Finding the right water-treatment system
Written in Arizona but applies here in the Magic Valley as well.
by Rosie Romero – Jun. 21, 2012 06:45 PM
Water. Such a simple topic and yet so complicated.
Arizona residents often complain about their water. It starts with how scale builds up on shower walls and doors and around faucets, making everything harder to clean. They also complain about how the water tastes.
Some issues stem from the fact that Arizona’s water supply is “hard,” due to high levels of calcium and magnesium bicarbonates occurring naturally in the water.
The U.S. Department of Interior has defined water as being slightly hard when it has from 1 to 3.5 grains per gallon of calcium and magnesium.
In Arizona, hardness levels can exceed 20 grains per gallon.
These levels are not harmful to health, and approximately 80 percent of the water in the United States is considered hard.
In any case, these minerals create the scale buildup inside your plumbing and appliances. The useful life of dishwashers and water heaters can be shortened as a result. The harder the water, the harder it also is to get your laundry clean.
There are businesses in Arizona that specialize in confronting these issues. Maybe you’d like to try their products, but the many solutions plus the difficulty in understanding the technology can make buying or renting a water-treatment system confusing.
In some cases, sales representatives for various water systems can make outlandish claims when there is, in fact, no magic fix for all water issues.
First of all, decide what you want to be done. If you’re mainly interested in getting high-quality drinking water at your kitchen sink, you should get a reverse-osmosis system or distillation unit to remove the chlorine from drinking water and improve its taste.
If you want to go to the next level and end scale buildup on your shower walls, reduce dry-skin problems and cut back on your use of soaps, detergents, shampoos and fabric softeners, you should consider buying or renting a water-softening system.
Here’s what you should know if you’re interested in buying or renting a water-treatment system:
The main way of reducing water hardness is by installing an ion exchange water softener. It will remove the scale-forming calcium and magnesium, replacing them with sodium chloride or potassium chloride.
Softened water also removes scale in showers, faucets, and appliances. Independent studies indicate softened water results in extended appliance life.
During the regeneration process in water softening, the effluent is discharged into drainpipes as the trapped calcium and/or magnesium is flushed away by a brine solution. Some softeners discharge more sodium chloride or potassium chloride than others.
To improve the taste of Arizona water, consider reverse-osmosis drinking-water systems. These units fit under the kitchen sink and will supply water to a holding tank, and, in some cases, connect to a refrigerator.
Water flows through a sediment filter, which removes large particulates, then goes through a carbon filter to remove organic material, chlorine, and the bad taste.
It also goes through a semipermeable membrane to remove inorganic ions of salts and metals.
With these two systems at work in your home, you’ll have a water softener to provide working water for washing, cleaning and bathing and a reverse-osmosis system to provide your drinking water.
But what about those water companies that say that they can suspend or remove hardness without removing the calcium and magnesium bicarbonates from the water?
They claim that a catalytic system will provide soft water without using sodium chloride or potassium chloride as water softeners do. You hear these advertised as salt-free systems.
These alternative units may include magnetic, catalytic, electric and electro-dialysis equipment. The claim is that their systems introduce energy to the water supply — either from a magnetic field or direct current. Catalytic units apply different metallic elements to affect the ions.
But the position of the Arizona Water Quality Association is that most alternative conditioner firms offer no independent confirmation that they can remove calcium or magnesium ions from water or reduce the scale formation caused by hard water.
On the contrary, many studies of these devices — particularly magnetic and catalytic units — report that no scale reduction takes place.
As part of their presentation, some alternative treatment companies also offer carbon filtration, which they claim will purify water as well. Carbon filters are not permanent devices and must be replaced periodically to avoid bacteria growth.
The same is true for in-line carbon filters in refrigerator water units.
Now that you have the basics on water systems, here are some issues to consider in making your own choice:
Watch out for companies that try to scare you about the quality and safety of your municipal drinking water.
Watch out for companies that try to use scare tactics to confuse you about the salt content in the softened water you might drink. An 8-ounce glass of softened water has less than 12.5 milligrams of sodium. By comparison, an 8-ounce glass of Coca-Cola has 30 milligrams of sodium, and a piece of white bread has about 140 milligrams.
Look for treatment systems certified by the Water Quality Association, a non-profit trade association that represents the water-treatment industry, or NSF International, another non-profit based in Michigan that sets standards for products, including drinking-water systems, plumbing, and water-treatment equipment.
Ask to see the NSF performance data sheets for comparing different systems.
Make sure that the system is the right size and suited to your home. The system should consider the hardness of your water, the size of your plumbing system, size and configuration of your home and your estimated water usage.
Understand the manufacturer’s warranty for the system you buy.
Find out whether you can rent your system or if you have to purchase it outright.
Before hiring a water-treatment contractor, find out the following:
Is the contractor licensed, bonded and insured? Check his or her license number and record on the state website for registered Arizona contractors: azroc.gov.
Is the contractor’s business stable? Confirm the actual business location and find out whether it has been in business five or more years. Also, see if the contractor belongs to any professional organizations and whether he is certified by the Water Quality Association.
Does the contractor do his own installation or subcontract out some of the work? Is the subcontractor licensed?
Does the contractor use trained and qualified service technicians for follow-ups?
Did the contractor test your water before recommending a system, even if you are on a municipal water source?
Did the contractor look at your plumbing and properly size equipment before quoting a price?
What is the cost of ongoing maintenance and upkeep?