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What You Need to Know About Water Softeners
Thinking of investing in some softer water for your Edmonton home? This might be a great idea. But before you forge ahead, we want to make sure you’re making well informed decisions about your water softener.
You might be wondering, what exactly is hard water? Water naturally has minerals in it (things like calcium and iron). The more minerals it has, the harder it is considered to be. These minerals aren’t necessarily bad (we often try to include these things in our diets after all). However, they do leave a deposit buildup on household items that come into contact with water often such as a laundry machine, your clothes, or your wine glasses. More importantly, hard water has its effect on our bodies. A shower with hard water can actually result in skin irritation in sensitive skin types. Although this may not occur in those who are less sensitive, hard water can still often leave your skin feeling dried out and itchy. Even our hair is damaged by the build up of minerals - it can result in duller hair that becomes oily faster.
So what’s a water softener’s role in all of this? Well, it removes the hardness from your water that causes these problems. During the water softening process, the minerals are removed from the water and replaced by sodium (usually). In this ion exchange process, your water becomes softer and brings with it countless benefits for you and your family.
Why is Softening the Water in Your Home Important?
Water softener installation isn’t always absolutely essential if your home is located in an area with low hardness in the public tap water (which is the case for some Canadian cities). Homes in some areas with water overly rich in minerals may be particularly interested in a water softener to prevent the plumbing system in their home from mineral buildup and corrosion. However, it isn’t only the homes in such areas that are subject to damaged plumbing at the hands of hard water - it can happen anywhere. Edmonton’s water hardness is quite average in comparison to the other cities of Alberta and is considered safe without softening. Our municapal water here in Edmonton is usually 10-20 grains of hardness, whereas some Canadian cities can have hardness in the hundreds of grains! So really, most Edmonton area homeowners consider a water softener installation as more of a type of comfort and peace of mind that allows for more enjoyable water use. The benefits of softening your water include:
Softer skin (hard water can irritate the skin)
Healthier, shinier hair
Cleaner dishes (you’ll reduce the amount of spots on your glasses and cutlery especially)
Softer, brighter clothes (dull, graying clothes may actually be an indication of hard water)
Less soap required for dishes and personal care (the minerals in hard water combine with soap thereby causing it to lose its effectiveness)
Can remove bad tastes and odours in your water
Reduction of calcium (and other mineral) buildup in household appliances that use water (such as the laundry machine, dish washer and even your kettle if you use tap water for boiling)
Less frequent replacement of appliances and plumbing fixtures. They won’t break down as quickly due to build up of the minerals in hard water (also called mineral scale). This means more money in your pocket over the long term.
Risks of Having Hard Water in Your Home
Many studies exist in the world on the effects of hard water on our health. Generally, we believe it has no adverse effects but the matter is still disputed from time to time. Minerals tend to be good for us, so long as they aren’t consumed in higher than recommended amounts. Because there are different mineral levels in different geographical areas, it’s best to simply test your water with a testing kit to know what’s in it (and in what amounts your family is consuming it). That way you can decide for yourself whether you’d like to take any additional precautions in terms of your health.
The clear and indisputable effects of hard water are the ones on your home. Did you know that minerals can cause some serious build up in your plumbing? You may have even noticed it on your fixtures. It’s usually white and flaky and tends to build up on the heads of your faucets (even at the bottom of your kettle - yuck!) Well this exact same buildup occurs within your pipes too. The first sign that hard water is affecting your plumbing is decreases in pressure and flow and some fixtures in your home. Hardness usually starts being noticed in shower heads and faucets but the deposits are also happening everywhere your water goes.
The costs of living with hard water in your home might actually outweigh the simple expense of having a water softener. Think about it. You use more detergent and soap to clean things because hard water combines with cleaning agents. The life span of your showerheads and faucets is short so you need to replace them or you’ve invested in large amounts of CLR to decalcify them. The faucet and valve cartridges in your faucets and shower wear out much faster because of the mineral deposits. You’re constantly buying moisturizers for your family because they all complain of itchy or dry skin. Even your large home appliances might be breaking down and require repairs or replacement. Toilet internals wear faster and even water heater lifespan is greatly reduced with hard water! All these costs add up and sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re spending more money on these items because we use hard water. Take a look at your spending - you may just determine that a water softener installation is the right decision to save you money.
Different Types of Water Softeners
If you’re contemplating a water softener installation for your home, you’ll want to be aware of the facts that different types exist. First of all, they operate on various scales. Commercial and industrial water softeners exist for mass water consumption but you’ll want to focus on the residential units for your home.
The main factors that differ between water softeners are the following:
Grain capacity: Your water softener will have to regenerate every so often. This means that if you have a constant flow of water, it may eventually become hard if the water softener doesn’t get a chance to regenerate. The grain capacity is a calculation of the softener’s regeneration frequency; how much water your softener is able to soften before having to regenerate. A family of 6 will need a higher grain capacity than a family of 2 in order to keep water soft at all times.
Size: This goes closely hand in hand with grain capacity. The larger the size of your water softener, the larger the brine tank will be. This translates into longer periods between regeneration as well. The size of the water softener should also increase by the number of family members using water in the home.
There is also a salt-free softener option for anyone particularly concerned with sodium intake (our skin absorbs certain amounts of whatever comes into contact with it). This might be a good option for you, however, softeners that don’t use sodium are often slightly less effective. The difference is made by choosing potassium chloride in your softener instead of normal softening salt.
Efficiency: Water softeners to waste some water when they do their regeneration cycles. Some softeners don’t keep track of actual water usage and regenerate on a timer. This is not optimal as if you aren’t using any water it will still regenerate according to the programmed frequency, or if you are using lots you may completely exhaust the resin bed and end up getting hard water until the next regeneration. What you should look for is a high efficiency softener that won’t waste any more salt or water than is required to operate. These units keep track of how much water has been used and will only regenerate when it needs to.
During your water softener search you’ll find numerous brands with slightly differing functions and prices. It can be quite difficult to navigate. Different options work for different families but more importantly, requirements change from area to area. A professional will have the knowledge and experience to know which types of softeners have been most efficient in which places. One of our licensed plumbers would be happy to let you know what options might work best for you.
Is There Maintenance Involved?
Sure, just like any mechanical device in your home, your water softener is subject to some maintenance. In fact, it’s quite important that you don’t overlook the regular maintenance schedule of your water softener. Because a water softener is a significant investment for your home, you want to take care of it to get maximum longevity (and avoid larger headaches due to a part breaking down).
Your water softener is a machine and has many parts - valves, lines and smaller pieces that may need occasional replacement. But more importantly, there is regular required maintenance that is essential to the proper function of a water softener. This mandatory maintenance involves:
Cleaning out the brine tank. You’ll have to scrub the inside of the tank with some soap and a brush with a long handle. This is, however, a type of deep clean and does not have to happen often. You can even go a year or two between cleans.
Refilling the salt - this usually needs to happen once a month using a very large bag of salt (around 40 lbs to give you an idea). Of course, this is dependent of the size of your home and how much water you use.
Regularly checking the hardness with a test kit. Besides the evident symptoms you might start noticing in your skin and hair, you’ll want to track any changes in your water hardness with an actual kit that shows you your water hardness in detail. Standard testing will help you sniff out any problems before they happen.
Why is Water Softener Maintenance Important?
Water softeners are excellent additions to our homes but they aren’t a one time installation effort. You’ll have to regularly ensure that your water softener is working properly. If you neglect it, you may run into some serious issues with it down the road and possibly may even have to replace your water softener altogether. We want to help you avoid this scenario! So let’s take a look at some red flags you may want to look out for when you’re checking up on your water softener.
Preventative Maintenance Tips
Keep an eye out for salt bridging. This will look like a layer of salt covering your view of the bottom of the tank. If you see this starting to form, you’ll have to crush it with something that will reach into the tank (typically the end of a broom) and then remove it. If you don’t do this, the salt won’t dissolve into the water in the tank thus disrupting the entire softening process.
Salt mushing is event more important to avoid. It forms at the bottom of your tank in the form of a sludge. This issue is a larger headache because the only way to fix the problem is to completely empty out and scrub the entire tank.
Use good quality salts. Ask your licensed plumber about the best products available to you to ensure that the sodium is dissolving and creating the brine as it should be.
The Benefits of Hiring a Professional
You’ve got a can-do attitude and feel ready to take on any challenge. Great! But as far as water softener installation and maintenance go, it really is in your best interest to hire someone with the proper knowledge and training.
A licensed plumber has been at this for years. With time comes experience and with experience, of course, comes an aptitude to scope out issues very quickly. A licensed professional is able to detect a problem with the plumbing in your home much quicker. Although there is some maintenance that you can do alone (it’s even recommended that you do take some care!) you should still have a professional come by and take a look at your water softener every once in a while to ensure that there aren’t any problems around the corner.
If you ever do encounter an issue with your water softener, a Mr. Rooter Edmonton licensed plumber will ensure that any parts that need replacement are guaranteed. We attach our name to the work we do and are committed to leaving you with a perfectly functioning water softener unit. This attitude also goes for our installation process. Licensed professionals will do it right the first time. What does this mean for you? Total peace of mind.
A licensed plumber knows the next steps. After servicing your unit, we’ll be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to maintain your water softener in great condition. We’re here to help and want to ensure that you’re well informed too.
Any more questions? Reach out to us!
A water softener is a great addition to your home and comes with numerous benefits. When shopping around, keep in mind the various types of water softeners that exist on the market and consult a professional that will be able to tell you exactly the size and efficiency you’ll need in order to get the most out of your water softener. Although a water softener can save you money, you want to avoid any unnecessary expenses due to a miscalculation in the type of softener you need.
Now that you know everything you need to about water softeners it’s time for you to decide whether you’ll be investing in one. If this is a comfort you choose to add to your home, Mr. Rooter will be happy to install and maintain your new unit! Reach out to us, we’d love to answer your questions.