During my many years as a service plumber in one of the areas in Canada with extremely hard water. And while soft water is nice, I have on numerous occasions found that water softeners can be detrimental to your home’s plumbing system. Most modern water softeners are electronically controlled units with adjustable water hardness input variables that ensure the right amount of salt water brine is used during the resin bed regeneration cycle. Also the final rinse cycle can be adjusted to allow for proper length rinse cycle time, this to ensure all the salt water brine has been rinsed from the resin bed.
Problems with water softeners occur with inadequate maintenance. Or they have not been properly set up for the water hardness level in your area water supply which can result in too much brine being used during the regeneration cycle or the final rinse cycle is not sufficiently long enough to flush all the brine from the resin bed. The problem mitigates itself as these regeneration cycles are usually programmed to occur at a time of the day when water use is normally low ie. 2am in the morning. The softener either as a result of too much salt water brine uptake during the regeneration cycle and/or the final rinse cycle being too short, could result in too much salt remaining in the resin bed once the regeneration cycle is complete. When the occupants of the house awake to begin their day the excess salt remaining in the resin bed can then be distributed throughout the home plumbing system. A common casualty of this excess salt is most often the hot water tank as this dense salt laden water tends to settle to the bottom of the tank, leading to premature corrosion of the tank pressure vessel or drain components. It has been such an issue that many hot water tank manufacturers will not warranty their tanks if a water softener is used especially on both the hot and cold water supply in the home. A softener may cause accelerated corrosion of the anode rod in the hot water tank. These anode rods are meant to be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak and meant to attract corrosion rather than the corrosion attacking the hot water tank or its components.
This can also be a potential health risk with elevated sodium levels in the water supply particularly in the kitchen where this water is used for drinking and cooking. In most cases professionally installed water softeners will in most cases have had a separate hard water feed line to supply water to the cold water tap in the kitchen. However this hard water supply to the kitchen sink may be a difficult task to add to your home depending on how accessible the kitchen is from the mechanical room.
The softener needs to be set to accommodate the water hardness in your particular area. Water hardness is usually measured in grains per gallon. So for example, if the water hardness in your area is 20 grains per gallon and your water softener has a resin bed with a 20,000 grains of water hardness capability, then the softener will go thorough it’s regeneration cycle after 1000 gallons of water has been treated through the resin bed. Most modern day electronically controlled water softeners have the capability of measuring water flow and by merely entering the water hardness level into the programming logic the softener will automatically regenerate as required.
As with any softener, maintenance by a professional is highly recommended in order to ensure the unit is both programmed correctly, regenerates only when necessary, uses the correct amount of brine (salt) and that the final backwash cycle is correctly set and final rinse cycle is long enough to ensure this brine is rinsed from the resin bed. If all these parameters are met the softener will use only the proper amounts of water during each cycle and not waste water as many older water softeners were prone to do.
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