By Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI
In today’s highly competitive water quality improvement market, there any many products, technologies and techniques touted to improve water quality in homes and business. One of the most contentious issues raised is that of salt-based versus salt-free hardness and/or scale control systems. Many dealers seem to be taking an either/or approach to these competing technologies, which generally leads to confused customers and hard feelings, and does a great disservice to our industry. A smart approach to creating harmony between the factions is to integrate the benefits of both philosophies holistically, thereby ensuring the very best balance of both performance and efficiency.
Hard water is one of the most insidious threats facing the American home in the 21st century, causing inconveniences, such as wasted energy and unnecessary financial expense on two fronts: hardness scale and soap/mineral interactions. Hard water scale can coat the pipes, faucets and fixtures in a home with inorganic minerals; left untreated, hard-water scale costs money, ruins lifestyles and can possibly even lower the value of a home.
Hard water is a poor cleaner because it is loaded with a variety of inorganic minerals like calcium and magnesium. These dissolved impurities react with chemicals found in soap to form a gummy, insoluble curd that clings stubbornly to everything it touches. Soap curd clogs skin pores and prevents natural oils from moisturizing the skin. This dryness causes itching and also aggravates skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and acne. Soap curd is especially noticeable by the scummy film it forms on dishes, glassware, walls and floors.
The gold standard in residential water hardness control is a salt-based ion exchange softener which effectively addresses both hardness scale and soap/mineral interactions by removing hardness ions from water and replacing them with sodium or potassium ions, depending on the type of salt used as a regenerant. While water improvement experts and dealers clearly recognize the benefits of salt-based softening, and we have been vindicated by the recently released Battelle Water Softener Study results, there is a strong movement afoot nationwide to limit the deployment of salt-based softeners. While softener bans are obviously misguided and counterproductive, our industry still needs to continually strive to improve the environmental efficiency and reduce total cost of ownership of the water quality improvement systems that we design, specify, install and maintain.
Salt-free systems come in many forms. Whether radio frequency (RF), catalytic, template-assisted crystallization (TAC), chelating, magnetic or electrolytic, they all claim to address hardness scale in one way or another. Since these devices do not remove inorganic calcium and magnesium ions, they are definitely not softeners, but some have proven highly effective in addressing hardness scale formation in both residential and commercial applications, such as those validated according to the methodology in the German standard DVGW W512DF = downflow; UF = upflow
Over the past 24 months, select dealers within the Smart Dealer Network have been field-testing a novel approach to addressing both hardness scale and soap/mineral interactions (soap curd) while minimizing regenerant salt and water usage. Incorporating this experimental protocol has allowed these dealers to provide their customers with an environmentally sustainable solution that actually works. The results have been quite spectacular and are worthy of sharing with the rest of the industry.
A typical installation consists of a salt-based water softener programmed with a specific profile to minimize salt consumption and water usage, followed by a salt-free scale control system. By programming the softener to use significantly less salt than normal, it will yield hardness leakage of 20 to 40 ppm (approx. one to two gpg), which is sufficient to significantly enhance cleaning efficiency and minimize mineral/soap interactions. The scale control system acts as a polisher for the inevitable hardness leakage, preventing it from scaling on appliances, faucets and fixtures.
Dealers are reporting salt savings in excess of 25 percent with this holistic water quality improvement protocol. As with all experimental protocols, use at your own risk and with due diligence. Preserve the old, embrace the new, and save the planet!
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 in today’s changing world and reach their full potential.