By Greg Reyneke

In today’s economy, homeowners are thinking long and hard before spending their hard-earned resources on anything that they consider a ’luxury.’ Many dealers report that retails sales are declining and even repair calls have decreased.

It is tempting to blame the economy, but usually the dealer business model is at fault. Dealers cannot operate in the 21st century economy with a 20th century paradigm.

Reasonable expectations
Your clients expect you to help them improve their lifestyle through improvements in water quality. It is your duty and responsibility as a water treatment professional to provide your client with the best water at a fair price.

Many dealers are highly skilled communicators and able to create excitement to help customers understand the benefits of investing in a water treatment appliance for their home. Unfortunately, most business models stop there with the end-user owning a complex mechanical device without truly understanding the overall implications of ownership, such as service and maintenance to enjoy consistent water quality.

As I travel the country coaching dealers, I often meet the dealer who seems to derive great pleasure in telling clients that they never have to maintain their systems. It’s hard to tell if that is because they are misinformed, ignorant, or simply not interested in truly helping their clientele.

Many of these dealers cringe when their ‘service line’ rings and they hurry to the client’s home, fix the system while doing as little as possible and then scurry away to the comfort of their office. The days of dealers ‘selling and running’ must end.

Now is the time to help your clients understand the critical importance of ongoing maintenance service to keep their system working hard for them.

Why should I service water softeners at least once a year?
Any appliance requires periodic service; it is an immutable fact. Water improvement appliances are no different than automobiles, aircraft and other complex machines in that they will suffer periodic wear and tear. In fact, many would argue that maintenance of the water treatment appliance is more important than most others, since it has a direct effect on the comfort, convenience and the health of the user.

Some progressive dealers do actually offer annual water softener service where they check system settings, disinfect the system, test the water and make necessary adjustments to accommodate for resin attrition and other factors. This is a good start, but so much more can be done to serve your customer better.

A water softener is one of the hardest-working appliances in the home. Many households have water softeners and conditioners that will process hundreds of pounds of inorganic mineral hardness every single year. If the system has compatible resin, it could also be addressing inorganic metals like iron, lead, copper and zinc and many others.

Calculating pounds of inorganic mineral hardness processed by a softener in a single year

[Water hardness (gpg) x Annual household water consumption (gallons)]/7000]
Every household is different, with varying water-usage patterns and expectations of water quality. The annual model is clearly deficient, so the progressive dealer should consider service based upon the aggregate amount of hardness and other inorganics processed by the system.

Many industry experts agree that a traditional strong acid cation (SAC) softener with gel or macroporous resin should be serviced after processing approximately 1,000,000 grains or at least every 12 months, whichever is sooner. SAC refers to the family of ion exchange resin used, the most common type of resin used for traditional regeneration of ‘salt-based’ softeners with sodium or potassium.

Resin attrition is a normal phenomenon that occurs in all water treatment appliances, regardless of manufacturer. The presence of free chlorine or other oxidizing agents in water will lead to physical resin degradation over time. The maximum recommended levels of free chlorine are 0.3 ppm to / > 30C).

If your client has feed water with a free chlorine level in excess of 0.3ppm, you should seriously consider installing a dechlorinator to protect the ion exchange system. Remember to properly maintain the dechlorinator and rebed it as recommended by the manufacturer and industry best practices.

Calculating the maximum lifespan of a resin bed

10/ppm chlorine = Absolute maximum life expectancy of resin bed*
*This formula doesn’t consider the impact of inorganic metals or bacteria that can seriously foul ion exchange resins and further degrade performance and efficiency.

Iron and other heavy metals catalyze the oxidative degradation of cation exchange resins. Oxidation of strong acid cation exchange resin will cause de-crosslinking of the polymer matrix, leading to an increase in the water retention capacity of the resin, causing it to swell. This swelling will further weaken the mechanical integrity of the resin. Temperature, chlorine concentration, and the presence of heavy metals will further impact the rate of resin oxidation, de-crosslinking and performance degradation.

Heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria are a generally benign family of chlorine-resistant bacteria that inhabit most plumbing systems. HPCs are evident as part of the slimy coating that can be found on drinking filters and inside water softeners known as a ‘biofilm’.

A biofilm is a collection or organic and inorganic material, as well as living and dead organisms, responsible for numerous water quality and distribution problems such as loss of disinfection residual levels, odors, color, microbial-induced corrosion, reduced material life and a reduction in dissolved oxygen content. While HPCs themselves are generally not harmful to human health, they provide nutrition and protection for pathogenic bacteria.

HPCs can also occlude exchange sites on ion exchange resin. If not properly maintained and serviced, water softeners can become an effective breeding ground for bacterial contaminants. This potential for contamination is a possible liability for any water treatment dealer who doesn’t have a clearly documented process for protecting their clients from potential bacterial growth.

Regardless of whether the water improvement appliance is ‘piston, seal and spacer,’ rotary, flapper, diaphragm or solenoid-based, it will suffer mechanical wear on all moving parts. Various valve manufacturers will tout the relative benefits of their particular platform, but at the end of the day it is you who has to keep your client satisfied.

Selling a system that incorporates valve platform ‘x’ because ‘it never needs maintenance’ is a foolish decision and you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary liability as well as performing a great disservice to your client. This ‘fire-and-forget’ approach allows bacteria levels to grow unchecked in softeners.

This also induces the mindset of ‘running it till it breaks,’ instead of the intelligent approach of keeping the system running indefinitely through smart maintenance and service. By performing a comprehensive mechanical evaluation during each service visit, you can help your customer identify and repair issues while they are cheap and easy to fix, thereby enhancing their experience with you and their system.

The pace of progress has increased in the water improvement industry. It is critical that you, as a dealer are giving your customer the best. Certain valve control manufacturers include in-field upgrade ports to allow you to upgrade software and firmware in the home for your customer to capitalize on the latest technological improvements.

We no longer have to throw away an entire circuit board to install an update or upgrade. We can now simply connect a hard-wired, Ethernet or wireless programmer and properly service our customer’s system.

Making their water the best that it can be
Properly designed water improvement appliances will incorporate a mechanism for ongoing periodic disinfection and cleaning. These devices integrate directly into the main electronic control center and inject measured amounts of performance enhancer, cleaner and non-oxidative disinfectant into the appliance during the cleaning cycle to enhance the ion exchange process, minimizing the growth of bacteria and keeping moving parts as clean as possible.

Some products also include chemical compounds to enhance the regeneration process and minimize metallic fouling of resins. Even if a system has a continuous cleaning and disinfection apparatus, it is very important to perform more comprehensive cleaning and disinfection at prescribed intervals to ensure that water quality is not compromised.

This is analogous to good dental hygiene; even daily brushing is not enough. You should have the dentist perform a complete cleaning and checkup periodically to ensure your best dental health.

The Method
Useful things to do during a periodic service visit:

  • Test water
  • Influent water chemistry panel
  • Effluent chemistry panel
  • Comprehensive mechanical performance evaluation
  • Ion exchange media performance and attrition calculations
  • Inject concentrated disinfectant, cleaner and preservative into system according to manufacturer’s protocol
  • Update firmware, software and EEPROM
  • Adjust system to accommodate for resin attrition and changing water conditions
  • Replenish disinfectant/cleaner reservoir

Water chemistry panel
While many contaminants can exist in water, a water professional will always test for the following to ensure that intelligent water quality management decisions are made when dealing with municipal water. Well water applications require additional tests as the individual circumstance may dictate:

  • Hardness
  • Iron
  • TDS
  • pH
  • Total alkalinity
  • Free chlorine

Based on the test data above, decisions can be made about the overall operating condition of the appliance.

The reward
Service those water improvement systems so that they can continue to work hard for your clients, providing them with the water quality that they deserve. Your clients hope for and expect excellent service from you and your employees.

Your excellent service and customer relations skills will help differentiate you from those who choose to compromise. It is time to give your customers the water quality and service excellence that they deserve!

About the author
Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI, is currently General Manager at Intermountain Soft Water in Lindon, UT and serves on the WC&P Technical Review Committee. He also serves on the advisory board of the Smart Dealer Network, a trade association dedicated to helping independent water treatment dealers succeed and reach their full potential in today’s changing world.



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