Yet Another Water Softener Thread

esoesoyFebruary 16, 2012

I hesitate to start another thread on this, but I have a few questions that I haven't found answers for. First, a little background.

Our house is on city water, and has had unsoftened water since it was built 6 years ago. The dishawasher has recently started leaving significant spots (rather, *deposits*) on our dishes, which I've attributed to 6 years of heating this unsoftened water. Combine this with lots of scale around the shower and sink fixtures and the wife has "said" it's time to get a softener (and then a new dishwasher...).

I purchased a test strip at Home Depot and it measured roughly 10-14 gpg (converted from ppm, interpolated from two very similar color choices on the test kit). Yes, I realize these test kits don't give very precise results, but I wanted a quick check to see if we were within the range the city reports, which is 5-20 gpg, with an average of 16.5 gpg.

I've done a lot of research online and still have a few questions:

1) in these forums, posters are often asked to provide levels of manganese from their test results, yet none of the other online sizing calculators I found account for this. How would this parameter factor into the sizing of a softener?

2) regarding the city's reported range of hardness: The water source for my house probably changes seasonally as they pull water from different wells as both supply & demand change. Should I calculate my needs based on the 20gpg reading then, since it's possible that I could see that level in the summer as oppose to the 14gpg I'm measuring in February?

3) service flow rate is often measured by timing how long it takes to fill a gallon container then dividing the capacity by the time and converting to gallons/minute. In our house all showers are mixer valves so it's hard to open both hot & cold fully. I measured one sink, which worked out to 3.0 gpm, and one tub (no mixer), which dumps out a whopping 11.6 gpm. Quite a range there, and this variable seems to play a big factor in how large a resin we go with. Since this tub with the high flow is rarely used, am I correct in assuming we can size for a lower SFR?

4) probably related to the previous question: can someone explain what "channeling" is?

5) not saying I'm going to go this route, but big-box softeners are generally recommended against here. I've read that having water with iron can bring these to an early death, but what are the disadvantages of these products if the iron is negligible?

I've made this post long enough so I'll stop here for now. I look forward to getting your responses!

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1. Hardness, iron, and manganese are part of the calculation of the compensated hardness.

2. If you don't want to get an accurate water test then you take your chances and size for the highest hardness the water authority specifies. Water tests from a water authority are generally taken at the treatment plant and NEVER at your water meter.

3. No. Unless the softener and volume of resin can accommodate the SFR hardness will leak through at peak demand. Since you're willing to pay for soft water then you ought to get it.

4. I'll borrow this from a post by Aliceinwonderland in this forum... "Channeling is when, instead of being dispersed over the whole bed, the water flow is low enough compared to the distributor that it ends up flowing down through only a small portion of the bed, resulting in hard water".

5. The negatives regarding the (Sears, GE, Whirlpool, Waterboss, et al) pre-built softeners are ...

Lower quality materials in the control valve, mostly ABS which ages and becomes brittle. ABS does not do well with really hard water. On 3 gr hardness city water most any softener will give a decent service life BUT harder water than that seperates the pre-built box store softeners from the quality ones.

While all ion exchange water softeners use resin and "tanks" there's a big difference in the resin and resin "tanks". Again, the pre-built softeners use "special" resin and not the "industry standard" resin from companies like Purolite or Ionac and their resin "tanks" do not have the same 10 year warranty that the Structural brand resin tanks which the top quality industry standard softeners come with.

Most of the parts are proprietary and only available from limited sources and they tend to be expensive.

The pre-built softeners are "cabinet" (all-in-one) designs and are much harder to work on. The cabinet design puts the resin tank inside the brine tank. The routine cleaning of the brine tank is more difficult and takes a lot more time than a conventional design softener but the Sears type does take less floor space (the ONLY advantage in it's design).

A common misconception is that pre-built BOX store softeners are less expensive than the industry standard softeners.

The Sears softeners around 40000 hardness capacity generally run a little under $500. For $466 you can have a Fleck 5600SE electronic on demand metered softener delivered to your home including shipping. You'll need to assemble it (takes less than 30 minutes) and install it. You can have a plumber assemble it and install it (you'd need a plumber to install the Sears softener also or DIY). If buying from a local water treatment pro the same softener will be more expensive but will include delivery, installation, and service after the sale.

You'll get a control valve that has proved it's reliability over 20+ years, is made of state of the art materials (Noryl) which does not turn brittle and is totally inert. You'll get a 5 year parts warranty on the control valve and ten year parts warranty on the resin tank. You can buy parts for the Fleck control valve locally or all over the internet. Complete parts and service/repair manuals are available for download and there is always someone everywhere who can service Fleck control valves as they are the long established industry standard AND they are as easy OR easier to program than the pre-built softeners. They tolerate the hardest water with no problem.

Real softeners generally last 20+ years EVEN on ludicrously hard water while the service life on a pre-built softener seems to be under 5 years (if you're lucky) on really hard water and lasting longer than that is a rare exception.

Sears, GE, North Star and the like are the most commonly complained about water softeners on this forum and all over the internet. Fleck based water softeners just work and work and work and work and work ...

Why buy a lesser quality water softener for more money?

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 10:34AM
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I'll just add:

1) Manganese is fairly common and softener resin will collect it preferentially. Therefore, it must be considered when properly sizing a softener. The fact that softener sizing programs you can find online do not take it into account speaks to their lack of knowledge/experience.

2) I have no problem using a city's water report as supplemental information - if hardness swings wildly depending upon the city's water source, you need to know that. However, I would still test from your taps because your water will pick up a few things along its travels through the various pipes and pumps before it arrives at your house.

4) Channeling is also caused by debris plugging your softener. If your flow rate was inadequate to properly backwash your softener, this would become an issue over time.

5) In addition to what lurker noted, box store softeners often use inferior resins and are stored improperly in warehouses that are not climate-controlled. Resin beads can be destroyed by freeze/thaw cycles, resulting in broken resin beads that must be flushed out of the bed during the backwash cycle. However, if there are too many of them, they won't be removed, resulting in a plugged bed and channeling. If they a can be removed, you now have too little resin, resulting in poor performance. Either way, it's a bad idea.

Sadly, most folks selling softeners don't have any actually knowledge so it is left to you. Ask about where their equipment and resin is stored. Ask where/how they received their training. Ask how they determine proper softener size.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2012 at 1:27PM
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Sorry to resurrect this old thread that I started. Life got in the way and we've had to delay our water softener project until now.

Thanks for all the feedback so far. I got our water tested at a lab and have the results. All readings are in mg/L
Alkalinity (Total): 34.2
Hardness: 154.2
pH 8.097
TDS: 680.9
Chloride: 201.8
Sulfates: 160.0
Calcium: 38.3
Copper: .031
Magnesium: 4.20
Potassium: 4.87
Silver: .003
Sodium: 185

Anything not listed above came back as "ND", or, not detected above min. detection level. Iron and Manganese are both in this category, with minimum detection levels of 0.020 and 0.004, respectively.

Peak SFR is 11.6 gpm and we have a 1" copper loop where the softener will be installed. What other information would be needed to get a valve/filter recommendation?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2012 at 6:09PM
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How did you arrive at 11.6 gpm SFR?

No bacteria or nitrates which is good.

PH is just a touch high.

# of people?

# of bathrooms?

Any water hog appliances like a Jacuzzi?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2012 at 7:00PM
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I filled a 5 gal bucket in 25.8 seconds from one of our bathtubs. This is the only tub that doesn't use a mixer valve, so with both sides open the water moves pretty quick. The other tubs top out at 4.7 gpm and the sinks/shower heads at ~2.2.

There are no other water hog appliances in the house. 5 people - 2 adults + 3 kids - and 4 bathrooms.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 1:09AM
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As far as channeling is concerned, there are two types, or two stages: down flow and up flow channeling. Different types of media will cause different types of channeling problems.

Channeling problems found in softener resins may be very different from, say, a BIRM filter or a greensand filter. Since we are talking about softeners, I will comment on that.

Assuming that the softener is a standard down flow service and up flow backwashing with adequate freeboard (water space above the resin), down flow channeling is not common, even in older resins. Resin is very light and "oily" in nature. Once the tank is pressurized, the resin becomes fluid-like and moves around very freely, very little solidification occurs.

The pressure throughout the tank allows service water to flow fairly uniformly in a piston-like movement down through the resin at a consistent rate. The greatest resistant to flow is when water makes contact with the distributor at the bottom.

Channeling can occur during backwashing, especially during backwashing This is where water coming from the bottom is too low to piston resins upward. Instead a small geyser-like flow goes up through the bed, affecting only a channel of the resins and not conditioning resins to the perimeter of that channel. This causes the resin to inadequately rinse salt out needed for regeneration. However, during backwash, the resins should be fully reconstituted (lifted, separated and repacked) and subsequent down flow channeling should not be an issue as resin require low flow rates to expand during backwash. This is not to say, it still remains a possible problem caused by other factors.

With greensand and other media filters, the biggest problem is that backwashing isn't strong enough or long enough to full expand the bed. This is up flow channeling. This happening, time and time again, can cause the media to become solidified (rock-like) in specific areas or sections--not always in the center. When it returns to service, the down flow wants only to follow the media that was lifted in the last backwash and not travel through the "dead" media, causing down flow, or service, channeling.

I have attempted to remove greensand from old tanks that could't be broken up even by pounding an iron rod through it. I have never had a problem removing old resin--even as black as motor oil--by simply washing it out with water from a garden hose. This is the biggest mistake I have seen with designing a system using a heavy media with inadequate backwashing in flow rate or frequency.

Andy Christensen

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 9:44AM
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Based on the info you provided I recommend a Fleck 7000SXT based 1.5 cu ft softener. That valve will match up with your 1" plumbing and includes it's own bypass valve. I'd get extra clips for the bypass cause hey are cheap and if you break one you won't find them at Home Depot or Lowes.

Set up for efficiency it should regenerate every 8 days.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 11:29AM
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I tried posting this earlier but apparently it got lost. Based on justalurker's recommendation I've started shopping for a Fleck 7000 SXT system online. Now I have more questions:

1) Is there any difference between the 7000 SXT and the 7000 SE? I've come across both models but never at the same retailer, so I'm wondering if they're really the same part, just being listed differently.
2) One vendor claimed to use 10% cross-linked resin whereas most others use 8%. The only advantage I could find was that 10% resin might be more durable and last longer. Is there any reason to seek out anything like this?
3) one site claimed the rectangular brine tank isn't as strong as the circular one. Any truth to that claim? Or, any reason to prefer one over the other?
4) In several other threads on here I've seen recommendations to get a gravel underbed & Noryl bypass. I believe the 7000SXT has the bypass built in so that may not be an issue, but I haven't found any online site that has gravel underbed listed as an option anywhere. Is this something I need to call and ask for? Do I even need it?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 5:13PM
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1. SXT is later model.

2. 10% cross-linked resin will last a little longer on city water that has chlorine provided it is the same quality as the 8% resin. I'd prefer 8% Purolite resin to 10% anonymous resin. Quality resin will last at least a decade and usually longer.

3. You want to keep only as much salt in the brine tank as you need to cover the water and check the level weekly. Filling a brine tank up invites salt bridging and mushing. Buy the tank that fits in the space you have. I have a 1.5 cu ft softener and use the 11x11 brine tank... it's kinda cute.

4. Gravel underbed minimizes pressure loss and is a no negative option. You rarely find it listed because the online sellers don't want to give it away for free, but if pressed they usually do.

Make sure you get a top basket for the 7000 and the gravel should be FREE.

There are quite a variety of connection options available for connecting the 7000 bypass to your plumbing... make sure you choose the most convenient.

And as I previously stated... get extra bypass clips. They only cost $1.20 each and are worth their weight in gold if you break one on a Friday night.

All the online sellers will be having the parts for your softener drop-shipped from a regional distributor and they all have the same options available. Tell them what YOU want and ask for a price.

Don't buy from the cheapest place... buy from one that at least gives you the illusion that they appreciate your business. If you're treated right before the sale then the odds are they'll treat you right if you have a warranty problem.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 5:31PM
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This is my first post since a discussion about EasyWater a few years ago. At that time I said I would try it and report back and a few contacted me to see if I did. Well, I never bought it. Over the past two years we have completely remodeled our home; kitchen and bath included, and geothermal. New faucets, sink, tub....the works.

Our water was not only hard, but had high iron, Manganese and sulfur smell. I don't recall the results of the analysis, but at least the water was at 7.5 pH.

We have put up with this water for 20 years on the old stuff. My wife routinely cleaned the tub, sinks etc. otherwise everything would turn to rust, clogged screens etc. With the remodeling finished one year ago, all the new appliances were getting ruined one by one, including my wife's Keurig coffee maker.....she is not a happy person without her coffee. One thing I learned is it is a waste of money to use a water softener without treating the rest of the water issues first!!

Now after putting all this money into our home, in less than two years time our nice Kohler kitchen faucet failed, leaking and such. Fortunately they sent replacement parts no questions asked. I had to remove the scale buildup on the bores for the o-ring seals....the whole thing was messed up from the water.

This year I decided to put an end to the water problems no matter what it took. I installed an iron filter, but it seems it is not welcomed to link to online businesses so I won't unless asked. I will only say my water problems for the iron/manganese/sulfur are so far gone and the place I purchased the system from was very helpful. I can't believe the difference. A chemical feeder was also installed for the bacteria problem.

However, our water is still hard at 15 gpg calcium. The utility room is too full to put in a water softener system and don't want the maintenance hassle anyway, so gulp, I purchased not an EasyWater setup, but chose the ScaleWatcher.

Realizing it will automatically be called a scam, no matter. I have pictures of everything affected by the water and will report back now that it is actually installed. With a one year money back guarantee it's no skin off my back.

Just out of curiosity, have any of you who are positive this electronic system is a scam bothered to read the documentation at ScaleWatcher?

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 7:32PM
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Would have been more considerate for you to start a new thread rather than pollute someone else's thread when your post has nothing to do with the thread's content.

Regarding your water problems... There are a variety of less effective ways to attempt to treat water which you seem to have discovered but it really is as easy as 1-2-3

1. Certified lab test to determine what needs to be treated.

2. Have a water treatment professional evaluate the environment and decide on the most inclusive and comprehensive treatment and hardware required.

3. Have a water treatment professional install and configure the equipment for correct and efficient operation.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 8:17PM
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1 & 2 done. Thank you. 3 done by me.

Tell me how I "polluted" the thread.

I realize there's an industry to protect, but maybe the person that has hard water issues is interested in trying a different route and has the ability to do the bull work work himself.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 8:24PM
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Your post does not address the OP's original post nor any followup post in the thread.

You hijacked the thread to post your opinions and experience and what you have to post is welcome in your own thread where it will get the attention and replies your content deserves. It is forum etiquette 101.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 9:00PM
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So to return to the OPs subject matter...I'm in a similar situation, and am very interested in the Fleck WSs. Can someone recommend some reputable online sellers? There seems to be an endless parade of them.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 1:21PM
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You hijacked the thread to ask your question. What you have to post is welcome in your own thread where it will get the attention and replies your question deserves. It is forum etiquette 101.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2012 at 6:26PM
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