We can help you choose a water softener for your home that is right for your circumstances.
Our plumbing team can explain the benefits of installing a water softener and offer sound advice on choosing the right model.
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Why install a water softener?
We call water “hard” when it contains a large quantity of calcium and magnesium particles dissolved in it. Hard water can be a problem in a household for two major reasons. First, it can cause scale to form on the insides of pipes, water heaters, kettles and so on by precipitating from the water.
The scale doesn’t conduct heat very well and it also reduces the flow through pipes from scale buildup. Eventually, pipes can become completely clogged. Second, hard water reacts with soap to form a sticky scum, and it also reduces the soaps ability to lather. Since most of us like to wash with soap, hard water makes a bath or shower less productive.
There are several solutions to hard water, including filtering the water through distillation or reverse osmosis, both of which are extremely expensive. Alternatively, a water softener may be fitted, which is a far less costly solution.
Where does it go?
Water softeners should ideally be fitted near to the incoming mains water supply with access to a drain and electricity. All devices will also lose an amount of pressure when installed, which will be in the region of 0.5 bar and 1.0 bar, so can be installed on high flow applications and direct feed applications.
What size do I need?
One of the most important considerations when choosing a water softener is making sure that it has been sized correctly. Undersizing can lead to water passing over the resin too quickly and therefore not producing 100% soft water. Likewise, oversizing can lead to less than 100% soft water as this can result in the incoming water channelling through the resin.
To make sure that a water softener is sized correctly, these checks should be applied:
- Check the pipe size where the softener is to be installed.
- Check the hardness of the water with a water hardness test.
- Check the incoming mains pressure. If the incoming pressure is below 1 bar then the softener may not function, and if it is over 5 bar then a pressure reducing valve may be needed.
- Check for any potential heat transfer that may damage the valve of the softener.
- Check maximum flow rate.
- Check the size of the property and the number of occupants. Figures can be based on a person using 150 litres of water per day.
- Check the location of the installation to ensure that salt can be stored and filled and that the unit is accessible for any servicing that may be required.
Softeners will begin to produce softened water immediately, but if the plumbing system is one that has a cold water storage tank then it may take four or five days for 100% softened water to be coming through the system, but will be seen to be getting softer and softer as the new soft water mixes with the hard water. Central heating systems are not normally affected by the use of softened water and any chemicals that are used to keep the system healthy should continue to be used.
How does a water softener work?
The idea behind a water softener is simple. The calcium and magnesium ions in the water are replaced with sodium ions. Since sodium does not precipitate out into pipes or react badly with soap, both of the problems of hard water are eliminated. For the ion replacement to take place, the water in the house runs through a vessel containing a bed of small beads, or a chemical matrix called zeolite. The beads or zeolite are covered with sodium ions and as the water passes through, the sodium ions swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions. Eventually the beads or zeolite contain no more sodium ions but calcium and magnesium ions instead. At this point the water softer must regenerate its beads/zeolite.
Regeneration is a process in which the water softener flushes itself with a solution of water and sodium chloride (which is why you would load a water softener with salt). The strong brine displaces all of the calcium and magnesium that has built up on the beads/zeolite, and replaces them with sodium ions. The remaining brine with all of the magnesium and calcium are then flushed through a drainpipe. At this point the water softener is ready to go through the process all over again. The regeneration process can take anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours, depending on the water softener and it can be repeated as necessary. Note that the regeneration process can create up to 90 litres of salty water.
There are two types of water softener, metered and timed. As a general rule, metered softeners actually measure the amount of water that goes through the system, similar to a flow meter, and therefore will regenerate at different times dependent on usage. Timed softeners, on the other hand, will regenerate on a given day regardless of the water used.