimy after washing them with soap and water.
Water spots on your sink, cloudy-looking glassware, and faucets/showerheads appearing rusty or with a white build-up are other signs of hard water.
Hard water also reduces laundry detergents’ lathering ability, making the detergent difficult to rinse off from the clothes. Oftentimes, white clothes appear dull after being washed in water concentrated with calcium and magnesium. Similarly, automatic dish washers do not run as efficiently when hard water is present.
Do You Need a Water Softener?
If you are experiencing some of these problems with hard water, we recommend contacting our plumbing experts at A & A Plumbing to have them come out to check out your water supply. If we identify hard water issues, we will provide you with a few options on how to resolve them with a system that resolves the problem based on your specific needs. Ultimately, the goal is to come up with a solution that provides you and your family with safe, crisp, clean water throughout your home.
Different Types of Water Softeners
If softening the water in your home is the determined, you will have two options from which to choose: salt-free and salt-based softeners. Of those two main methods, there are four types of water softeners.
Salt-Based Water Softener Systems
These are the most commonly seen water softener system. They work through a process where water enters the top of the water-softener tank and down through resin beads. This resin has a negative charge which attracts the positively charged minerals in the water. The mineral cling to the resin and the now-softened water exits the softener tank and flows throughout the house.
Occasionally the beads reach maximum capacity and can no longer attract any more mineral ions, and the softener tank must be regenerated (flushed) clean. When the system reaches a preprogrammed setting, regeneration automatically begins and salty water from the brine tank flows up the fill tube and into the softener tank. A rinse cycle begins and the salty water washes the mineral deposits off the resin beads. The regenerated water is flushed out the discharge hose and the system automatically reverts back to softening the incoming water.
Through this process, it slowly dissolves the salt or potassium chloride pellets in the brine tank. The homeowner or a service will need to occasionally refill that brine tank with these chemical pellets.
Salt-free water softeners are a popular choice for many households, mainly because they are a chemical-free process. These use a filter instead of chemicals like salt or potassium. In this case, the minerals in the water are not altered.
But, how does that work? Salt-Free Softeners don’t actually ‘soften’ water, but conditions it – not removing the minerals, but making them unable to stick to pipes, surfaces, etc. This is done through a process called Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC).
These systems are simpler and easier to maintain than their salt-based counterparts, but the downside is that they don’t perform well for homes with very hard water. Plus, they are often less efficient in eliminating other water contaminants like pesticides, chlorine, herbicides, etc.
Ion Exchange Softeners
Also known as “Cation exchange water softeners”, these remove the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water by exchanging them with sodium (or potassium) ions. After the ions are fully exchanged, the softener performs a regeneration process, flushing the system of excess ions and recharges with new sodium ions.
Reverse Osmosis Softeners (RO)
Reverse osmosis is a process using a pressure-driven membrane where water is forced through that membrane with tiny pores. All molecules larger than the pore openings are trapped from the stream, along with a significant portion of the water. Treated water is collected on the other side.
This process is popular because of the reduction of sodium, bad tastes, and foul odors. RO is generally considered more environmentally friendly (and much more cost efficient) than bottled water.
Magnetic water softeners reduce your water’s hardness by passing it through a powerful magnetic field. The magnet pulls or alters the ions in your water before it enters the plumbing system.
Why have a Professional Install Your Chosen Softener System?
Whatever type of water softening system you choose, it is highly recommended you have it properly installed by a trained professional plumber. Here are just a few reasons you should do so:
- A professional can test your water before and after installation to identify what is causing the problem and how it is performing.
- They will know the best place to install your system.
- A reputable plumber will stand behind their work to be sure the unit is installed and running properly – and show you how to maintain it.
- You will save time and trips to the hardware store.
- Your professional installation expert can program your system to run with maximum efficiency.