Water Softeners; Are they right for you?

Source: CMHC website

To explain why water softeners are beneficial and how they work, one needs to understand the differences between hard and soft water. It is presumed in this document that the water you are using meets all health regulations and is known to be safe.

What is Hard Water?

Hard water contains large amounts of calcium and magnesium — two minerals that cause the soapy scum on glasses and lime residue on bathroom fixtures. While suitable for drinking and gardening, hard water can cause mineral build-up in water heaters, pipes, dishwashers and showerheads, reducing its flow. Soap and shampoo’s ability to lather is reduced, and laundry becomes stiffer and duller in appearance.

As Table 1 shows, water hardness is measured with five different classifications and can be expressed in mg/litre or parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (gpg).

Table 1 Water hardness classifications

Classification Water Hardness
Soft below 17 mg/litre or ppm (0 – 1 gpg)
Slightly hard 17.1 – 60 mg/litre or ppm (1.1 – 3.5 gpg)
Moderately hard 61 – 120 mg/litre or ppm (3.6 – 7 gpg)
Hard 121 – 180 mg/litre or ppm (7.1 – 10.5 gpg)
Very hard over 180 mg/litre or ppm (over 10.5 gpg)

How to Decide if You Should Buy a Water Softener

Above 121 mg/litre, you may want to consider a water softener. Generally speaking, groundwater (well water taken from aquifers in the ground) is hard. Some municipalities in Canada use groundwater to supply water to residents. Residents, in small or rural communities, may not have municipal water service and get water from private or communal wells.

The most crucial step in deciding whether your home should have a water softener is to find out if your water is hard. If you have municipal water, call your water department or utility. If you have a well, contact a water-softening company that can conduct a test and classify its hardness.

How Does a Water Softener Work?

A water softener uses a medium that serves to exchange “ions” of calcium and magnesium with sodium and potassium.

This occurs in four steps:

  1. To do the ion replacement, the water in the house runs through a resin bed of small plastic beads or zeolite. The beads are covered with sodium or potassium ions. As the water flows past the ions, they swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions. Eventually, the beads contain nothing but calcium and magnesium, and softening stops. It is then time to regenerate the beads or zeolite.
  2. To regenerate, the beads need to regain their sodium or potassium ions by being flooded with a salty, brine solution that is rich in sodium or potassium.
  3. Once completed, the calcium and magnesium, dirt and sediments are flushed from the beads and into the drain in a process called backwash.
  4. The final phase rinses the mineral tank with fresh water and loads the brine tank so it’s ready for the next cycle.

Automatic water softeners are usually programmed to recharge at specific times that will not disrupt the occupants. It is more water-efficient to have a metered model that will regenerate only when required.

What are The Benefits of a Water Softener?

A water softener reduces water hardness, making it easier to shower and clean fabrics and dishes. With softened water, less soap is needed for bathing and laundry. Skin feels cleaner and clothing softer. Pipes, fixtures and appliances have less scale build-up. With less build-up, appliances can operate efficiently. Mineral-derived odours may be reduced; and, there are fewer deposit stains on bathroom fixtures.

What are The Different Kinds of Water Softeners?

Water softeners come in four different types — offsite, manual, semi-automatic and automatic.

Offsite — the portable exchange unit does not regenerate at your home, a company replaces the cylinder.

Manual — requires manual operation to perform backwashing, brining and rinsing.

Semi-automatic — all functions are controlled automatically, with the exception of regeneration.

Automatic — all functions are performed automatically, including regeneration.

This last type of softener can be controlled by the following systems:

Time-clock — regenerates on a pre-set schedule.

Water meter — regenerates based on volume of water; has two units so one can recharge while other is operating.

Hardness sensor — monitors the hardness of the water and activates regeneration when necessary via a sensor. This system is most costly to buy but will use less water and salt.

Where to Buy a Water Softener

Water softeners are sold by water equipment dealers, department and hardware stores. Units should be certified to the appropriate standards as outlined in the Certification section.

How Much Does a Water Softener Cost?

The price of water softeners varies according to the type and sophistication of the system. Automatic softeners are the most expensive, selling for around $900 and up, on average. Some of the most popular units retail for $1800. Installation fees are extra — averaging about $250 and up per unit.

Where do I Install a Water Softener?

Water softeners are installed where the water line enters the home. A professional installer should carry out the installation. A separate cold line will be required for drinking and cooking purposes if you prefer to not consume softened water.

What Does a Softener Look Like?

There are two basic types of water softeners. There is a single upright cabinet style and an upright twin-tank style. Both are approximately 1.5 m in height and about .5 m in width.

How do I Maintain My Water Softener?

While most softeners need little care and will last for many years — problems may occasionally occur.

To ensure smooth functioning, the water softener should regenerate at least once a week to assure its longevity. If your softener is not working properly, there are several things to watch for.

  • Check for salt build-up in the brine tank. If a crust has formed, remove it using a vacuum, clean with soap and water, and rinse well.
  • If your water contains iron, check for iron deposits in the resin bed. If it is present, use an iron-removing product to clean the softener.
  • Check the resin tank injector. If it is plugged with “dirty” salt, shut off the softener’s bypass plug, run a manual regeneration and then clean the injector and injector screen.

Consider machines that have controls that minimize water use during regeneration. Often, one cycling a week will be sufficient for a family of four.

Concerns About Water Softeners

Is softened water safe to drink?

A water softener cannot remove microbiological contaminants that cause illness and should only be used to treat drinking water that is considered to be microbiologically safe.

Water softeners replace “hard” minerals with “soft” minerals such as sodium. The fact that sodium chloride (a salt) is used to soften water raises a concern about the potential health risks for those persons suffering from hypertension, kidney disease or congestive heart failure.

As the incidence of hypertension increases and the number of individuals on sodium-restricted diets rises, water softener manufacturing companies have begun to promote the use of potassium chloride as a safe alternative to sodium chloride. However, potential health risks are also a concern where potassium chloride (also a salt) is used to soften water. Water containing high levels of sodium or potassium should not be used for drinking, making coffee, juice, infant formula or for cooking.

If you do not want this additional sodium or potassium in your diet, or if you are on a medically prescribed diet, a separate cold water line and faucet can be installed which bypasses the water softener. This allows for drinking and cooking with unsoftened cold water.

When Should I Not Use Softened Water?

Softened water is not recommended for lawn watering and other outdoor uses as this will lead to more frequent system regeneration and higher costs. The high sodium content of the softened water can also affect the growth of grass and vegetation.

In the United States, some States are introducing legislation to restrict or ban water softeners.

This is occurring for example in communities where wastewater is treated and reused to irrigate cash crops.

Are water softeners noisy?

Water softeners create very little noise. The only sound you will hear is the movement of water through the unit during the backwash.

Is softened water corrosive?

It has been found that ion exchange softening has no effect on the corrosiveness of water. Water pH, dissolved oxygen content, ammonia, chloride and flow velocity cause corrosion. These factors are unaffected by the softening process.

Will my water bill increase if I use a water softener?

Water softeners are associated with increased well water pumping costs and somewhat higher water bills. The average water softener will need 55 to 400 litres of fresh water each time it regenerates the resin bed. To minimize costs, select a water-efficient model. Check how often the softener backwashes and how much water is used during regeneration. Also ensure that the unit is set to your family-size and needs.

What are the main operating costs?

The purchase of salt for regeneration will be the main operating cost. Salt is sold in large bags and can be obtained from a water equipment dealer, a supermarket or local hardware store. The other cost will be the water and energy required for operation and regeneration.

Will a water softener harm my septic system?

While there have been concerns over a water softener’s impact on septic systems — such as killing the bacteria in septic tanks with salt, overflowing tanks with too much backwash flow and reducing the drainage field’s ability to absorb water — recent scientific studies remain inconclusive.

Salt has been found to have no harmful effects on bacteria and the soil of the drainage field. However, the volume of backwash flow can range from 55 to 400 litres per week or the equivalent of one to two standard filled bathtubs. Recharging the softener not more than once a week should reduce the amount of backwash entering the septic system.


Health Canada recommends that all products that come into contact with drinking water be certified to the appropriate health-based performance standard developed by NSF International. In the case of water softener units, it is recommended that they be certified as meeting standard NSF/ANSI 44. Components employed in conjunction with the water softener (i.e. filters) should also be certified to meet other applicable NSF/ANSI Standards. These standards have been designed to safeguard drinking water by helping to ensure material safety and performance of water softeners that come into contact with drinking water. In Canada, CSA International, NSF International, QAI, IAPMO and Underwriters Laboratories have been accredited by the Standards Council of Canada to certify drinking water materials as meeting the above-mentioned standards. These standards are widely accepted in North America, as they ensure the removal of specific contaminants, as well as the performance and mechanical integrity of the materials that come into contact with drinking water. Ask your dealer or retailer for a list of the substances that the unit is certified to remove.

Where Can I Get More Information About Water Softeners?

You can talk to various retailers and dealers to discuss different approaches to softening. Your local municipal water department or utility may also be of assistance to you.

NSF International — Drinking Water (October 2008)

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation acknowledges the contribution of Health Canada to the development of this document. For further questions regarding water treatment and water quality, contact Health Canada at water_eau@hc-sc.gc.ca or call 613-957-2991 or 1-866-225-0709.

energy saving tips – clothes dryer

No Cost / Low Cost

  • Install an outdoor clothes line. Heat from the sun and the flow of air will dry your clothes. An indoor clothes rack may take longer to dry, but it is an energy efficient alternative to the clothes dryer.
  • Dry full loads whenever possible but don’t overload the machine.
  • Clean the lint trap after every load. A clogged lint trap can increase energy use up to 30 per cent and may be a fire hazard.
  • Try to start your second load of drying as soon as the first is finished. That way, the dryer will still be warm – and you will save energy.
  • Make sure your clothes are wrung out well before putting them in the dryer.
  • Separate your loads into heavy, medium and lightweight items – lighter loads will take less drying time than a mixture of items.
  • Don’t leave clothes in the dryer too long. Over-drying not only uses more electricity but also increases shrinkage and wrinkles. Clothes should dry in 40 minutes to one hour.
  • Use your dryer’s “cool down” cycle – usually the “permanent-press” setting. No heat is supplied in the last few minutes, but drying continues as cool air is blown through tumbling clothes.
  • Keep your dryer’s outside exhaust clean. A clogged exhaust lengthens drying time and increases energy use.

source: Fortis

energy saving tips – clothes washer

No Cost / Low Cost

  • Wash your clothes in cold or warm water. A whopping 85 to 90 per cent of energy used by washing machines is for heating the water. Hot water also shrinks and fades your clothes, wearing them out more quickly.
  • Run full loads whenever possible but don’t overload the machine.
  • Always use cold water for the RINSE cycle. Using warm or hot water for the RINSE cycle will not get your clothes any cleaner.

Save Even More

  • Invest a little more for an ENERGY STAR® qualified clothes washer. They use 35 to 50 per cent less water and 50 per cent less energy per load than the average clothes washer

energy saving tips – home entertainment

No Cost / Low Cost

  • Turn off your TV, stereo, DVD player and gaming systems when no one is using them.
  • Unplug your home electronics when not in use. 75 per cent of the electricity used to power home electronics is used while the products are turned off but still plugged into the wall.
  • Have you ever noticed that a charger or adapter is warm to the touch when it is plugged in, even when it is not charging anything? Many chargers draw at least one watt of electricity all the time. Unplug your charger once they’re done charging.

Save Even More

  • When replacing your TV, choose an energy-efficient ENERGY STAR® qualified model. ENERGY STAR® qualified TVs use about 30% less energy than standard units. You can find the ENERGY STAR® logo on all types of televisions, from standard CRT TVs, to the largest flat-screen plasma television.
  • Plug your TV, Stereo, DVD and gaming systems into a power bar that can be shut off, to avoid wasting electricity with the standby power feature. Make sure the power bar provides surge protection

source: Fortis

A Green Kitchen Is a Happy Kitchen

If you love to cook then you know that your kitchen can sometimes take on a life of its own. Some kitchens are warm and inviting. Others are cluttered and can seem to suck the life right out of a person. If you want your kitchen to be more inviting than it is, the answer might be to create a green kitchen.
Creating a green kitchen doesn’t mean painting the walls green. It means making your kitchen eco-friendly. It’s amazing how much better you will feel about cooking in your kitchen when you know that you are saving time, energy and money. Protecting the planet and your own finances will allow you to infuse your kitchen and each dish you cook with more love and flavor. Continue reading

Get a grip on door hardware fashion and function

In an ongoing effort to supply value and high quality materials in each Gold Seal Home, we have chosen the Weiser brand of locks and door knows since 1989! Here are a few reasons why:

Security:  Grade 1: Weiser products meeting Grade 1 status which also passed the most stringent lock-picking tests, the UL 437 lock picking test, and the Japanese picking test.

convenience: Weiser’s SmartKey re-key technology provides you the flexibility to re-key your locks quickly and easily without removing them from your door.

Durability: Full lifetime mechanical warranty on all exterior keyed lock components on Brilliance products.  Full mechanical warranty due to faulty workmanship or materials 25 years from date of purchase.

Fashion: From Polished Brass to Venetian Bronze™, the hardware finish chosen for your home makes a powerful statement. It can, quite literally, finish off a room, giving it style and polish

RONA Paint Recovery Program in Carstairs

RONA inc. has launched its in-store paint recovery program in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Now, consumers can drop off cans of any brand of old or unused paint at any Rona store, no purchase necessary. By promoting the recovery of paint products, RONA provides consumers with an easy, convenient and economical way to do their part in protecting the environment.

Drop your paint of at your local Rona today!

Continue reading

Is White the new Green? Bye-bye Formaldehyde

In 2002, the Johns Manville company converted its entire line of building insulation to formulations that do not contain added formaldehyde. Prior to 2002, there had been limited use of acrylic binders to replace formaldehyde by Johns Manville and its competitors, and JM’s conversion was the first full-scale application of the technology. In 2005, Gold Seal Homes introduced this insulation into it’s building practices in an effort to improve indoor air quality as part of our commitment to the BuiltGreen™ Program.

JM certified Formaldehyde-free fiber glass insulation—as a smart alternative to formaldehyde-based building materials — helps achieve a healthier and safer building by reducing overall indoor formaldehyde exposure.  Gold Seal Homes is committed to researching and offering our clients the safest and healthiest products for their homes.  Here are some other benefits of the insulation we have selected for our homes.

Recycled Content.

According to the North American Insulation Manufacturs Association, fiber glass insulation is the largest secondary market for recycled glass containers. The recycled glass used in fiber glass insulation saves more than 27 million cubic feet of landfill space every year. That’s 2.2 billion pounds of recycled post-consumer glass.  What’s not made from recycled materials is made mostly from sand, an abundant and rapidly replenished resource.  When a building is remodeled or demolished, fiber glass batts, rolls and loose fill can often be reused.

Many of our insulation products contain a North American average of 25 percent recycled glass content, with at least 20 percent being post-consumer glass.

Will not support mold growth.

Mold requires an organic material as a food source. As an inorganic fiber, fiber glass is naturally resistant to mold growth. In addition, several Johns Manville fiber glass products are treated with an EPA-approved mold inhibitor to protect them from mold-related damage.

Naturally fire resistant.

Unlike many organic insulations, fiber glass does not require toxic fire retardants. Fire retardants may leach out of other insulation types over time, leaving them without protection from heat and flame.

Is your Builder Green?

What colour will your future to be? 

There are a lot of builders today that pretend to be green.  Simply adding a high-efficiency furnace or better windows does not cut it.   Gold Seal Homes believes that building a house becomes the extension of every aspect of your life.  One great example is that healthy building materials and indoor air quality improving products improve your health.  Studies have shown that better indoor air quality leads to better grades in children and performance at work.  Sustainable construction can also improve the comfort you experience in the home.  A Green home should be less expensive to operate, quieter, healthier and have a lower impact on the environment down the road.  So how do you know the builder you have chosen is truly Green and not just a paler shade?

Some things to look for:

Accreditation;  The builder should be actively involved with or registered with a reputable Sustainable certifying agency.  Here in western Canada the largest such agency is the Built Green™ Program http://www.builtgreencanada.ca/content.php?id=262.  LEED is also available across Canada and there are many others.  Look to see if they are supported by your local Home Builder Agency (HBA) or NRCAN http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/energuide/home.cfm?attr=4 .

Labeling;  The home should be tested and evaluated by a third-party.  The Government of Canada conducts review of energy modelling and blower door test results to produce an Energuide label.  This is a report card that tells the homeowner how their home rates from an energy consumption perspective.

Water Management:  What steps is the builder taking to conserve water?  Dual flush toilets are great, but do they offer rain barrels?  Do they have a referral to a landscaping company that specializes in drought tolerant landscaping?  Grey water recovery methods? Green roofs?

Recycling:  Does the builder divert construction waste from the landfill.  Last year Gold Seal Homes diverted over 70000 Kilos from local landfills through our recycling program.

Indoor Air Quality:  What building materials are being used that improve the air you breath.  Are they installing any air filtering devices?

For more information about what Gold Seal is doing ‘behind the paint’ to make our homes greener, visit us on-line at www.goldsealhomes.com