Have you ever gone to someone’s home, and as much as it sounds crazy, swear the water tastes different? Well, you may have just experienced hard or soft water. The water that flows through your taps, dishwasher, laundry machines and showerhead can make a significant impact on your appliances, hair and skin, clothes, and plumbing.
Do you know what kind of water you’ve been using? If you’re in Calgary and the surrounding area, chances are, you could be living a life of scratchy skin, and soap scummed dishes for a reason that goes beyond moisturizer and cleaning products. According to the City of Calgary, the water is considered hard in most locations due to the calcium and magnesium that flow into the water from the Bow and Elbow Rivers. You can check your area’s “hardness rating” directly on their site!
When it comes down to hard water vs soft water – does it really matter what you end up with? The short answer: yes! But how do you know if you have hard water and if you’ll truly benefit from a switch to soft? We’ll explain the Coles Notes of everything you need to know about water softeners, the pros and cons of having one in your home and signs that you’re suffering from the harmful effects of hard water.
The Difference Between Hard and Soft Water
Let’s get one thing clear – hard water is not the root of all evil. There are actually plenty of benefits when it comes to consumption! Rinsing your vegetables or drinking hard water actually contains minerals that your body needs, like calcium and magnesium. However, your skin, nails, hair, laundry and appliances do suffer from it. Hard water is the closest you’ll get to drink from a fresh rainfall as it makes its way to your home through the ground, collecting minerals along the way. Once it’s collected “too many,” the water is labelled as hard water. Although it’s not damaging to your health, it can be to your plumbing.
Soft water is much easier on your pipes, appliances, fixtures and body because there are no longer mineral ions that leave a resin behind. Whether you have this naturally or have a water softener to help will depend on your environment’s geology, aka the rocks on and under the ground.
Signs You Have Hard Water
There are a few red flags and warning signs to tell if you have hard water without getting a water test.
- Have you noticed any spotty dishes?
- Are your clothes coming out stiff, dull or seem unclean with a strange film?
- Are you noticing it’s taking longer to clean your showers, sinks and tubs due to the soap scum?
- Does your hair feel dry and skin feel itchy after a shower?
- Have you noticed that the water pressure is lower at your home than at a neighbour’s?
- Are your appliances breaking down faster due to limescale buildup?
If you’ve answered yes to more than one of these questions, that’s a telltale sign of hard water running through your pipes.
How Does a Water Softener Work?
When it comes to water softeners, you may be familiar with brand names, but do you know how they solve your hard water problem? If you want to get real technical about how a water softener works, here’s the science behind it. Since rainwater flows through the ground to your home, it’s picking up minerals from the rocks along the way. When there’s an overflow of calcium and magnesium, this is what creates hard water. Calcium and magnesium are considered positively charged ions. When they precipitate out of the water, this is what causes scale and build-up. They also don’t mix well with other positively charged ions, such as the soap you’re using. This means you won’t see as much of a lather since it’s struggling to dissolve the soap.
What a water softener will do to combat this is filter the water through resin beads, plastic beads and salt or ion-exchanger. Once the softener has trapped the minerals, they exchange them for either sodium or potassium, which is much easier on your pipes and appliances.
Pros and Cons of Using a Water Softener
While there are many benefits to using a water softener, it’s not for everyone! The type of home you have, how your water flows to your pipes, and your health can determine if this solution is right for you. Here are the pros and cons you need to consider before installing a water softener:
- Your dishwasher, water heater, laundry machines and any water-using appliances like a refrigerator will have a longer life with fewer maintenance requirements.
- You’ll see less soap scum and residue on your clothes, sinks, tubs and showers.
- Your hair, skin and clothes will feel cleaner and softer.
- Your pipes will keep clear without the buildup of mineral residue.
- Your energy bills will be cut down with the improved efficiency of your water heater.
- Your water will taste so much better!
- Your plumbing will be protected and have a longer lifespan since a stream of harsh minerals will not flow through the pipes.
- If you’re on a strict no-salt diet, you may need to purchase an additional device. Water softeners add a tiny amount of sodium. While it’s still safe and only a trace amount, those on a sodium-restricted diet may want an unsoftened tap or reverse osmosis system installed for cooking and drinking water. Even typical household water softener services have a salt-free system and most providers will have a solution. You could also install a softener that uses potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride.
- If you have a septic system, a water softener may cause damage when it regenerates, sending salt through the system to remove the mineral buildup. To avoid this, you can install an electronic control so that this only happens when needed instead of a precalculated time.
- A water softener lengthens many of your appliances’ life span, but they could harm the water heater if not adequately maintained. However, this may not be a complete con if you look at what could happen WITHOUT a water softener. The argument for water softeners and water heaters is all about lifespan. When you install a water softener, you may be told that the life span could shorten by 2-5 years due to the steel vessel inside rusting permanently. This can be avoided by flushing your heater annually and changing the rod every 2 years, or you can get an extended warranty to cover you anywhere from 8-12 years, depending on the manufacturer. While this shortened lifespan fact may be true, the minerals that develop in the tank over time are a more expensive, more significant problem that can be avoided without a water softener.
Your plumber will be able to test the water and maintenance of your softener to ensure it’s working correctly and not causing any harm to you or the home.
Does a Water Softener Protect your Plumbing?
A water softener does more than just protect your plumbing. It protects your skin from being scratchy and flaky, gives your hair the shine that no top-of-the-line conditioner can and supports your appliances with the lifespan they deserve. The initial investment can save homeowners from headaches and invoices due to untimely dishwasher breakdowns and suspiciously dirty clothes that just came out of the fresh laundry pile.
Are you suffering from a clogged pipe, low water pressure or higher utility bills due to the hard water that runs through Calgary’s plumbing? Plumbing Paramedics is available 24/7 to help get the job done fast so you can take one more stress off your to-do list. Call our experts for a scheduled maintenance service or emergency plumbing repair at (403) 879-7213 or email us to book an appointment.
Do you have signs of hard water at your home? Have you found a way to combat hard water without installing a water softener? Comment your questions about hard water in your home and let other homeowners know what you’ve discovered when dealing with this city-wide problem.