Water Softener help needed

Duk_manMarch 2, 2011

I've read through a few water softener threads on this forum and have the feeling that some of the experts can help me out here.

I had a local outfit install a water softener for my new house about 3 years ago, and have been struggling since to get it to perform to my satisfaction. I�ve had lots of iron staining as well as crusty white/brown mineral buildup on my plumbing fixtures. During this period I've done a lot of reading on the subject and am getting familiar with how these work.

I�ll start my story here, and hopefully do not omit any important info. First of all, here are the raw water test results from this past December, with the original 2007 results for comparison.

PH 6.6

Iron 5.0

Ferric 4.0 (2007 levels were 2.5)

Ferrous 1.0 (2007 levels were 4.3)

Manganese .38 (2007 level were 0)

Hardness 11 (2007 levels were 7)

The original installation consisted of a PH neutralizer/sediment filter and then the water softener. I have 1 inch copper pipe at this point.

We struggled for quite some time, with the Fleck softener head getting completely plugged/fouled with iron to the point where they had to remove it for a cleaning. At that point, I think they increased the salt for the regen and am sure they decreased the regen frequency on the meter from 2000 gallons to 1000. They also shortened the cycle on the sediment filter.

In the meantime, I added an up flow carbon filter to the system myself to suck up radon. We did not have much and the subsequent tests showed the carbon worked very well in removing the radon. I also bought a Hach test kit for hardness and Iron so I could try to learn how to maintain this setup myself as I was getting tired of the hit or miss attempts of the installer.

At this point, my system consisted of:

1.) 1.5 CuFt sediment filter/PH neutralizer with a Fleck head, Timer style

2.) 1.0 CuFt water softener with a Fleck head, metered

3.) 1.5 CuFt Upflow carbon filter.

Quite frequently, I was able to detect iron and hardness in the system using the test kit (and visually in deeper water), and I finally called the water folks and said I�d had enough. I asked for a PLAN on how he would resolve this, as opposed to just changing settings. They came out to do the second water test in December (results above) and decided that I needed the new configuration with the greensand/pot-perm. My Final setup after adding the greensand/Pot-perm looks like this:

Filter #1 :PH filter

Purpose: Raise PH and oxygen level

Mineral: calcite or neutralite

Size: 1.5 cube

Service: 1 time per year . Add or vacuum tank as needed and replenish mineral.

Backwash: every 3 days

Filter#2 : Iron/Manganese filter

Purpose: Filter manganese , ferrous and ferric iron up to 15 parts per million.

Mineral: Manganese greensand plus

Size: 1.5 cube

Service: 4 times per year. Add 3 measuring cups of potassium permanganate.

Backwash: every 2 days (I recently changed this to 2 days per installers request)

Filter#3 : Water softener

Purpose: Filter hardness only.

Mineral: Dow X HCR Resin

Size: 1 cube

Service: add salt as needed.

Backwash: Recommended regeneration every 2000 gallons.

Filter#4 : Upflow Carbon Filter

Purpose: Remove radon (and anything else it can).

Mineral: Activated charcoal

Size: 1.5 cube

Service: Replace carbon as needed.

Backwash: none.

So after the new setup, they set the water softener regen at 2000 gallons. I assume that they calculated this as being an appropriate setting after anticipating the iron to be mostly removed by the greensand. However, (to make a long story longer) I�m still getting hardness through the softener after only 350 gallons. I�ve been gradually decreasing the meter setting on the softener from the 2000. It was because of my testing that the installer recommended that I set the pot-perm backwash to 2 days vs 3 days thinking that the iron was saturating the greensand then overpowering the softener. I don�t think this has made a difference.

When I do the math (as a novice, so don�t kill me on the theory ;-), I calculate that with a 1 CuFt softener that the installer states is 32,000 grains, it would need to be pulling 91 grains of hardness per gallon(compensated) in order to saturate this quickly. When I questioned the installer about the performance of the softener and whether or not it was doing its job , his reply was "A softeners resin bed either works or it doesn�t �there is no in-between".

Here�s what I�ve observed with my Hach testkit. I use the reagent that turns the water pink, then add 1 drop of solution and shake, until it turns blue. 1 drop = 1 gpg hardness.

1.) Morning after the backwash � 1 drop to blue

2.) 350 gallons on the Fleck meter � 4 drops to blue

3.) 500 gallons on the Fleck meter � 10 drops to blue.

So, finally, my questions are:

1.) Do you think that my softener is performing as expected?

2.) If so, and with so few gallons available, should I consider a twin tank softener?

3.) Any other suggestions debugging or otherwise, like testing the water at the outflow of the greensand to see what is actually going IN to the softener, etc.

Thanks for your patient read. I hope I�ve included enough info. Any help at all will be appreciated, as I�m trying to figure out where to go next as this is been a real pain.


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A long story for sure but not uncommon...

Since you didn't specify I have to assume that..
Iron 5.0
Ferric 4.0 (2007 levels were 2.5)
Ferrous 1.0 (2007 levels were 4.3)
Manganese .38 (2007 level were 0)

... are all PPM?

And that hardness is GPG and you are on a well?

Too much iron to ask a softener to remove so a stand alone iron filter should have been recommended from the start. More likely than not your softener resin is iron fouled.

A 1 cu ft softener at max salt dose of 15 lbs will only yield 30,000 hardness removal capacity not 32,000 and that is very inefficient.

Sounds like you've now got a hodge podge of equipment that may or may not be right, may or may not be correctly sized, isn't correctly set up, and isn't in the correct order.

There's no way to know what you softener might or might not do unless you offer the following info...

Current and comprehensive water test done by a certified lab
How many people?
How many bathrooms?
Any high water use appliances?

Rather than continuing to deal with your water people who GUESS have you looked for alternative water treatment pros locally?

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 1:53PM
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Hello justalurker, thanks for the response.

Yes, the iron is PPM, the hardness is GPG, and I am on a well.

"Current and comprehensive water test done by a certified lab" - I think the water test results above are the results from a lab, as my installer "sent it out". However, I can arrange to get that done on my own if it comes to that..

"How many people" - 6 of us
"How many bathrooms" - one each 1/2, 3/4 and full
"Any high water use appliances?" - no. Just went to a front loading washing machine and it has cut our usage dramatically.

I have not contacted any else yet. That's part of the reason I'm here. I wanted to get another opinion or three. I need to decide what my next step is going to be.

As these guys were supposed to be "pros", and had a positive BBB rating(FWIW), how would I select a REAL pro in the future?


1.) Before I jump to another company, how can I get an idea of what equipment I should have VS what I do have?

2.) Would it be worth my time to insist that he re-beds the resin and see where it goes?


    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 2:37PM
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Hi Brad,

For starters I can tell you this...

With 6 people, 11 gpg hardness, iron 5 ppm, manganese .38, you're looking at a softener around 5 cu ft to successfully treat your water and you'll still need an acid neutralizer ahead of the softener. You'd want to regenerate every 3-4 days and set up a routine maintenance schedule using a resin cleaner.

A 5 cu ft softener is a BIG one and your well may not have the required SFR to regenerate that volume of resin. You could probably get away with a 5.0 cu ft Fleck 9100SXT twin resin tank (2.5 cu ft of resin in each tank) softener.

Your 1.0 cu ft softener is a joke based on your occupancy and water conditions. That should tell you to RUN from your current water people as fast as you can.

You need to get someone in there who knows what they are doing or you're just going to pour money down the drain.

If you intend to DIY be aware that in order to be successful the softener will have to be correctly sized and set up correctly and efficiently and there will be routine maintenance.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 3:13PM
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Yes, 5 cu ft is very big.

Does that still include the greensand/Pot-perm that I have? or would it be "standalone" with the acid-neutralizer?

I also realize that this info/conversation is dependent upon an accurate water test. I'm not sure if I'd DIY a new system or not. Experiments can be costly, eh?

What does SFR mean? Not sure of the acronym but assume it is a measurement of flow/volume.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 3:55PM
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A clean BBB slate is not an indication that a business does it's job right only that it's customers think it does.

Based on your experience with your current water people are they resolving your water treatment problems? Would you recommend them?

Get a water test from an independent lab. An independent lab has no agenda and won't be trying to sell you water treatment equipment. This is a MUST DO because without it everything is a guess. A quickie water test from Sears or a water softener company won't be as accurate (and possibly not as competent) as from a certified independent lab.

Hit the Yellow Pages and call at least three local water treatment pros. Make sure you call at least one of the big dogs like Kinetico for comparison and at least a couple independent pros. DON'T TELL THEM YOU HAD YOUR WATER TESTED.

Give each an opportunity to offer suggestions and provide you with a quote to meet your water treatment needs. IGNORE ANY THAT DON'T TEST YOUR WATER THEMSELVES as they can't speak intelligently to water treatment without knowing what needs to be treated. Don't offer your lab test results and don't suggest anything to them.

Ask lots of questions. Warranty, parts & labor or just parts, how long and on exactly what? Install, permits required, licensed plumber? Routine maintenance and costs? Do they stock parts? Response time for emergency (water leak) calls? If they don't explain things to your satisfaction that is a good indicator of how you'll be treated after the sale.

Make them be specific regarding hardware. size, components, maintenance?

After they've gone use your water test to compare with theirs. Are all your treatment needs being addressed?

Ask your neighbors if they have any water treatment experience. They might tell you who's good or who to avoid.

Come back here and post the specific recommendations and hardware components with the costs and we'll give you our opinions.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 4:11PM
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The original softener would never work on that water chemistry and usage. You need to test the water after the PH tank to make sure PH has been corrected to 6.8 or above. The greensand filter can still struggle to oxidize ferrous iron with low PH. It will remove any iron already oxidized (ferric). I would have to agree the softener resin is probably loaded with iron and should be re-bedded. Your water heater is probably loaded with iron and hardness also and will need to be flushed with GOOD WATER frequently before that problem disappears. At 11gpg, 6 people and NO iron your 1.0 cuft softener will work for your family. You can set it at 2000 gallons and 12 lbs salt this will provide 24,000 grains of capacity with reserve.
I would get them to re-bed the softener and terminate your business with them. This is really water treatment 101.
I would suggest getting an independent water analysis also.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 4:15PM
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OK, thanks again for all the help. Sounds like good, common sense advice. I'll get to work and post what I find out.

kindest regards,

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 4:17PM
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SFR is Service Flow Rate. SFR can be sustained and peak.

5 ppm iron can be managed by a correctly sized and setup stand alone softener so an acid neutralizer for the PH correction before the softener may be all that is needed. If iron treatment is required then that can be added later possibly along with a backwashing carbon filter.


I disagree. Any money spent on the 1 cube softener other than hauling it to the dump is wasted. At max salt dose the 1 cuber would be marginal and only provide 9 gpm SFR and it would eat salt at an alarming rate. More than likely it needs resin and a valve cleaning so why invest money in something that won't do what the OP needs?

I favor curing the disease while some favor treating the symptom. Seems to me that the OP has already gone the symptom route and is looking to cure the disease as he intended to in the first place.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 5:01PM
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Just as a side note, the up-flow carbon filter came with a "required" 8 GPM flow restrictor that I put in-line. I know this defeats the purpose of the 1" copper but it was added later.

I have not noticed a big difference in flow, nor has anyone else in the house complained and it's been over a year. Our appliances are pretty efficient as well as we are normally conservative with our resources.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 6:03PM
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SFR (both sustained and peak) for the plumbing and the softener can effect different things and that's why those factors need to be considered when sizing a softener.

When the peak SFR of a softener is exceeded hardness leaks through.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 7:03PM
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Duk Man, If I am reading your post correctly, you currently have the greensand filter in place for iron removal, correct? A water softener is not designed to and will not remove ferric iron. The carbon filter may very well be loaded with iron at this point also. It may need to be re-bedded. A proper water analysis, proper application and listening to the customer are the cornerstones for successful water treatment applications. It is regretful that this was not done initially for you. I trust our assistance will help you resolve these issues and give your home and family great water.
I refrain from being argumentative. The objective is to help the customer resolve their water treatment issues in a helpful, professional and practical manner.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2011 at 1:53PM
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You are observant! I had the radon levels re-checked for exactly these reasons around December and the effectiveness of the carbon did in fact change. The levels went from I very much appreciate the responses from yourself and Justalurker. My current game plan looks something like this:

1.) Get the independent water test done.
2.) Assume the softener resin is fouled and re-bed. $110.
3.) Get the quotes/solutions from a couple REPUTABLE outfits.
4.) Keep monitoring after the rebed and see if that clears up my problem. I'm ordering a 1" inline brass water meter so I know EXACTLY what my daily usage is. Another $60, but well spent I think.

Yes, if I had mountains of disposable cash, I'd hire the guns and turn-key the job........wish I was in such a position. Another reason I would like to get it straight myself is I don't like being dependant on "water guys" at this point.......no offense ;-) and yes, I change my own oil too!


    Bookmark   March 3, 2011 at 3:08PM
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It appears that you are well on your way to good water. I wish you good luck and good water for your home and family.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2011 at 7:47PM
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