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What’s the deal with water softeners?

Posted: December 19, 2008 8:02 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2008 4:55 a.m.
Hi, Robert,
When we lived in the San Fernando Valley we had soft-water service from (a major provider). But we always ran out of soft water, so we bought our own unit and it performed great.

I probably only put salt in it every other month, and the water was great for everything and kept deposits way down.

When we moved up here we noticed how hard the water is. We wanted to put in our own water unit but were told by our sellers that they soon would be illegal, so we went back to the major provider. And again a tank doesn't last long enough and half the tanks don't seem to work.

Bottom line, of the new devices out there, what works?

One of my neighbors tried the magnet systems; they don't work. Another neighbor purchased another commerically available product which they say "kinda works." But for $3,500 I don't want "kinda works." Another neighbor has a whole house filter; the water is clear and tastes good but still is hard.

Do the catalytic systems really work? Is there a domestic unit similar to the test unit up in Copper Hill? Is there really an alternative to the salt units that really works? I am sure a lot of readers would like your thoughts.
Jim S.

Hi, Jim,
Due to sewer-discharge regulations, many communities in California have now outlawed the salt and potassium systems because of the backwash into the environment.

The Santa Clarita Valley will be salt-system free as of Jan. 1.

The magnetic systems neutralize the charge of calcium ions into calcium crystals.

These ions will not attach to fixtures, faucets, bathtubs, skin, etc. So it will not scale and build up but it does not remove anything from the water. You still have the same amount of calcium contaminants and minerals that originally came into your home.

Although magnetic systems are cheaper than other products, you still have to buy the detergents, cleaners and chemicals to address the hardness.

None of the magnetic systems, anodes or conditioning modules is recognized or certified by the WQA, the Water Quality Association to soften water.

You had mentioned using products from a major provider in the past. This company first came onto the market 70 years ago with their Portable Exchange Tank system, which is an alternative to salt systems.

This company has products certified by the WQA as well as the NSF and Underwriters Laboratories. They carry Consumer Digest's "Best Buy" designation and have the "Good Housekeeping's Seal of Approval" and "Guarantee." Their Portable Exchange Tank system is the exact science of a self-regenerating softener.

The only difference is it does not put the salt and potassium back into the water source. With this system, the softener tanks are replaced with a newly recharged softener as needed.

For a family of four, considering showers, cleaning, cooking and laundry, they recommend exchanging the tanks two to three times per month.

Claims of various catalytic systems are considered "misleading" by many sources.

The test in Valencia is known as the Groundwater Softening Demonstration Project. I am not aware of anything similar in personal systems for home use.

You may have read the report by Signal Senior Writer Jim Holt explaining, "Sodium hydroxide added to a mixture of water and sand draws the calcium out of the water and coats each grain of sand.The only thing produced with this technology - first introduced in the Netherlands - is soft, clean drinking water and grains of sand coated with a calcium shell."

This technology may soon be available to all residents of Santa Clarita.

In the meantime, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District is offering a rebate to have all salt systems removed - anywhere from $325 up to $2,000 or $100 if you rent the system. If interested, call (877) CUT- SALT for a rebate form.

Hello, Mr. Lamoureux,
I am in the process of replacing some of the plumbing at my place - hopefully just parts of it anyway. I have galvanized pipe that split. I know I would have to thread the pipe to make the repair but I don't have the tools or time to do this. Is it possible to connect PVC to galvanized pipe?
William D.

Hi, William,
Depending on what supply house you're talking to, ask for a Baker or a Romac coupling for whatever size you need. It's basically a band that allows you to transition galvanized to PVC. You just put the band on and tighten the nuts and bolts. That way, you have no down time.

You can also use a Romac to go from PVC to PVC. When you start getting into the larger pipe, like a 4-inch water line, you typically would use a primer and then PVC glue. You have to let this glue set for at least 24 hours before you valve back up again. If you or the residents of a community don't want to be without water for 24 hours, use a Romac, slip it on and tighten it down. You've got no wait time.

I don't know what size galvanized you are working with, but if it's a larger-diameter pipe, and you're putting in a 90 with a Romac, put in a thrust block. The reason being is that new pipe is going to want to shoot out because of the water pressure. What we do is drive rebar against the pipe and wire it together with the coupling. This will prevent that new section of pipe from taking off. Depending on the pressure and the diameter, sometimes we'll come in and pour some concrete to make sure it will not move.

Hi, Robert,
Just something I'm curious about: We are trying to save all the money we can in the office, and when I lock up at night, one of the lights does not turn off. It is fluorescent. I don't think it is hooked up to another switch and don't want to turn the breakers off. Just wondering.
Jill M.

Hi, Jill,
You don't want to trip the breakers to turn that light off. It has to stay on. Look up into the fixture and you'll see a small, red led light labeled "charging indicator light" and a test button. That is your emergency night-time ballast as mandated by the Fire Department. In case of fire, the code states that it has to stay on 24 hours a day to illuminate the exit. Any path of travel - ingress or egress, has to be illuminated now.

Also, it helps to prevent crime. Since it's lit, burglars are less likely to come inside to do their dirty work.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection.

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