Is Hard Water Bad For Me?
What are you to do if your home's drinking water is identified as "hard water?" If hard water is a concern for your family's comfort or if it's giving your home's plumbing a hard time, there are some solutions.
What is Hard Water?
Of course, your water may feel normal to the touch, but hard water refers to water with a high level of mineral salts dissolved or suspended within it. Calcium and magnesium cations (a positively charged ion or group of ions) that can give tap water a more appealing taste. Hardness of the water is measured in grains per gallon, from 1 to 10, with higher numbers indicating more mineral content.
Soft water, on the other hand, is hard water that has been treated and only contains sodium ions in it, so although it is safer and easier on you and your piping and appliances, it doesn't have the same great taste that mineralized water does. For this reason, it is not unusual for your plumber to treat the rest of the home with soft water and leave hard water piped to your ice maker and kitchen sink.
The dissolved minerals of hard water, on the other hand, can leave deposits on the inside of pipes, teapots, water heaters and faucets. And almost none of us like that, either.
Dangers of Hard Water
Hard water is not dangerous in any direct sense. It will however affect your quality of life and the life expectancies of some appliance and fixtures throughout your home. You will have difficulty getting soaps to lather, but few households use true soaps anymore (most bar "soaps" are synthetic detergents, as are laundry and dishwasher products). Your food may taste different, and folks with sensitive skin will need to watch for skin dryness. Hair will not wash or rinse as well with hard water, nor will it shine the same after drying. You may also find an odd aftertaste with toothpaste in untreated homes.
I Can Live with That! Can't I?
While you want to consider the needs of all family members, you may also feel that you have been living with hard water for long enough without anyone having suffered greatly from it. Before you decide that the effort of treating hard water is not worthwhile, consider these other issues:
- Coffee and tea might not taste as good
- Glasses may have a chalky film and spotting
- A dull film and scale can build up on tile and countertops
- Clothes may not wash fully clean
- Foods prepared with boiling water may have a mineral aftertaste
- Energy bills may climb as scale builds up in pipes and in your water heater, making them operate less efficiently
- After washing your car, you'll need to dry it quickly to prevent hard water spots from forming on the finish
- If you annually rinse the windows and screens of your home with a garden hose, hard water spotting will likely result
- The useful operating life of your water heater, dishwasher, icemaker and clothes washer will all be reduced
- Faucets and fixtures may develop mineral buildup
- Toilets often do not present a "clean" appearance
- Delicate fabrics will wear faster due to minerals within the water of your clothes washer.
Hard Water Pipe Damage
By far one of the most expensive issues with hard water is the damage it does to your pipes, boiler and water heater. Scale forms from the precipitation of calcium and magnesium carbonate-you're building a seafloor inside your home's metal pipes!
An even more insidious action occurs within your water heater and boiler. At the point where water is being directly heated, the solids within it tend to more actively fall out of solution and over time can create a layer up to several inches thick on the bottom of your water heater. As this layer builds up and heat is continuously applied to it from the gas burner, the superheated water under the mass of minerals can actually flash off into steam. If you've ever heard an older water heater make rumbling sounds, then that's likely what you have witnessed. This is a warning that your tanks operation is being affected by hard water buildup.
Scale also settles out of the water and clogs water passageways in your boiler, making it transfer heat less efficiently and costing you more in gas utilities. And just as in your water heater, scale can also shorten the life of your boilers heat exchanger-and that's an expensive problem.
Hard Water Solutions
You may be able to find stopgap solutions to some hard water problems, such as using vinegar for your hair or buying additional sheeting agents for the dishwasher.
The fastest way to solve your entire home's hard water problems once and for all is to get a professional plumbing contractor to install a water conditioning system or water softener. Mechanically treating the water involves running it through lime or sodium suspended in small polystyrene beads (zeolite) before it runs through your pipes. This helps remove the calcium and magnesium, substituting sodium ions in a chemical swap. The tiny amount of sodium is hardly noticeable (your drinking water will not taste like seawater), but you will see a drop in mineral deposits, scale, and film on tiles and glass. Bathing, showering and hair washing will also take on a new joy and you can wash your car and windows without having to dry them to prevent water spotting.
For more help selecting the right soft water solution for your family and budget in your Denver-area home, contact us at Blue Sky Plumbing & Heating.