With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment industry, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

Getting the Upper Hand on Hard Water

Approximately 80% of homes in Canada are affected by hard water. While you may think that such a common problem could not be that much of an issue, hard water can lead to a many unpleasant side effects both in the short and long-run.

Why is Hard Water a Big Deal?

Hard water can affect your home in a variety of adverse ways. The most recognizable short-term effect one may notice is that soaps and detergents are not nearly as effective as designed. You may find that these products fail to foam up properly or at all, with clothes, dishes and even skin not feeling truly clean after washing. You may also see spotting and marks on dishes, clothes looking gray and grubby, as well as your skin developing an odd dryness. While these effects are annoying, many folks may attribute these signs to poor cleaning and skin care products.

Hard water’s more serious implications, however, are often hidden from plain sight and actually occur over a long period of time. This is principally because mineral scale builds up and accumulates in appliances and pipes over years. The scale accumulation cannot only lead to blockages in pipes, which increases the risk of flooding, but can also compromise the energy efficiency of your water using appliances.  In fact, as the mineral scale deposits accumulate around the heating element in washing machines, dishwashers and water heaters, the appliances need to use more energy to heat the water. This typically increases utility energy bills and compromises the lifespan of the appliance itself.

Managing Your Hard Water

Installing a water softener or water conditioning system can show immediate results in controlling hard water issues in your home. There are a variety of systems available, from basic models for less than $1,000 to more extensive, computer controlled multi-function units, providing a whole house solution for $6,000 or more. The price of the system and the associated operating costs are directly impacted by how the softener or conditioner is controlled. The most cost-effective systems use electronic timers and clocks or computer controlled systems (DIR devices – see below) that actually monitor usage. This allows for the unit to be automatically regenerated based on the actual usage or at preset times and days, based on the estimated average use.

There are two factors to be considered when choosing a timer control method. Firstly if the water usage increases, the timer will not allow the unit to compensate for this increase. Secondly, when water usage falls below the anticipated level, more than the required level of salt will be used.

An alternative method of control is a DIR device mentioned above. Demand Initiated Regeneration tends to be more costly, but these devices are more sophisticated and can offer long-term savings, over the lifetime of the unit. A DIR control senses when the resin requires rinsing, either by calculating usage or an electronic sensor. This means that the salt is only recharged when necessary, saving salt and compensating for any fluctuations in water usage. These devices may even include a remote or WI-FI monitor to alert the homeowner of maintenance or salt regeneration, with some of the most sophisticated systems transmitting the operational status of the device via a smart phone APP for a remote diagnosis.