Who should consider installing a water softener in a water heating system? Use this article to find out do you need a water softener, about hard water, what are the problems you can expect, advantages and disadvantages and tips when buying one for your home.
One of the main issues with water heating and water heaters are the sediment and lime-scale build-up at the bottom of the heater’s tank, heat exchangers, tubes and other components. The reason for this problem is hard water. Using the water softeners in heating systems is one of the easiest and probably the most economical ways to protect the unit from sediment and lime-scale buildup.
According to Wikipedia.org “Hard water is water that has high mineral content”. Water is considered hard if it contains dissolved hardness minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, above 1 GPG (grains per gallon). It is usually found in water wells.
Hard water due to the presence of minerals such as iron or manganese could taste and smell odd, and according to World Health Organization (WHO), it does not have an adverse health effect, so it is not a health hazard.
Keep in mind that water even softened still contains all the minerals that we need.
To understand better is it safe to drink and about the health effects, check out this article (opens in PDF) from the WHO.
Note: A regular maintenance of both heater and water softener is recommended, including frequent draining and flushing.
For the regular use of domestic water at homes, such as washing or bathing, it is good to know that hard water is not as efficient as soft water. It can also make it harder for soap and detergent to dissolve in water, and make your skin and hair dry.
Also, when used in home water heating systems and other household devices, the problem can be even more significant.
The minerals that are found in hard water could form scale and lime deposits, clog or cover the elements and therefore affect its regular operation, reduce the flow, performance, and efficiency until sooner or later, they break down. Such heaters could quickly fail even after only a few years of working. If the failed component cannot be cleaned or replaced, especially the storage tank, the heater has to be replaced.
The most affected areas are the passageways in tankless heat exchangers, the bottom of the metal tank in tank-type heaters and heating elements in electric units. The reduction in efficiency, for example, can be up to 30% and lifespan up to 50%. This can cause higher energy bills or even worse replacement of the unit.
This problem becomes more aggravated with the higher water temperature, so keeping the thermostat at the recommended level (around 120 F) is highly advisable.
According to some studies, due to hard water, the lifespan of home appliances can be reduced up to 50%. At the same time, soft water could have a positive impact on the lifespan of water heaters.
Some experts recommend, if your water after the test shows 3 GPG or more, it should be softened.
The best way to soften water is to install a water softener to your water supply and home plumbing. A water softener is a device that makes the water soft by removing the minerals that cause it.
Generally, there are two types of water softeners for home use:
The most popular type is the ion exchanger water softener. It is popular, and also the most economical. The tank is filled with special resin beads (man-made plastic beads) and once the hard water passes through/around the beads the “ion exchange” between hard water (ion minerals) and beads (sodium ions) happens, resulting in soft water. This type could make the water salty.
Salt-free water softeners use a filter – so chemicals and salt are not required. This type is also known as a descaler as it doesn’t reduce the content of minerals but prevents them from being deposited as scale. It is recommended for those users who want to avoid salt taste in water and are concerned about salt intake. Salt-free type is not recommended for very hard water.
Magnetic type is also a descaler. It works by changing the properties of water minerals using the magnetic field.
Reverse osmosis softeners use a semi-permeable membrane to remove up to 98% of impurities. It uses a proven method to clean and purify water.
It is essential to understand what are the advantages and benefits of water softeners. These include better water quality, reduced skin reaction, cleaner, and smoother water, showers are healthier and more comfortable, dish-washers and washing machines will operate longer, and the maintenance is cheaper and shorter.
If your tap water or municipality water is not hard and is within the range from 7- to 12- grains hardness, there is no point of buying the unit to soften the water, as it would be too expensive to purchase and use it, while the damages made by untreated water will be insignificant.
The main disadvantage when using the water softener is that water when running through it, results in very soft water that is corrosive when compared to hard water. It affects some elements in the water heaters, such as the anode rod.
The anode rod protects the metal tank from the aggressive water action while it depletes itself during this process and if working in the soft water environment, soft water will speed up its depletion and shorten its life.
As the water softeners exchange sodium for minerals, salty water could run through the plumbing. It would be a good idea to invest in a reverse-osmosis filter not only to remove the salty water but to remove the chlorine as well.
When buying a water softener, there are several options and different sizes; also the new models are always better than the used ones but are more expensive. There are also units with the demand regulating and non-demand regulating. Non-demand water softeners are controlled by timers and are less efficient than demand models, which are cheaper.
Water softeners with the demand regulating valves are more efficient because they use more sophisticated features such as the control valves with the flow meters or sensing probes and resistance sensors, making them more complicated and expensive.
When it comes to choosing the right size of water softeners… it depends on your home size, but buy one which can provide at least several days of supply. Keep in mind that damage to the water heater, and resulting from mineral deposits are not covered under warranty.
Installing a water softener in your home is a great way to reduce the amount of minerals in hard water and prevent lime and mineral deposits that can cause problems.
A water softener with the proven technology is what most customers prefer. This is why an ion exchanger type is the most popular. A great example is Fleck. However, if you do not like that salty taste of water, and if you are cautious about the salt intake, you can go with the salt-free type such as Aquasana.