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Focus On … Water Softeners

Today there is a vast range of water treatments available on the market. I am not talking about system inhibitors and cleaners but water softeners and scale inhibitors.

This post is not intended to be an exhaustive list of what is available on the market but rather an introduction to the various options you can offer your customers and why you might choose one particular product or solution over another.

The benefits of soft water.

Removing, eliminating or disrupting limescale will save on excess energy consumption, improve the performance of heating and hot water systems and save on costly repairs.

Limescale build-up –

  • In pipes reduces water flow and can eventually block pipes.
  • In hot water cylinders, dish washers and washing machines it will coat the heating element and or coil and act as an insulation which reduces the transfer of heat to the water. Meaning more energy and time is needed to heat your hot water.
  • Causes unsightly crust around tap spouts.
  • Leaves a residue in sinks and baths.
  • Leaves a cloudy film on shower screens.
  • Blocks shower heads.
  • Leaves flakes of limescale in your kettle.

Stopping all of the above will save money. This is a fact but the methods used to accomplish this vary from product to product and not all options work in every situation.

If you already have soft water from your incoming mains supply then all this is unnecessary but here in London and for large areas of the UK Hard Water is something we have to deal with.

To see a map of the hardness around the UK click here (links to http://dwi.defra.gov.uk/).

So what are my options?

Right first the basic list –

Water Softeners.

These are common in many houses in hard water areas and work by a system called “ion exchange” swapping the hardness ions (calcium and magnesium) for sodium (salt). More on that later.

Sacrificial “Softeners”.

These are normally either self-contained tubes that are plumbed directly into the incoming mains or small boxes that contain refillable chemicals.

Strictly these products do not remove calcium or limescale but use other elements to either bind to the limescale or react with the limescale. The results are similar in that the limescale (or converted limescale is not able to ”stick” to the inside surfaces of your pipes or taps etc.

Electrolytic Softeners.

These softeners look very similar to some sacrificial softeners in as much as they are self-contained in a tube that fits in line with the pipework.

However rather than sacrificing some of their innards they use dissimilar metals and electrolytic action to alter the characteristics of hard water so that scale is unable to stick to the inside surfaces of pipes and heat exchangers.

Magnetic limescale inhibitors.

These generally wrap around the incoming mains and use magnets to magnetize the limescale particles causing them to cluster together and keeping them in suspension in the water.

Again like the sacrificial and electrolytic softeners this doesn’t remove the limescale itself.

Electronic limescale inhibitors.

These are similar to magnetic inhibitors in that they do not remove or alter the limescale but rather the effect is to suspend the limescale in the water preventing it from sticking to surfaces.

Electronic inhibitors or removes do this using low frequency radio waves.

There may be other methods, products and solutions but these are the main categories.

But, which one works best?

That depends on your requirements, space, money and time.

Water Softeners.

There are lots of companies making water softeners but they all do the same thing, remove calcium (limescale) BUT they all introduce sodium (salt) into the water supply.

The biggest problem with this approach is that you should not drink water that has passed through a water softener as it has a higher sodium (salt) content that tap water. This means you have to have the kitchen tap straight off the mains supply.

Problem? No but your single cold kitchen tap will suffer from a crusty spout and your kettle will scale up. Also you cannot fill the heating system with softened water (something you might not have known).

You also have to fill the softener with salt (and there are different version of salt to choose from) every few weeks depending on your usage (which is an added cost).

And lastly you lose some cupboard space where the unit is installed.

However they are the best way to soften your water if that is the ultimate goal.

Sacrificial Softeners.

These fall into two broad groups. Serviceable units where safe chemicals or additives are added periodically and unserviceable units which are sealed but guaranteed for a length of time.

Both work on the principals of using one element to either bind to or alter the limescale so it is unable to stick to surfaces.

This method has the benefit of leaving the water safe to drink so does not need a separate drinking water tap and can be used with combination boilers.

Also unlike the last two alternatives the effect is permanent but doesn’t really affect existing scale although over time some reduction might be seen.

These methods are easy to fit (just cut the unit into the existing incoming mains) and in the case of fixed units do not need any maintenance (although the serviceable units still need chemical top-ups).

They are also cheaper than full water softeners to purchase and fit.

Electrolytic Softeners.

These units have the advantage over similar looking sacrificial softeners as they do not need to be replaced after a few years.

They work in a similar way to magnetic inhibitors in that they change the characteristics of limescale so it stays suspended in the water and doesn’t stick to the interior surfaces.

However like magnetic inhibitors there is only testing carried out by the unit manufacturers. A quick look on the web and you will find many cases for and against. Your experience may go either way!

Magnetic Inhibitors.

These are some of the cheapest options to buy and install.

Most fit around the existing pipes and some can also be fitted to plastic pipes.

They require no maintenance, have no end life (they don’t wear down) and will even help with existing scale problems.

They don’t affect the water so there is no need for a separate drinking tap and can be used with combination boilers.

They seem like the perfect solution and in many case may well be BUT many in the industry thin they may not actually work.

I can’t say whether they do or don’t as I have not seen or carried out any testing or comparisons but there are as many satisfied customers as there are unsatisfied and that may be down to other, outside influences not known of by the property owner.

Electronic Inhibitors.

Like the magnetic versions these are also easy to fit, need no maintenance and are relatively cheap.

However they have fallen out of favour recently as they need electricity to function and therefore are a small but over time not inconsequential running cost .

Also like all electrical equipment they don’t last for ever and you may not know for a while if they stop working.

They do have a loyal following with existing users so should not be completely ignored.

So how can Stevenson Sales Help?

We have been selling the various  types and ranges of water treatment products for years and now stock –

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Which do we recommend?

Obviously personal preference, price etc. have a bearing on the choice but on a personal level I had a water softener for a few years and had no problem with scale but being a lazy person at home I often forgot to add the salt and over time the units performance reduced to the point that it was ineffective and I started to have scale problems..

So I now have an Aquabion which takes up literally no space and I do not need to do any maintenance. The is still a small amount of scale in my shower head and kettle but nothing like there was with no treatment system and I do not have any scale on my taps.

For me a bit of scale is preferable to dealing with bags of salt.

However a few other members of staff have water softeners and look after them properly so do not have any problems.

And we now have one other member of staff who has recently fitted an electrolytic type of softener but it is too early to tell how effective it is.

Visit the shop and we can show you all the options we stock.

* picture credit – r_sykes CC-BY-2.0

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