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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
Green Building Bible, fourth edition (both books)
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    My parents live in a very hard-water area, and are considering a water softener. This isn't a desperately 'green' Q I suppose (except that there are crossovers - Solartwin or other direct SWH, for example), but has anyone any products or firms they can recommend, or any warnings of what to watch out for?


    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeApr 29th 2008
    Non electric one -- do not drink artificially softened water.

    As I currently know zilch about water-softeners, can you expand on that?
    • CommentAuthorAds
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2008
    In my thread regarding the pros and cons of a thermal store versus a conventional system my parents have the same issue. In their previous house they installed a water softener which required salts to be periodically added. I hated the water, but they much preferred it. I'm with you Nick, don't know much about them so extra info would be much appreciated.
    • CommentAuthorbampton
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2008
    if you don't install one in a very hard water area your appliances are all at risk from excessive build up of limescale- when i was renovating my house we got through lots of cups of tea, all made with unsoftened water boiled in a brand new kettle - we had to throw it away after 6 weeks. however you cannot drink softened water so you would be advised to have a seperate filter for this. The point is though that the kettle shows what is happening insiode your boiler/washing machine etc if you don't soften. Save all those white goods going to landfill sooner than they should. The reason you shouldn't drink it is because of the high sodium content (not recommended for those on low salt diets) - it is law to have a hard water bypass fitted for this reason.
    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2008
    OK a water softener takes the calcium out of calcium carbonate ( and magnesium out of magnesium carbonate ) and replaces it with sodium. Sodium carbonate will leave whitish deposits but they wash off easily and lime scale will no longer build up in the hot water system. You also need far less soap when washing.

    The reason not to drink artificially softened water is that it contains relatively high levels sodium which are bad for you and serious for babies and those with heart conditions.

    Inside the water softener there is an ion exchange resin ( aluminium silicate ) which captures calcium ions releasing twice as many sodium ions into the water until it has none cleft then the whole thing is back-washed with salt ( sodium chloride ) and the calcium is flushed down the drain and softening can start all over again.
    • CommentAuthorAds
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2008
    So, is there still a debate over water conditioners (eg www.waterimp.co.uk)?
    • CommentAuthorMiked2714
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2008
    Very knowledgeable, they also do repairs of old softeners which to me is a good sign. We have a Home Water 300. It has 2 columns which reduces water consumption when it regenerates itself. No electrical connection needed. They do kits which include a Brita filter tap for drinking water (note that using a 3-way filter tap means that the cold unfiltered supply to your kitchen sink is unsoftened, not a major problem in practice). Note that filtered hard water doesn't scale your kettle (much). I'd definitely recommend a softener for reducing the amount of cleaning needed of baths/showers/sinks!
    Posted By: tonyThe reason not to drink artificially softened water is that it contains relatively high levels sodium which are bad for you and serious for babies and those with heart conditions.

    However, water softened by reverse osmosis through a membrane is safe to drink and is standard practice where mains supply is not available. It is a relatively expensive process and so usually it is not fed to all water lines in the house but only those that need it. I have a friend with such a system because his well water has a high iron and sulphur content - no problem for flushing the loo but undrinkable.

    Paul in Montreal.
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeApr 30th 2008
    If they have a high flow rate shower or multiple showers... check that the model choosen doesn't drop too much pressure. It varies from make to make and model to model. I've seen 0.5 bar quoted for one model vs 2 bar for another at similar flow rates.

    Check things like outside taps and the kitchen sink come off the unsoftened side.
    What makes of water softeners work by reverse osmosis please?
    Posted By: mrswhitecatWhat makes of water softeners work by reverse osmosis please?

    Basically, pressure.


    Paul in Montreal.
    er - I was looking for brand names really, not an explanation of the phenomenon ...
    • CommentAuthorJohan
    • CommentTimeJun 20th 2008
    You can also use one of these: http://www.kalteccool.com/uk_pages/pdfs/PW52-kaltecCool_brochure_kpl.pdf

    It uses Magnesium instead of Sodium to replace the Calcium in the water. So the water isn't actually made any softer, but the Magnesium bicarbonate doesn't corbonate at 70C like Calcium bicarbonate.

    The water is also safe to drink.
    • CommentAuthorjules
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    I am planning to have a water softener installed in our refurbished house, but I'm having an argument with the plumber about its location. I want the softener at the mains inlet so that all water in the house is softened (but with a bypass for the kitchen tap drinking water). I have read that only softening the hot water is pretty useless, as when mixed with cold eg in a bath or washing machine you lose the benefit.

    Plumber says that you have it next to the boiler, as you only need to soften the hot water, not the cold. He says that he's never seen a problem when only the HW is softened, and has never seen my proposed installation in 24 years as a plumber (but he is Polish). So who's right?
    • CommentAuthorPete1951
    • CommentTimeFeb 9th 2009
    jules, I live in an area of very hard water and I have used a Twintec, block salt, water softener for the last six years. It softens all the water in the house hot and cold with the exception of a drinking supply that is filtered. I have had no problems and the difference is amazing.
    Always plumb a water softener just after the stopcock to cover hot and cold water throughout the property. The only unsoftened water should be a drinking tap and possibly an outside tap.

    Reverse Osmosis is the highest quality drinking water filter. This is separate from a water softener.

    The right water softener should bring a net environmental benefit by dramatically reducing use of aggressive chemicals (cleaning products, detergents, etc.), improving boiler efficiency and extending the life of boilers, washing machines, showers, taps, etc. The best systems come with a 10 year parts guarantee and should give 15-20 years’ service. A plumbed drinking water filter is also much better for the environment than bottled water; though obviously less environmentally friendly than just drinking tap water.

    Just so you know where I am coming from, I am a water softener dealer and used to chair the industry association (now the UKWTA). My advice is find a good local dealer selling a range of products (£500-£1200) who will make sure that you get the appropriate water softener properly installed.
    • CommentAuthormike7
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2009
    We avoid the hard water problem by using harvested rainwater everywhere except the kitchen cold tap. I gather rainwater is very slightly acidic, so it might actually be de-scaling our pipes. If you're in a dry-ish region like SE England you need a good big store so as not to run out too often. And enough roof.
    Mike, rainwater will indeed gently de-scale your pipes, boiler, etc - sounds like an excellent set-up.
    • CommentAuthorCWatters
    • CommentTimeMay 6th 2009
    Jules - You shouldn't really drink softened water so normally the cold supply to kitchen tap has to be taken off the un-softened side. This may effect the ideal location or the work required to install it.
    • CommentAuthorleemind
    • CommentTimeMay 7th 2009 edited
    Posted By: mike7We avoid the hard water problem by using harvested rainwater everywhere except the kitchen cold tap. I gather rainwater is very slightly acidic, so it might actually be de-scaling our pipes. If you're in a dry-ish region like SE England you need a good big store so as not to run out too often. And enough roof.

    Even for the shower and bath?
    • CommentAuthormike7
    • CommentTimeMay 7th 2009
    Posted By: leemind
    Even for the shower and bath?

    Er, yes. I think the reason it works well is that the storage is underground, so it's cool and dark, also and fairly big at 16m3. The water is odourless and tastes fine, though we don't drink it. A bathful shows a slight colour.
    I believe it was common for country places to have such storage.
    • CommentAuthorralphd
    • CommentTimeMay 11th 2009
    My water was ~35GPG of hardness, with modest levels of iron & maganese.
    I went with a fleck 5600SE head and carbochem CA-10 resin.

    I run mine in a high-efficiency mode (~4000grains/lb of salt). With 2cu ft of resin I get about 750 gallons of softened water per regen cycle (good for about 5 days in my house; me my wife, & 4 kids).
    The amount of sodium added to the water isn't significant compared to foods; 125ml of my favorite pasta sauce has over 600mg of sodium. I'd need to drink over a gallon of my softened water to get that much sodium.

    Here's some more on the chemistry:

    • CommentAuthorShevek
    • CommentTimeJul 4th 2013
    Does the following exist? A reasonably priced salt-free water conditioner available in the UK that doesn't require refilling with anything and has passed W512?
    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeJul 5th 2013 edited
    NO there is no such thing
    • CommentAuthorShevek
    • CommentTimeJul 5th 2013
    What about if I omit "reasonably priced"?
    • CommentAuthordb8000
    • CommentTimeJul 5th 2013
    There is this that has recently come to the market in the UK
    Why does it have to be salt free? I'm reckoning that the salt that you put down the drain using a water softener is far less bad for the environment than the additional washing liquids and cleaning products you use if you don't have one. Should be meter, not timer controlled, to minimise waste.

    Unproven theory so far - I won't have fitted one until we move into the new build next year - but based on the amount of limescale remover our cleaner used to go through I can't believe this isn't the case.

    They don't seem that expensive either - http://www.eastmidlandswater.com/Details.asp?ProductID=1459 doesn't seem materially different from the much more expensive models. Certainly looks like it has the same (bought in, American) control unit on the top.
    . duplicate .
    I was advised by my plumber that if I added a salt based water softener to my combi boiler system to supple both hot and cold feeds with softened water that it would invalidate my new boiler warranty as the softened water would be crossive to the aluminium heat exchanger.

    He suggested that hard water was fed to the boiler which as I pointed out would not help in the slightest with the limescale in the bathroom around the taps etc.

    I've looked at this and it seems the corrosion is caused by the the chloride and suphate ions - the follow extract is from the website:


    Water softening devices are very effective for scale control but yield water which has not only had its scaling potential removed but has also lost the benefits originally bestowed by its mineral content; protective film formation and buffering capacity. The result is water that has a high potential to cause corrosion. Softened water is by definition softened hard water. Hard water contains the precursors for forming protective films of calcium and magnesium carbonate on metal surfaces, and it also contains relatively high concentrations of chloride and sulphate. These are aggressive anions which cause corrosion of mild and stainless steels and most particularly aluminium even at relatively low concentrations.

    Does anyone here think that this is really a problem? How much is a heat exchanger for a boiler? I would if the benefits of having softened water outweigh the costs of having to replace the heat exchanger every couple of years....
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