Guide to Water Conditioners / Softeners: Available Technologies
Treating Hard Water
Let’s recap a few definitions mentioned in the history of water softeners page. Hard water is water that has a high concentration of dissolved minerals, especially calcium. In general any water containing more then 3 grains of hardness is considered hard water. Soft water is water that has dissolved calcium and magnesium in low concentration is normally less then 3 grains of hardness.
Below is a list of the technologies available today for the treatment of hard water. All of these technologies offer the benefits associated with softer water, but not all of them offer the same benefits, the same degree or with the same costs and environmental impact.
“Template Induced Crystallization” (TIC)
T.I.C. promotes the formation of sub-micron sized seed crystals using a unique crystal structure formed on the matrix-surface of the media that would not occur spontaneously without the presence of these templates. The formation of these solid crystals removes dissolved hardness from solution by integrating the ions into the matrix of the crystal structure. These newly formed crystals break away from the media surface after reaching a certain size and are carried off by the flowing water as largely colloid particles that continue to be suspended in the water.
Downstream from the equipment containing the media, these seed crystals travel with the flowing water fulfilling the same function as the media by providing template for additional crystal formation and growth. As the dissolved calcium is removed from solution the scale potential of the water is reduced. This results in the dramatic reduction of hard water scale in pipes, appliances, heating elements, in valves and fixtures.
Pros: This technology reduces scale formation. In addition, it also helps to remove existing scale deposits throughout the plumbing system including appliances. The technology also offers water savings since no water is wasted, unlike the regeneration of conventional softeners and saves energy. It eliminates the slippery or slimy feeling you get from ion exchange systems and leaves a silky feeling in the water. It also leaves the beneficial minerals in your drinking water.
Cons: Some water spotting can occur due to dissolved solids in the water. However, spotting is reduced markedly when compared to untreated water. Water spotting that does occur is easier to clean.
Find Out More: Pelican NaturSoft Salt Free T.I.C. Technology
The oldest method of treating hard water, ion exchange uses a process of removing calcium and magnesium from the water by exchanging each calcium ion for two sodium ions.
Pros: This method is effective at removing the hardness from your water and allows soap and detergents to lather better.
Cons: For every one calcium ion you are removing, two sodium ions are added to your water – which most people (when asked) do not find desirable. In many states these systems are banned including California and some areas of Texas are restricted or altogether outlawed because of the sodium introduced to the product water and the huge amounts of chlorides being introduced to the ground and surface waters during the regeneration of salt based softeners. Those chlorides make waste water treatment more expensive and difficult while making the re-use of the treated waste water in agriculture difficult or impossible.
The regeneration process required by a conventional softener involves the use of substantial amounts of water commonly exceeding 75 gallons per cycle depending on make and model of water softener. A standard softener with a 30,000 grain capacity can treat no more than 1760 gallons of water before it has to regenerate. Assuming the 75 gallons of water required to do so, the softener increase your water bill by 4.25% assuming that it operates at the theoretical efficiency, i.e. that it regenerates when it needs to, but only when it needs to – something that rarely happens in real life.
The average in home water usage in the US is 75 to 100 gallon per person per day. The proverbial 2 adult + two children household therefore uses between 109,500 and 146,000 gallons per year. Using the average usage of 127,700 and average US water hardness of 17 grains per gallon, this would result in a 30,000 grain softener requiring 73 regenerations per year. Depending on the manufacturer and user settings of the device, this would result in 1,035 pounds of salt that have to be purchased on one hand, and 1,035 pound of salt being introduced into the environment. Also, some 5,500 gallons of water would be wasted.
Also, on the user level, the addition of sodium also leads to a slimy feeling in the water, which feels like the soap never cleans off your skin and most do not enjoy that.
Find Out More: Pelican Advantage Series Salt Softener
Distillation is a water purification process that uses a heat source to turn the water into its gaseous form and thereby separate it from contaminants and other undesirable elements commonly found in ground and surface water. Distillation heats raw (untreated) water until the water reaches its boiling point and begins to turn into a gas.
Pros: The product water contains very few dissolved solids and it’s successful at removing bacteria and viruses from drinking water, as well as minerals and heavy metals.
Cons: The boiling point for most synthetic chemicals like pesticides, herbicides and chlorine are lower then water. This can result in these chemicals evaporating faster then the water, thus putting those chemicals into the air around the distiller where we are at risk of breathing those chemicals. This process is also limited to a small drinking unit and is extremely slow at processing the treated water. These types of systems also consume a large amount of energy to keep the water heated and boiling. The figure often mentioned is 25 cents per gallon.
Find out More: Due to the extreme inefficient nature of such a technology, we do not offer this type of product.
Membrane technologies like RO (reverse osmosis) push water through a semi-permeable membrane to filter out nearly all dissolved solids.
Pros: Most residential RO systems include Carbon filters to polish the water and protect the membrane from damage caused by chlorine. As a result POU (point of use) RO systems offer a decent solution for removing trouble contaminates and chemicals from the water for drinking.
Cons: The under sink RO systems wastes up to 4 gallons of water per 1 gallon of drinking water it produces. For whole house applications, pump driven, high pressure RO or nano filtration systems are required. They use a great deal of electricity and waste between 20% and 50% of the water they consume. RO systems are also extremely expensive for POE (point of entry/whole house) starting at about $10,000, making this solution too expensive to deal with hard water issues for the entire home particularly since they can also double your water bill in the process.
Find Out More: POU RO for Drinking Water