Saturday, July 25, 2009

Do I need a Iron Filter ???

Nobody likes those unsightly reddish orange stains. They are in the shower, toilets and just about everywhere your water touches. There are a lot of opinions about using a separate piece of equipment to filter out the iron before the water softener, but a water softener can be a great iron/rust remover if set up properly. If your shopping for a new water softener and are unsure if your softener will remove all of the iron/rust in your water, this article should help. First things first, we have to find out if your water is a good candidate for removing iron/rust. There a a few determining factors/rules that you must follow. Your going to have your water test handy to proceed. Don't guess on the iron either. If your not sure, have it tested by a water treatment professional. The amount of iron or rust your water softener can remove is determined by the amount of hardness in your water, and the P.H. of your water. A lot of people don't test for PH and just ignore it, but it's very important. PH runs on a scale of 0-14. 7 is neutral. Any reading above 7 is alkaline and below 7 is acidic. Iron is very easily removed if your PH is below 7. In fact, softeners love to remove iron from acidic water. As long as your not getting blueish green stains on your tub or toilets (this is a sign of the acid water eating or leeching your copper plumbing) don't worry about correcting the PH of your water--despite what someone wants to sell you ! I have treated water with as high as 12-15 ppm of iron with a water softener when the PH is acidic. You just have to use salt with a iron removing additive and regenerate your softener more often. This is a lot easier than having another piece of equipment in your house to maintain--and iron filters can be a pain in the neck ! So here is what you need to do to set up your softener to remove high iron with a acidic PH. (I will get to alkaline PH in a little bit)

1. You must use red out salt (salt with a rust remover additive) in the salt tank. Don't mix between regular and rust out, that won't work. You have to use 100% rust out salt all the time !

2. Your salt setting must be on 15 pounds. This is important. This is the setting for a one cubic foot softener (30,000 grain capacity)(2,000 grains per pound of salt) Consult your owners manual to figure out your salt setting.

3. You must compensate or add in the iron to your hardness. This is called compensated hardness. Take the total amount of iron in your water (parts per million -ppm) and add four (4) grains of hardness for every part per million.

Example: You have 8 ppm of iron in your water. Multiply that by 4. You now have 32 grains of hardness that represent your iron. Add that to the amount of hardness in your water. Now you have a compensated hardness. Here is a sample water analysis:

Hardness: 15 g.p.g (grains per gallon)

Iron: 8 ppm

PH: 6.5

Your compensated hardness is 47 grains per gallon (g.p.g)

Now since your using 15 pounds of salt per regeneration (change that salt setting !) you will get 30,000 grains of capacity. Now divide that 47 into 30,000 and you get the amount of treated gallons you can get between regenerations--which is 638.30 or just 638. Next we need to know how many water users in the house. Each water user in the house represents 80 gallons per day. This is a good figure to base your calculations. So if you have 3 people in your family or house using water on a daily basis, that's 240 gallons per day. Now divide that 638 total treated gallons from you water softener by 240. This comes out to 2.66. This is the number of days your softener can run before needing to regenerate again. I am assuming that you have a timered system that you can set the days of regeneration. I would set this at every 2 days. You can try three, but with large amounts of iron, two would probably be better. Keep in mind that these are the settings for the above water analysis. Yours will probably be different but calculated the same. Whatever your compensated number comes out to, you divide that number into 30,000.

NOTE: If you have bigger that a one cubic foot (30,000) softener, you can set the salt higher to get more capacity. For example, if you have a 45,000 grain softener or 1.5 cubic foot, you can set the salt at 18 pounds which will give you 36,000 grains capacity(2,000 grains per pound of salt)

IMPORTANT: Most Internet sites and dealers refer to one cubic foot softeners as 32,000 grains. This is the amount you will get with brand new resin. Once the softener regenerates, even the first time, you will only get 30,000. The 32,000 is only the capacity for virgin resin. You can achieve 32,000 but you would have to use 22-30 pounds of salt per regeneration to achieve this.

If you have a metered softener or demand softener, it's a little different in how you set the meter. All of the above still applies as far as salt and capacities. First, make sure you have the salt set at 15 lbs. Second, you must have some gallons in reserve. Most metered softeners don't regenerate as soon as the meter hits zero (unless you have a twin-system with two resin tanks) so if the meter runs to zero at 10 am on a Saturday morning, you can have bad water by noon. To avoid this, set a reserve to get you through the day. Deduct 80 gallons per person per day. So if we use the above number of 638 gallons per regeneration and you have 3 people in the house, you have to deduct another 240 gallons and set your meter at 400 gallons. This will insure you won't have bad water before your softener has a chance to regenerate--since most softeners do not regenerate till between 12:00 am and 2:00 am.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a digital metered system, a lot of them will automatically program in a reserve amount. Just make sure to put in the correct amount of compensated hardness (hardness + ppm of iron times 4 = total hardness) Consult your owners manual to find out how it performs.

Iron removal with a PH ABOVE 7.0
If you have a neutral or alkaline PH, iron removal has it's limits and rules to follow also. All of the math for determining gallons and days of regeneration still apply. However, with water in a alkaline state you must have a good hardness to iron ratio to effectively remove the iron in the water. You must have a 4 to 1 hardness to iron ratio. For example, if you have 3.0 ppm of iron, you must have at least 12 gpg of hardness. Iron is not as soluble in an alkaline state and harder to remove. So whatever your iron content of the water with a alkaline PH, multiply the iron by 4. If you have at least that much hardness, the softener will remove it with no problem. Here are some examples:
Hardness: 10 gpg Iron: 5.0 ppm PH: 7.5
A softener will probably not work under these conditions. If you follow the rule, the required amount of hardness in this water analysis is 20 gpg.
Hardness: 28 gpg Iron 3.5 PH: 7.7
In this situation, a softener will work fine for iron removal. The 28 gpg is well above the 14 gpg needed. The higher the hardness, the better the iron removal.
I sure hope this educates you in your decision to buy a water softener or just to set up your softener differently so that it will work properly. If you have any questions or need help with your water. Just send me an email and let me know !
The Water Guy

Friday, July 24, 2009

My Hot Water Stinks, what should I do ?

Does your hot water smell like rotten eggs, even though your hot water tank is fairly new ? Don't be alarmed, it happens quite often. This can happen even if your cold water does not have a smell. Don't let a water treatment dealer sell you equipment to correct this problem. I have seen it time after time and it's a waste of money. The cause of the odor in your hot water tank is the anode rod, or referred to in the industry as the "mag rod". This anode is made from magnesium and is a self-sacrificing rod that will dissolve and help protect the tank from corrosion. This situation often occurs after a water softener is installed, even if your tank is two or three weeks old !!! Why ?? Because soft water contains sodium, and the sodium reacts with the magnesium rod because the water is more conductive and creates a bacteria that smells. This odor can be really offensive and make you not even want to use your hot water. So what's the solution ? There are a couple of ways, as I will outline below.

1. If your hot water tank is under warranty, you cannot remove the rod because it will void the manufacturers warranty. What you can do is go buy a zinc/aluminum rod to take it's place. It is attached to a plug on the top of the tank or can be attached to the hot side nipple that comes out of the tank (commonly found on Bradford White heaters) Unless you are fairly handy with plumbing or hot water tanks, I strongly recommend using a plumbing professional. It will take a breaker bar with a 1 -1/16" (inch and one sixteen) socket to remove it. They are usually installed very tight and can be hard to remove, so you will need someone to hold the tank while you are removing it. Just make sure you shut off the water first and shut off the electric(if it's electric) and take a gallon or two of water out of the bottom of the tank before you start to remove the rod. Once you have the rod out take a funnel and pour 1/4 gallon of bleach into the tank to kill the bacteria and then you can put the same rod back in or I would strongly suggest replacing with a aluminum/zinc rod. Even aluminum rods can stink from time to time. That's why it's best to buy an aluminum/zinc rod. Make sure to put some pipe thread sealant (pipe dope) or Teflon on the threads before re-installing. After you are done, turn the water back on and run a little water out of the bottom until you smell the chlorine bleach. Then go to each hot faucet, one at a time, and run the hot water until you smell bleach. Repeat this until you have done every hot faucet in the house, but make sure to do it one at a time. You will get air and black water so don't be alarmed, this is normal. After about 3-4 hours run a couple of hot faucets until the bleach is gone and repeat each faucet to flush out all of the lines to get rid of the bleach. The reason for the bleach is to kill the bacteria causing the problem.

2. If you hot water tank is OUT OF WARRANTY, go ahead and remove the rod and put a 3/4" brass plug in it's place. Make sure to use Teflon tape of pipe dope on the threads. Also, do the bleach process I have described above to kill the bacteria and resolve the problem.

From my 25 + years of experience in doing this, no other way is more effective than bleaching your hot water tank. The bleach will not hurt your tank. You have to kill the odor producing bacteria in order to kill the smell. I have search google and Yahoo for answers on this topic and I can't believe some of the solutions people have come up with. This is the only effective way I know to cure this problem. A lot of reputable water conditioning dealers usually offer this service because they run into this problem every day. Plumbers don't usually chlorinate, unless they have done this before.

Hope this helps you !

The Water Guy

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Water Softener quit working...what should I do ?

Remember when you bought your water softener ? Was it 15 years ago, or was it last year, last month or last week. You had it installed or installed it yourself, added salt and wow, what a difference. Your water was great...until now. Troubleshooting your softener can be difficult if you don't know what to look for, or look at for that matter. In this blog, I'm going to cover some basic things to look for that you can easily correct and may solve your water problems, without an expensive service call.

1. If your water softener is an electric version, is it plugged in ?

I know what your thinking, but I have run many service calls and found this problem. Check that first. Another thing. If you softener is plugged in to a light (via a pull chain adapter) is it controlled by a switch ? This is another common problem I see in the field. You go upstairs and turn off the light and bingo, you just shut off the electric to your softener. Check this also and make sure that the light you plug it into or the outlet that you plugged it into is NOT controlled by a switch. If your softener is plugged into an extension cord, make sure it is working properly, this can also be a problem.

2. Is the salt in the brine tank (salt tank) mushed up or bridged ?

I see this all the time in one form or another. The best way to correct this is to completely empty your brine tank (salt tank) and start from scratch. Measure the water level in your brine tank before you start so you can add the proper amount of water when you are done, this is important. Do not reuse the salt you took out unless it is completely dry and not mushy or even soft. If you do, your just putting the same problems back in and not correcting anything. Mushy salt can also lead to a high water level in the brine tank. If you have noticed higher water levels in your brine tank, this might also be part of the problem. When you clean out your brine tank you might notice a salt platform or salt grid plate in the bottom of the tank. Make sure you remove this and clean out any mushed salt below the salt grid plate. Mushy salt and salt byproducts (i.e binders, etc.) build up over time and can hinder the operation of your softener. This usually happens after two plus years of operation.

3. Is your softener on bypass ?

This is another common and frequent problem I saw out in the field that causes numerous service calls. A lot of people bypass their softener in order to water the grass and forget to put it back into service afterwards. Check your bypass valve (if you have one) or if you have three valves in the plumbing, make sure the one that bypasses the system is not open.

4. Is there salt in the brine tank ?

I know this sounds stupid, but it happens. More is not better. Always let your salt level go down low (not out) till you can see the water before you add more. If you add salt every time there is room to add more, you will end up with a brine tank full of mushed salt or a salt bridge. Refer to question #2 if this is the case. Unless you are a family that uses a lot of salt a month (100-200 pounds) you should never fill your salt tank to the top.

5. Is the time of day set correctly ? (only if your softener has a time clock)

This can be a big issue. Why ? Let's look at it like a alarm clock. Let's say you get up every morning at 7 am. That's the time your alarm goes off. Now if the current time of day is not right, your not actually getting up at 7 am are you ? No. The same with your softener. If it's set to go off at 2 am (most of them are) and the time of day isn't right, it won't go off at 2 am. So why can this cause a problem ? If your softener runs during the day or evening and your using water, your getting hard water. Softeners automatically bypass themselves during a regeneration and will give you hard water while they are running. If your in the shower, you will fill the hot water tank with hard water and this can lead to the next two or three showers to be hard. Consult your owners manual for proper time settings.

6.  Is the drain line coming from the softener kinked or restricted ?

This is another problem I used to encounter in the field.  Every softener has a drain, and if the drain of the softener becomes restricted, your softener will not draw brine, and you will not get soft water.
Sometimes things get moved around and someone sits a bucket or paint can on the drain line.  Double check the drain of the softener and make sure it flows properly to the drain.

These six things can cause your softener not to work properly, or not even work at all. I know some of them seem quite simple, but I would guess that 30% or even higher of the percentage of all service calls have one of these problems wrong with them. Hope you enjoyed this blog on how to troubleshoot your water softener. If you have any specific topics you would like discussed or questions answered, please just let me know.

Rolly North--a.k.a--The Water Guy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Salt free water softeners VS Salt using softeners

If you've ever searched on the Internet for a water softener, you've seen all the sites and probably have a lot of questions. Does the salt free softener work ? Will my water be salty with a traditional water softener ? What about magnetic water softeners ? There are a lot of different technologies out there with just as many claims on how each one of them work. Hopefully this blog can answer your questions and help you make up your mind on what to buy and most importantly, which will work best for your household.

Salt Free or "no salt" softeners

These have become extremely popular in the last 2-3 years. They don't use salt. No electricity and no regeneration is necessary--seem great so far huh ? I am not going to get into the chemistry of this technology, but these no salt units work by taking the hardness in the water (calcium, magnesium) and converting them into harmless nano crystals that do not build up in your pipes or water using appliances. The water flow through these units is in an upflow pattern, opposite of the way a traditional water softener works. When the water flows up through the media in the tank, the media expands with the water flow and then works it's magic. But herein lies the problem. When there is not a high enough flow of water through these no salt units, they do not work well. For example...It's 9:30 at night. Dinner is done, everyone has showered and the dishwasher has to be ran before bedtime. You go over and turn on the dishwasher and proceed to go watch some TV before bed. The dishwasher is the only thing using water in the house right now and when a dishwasher fills, it's only at about .75 to 1.0 gallons per minute. This is NOT enough flow through a no salt softener to properly lift the media and make it work. It's the expansion of the media through higher water flow that makes it work. This has been the biggest complaint with these no salt softeners, spotty dishes. If you have a flow restricter in the shower head (most of them come factory installed at 1.5 gallons per minute) and are the only one in the house taking a shower, that is barely enough flow to make the bed expand and work properly--causing spots in the shower. Due to this flow problem with the no salt, sizing is extremely important. A typical no salt with a 8" x 35" tall tank can handle 8-10 gallons per minute. This is plenty for just about 90 % of most households. Bigger is not better with a no salt system, unless you have very high flow rates. When you test your water hardness through a no salt softener it will test the same coming out as it did coming in. The water will not feel soft either, as with a traditional salt using softener. Also keep in mind that these systems do not like chlorine, and the chlorine can break down the resin beads. Your water must be clean and iron free--no salt softeners will not work on water containing any more that 0.3 ppm of iron and can plug up prematurely if you have any sediment in the water. Most of them come with a prefilter to install ahead of the unit to keep the sediment out, but the iron will pass right through any filter. Use your best judgement here before buying. I've had a salt softener in my home for 25+ years and would never switch to a no salt softener. But that's only my opinion.

Traditional Salt using Water Softeners

I think the two biggest fallacies about traditional salt softeners are that they put to much sodium in the water and the water feels slimy or slippery. Let's explain the slippery thing. When you have a salt using softener, the calcium and magnesium in the water is "replaced" with sodium, therefore there is nothing to react with the soap in the water and the soap rinses away completely--leaving a slippery feeling because the soap is not depositing on your skin, hair or clothes. The sticky feeling is because the soap is NOT being washed away completely.

Now for the sodium content in the water. It's true. If you have a salt using water softener you will have sodium in the water, that's how they work, by the process of ion exchange. When the calcium and magnesium go through the tank of resin in a downflow manner, the calcium and magnesium are attracted to the resin beads and sodium is put back into the water in its place--ion exchange in a nutshell. How much sodium depends on how much hardness you have in the water. The higher the hardness, the higher exchange of sodium takes place. The amount of sodium added is dependent upon the hardness of the water being softened. For example, if the water hardness is 20 grains per gallon, the softener will add 150 milligrams of sodium to each quart of water. 150 milligrams of sodium is equal to eating one slice of white bread. Consider that a normal sized hot dog can contain between 300 - 750 milligrams of sodium. Most people don't drink water from the tap anyway. Simply install a reverse osmosis system and it will remove 90-98% of the sodium from your water. You can avoid having sodium in the water at all by using potassium chloride salt instead of the traditional sodium chloride salt. Potassium chloride salt can be expensive though, sometimes more than double the price of regular salt.


So which should you buy ? No salt or traditional salt using water softener ? Consider this. Most salt using softeners should last 10-20 years or longer with proper maintenance. All of the no salt softeners have a media life expectancy of 5 years. And when you have to replace the media and see the cost of it, ($500 - $1000 dollars) you just might wish you had bought a traditional salt using softener. By no means has the jury come back with a verdict on the no salt units, they haven't been on the market long enough to really see life expectancies, but that five year media life expectancy has been put on it by the manufacturer.