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Water Softening

Posted by randalls1 (My Page) on
Mon, Apr 2, 12 at 19:38

Hello All,

Well, I have read all the posts I could find here on water softening but am still not sure what we need. The confusion comes from conflicting reports from area companies and water testing agencies. To summarize:

Three companies, the local County Board of Health and a state certified lab, all tested the water within the same week.

Each of the three water conditioning companies reported hardness of 12 GPG or grains per gallon. Two reported iron at 1 PPM and the third reported Iron at 0.3 PPM. The third company tested for Iron twice using a color wheel with identical, 0.3 PPM, results each time. All three companies used a Hach kit. The third company also tested for Tannins with 0.0 results.

The County Board of Health tested for Total Coliform and Nitrates. Both were zero, or undetected.

The State Certified Lab reported Hardness of 9.8 GPG, Calcium at 50.7 PPM, Magnesium at 10.0 PPM, Total Iron at 0.233 PPM, very close to what the third company above reported, Total Dissolved Solids at 354 PPM, Dissolved Oxygen at 2.2 PPM, pH at 8.21, Lead and Arsenic both at 0.0.

We have just completed extensive remodeling with all new fixtures and several new appliances, a new Reverse Osmosis filter, a new shower, new PEX water lines and two new toilets. After 45 days the iron is beginning to leave a faint deposit in the toilet basins, and faint orange colored deposits can be seen in the PEX water lines. The former shower was partially clogged at the shower head and the dishwasher orifices were clogged as well. All the original, 28 year old plumbing pipes were 100% clear of obstructions, but discolored inside. There is no iron bacteria in the well or in the house.

Two water conditioning companies that had the highest iron tests are recommending 42,000 grain softeners with a brine tank that holds 250 pounds of salt, with regeneration every three days. The third company that tested iron at 0.3 PPM is recommending a 24,000 grain softener with a small, rectangular brine tank, with regeneration every 24-36 hours and claiming we will "use just one 40 pound bag of salt per month".

One company and the Board of Health said we cannot discharge the water from regeneration into the septic tank or "in a few years it will eat a hole right through the side of the tank." Don't know if this is true or not but my mother-in-law, 12 miles from us, has had a softener for 40 years and it has not been a problem with her septic tank.

We have also been advised that the calcium carbonate that clogged everything up only comes from the heated water and if we soften just the hot water we will be fine, but that will not get rid of the iron that is staining the fixtures, like the toilet basins that use cold water.

Not sure what to do and I will be very grateful for any advice on how large a softener to use and what meter to use and if we can get buy just softening the hot water only. Quoted prices, including installation, range from $799.00 to $3700.00 from the largest national water conditioning company.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Water Softening

A couple of questions first:

1) How many people in the house?
2) How many bathroom?
3) Any fixtures that use a lot of water, such as a jetted tub or multi-head shower?
4) What size is the plumbing entering your home?
5) Do you have a drain close to where you wish to install the water softener?
6) What is the maximum flow you can achieve? Ideally, you would measure this from a full-bore spigot close to your water-softener location. However, a high-flow fixture will get you close enough - do you have a bathtub? Use a large bucket, for which you know the volume, open the fixture valves fully and time how long it takes to fill the bucket, then calculate gallons per minute. If you do not have a place to measure: What are your well minimum/maximum pressure settings? How far is it from your house? How much water storage do you have?

You absolutely can discharge to your septic tank. The salt will not eat a hole in the side of the tank. That is one of the more ridiculous things I've heard about softeners.

As to the analysis, believe the lab. The water treatment company folks that come out and test the water may be consistent with themselves, but will not be as accurate as a lab. Often, they are barely trained. There are good ones out there, just not many.

While it is true that hard water deposits come from the hot water, softening just your hot water is not typically a good solution. Anywhere that hot and cold water are mixed (showers, sinks, washer, etc) you will still experience hard water deposits. Additionally, you will still have problems anywhere water can evaporate, such as toilets.

There are a few other things we should know about your water:

1) manganese - This will cause the same problems as iron and is removed by the same methods
2) odor - does the water have any?
3) color: Does the water have a color? Is it clear coming out of the tap and develop color as it sits?


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RE: Water Softening

Dear Alice in Wonderland,

Thank you for your reply and your advice. It is very much appreciated. To answer your questions:

There are four adults, two are college age. We have two full baths, one with tub and shower, and one with shower only. No hot tub. We have a 3/4 hp jet pump with a 30 gallon, air charged, galvanized tank. No rubber bladder. The pump discharges into a 2" line, gradually reduced to a 3/4" main line that supplies the house. Flow rate at the outside faucet, four feet from the pump outlet, without the hose connected to it, is is 4.5 GPM. Pump pressure range varies from 20 - 40 psi. The Schedule 40 DWV sewer line is directly below the location for a water softener and easily accessible to add a dedicated drain. Other than that there is no available drain. The proposed water softener location is approximately five feet from the pump outlet. The water testing lab did not test for manganese. I can request that if it will help. Sometimes, the water will have a very faint odor but most of the time there is no detectable odor. A faint odor generally occurs after a period of heavy rain and goes away in a few days. After letting the water run from the kitchen faucet for maybe 5 minutes, I collected four, 12 ounce samples in two clear glass containers and in two pure white containers. I let them all sit on the counter for two full days. No detectable color change from crystal clear. No detectable sediment. No rust particles. After 48 hours it was still a clear as city water. We are in NW Ohio, 26 miles SW of Toledo, Ohio.

Of the three companies who have submitted quotes, one was Culligan (very high price) and two were local, independent, contractors, one worked out of his home and the other is a propane supplier that also sells/installs/services water conditioning equipment. All were highly recommended. The house is surrounded by mature pine and Maple trees, some close enough to shade the house in summer but where th ewellpoints are is open and kept clear of vegetation, etc. There is 15 feet of yellow sand and one foot of topsoil above the two well points.

I hope this helps and than you again for your interest and advice. I never suspected it could be such a complex undertaking.


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RE: Water Softening

"... softening just your hot water is not typically a good solution...." You are much more diplomatic than I. I would write that it is just plain dumb.


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RE: Water Softening

ionized - I say "not typically" only because in low-hardness situations where deposits aren't much of a problem but you still wish to protect your water heater, AND where the plumbing in your home is such that installing on all water would be cost-prohibitive, hot-only softener would provide some benefit. I don't recommend it, but it's an option for a few folks.

randalls1 - Your flow rate is a tad on the low end, but not prohibitively so. With four people in the house, two in college, your water usage is likely a little on the high end of average, but those two will eventually move out and I presume you would like your water softener to function properly with only two people.

Optimum time between regeneration is 6 - 8 days. 24 - 36 hours is very water-inefficient, not to mention the fact that it takes 48 hours to get a strong brine solution in your brine tank so the softener would not regenerate properly.

For now, pay no attention to how may grains they are saying their softener removes. Those numbers are MAXIMUM and much higher than your softener will remove when set to operate efficiently.

What you need:

1. Softener with 1 cubic foot of resin. You want to ensure you get a high quality resin with uniform bead size. Dow resins are good, as are Purolite. There are a few others, but those two are pretty common. If the water treatment folks can't tell you what resin is in their units, don't purchase.

The softener will regenerate about every 5-6 days while the kids are home. Then it can be set for higher efficiency once they move out and regenerate less often and use less salt.

2. If you live in a cold climate (where it gets below freezing temperatures) you want to ask where softeners are stored. Is it climate controlled? Softener resin subjected to freezing temperatures will crack and break, causing channeling, poor backwash and poor softener performance.

3. You want a bypass valve. It can be noryl or steel, but in this situation, where the valve will seldom be used, noryl is less likely to bind up.

4. You want a gravel bed in the bottom of the softener.

5. The softener controller should regenerate based on flow, not time. Fleck makes a reliable, industry standard controller and is my preference.

6. The size of the brine tank is not critical. You only want to have 1-2 bags of salt in it at a time. Too much salt can cause problems. This won't present a burden - you really will only use 30 - 50 lbs per month, depending upon your water usage (I calculated for 60 - 90 gallons/day/person)

Personally, I would not do business with the gentleman who quoted you the 24,000 grain softener. He very clearly has no idea what he is doing. The other two may be fine.

If you are comfortable being your own "expert" you could DIY and order a softener. This leaves you with no one else to blame if anything goes wrong, but is another option.

I never suspected it could be such a complex undertaking. randalls1

Water chemistry is complicated. Once you get the appropriate treatment, it should be simple.


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RE: Water Softening

Dear Alice in Wonderland,

Thank you again for your factual and to-the-point advice. People like you willing to freely share their knowledge and experience are what makes this site the "Wonderland" it is.

I have a list of all the points you have shared and will contact a few different suppliers tomorrow. Only other questions that would help is what model of Fleck would you recommend, what size softener, or is that
pre-determined by going with 1 cu. ft. of resin? Would a 1.5 cu. ft. system be more efficient? And, what size brine tank?

With your calculations showing salt usage of 30-50 lbs/month would a brine tank that holds 150 lb. of salt be adequate or is a 250 pound capacity better? With the 150 pound capacity and 50 pounds of salt/month would that mean we would be filling it just four times per year?

Regarding the resin, is there some kind of layer that goes on top of the resin?

I was not aware you could adjust the efficiency of the softener to use less salt. Is it possible to adjust salt usage so the water is softened to maybe 2-3 grains of hardness instead of going for 0 grains of hardness? Would this reduce the amount of sodium in the water and still prevent staining and clogging of appliance orifices?


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RE: Water Softening

Fleck model: Anything that will regenerate based on the meter, not on time. 5600SCT, 7000 SXT are good.

Softener size: 1 cu. ft. of resin will specify the size. 1.5 cu. ft. could buy you more salt efficiency while the kids are home, but you would lose water efficiency and it would be way oversized once your household population goes down to two. Additionally, it would potentially be difficult to backwash at the flow rate you have available.

Brine tank: You don't want to fill your brine tank. You only want to have one or two bags of salt in the tank at a time. If you fill it up, as many people do, the added weight will crush the salt sitting in water at the bottom, potentially causing it to reform as a hard "bridge" that will then prevent salt from reaching the water. A smaller brine tank is therefore just fine. Add a bag about once monthly.

Resin: The softener tank will have a distributor above the resin, but there should not be a layer of any other media on top. Don't let anyone sell you a softener with carbon on top or mixed in with the resin (all sorts of reasons, which I can detail if you wish). The gravel bed should be at the bottom.

Efficiency: While it is technically possible to set a softener for 2-3 grains hardness instead of 0, it's not practical. You would need an oversized softener in order to do it, and it really only works well if you have a set flow rate. A typical residence will not have a uniform flow rate. You have a very low flow rate at a bathroom sink when rinsing your toothbrush, a high flow rate when filling a bathtub. Additionally, your maximum flow rate would be incapable of backwashing the large softener. 2-3 grains of hardness would still cause staining and clogging, just more slowly.

Sodium content: The amount of sodium a softener ads to water is only a problem if you are on a drastically sodium-reduced diet for health reasons. If that is a concern, install an RO (reverse osmosis) or distiller for drinking water. I have an RO because I don't care for the taste of softened water, but taste is subjective.


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RE: Water Softening

Dear Alice in Wonderland,

I have a list of all your points and our water tests, plus adding manganese, copper, sulfides, and alkalinity, unless that is pH,which we have the test result for.

Now shopping for a 32,000 grain with a Fleck 5600SCT or 7000 SXT flow controlled metered system and a round, 150 lb. capacity, brine tank with a gravel bed in the bottom, Dupot or Purolite resin properly stored in winter, a Noryl bypass valve, and resetting our current well pump pressure of 20-40 PSI to 30-50 PSI. (our plumber approves of this adjustment). Also converting the down bath sink cold water line to untreated cold water for those that don't like softened water. The bathroom sinks have never had problems with staining or faucet obstruction. A new RO filter has been installed on the kitchen sink that also feeds the refrigerator ice maker/water outlet.

All the sales people want me to go with a 250 pound brine tank but from your advice on keeping it half fall to avoid salt bridging in the bottom, is a 150 pound tank with 60 pounds of salt and a gravel bottom a good compromise, assuming we will use around 40-50 pounds of salt per month, or is a half full 250 pound tank with a gravel bottom a better idea?

Thank you again. My wife has read all of the above postings and we both extend our sincerest appreciation for your advice and guidance on what has been for us, a complex undertaking.

Take care,
RandallS


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RE: Water Softening

Alkalinity and pH are not the same thing.

The gravel goes in the softener, below the resin bed.

Brine tank size won't make a difference - your choice. The 150 lb tank will likely be less expensive.

And you are very welcome - happy to help.


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RE: Water Softening / Gravel Bed

AliceinWonderland - seems like there's quite a bit of thought on the need for a gravel bed in these types of home systems. I've seen comments from 'it can't hurt' to 'don't do it, you're wasting freeboard area'. Is there any real science behind putting gravel at the bottom and how much of a benefit this really is?

Thanks in advance for any response.


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RE: Water Softening

Gravel underbed decreases the pressure loss through the resin.

There should not be so much gravel that it effects the freeboard at all as long as the volume of resin is installed in a correctly sized tank.

There is no down side to having a gravel underbed for the end user. Sellers don't like it cause it costs them money for the gravel and shipping... rocks are heavy.


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RE: Water Softening

Will a softener function without gravel? Yes. Just not as well and not as long.

50% freeboard is required. Companies that don't wish to use gravel underbed are usually using smaller tank size to save some money.

Gravel provides the following benefits:

1. Prevents bottom distributor from expanding
2. Prevents channeling
3. More uniform backwash (distributes flow across the entire bed)

Operationally, a softener is a simple animal. The engineering that happened on the front end is complex - fluid flow through a bed of porous beads involves bead diameter, bed diameter, bed height, fluid viscosity, fluid temperature, porosity of the beads, etc. Then throw in the mass transfer of calcium and hydrogen ions and it's a long darned calculation. Consequently, I will refrain from demonstrating. However, I can give you a little experiment to try at home if you would like:

Take a milk jug, cut the bottom off and figure out a way to attach a hose securely to the opening (this is the hardest part). Fill it with a few inches of sand and turn the water on. You will see water blast through the sand (channeling). Now, place reasonably uniform 1/rounded gravel in the jug, just deep enough to get to the point where the slope stops, then the same amount of sand. Now turn on the water again. You will see water rise up through the sand instead of blasting through it.

There is one exception. IF the softener you are interested in has a turbulator, then a gravel underbed is NOT a good idea as it will damage the turbulator.


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RE: Water Softening

I can appreciate the advantages of the gravel bed from your responses above. Thanks for to the point responses.

So a quick follow-up related to correctly sized tanks. From your illustration, seems like the 50% freeboard is 50% of the RESIN volume (not the total TANK volume?). So for instance, a 1.5 cu ft system seems to commonly come in a 10x54" tank - which has a volume of about 2.5 cubic foot. Add 1.5 cu ft resin - leaves about a 1 cu ft freeboard - is that sized about right?

And a related follow-up. If I were to take that same tank (10x54) and add just enough gravel to fill the bottom dome (and most of the distributor?) - that really shouldn't effect the amount of resin needed and the available freeboard appreciably, correct? Or would you need a taller tank?

Thanks!


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RE: Water Softening

pspitial,

"From your illustration, seems like the 50% freeboard is 50% of the RESIN volume (not the total TANK volume?)"

Wasn't that illustration on another forum?


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RE: Water Softening

Tank measurement should not include the domes.

1.5 cu ft should take up 33" of tank height
You need 16.5" of freeboard
Total height required is ~50"

Add gravel an inch or two deeper than the point where the bottom dome stops. This leaves you with 3" of extra space plus the top dome.


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RE: Water Softening

Gravel should be an inch over distributor as well.


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RE: Water Softening

Justalurker - you're right, that illustration was from a different forum. I have essentially the same thread going two places and got confused. Here it is just in case...


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RE: Water Softening

A helpful illustration for the DIYer if they're more concerned with the why than the how.


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RE: Water Softening

Regarding softeners and septic systems above.

You should be fine as long as the backwash isn't plumbed into the system.


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RE: Water Softening

It is well documented that it is no problem to discharge water softener backwash into a septic system. Some studies even show that the brine is good for the beneficial bacteria in the system.


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RE: Water Softening

Regardless of the studies that find no negative or trivial effects from discharging softener effluent into a septic system there are numerous states and municipalities that prohibit doing it. Laws and regulations needn't be based in fact.


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RE: Water Softening

It is well documented that it is no problem to discharge water softener backwash into a septic system. Some studies even show that the brine is good for the beneficial bacteria in the system.

It is also well documented that they are a problem too so take your pick. Regardless, I inspect hundreds of septic systems a year and guess which ones invariably have issues? The ones with softener backwash.


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RE: Water Softening

@piedmontnc

Spoken like a septic inspector... around here the septic inspectors know little to nothing about water treatment but are rife with anecdotal stories about failed septic systems and blaming softener discharge.

When challenged to provide any actual studies supporting their position they can't seem to find them and never want to blame failed systems on the loose nuts in the house who throw anything they can down the drain or pump their systems only when they back up into the house,

I admit that many water treatment businesses are responsible for selling and installing a great many systems that are undersized and regenerate too frequently and those systems are rarely set up to maximize water and salt efficiency... EVERY big box store that sells softeners comes to mind and a great many online softener sellers.

I expect you take your job seriously and consider yourself an expert septic inspector and you've undoubtedly found some studies and articles blaming softeners for failed septic systems. You might read the voluminous scientific studies that found no correlation between softener discharge and septic system failure.

I'll agree that given a cost effective alternative to running softener effluent into a septic system I prefer that alternative, but I wouldn't forgo a correctly sized and efficiently set up softener to treat my 40gpg hard water if I had to run the effluent to my septic system.


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RE: Water Softening

Spoken like a septic inspector... around here the septic inspectors know little to nothing about water treatment but are rife with anecdotal stories about failed septic systems and blaming softener discharge.

When challenged to provide any actual studies supporting their position they can't seem to find them and never want to blame failed systems on the loose nuts in the house who throw anything they can down the drain or pump their systems only when they back up into the house,

I'd like to think we're pretty good at troubleshooting systems. Rarely would I say the softener is a sole cause of failure, but definitely one of the variables that affect system life. As far as anecdotal evidence, every system I see with softener backwash has poorly developed to no scum layer, suspended soilds and milky to cloudy liquid where it should be clear, and highly clogged effluent filters with what's clogging it very slimy vs. normal soilds buildup in clogged filters.

I admit that many water treatment businesses are responsible for selling and installing a great many systems that are undersized and regenerate too frequently and those systems are rarely set up to maximize water and salt efficiency... EVERY big box store that sells softeners comes to mind and a great many online softener sellers.

Improper design/installation of anything goes without saying here, not much to disagree with.

I expect you take your job seriously and consider yourself an expert septic inspector and you've undoubtedly found some studies and articles blaming softeners for failed septic systems. You might read the voluminous scientific studies that found no correlation between softener discharge and septic system failure.

If by voluminous you mean sparse and outdated with bad methodology and conclusions extrapolated beyond the study...


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RE: Water Softening

Spoken like a septic inspector...


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RE: Water Softening

Spoken like a random internet know-it-all...


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RE: Water Softening

When one can't support their position with facts there's always personal insults which is the mark of a true internet know-it-all.

I defer to your ability to inflict your knowledge, or lack of it, on others under the guise of government expert... an oxymoron citizens unfortunately have to bear as you, and government inspectors all over the country, revel in your immunity from from being held accountable for your not so random incompetence and negligence.

Let us agree to disagree.


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RE: Water Softening

When one can't support their position with facts there's always personal insults which is the mark of a true internet know-it-all.

From the guy who started it using "Spoken like a septic inspector" as a perjorative. *golf clap*

And the same guy who said there was "voluminous scientific studies" supporting his position (and while in the same post using the perjorative, implied I'm unaware of his "voluminous" data). I'm sure your "voluminous" data will consist of a majority of papers from the 70's that the water softening industry has been touting for years.

BTW, I don't have any immunity.

One does have to ask themself why the people who look in septic tanks everyday (inspectors, soils scientists, engineers, installers, repairmen, pumpers, and wastewater operators) keep seeing the same issues with houses using softeners, or you can trust the people selling you a product who keep plugging that WQA study done in the 70's with bad methodology and overdrawn conclusions. Or you could do a google search and see there's plenty of unresolved issues with softeners and septic systems.


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