Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hard Water

What is hard water?

Hard water is the most common problem found in the average home. Hard water is water that contains dissolved hardness minerals above 1 GPG.

What are hardness minerals?

Calcium, manganese and magnesium are the most common.

How do you Measure Hardness?

Parts per million or grains per gallon are the most common. One part per million (PPM) is just what it says: out of one million units, one unit. Grains, or grains per gallon (GPG) is a weight measurement taken from the Egyptians; one dry grain of wheat, or about 1/7000 of a pound. It takes 17.1 PPM to equal 1 GPG.

Why Should Hard Water Concern Me?

For many uses, it would not matter. For instance, to put out fires, water your lawn, wash the mud off the streets or float your boat, water would have to be pretty hard to cause a problem. But for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, shaving, washing your car and many other uses of water, hard water is not as efficient or convenient as "soft water." For instance:

  • you use only 1/2 as much soap cleaning with soft water.
  • because hard water and soap combine to form "soap scum" that can't be rinsed off, forming a 'bathtub ring' on all surfaces and drys leaving unsightly spots on your dishes.
  • when hard water is heated, the hardness minerals are re-crystallized to form hardness scale. This scale can plug your pipes and hot water heater, causing premature failure, and costly replacement.
  • the soap scum remains on your skin even after rinsing, clogging the pores of your skin and coating every hair on your body. This crud can serve as a home for bacteria, causing diaper rash, minor skin irritation and skin that continually itches.
  • for many industrial uses, the hardness minerals interfere with the process, causing inferior product.

Who Will Test My Water for Hardness?

If you are connected to a municipal supply, call the water Superintendent, or City Hall. They can either provide the answer, or direct you to the proper individual. Remember the conversion factor: it takes 17.1 PPM to equal 1 GPG. In other words, if your water has 171 PPM calcium in it, divide 171 by 17.1 to get the answer in grains. This example would be 10 grains, or GPG.

If you are on a private supply, you could contact your county extension agent: collect a sample in an approved container and send to the city or state health department for testing: find a testing lab (try the yellow pages): call a water conditioning company. By the way, if you are on a private well, YOU, AND YOU ALONE are responsible for the safety of the water you and your family drink. You should test your supply for bacteria at least once per year and other contaminants at least every three years -- more under certain conditions.

My Water is Hard; Now What?

If your water tests over 3 GPG hard, you should mechanically soften it. Softening water that is less than 3 GPG, while it makes your shaving and bathing more comfortable, is considered a luxury due to the fact that the cost is more than your savings. Over 3 GPG, you will save enough to pay for the cost and maintenance of a water conditioner.

As of this writing, the most economical way for you to soften your household water is with an ion exchange water softener. This unit uses sodium chloride (salt) to recharge man made plastic like beads that exchange hardness minerals for sodium. As the hard water passes through and around the plastic like beads, the hardness minerals (ions) attach themselves to the bead, dislodging the sodium ions. This process is called "ion exchange". When the plastic bead, called Resin, has no sodium ions left, it is exhausted, and can soften no more water. The resin is recharged by flushing with salt water. The sodium ions force the hardness ions off the resin beads; then the excess sodium is rinsed away, and the resin is ready to start the process all over again. This cycle can be repeated many, many time before the resin loses it's ability to react to these forces.

Which Water Conditioning Company should I call?

As in any purchase, talk to your friends and neighbors -- who do they use? Are they happy with them? Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints. The BBB can't prevent shady business, but they can and do keep a file of complaints filed by people who have had dealings with them. Remember, just because the unit or Company carries a brand name is not any indication that the unit is any better.........but it may mean it is more costly for you!

Ask at least two to come to your home to look at your plumbing and then give you a quote on their equipment. Have them explain all the features of the unit, as well as the warranty.

What Should I look for in a Water Conditioner?

Make sure the unit has enough resin to treat all the water you and your family will use. As of this writing, the average usage per day, per person (including children), for inside the house is 87 gallons. You should also be shown two or three ways to initiate recharging the unit.

The oldest way is by a time clock, i.e., your water usage is calculated and the frequency of recharging programmed into the timer. On the appointed day, at the appointed hour, the unit recharges. If all went as calculated, ok. If you were gone -- too bad -- you just wasted salt and water. If you had extra company -- too bad -- you ran out of soft water. You must pick a unit that will treat one days supply of water and still have about 40% of the resin in the recharged state. This will provide you with the most efficiency for salt and regeneration water.

A second way to initiate recharge is by electronic sensing. By electronically checking the resin, these units can determine when the resin needs to be recharged -- this is a great help when your water hardness changes, when you have extra company or when you are gone for a few days. These 'sensor' units can save you up to 42% of your salt and recharge water as well as keep you in soft water when you have extra guests.

A third way to initiate recharge is by using a meter. These units have a meter installed in the water line and simply measure how many gallons of water you actually used. The unit is set according to your water hardness, and will recharge when the gallons used approach exhaustion of the resin bed, saving you a high percentage of your recharge salt and water.

Many variations of these methods are on the market. Some use computers to calculate in advance, when to recharge the unit; some have two resin beds (tanks), and switch back and forth between the two, keeping you in soft water all the time, at the highest efficiency. These systems are most effective in high hardness waters, i.e., over 10-12 GPG, and over 4 people in the family. Low hardness water and smaller families do not require the extra expense of these options.

I Have a Water Conditioner, Now my Water Feels "Slimy"

When the hardness minerals are removed, soap no longer forms a soap curd, or "bathtub ring" on your skin, plugging your pores, clinging to every strand of hair. You are now truly clean. That slick, slimy feeling you feel is your natural body oils -- without the soap scum. The old saying that you get "squeaky clean" is a myth; that feeling was caused by the soap scum on your skin. By the way, that soap scum provided an excellent place for bacteria to hide and grow, causing numerous minor skin ailments.