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Water Softeners: How Do They Work & Do You Need One?



Hard water is one of the most destructive elements in modern plumbing;

mineral deposits from hard water cause millions of dollars in damage to

plumbing fixtures each year.



Faucet flow is reduced, water heaters become filled with sentiment

and minerals deposits clog pipes. Not only is flow reduced but

deposits damage the exterior finish on fixtures as well. 



Calcium and Magnesium in hard water reacts with laundry soap and

shampoos diminishing their ability to create suds or lather,

reducing cleaning effectiveness. These same elements

leave scum on bath tubs and in showers, kitchen pots

and pans will have spots and scale as well.




Besides the obvious issues with deposits how do you determine

when a water softener is needed?




Water with more than 1 GPG (grains per gallon) is considered hard water,

however 1 GPG to 3.5 GPG is still considered soft by most standards.

5-7 GPG is the point where use of a water softener is often considered,

many areas of the country have water with levels that exceed

10 GPG, this is considered very hard water.




How does a water softener work?





The most common type of water softener is the salt based Ion Exchanger,

this type of water softener cycles household water through two water tanks,

one filled with resin beads, the other with brine.

The ionization process exchanges salt for the hard minerals in the water,

the drawback is if you are on a low sodium diet this is not a good solution.

In addition the salt will corrode galvanized piping.



A second option is a salt free system; a salt free system uses potassium

chloride as a substitute for the sodium chloride or salt in the system.

A salt free system does not remove the minerals but conditions them

so they will flow through the system without leaving deposits in piping

or fixtures. This is a much better option for those who must limit salt intake,

and there is less corrosion in the system.





System Maintenance





Because the salt or potassium chloride is consumed during the softening process,

regular maintenance is required. The tanks much be flushed or regenerated to

remove the extracted minerals and regenerate the salt brine system.

Most units do this automatically usually at night as to not disrupt the

flow of treated water. If you have high water demands, consider a

twin softener system, so one tank is always on line.




So how do you determine if you need a water softener?




Perform a water hardness test, you can purchase a water hardness test kit

or contact your local Home Depot, our water experts will test your

water for you, at no charge. They can then recommend water softening

solutions best suited to your home and budget.





What size water softener should you buy?




The capacity of a water softener is measured in the grain removal

ability of the unit. A water hardness test is conducted and the size of the

softener is calculated by multiplying the number of people in the household

times the average daily water usage per person.  In the United States the

average daily water usage per person is 80 gallons per day and the average

water hardness is 10GPG.



Thus for a household of 4 people, using an average of 80 gallons

per day per person, with a water hardness of 10GPG the total

grains per day is 3200,  (4 x 80 = 320 x 10 = 3200).

This household then would need a water softener which would

remove 3200 grains of minerals per day.




There are three basic types of water softener systems:




1. Timer regenerated systems, these systems use a timer to operate

the regeneration system, regardless of the amount of water usage.

While this system is less expensive than a metered system,it has the

highest salt consumption.





2. Meter Regenerated Systems, meter regeneration systems operate the regeneration or maintenance cycle based on water usage. By regenerating only when needed the system saves water and salt. 




3. Manually regenerated systems, these systems do not have timers or meters and must manually regenerated, they allow you to regenerate only when you desire and use less salt and water as a result. However most do not have a drain and you must use a garden hose to drain the system when maintenance is performed.









Installing a water softener is a fairly simple process; there is an inlet, outlet and a drain. Manual systems are the simplest, metered and timer systems require a dedicated drain be installed, so they may work as needed automatically. Most homeowners are better served if they have a professional plumber install the system.




Lease or Buy?




You can lease a system from a local soft water company for $15 to $50 dollars a month. This service company handles the maintenance of the system and simply bills you monthly.



Or you may buy a system installed or install it yourself, prices range from $500.00 to $3000.00 depending upon the size of the system and features. There is no monthly fee, but you must purchase and install the salt as needed, the bags are big and heavy, making self-maintenance an issue for elderly or handicapped homeowners.




Steps to follow when considering a water softener:



1. Perform a water hardness test, determine what the level of hardness is and decide if you want or need a water softener. The Home Depot offers free water testing; just contact your local Home Depot Store.



2. Select a system based on household size, water usage and grain removal needs.



3. Choose which maintenance or regeneration system is best for your home and budget. Timer, meter or manual.



4. Decide if you want to lease or purchase the system.



5. Determine if you want to install it yourself or have a plumber do the work. Leased systems usually include installation.





Mike, The Home Depot Answer Man



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Posted 2015-09-14T23:10:51+0000  by Mike_HD_OC Mike_HD_OC