Hard water can dry out skin and hair and be hard to drink, but what about your pipes? Learn how to prevent clogged and damaged pipes with these solutions.
Did you know that the chemical composition of your water can have a significant impact on your household expenses? While you don't necessarily have to know your calcium carbonate from your dihydrogen monoxide, it is helpful to know whether the water in your area is hard or soft. In fact, educating yourself about hard water and hard water buildup in pipes can help you save money and live more comfortably.
What Is Hard Water?
Very simply put, hard water is water that contains a high concentration of certain minerals, namely calcium and magnesium. While hard water is safe for human consumption, it can leave unsightly, hard-to-clean spots on your fixtures. Even worse, over time hard water can leave deposits that can damage your pipes.
How Does Hard Water Damage My Pipes?
Mineral deposits from hard water, also known as scale deposits, are often responsible for clogging pipes. When hard water is heated, a certain amount of water evaporates, causing the minerals suspended in it to precipitate. This solidified scale (or limescale) can then accumulate inside your pipes, water heater, washing machine and dishwasher.
These accumulations can cause major troubles all throughout your plumbing system, from low water pressure to the failure of certain appliances. What’s more, some types of plumbing are more susceptible to hard water clogging than others. While copper, PVC and PEX pipes are more resistant to hard water buildup and corrosion, they can still get clogged or completely blocked by scale deposits.
What Are the Best Hard Water Solutions?
When it comes to preventing hard water damage, you have two main options: installing a water softener or a reverse osmosis water treatment system.
A water softener is a tank situated between your water source (e.g., your municipal water supply's main line) and the internal plumbing that services your home. Inside this tank is an inorganic softening medium — a resin or crystalline substance — suspended in a saltwater solution. As water filters through the softener, the hard minerals in it literally swap places (on the molecular level) with the sodium in the medium itself via a process known as ion exchange. The result is that these minerals are effectively removed from the water before it reaches your appliances and faucets.
In the reverse osmosis process, impurities are stripped from your water through a semipermeable membrane. This microscopic filter catches all manner of substances and not just "hard" minerals. In fact, the pitcher in your refrigerator may very well use this same technology to supply your family with clean, refreshing drinking water. Reverse osmosis systems are typically more expensive than water softeners.
How Do I Know Which Hard Water Solution Is Right For Me?
When deciding between a water softener or reverse osmosis system, you will need to consider a number of factors.
- The precise hardness of your water, usually measured in grains per gallon or parts per million (ppm). You can learn more about the degrees of water hardness by consulting this chart developed by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (S-339) and the Water Quality Association (WQA).
- The size of your household and its average monthly water use. The more hot water you use, the more likely hard water will be an issue.
- The appliances you use that are most likely to suffer hard water damage.
Before purchasing a solution, first try reducing water waste around your home. Also, consider switching to using consumables — soaps, shampoos, detergents and the like — formulated for hard water. If you know you have a particular problem area that needs addressing, such as your kitchen, investigate whether or not a countertop or under-sink water filtration system will suit your needs.
However you choose to keep your home well-hydrated, you'll also want to protect the investment you've made in your plumbing system and appliances. That means performing the manufacturer's recommended preventive maintenance on those appliances, such as regularly flushing your water heater, and taking swift action to correct any plumbing issues as soon as they occur. To further minimize the costs associated with the repair and replacement of your home's plumbing equipment, consider purchasing an American Home Shield® Plumbing Home Warranty. Our flexible plans can help you protect your home, as well as your household budget.