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Your Water Softener Works Hard — When Is It Time to Retire It?
Elegantly simple and hard-working, your water softener system processes thousands of gallons of water per month — about 100 gallons per person, per day, typically. It consists of layers of salt, resin beads, and other material that, with proper maintenance by your plumber, stands up to this heavy workload for 10 to 20 years.
All you have to do on a regular basis is add a bit of salt — more than a bit, actually, as it comes in 40-pound bags. You can buy cheap solar salt or more expensive forms, and you’ll get the performance you pay for. But when is it time to start over with new water softening equipment? As your plumber can tell you, it depends on the unit’s performance, and how well it has been maintained over the years.
The Basic Principle Behind Common Water Softeners
Your water softener targets minerals in the water such as calcium and magnesium that make your water “hard.” Hard water makes life unpleasant, causing detergents and shampoo to work poorly and leave a residue, and drying your skin and hair. It changes the taste of any foods the water is used in and leaving mineral deposits on plumbing fixtures and your water heater, eventually resulting in clogs and plumber visits.
Consequences of Failing to Replace Your Water Softener
If you don’t have a good understanding of water softener upkeep and maintenance, it could cost you. Your plumber can help you understand how to keep it running in top shape for years. Eventually, though, and sooner if you or the previous owner of the house hasn’t tended to it, you’ll be back to hard water and the damage it can cause. This can include continuing mineral deposits in your pipes, appliances, and water heater.
Maintenance Helps Lifespan
Your water softener uses bulk quantities of salt, the same basic material you use to flavor food, in a process that uses resin beads and salt brine. They perform an ion exchange that removes the minerals that make the water hard. Maintenance saves money by targeting imbalances in the system before they trigger a failure of the entire unit.
Lifespan Depends on Your Type of Water System
There are basic water softener units and ones designed with multi-tank high-performance technology. Some of the more advanced units can last longer, up to 20 years. Combination systems that use several filtration methods can also share the burden of producing quality water, extending the life of the components.
Reduced Performance Can be from Salt Bridges or Mushing
It’s important to follow water softener best practices for replenishing salt and have it maintained by your plumber. If you’re new to the system, your plumber can help you understand the three types of salt you can use and their benefits. They’ll also tell you when you should add more salt — you don’t just top it off — and how to clear formations that impede flow such as salt bridges and mushing to keep the unit running at top performance.
How to Tell if Performance Is Degrading
You can probably tell when your water softener is no longer doing its job, from the basic symptoms of hard water. You’ll discover that it’s harder to build a shampoo lather in the shower, your coffee and tea tastes different and your coffee machine needs descaling more often. Testing will also reveal if your water’s mineral content has worsened over time.
Resin Material Degradation
The resin beads used in water softeners can become contaminated over time with iron, heavy metals, fine silt particles, and organic components and lose its efficiency. It will also not perform well if the salty brine is being prevented from reaching the beads by hard salt formations. Flushing with water softener cleaner as recommended by your plumber will clean out contamination and restore much of your unit’s performance.
Changes in Incoming Water Quality
If your water quality changes, especially if you’re drawing from a well, you may find that the system is working harder and requires more frequent maintenance and cleaning. Annual water quality testing can help you stay on top of changes in the minerals in your water.
If your home starts to use a much larger volume of water, you’ll also be putting your water softener system to work processing a larger volume of minerals. It’s important to make sure enough salt is available for the system to keep processing and softening the water efficiently.
Mechanical Component Maintenance
Water softening systems use a valve to move brine water into the resin tank for processing. The valve can get clogged with the same materials that degrade the resin beads, and simple semiannual cleaning can markedly restore the system’s performance. Your plumber can take care of this quickly on a routine visit.
Maintenance and Operation vs Replacement Costs
Eventually, the components of your water softener system wear to the point where its performance is significantly degraded. Keeping the system well maintained with regular resin bead flushing, valve cleaning, and replacement of your salt at the proper time with the best quality you can afford, are all important factors. Your plumbercan help you decide what kind of new system meets your water quality and annual operation budget needs.
Water Softener, Water Filter, and Reverse Osmosis Systems
Some households choose to run a combination of water softener and standard water filter or reverse osmosis filter system. Water softeners generally process high volumes of water, water filter systems remove more contaminants and so take longer to perform their job. Reverse osmosis systems provide very fine filtration but are slow enough that they are often targeted where high water quality is most appreciated, such as the kitchen.
Your Plumber at bluefrog Plumbing + Drain Can Help You Maintain Water Quality
Contact bluefrog Plumbing + Drainfor expert advice, maintenance, and replacements or upgrades of your water softener and related equipment. We also can repair any hard water damage to your plumbing. Call us.