How Whole-Home Water Softeners Work

If you live in an area with hard water, you may have been told that you need a water softener. You may wonder, “Isn’t a water softener just a glorified filter?” No, a water softener is quite a bit more complex. A basic understanding of how a water softener works can help you decide if a whole-home water softener is a good investment.

How to Select a Water Softener

If you are dealing the with hard water problems in your home, you may have decided that your best option is to buy a water softener. But if you think that buying a water softener is about as challenging as buying any other type of water filter, think again. A quick search on one of the major home improvement retailing websites will quickly reveal that buying a water softener can be a complex decision. The first thing you need to know is what size you need.
Getting the right size water softener is important for two reasons:
  • Cost. Water softeners come in a wide range of capacities and cost from several hundred to nearly two-thousand dollars. Other factors affect costs over the lifetime of the unit. Getting the right size means you get the most bang for your buck.
  • Having enough soft water. If hard water is a problem, an under-sized unit is not the solution.
What is your grain number?
If you want to soften your water, the first thing you need to know is how hard it is. If you use municipal water, you can learn this by simply asking your water provider. If you have a well, you will need to either have your water tested or buy a kit and test it yourself. Hardness is measured in grains per gallon, more commonly referred to as GPG.
By knowing how hard your water is, you have the first piece of your grain number requirement formula. The second number you need is how many gallons of water your household uses each day, on average.
If you prefer, you can use the commonly accepted average of 75 gallons per person per day. Bear in mind that if you use significantly more than this, then you may purchase a unit that is too small. If you over estimate, you may be paying more than you should for an oversized unit.
Once you have those numbers, the formula is simple: gallons per day x GPG.
For example, if two people live in a house with moderately hard water (5 GPG) and they use an average amount of water each day (75 gallons each), then the formula looks like this:
150 gallons per day x 5 GPG = 750
That is how many grains the water softener needs to remove from your water each day.
When you look at water softeners and the grain number, you will have one more calculation to perform. Simply divide the listed grain number by the amount you need removed each day. That will tell you how many days your water softener will last between recharges.
Also, don’t forget to include a buffer for high-demand periods, such as if you have guests for holidays.
While there are several important factors to consider when selecting a water softener, size is perhaps the most important one. Know your numbers and buy with confidence.

An Introduction to Solar Water Heaters Systems

Whether you are looking to save money on your electric bill or lower your carbon footprint, replacing your traditional water heater with a solar powered one may be a great option. This is especially true if you are building a new home or refinancing one. In those cases, certain federal tax deductions come into play. Depending upon your energy consumption, you could find that your net monthly bill actually leaves you saving more than you’re spending.
Solar water heaters are available in two major categories:
  • Active solar heating. These systems have circulation pumps and controls that rely upon a traditional external power source, such as electricity.
  • Passive solar heating. These systems use 100% solar power to operate pumps, fans, etc.
Active systems are further divided into the following types:
  • Direct Circulation System. If you live in a climate where it seldom freezes, this may be a good choice. These systems compare the temperature of the water at the bottom of the storage tank with that at the top. When there is a significant difference, an electronic control activates a small pump and circulates the water through the solar collector, heats it, and then returns it to the top of the tank.
    • Pros: These are usually the most efficient heating method in warmer climates.
    • Cons: The system is not suited to climates where freezing is common.
  • Indirect Circulation System (aka Drain Back Systems). These systems use a heat-transfer fluid (i.e., antifreeze) which is pumped through a heat exchanger. The heat is transferred from the solar collector to the water.
    • Pros: A good choice for colder climates.
    • Cons: While still efficient, it is less efficient than a direct circulation system.
Passive systems are divided into the following types:
  • Integral Collector System. These systems do not use pumps or automatic control systems to circulate water. Additionally, the water storage and energy collection units are combined into one component, which means it cannot be insulated (otherwise, the solar heating would not reach the water).
    • Pros: A very simple system that is both small, has very few parts that can fail, and is very efficient.
    • Cons: Nighttime heat loss can be problematic in cooler temperatures. Not suitable for areas prone to freezing.
  • Thermosyphon System. This system also forgoes pumps and automatic controls. However, the solar collector and storage tank are separate. The hot water storage tank is located higher than the solar collector, typically on a roof. The solar collector heats water below the storage tank and then the hot water naturally rises to the top.
    • Pros: Because the storage tank is separate from the solar heating unit, the tank can be insulated.
    • Cons: The tank on the roof can be unsightly.
Solar water heaters are increasingly becoming a popular way to save money and help reduce the impact to the environment. With only two major categories to choose from and only two types within each category, it’s easy to narrow your choices to one that works best for you.