If you’ve ever wondered, does my Huntsville home suffer from hard water? chances are the answer is a resounding Yes.
There’s really little mystery to hard water. According to a U.S. geological survey, hard water is found in more than 85 percent of the country and is worse in California (particularly SoCal), Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and, oddly, Kansas.
In this post we take a closer look at hard water: What is it? Is it safe? What problems does it cause? And what are the solutions when dealing with hard water issues? Does it require a call to a Huntsville plumber or plumbing contractor for inspection and, possibly, repair?
What Is Hard Water?
When it rains, the water is “soft” and free of minerals, which it picks up as it passes through rocks, sand, and soil. Hard water contains mineral salts, calcium, and magnesium ions.
You might recognize these results of hard water like:
- the white, crusty deposits that you find on faucets, either around the base or clogging the aerator on the spigot,
- the scum you find on shower doors and tiles, in bathtubs, and on fixtures,
- the annoying spots on glasses and dishes, even after they’ve been thoroughly washed in the dishwasher,
- the clothes that come out of the washing machine are clean but may be dingy-looking and gray,
- how your tap water, coffee, or tea tastes.
Do You Have Hard Water?
In most U.S cities the answer is most likely yes.
If you want to know for sure, information on water quality should be available from the Huntsville water department. The Huntsville Water Works is actually ranked No. 5 in the U.S. in terms of water quality.
If you use a private well, water information also should be available from the Huntsville water department, which should know the primary source of water supplies for the area and provide results for any tests taken for water quality.
A simple test that doesn’t involve the water department or calling a plumber is to pay attention to how well your soap works. Watch for the amount of foaming that occurs when using cleaning products like toothpaste, dish soap, laundry detergent, and other household cleaners. If you have to add a lot of soap to the water to work up suds, it’s most likely hard water.
Is Hard Water Harmful To Your Health?
No. The World Health Organization says that “there does not appear to be any convincing evidence that water hardness causes adverse health effects in humans.”
So Why Worry About Hard Water?
Hard water can impact your home from a plumbing perspective and be an annoyance in daily life.
What’s the Problem?
From a Plumbing Perspective
- Hard water minerals can clog pipes over time and can reduce water flow. If you have an older home (with aging pipes) and you’re experiencing low water flow, you may want to call a Huntsville plumber for a closer inspection and possibly repair or replacement.
- Before you do so, check the aerator for deposit build-up that may be restricting water flow. You can fix this yourself.
- Scale — what these mineral deposits are called — and a dull film will accumulate on bath/kitchen fixtures and tile, which is often unsightly, difficult to keep clean, and annoying for many homeowners and renters.
- Scale deposits will shorten the life of water heaters, which can be expensive to replace. You, or a Huntsville plumber, can drain the water from a hot water heater periodically to get rid of deposits and sediment. If a water heater “goes bad,” there are no repairs, just replacement.
From a Daily Life and Human Perspective
- Hard water leaves glasses and dishes with a white film or spots, even after cleaning in a dishwasher.
- Hard water reduces sudsing action can leave clothes looking gray and dingy.
- Harsh minerals in hard water reduce the life of clothing, causing them to “wear out” sooner than expected.
- Hard water can impact the taste of your drinking water, tea, coffee, ice, and other beverages you prepare.
- Hard water leaves an invisible soapy film on the skin and can leave it feeling dry.
- Hard water leaves excessive, filmy shampoo residue in your hair and can leave it looking dull and limp.
- Your utility bills can increase due to accumulated scale in the water heater. Scale is a poor conductor of heat, increasing the energy needed to heat water.
What Can You Do Do
Just because the water is hard, it doesn’t mean that you need spend money to add a water softener to your home, town home, or apartment. There are workarounds.
Adapting, Making Small Changes
- Use a rinsing agent or distilled vinegar in the dishwasher to remove white film and spots. There are many commercially available products to address spotting.
- Reducing the temperature of the hot water heater will help. This is also a good way to conserve energy and save money off your monthly electricity or gas bill.
- Run a pot of strong white vinegar through the coffee machine every few months.
- Use special soaps and shampoos formulated for hard water.
- A final rinse of one-quarter cup of apple cider vinegar and three-quarter cup of water in the shower can help remove dulling product build-up.
- Use white vinegar on tiles, glass, and faucets to help remove mineral deposits.
- Remove calcified build-up on pipes and appliances on a regular basis. There are many commercial “lime away” and calcium-cleaning products available at stores throughout Huntsville for this purpose.
- Flush the hot water heater occasionally as directed in the owner’s manual.
- Use bottled water for drinking, brewing coffee or tea, and making ice and other beverages.
- Boil water before drinking it.
- Use a water pitcher with a filter.
If having hard water is not something you can work around, consider installing a water softener. It’s advisable to call a Decatur or Hartselle plumber with experience in hard water issues and water softening because:
- The initial cost of water softeners can be expensive, topping $1 using a water softener will increase water usage from 15 to 120 additional gallons of water used for every 1,000 gallons water softened, according to Consumer Reports
- Using a water softener will increase your electric bill to operate the unit.
- Using a water softener can increase the sodium level of the water, which could be a health concern for some people.
Should you buy or lease a water softener?
In the short run, leasing is most attractive because there are no significant up-front costs. Depending on the level of service and materials you choose, you an pay from $15 to $50 a month or more to lease.
If you buy, you will pay between $400 to $2,500 a more for a water softener depending on the features you choose. There’s also an additional $150 a year for materials.
Types of Water Softeners
Ion Exchange Water Softener
This is the water softener most people use. Ion exchange softening generally involves exchanging sodium or potassium ions for the hardness-causing minerals – calcium and magnesium.
Traditional water softeners will have a large holding tank or “brine,” which must be kept full of salt. This is where the “flushing” of ions occurs. Most softeners will have a manual mechanism to initiate the cycle or an electronic timer, flow meter, or a sensor system that will more conveniently do the same thing.
Ion exchange is the most common technology used in household applications. While maintenance, ongoing operating costs and increased sodium in the water are drawbacks, ion exchange is a simple, effective and safe solution to hard water issues.
Salt-Free Hard Water Conditioners
Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC) has emerged as a leading salt-free hard water conditioner technology. TAC does not remove the minerals responsible for hard water like a conventional water softener. It works by acting as a catalyst for the formation of stable hardness crystals that do not readily stick to surfaces.
Considerable independent testing of the technology has been done, including a study conducted by Arizona State University in 2011. It determined that TAC technology was the most effective of all non-salt water conditioners at preventing mineral scale, with reduction levels consistently in excess of 90 percent. The results showed that TAC conditioners were far more effective than magnetic and electronic water conditioners at preventing hard water scale formation.
Unlike conventional water softeners, TAC systems do not require backwash or regeneration with salt so they are regarded as being more environmentally friendly.
There is, however, some uncertainty surrounding salt-free systems and it’s best to review these with a plumber or water-quality expert in Huntsville before committing to one. Some experts contend that these systems are just scale inhibitors.
Two other water-softening technologies include Polyphosphate (mostly effective in low volume, cold water applications) and Magnetic and Electronic Water Conditioners, which are fairly controversial in the U.S. because of a lack of scientific evidence that they actually work.