A Few Things To Consider . . .
Choosing the best water softener for your needs, can be confusing and challenging. How do you determine the appropriate product for your budget and expectations when everyone claims they offer the best system? The simple truth is that the technologies involved to produce quality water for your home are not some closely held secret or NASA inspired! Most of the systems on the market today use digital controlled on-demand regeneration to track water usage, and improve efficiency. The main difference in many water softening systems is the quality of components being used within the product. A softener consists of seven components. Valve control, resin, quartz or gravel bedding, resin tank, distributor, brine tank, and float. The most important of these are the valve control and resin quality, as they consist of the highest cost parts, and the most common for maintenance, especially in lower quality products. We will review the components separately and describe their use, and function.
Control Valve: We use Clack control valves, due to their reputation for quality, reliability, overall efficiency and performance. The valve is an important part of the system because it controls and evaluates water usage, flow, and sets the reserve capacity requirement for each individual household. The valve will determine when the system will recharge, how much salt, and water to use to accomplish a full regeneration cycle. A flow meter will turn like a turbine when water is flowing through the outlet or soft water side of the valve. The meter cable sends a signal to the circuit board to indicate the amount of water usage. The circuit board will keep a history within the database of usage, flow rates, days in service, and other valuable information. The circuit board interface on higher quality and more efficient systems is fully programmable for optimum efficiency on salt and water. Ideally the water softener system will regenerate close to maximum capacity for optimum performance. The best water softener control valves use a single piston design to open and close individual ports within the valve body. This type of valve promotes reliability and simplicity. The valve piston will engage only when the system needs to regenerate. Most valves have 5 or 6 cycles to complete all the necessary steps in the regeneration process. The service cycle is when the system is providing soft water which is most of the time. Other cycles include, backwash, brine rinse, slow rinse, brine refill. Superior valves like our Clack valves have an extra backwash cycle after the brine draw cycle. The 2nd backwash option provides a better stratified and evenly distributed resin bed for more effective contact time with the water flowing over it.
Resin: Resin quality is very important to use in water treatment systems in and around the Phoenix area. The resin attracts the minerals to it, through an ion exchange process. Each resin bead is negatively charged, but needs a positive sodium or potassium chloride ion attached to the bead to be fully charged. After a regeneration cycle the resin bead has been fully charged with positive chloride ions. When water is used in the home, the hard water minerals (calcium and magnesium), which are also positively charged, get exchanged for the chloride ions. The calcium and magnesium have a stronger charge or bond, and easily replace or knock off the chloride ions. Eventually, after several gallons of water used, every bead will have a hardness ion attached to it and will no longer provide soft water. The system will need to regenerate or recharge the resin beads to allow for water to be softened again. During the brine cycle in the regeneration process, the resin is slowly brined, allowing for the chloride to overtake the minerals grip on the beads. Look at it like a sizeable army of weaker ions (chloride), overpowering a smaller but stronger army (hardness minerals). This back and forth process of ion exchange goes on throughout the life of the system. In the Phoenix area it is important to use a high quality high cross-linked resin bead. When examining resin closer, you find it looks like it is cracked on the surface. This cracked appearance is the cross-link structure of the bead. The more of these cross linking lines or cracks on the bead, the better quality it is. High cross-linked resin will have greater resistance to chlorine oxidation, and have longer life in this environment. Typical resin comes in 8% standard, to 16% premium, cross link profiles. A good quality resin will last approximately 10-15 years without needing to be changed or serviced.
Depending on which brand or dealer you are working with , prices can range from $1500 – $6000 installed. In general, prices being offered from franchise supported water dealers tend to be much higher than independent water treatment dealers. We feel strongly that many water treatment systems on the market today, are just simply overpriced, and overhyped. These include but are not limited to national chain establishments with proprietary equipment. There are several reasons for this pricing gap. High commissions, overhead, franchising costs, price structuring, the list goes on and on. The national marketing campaigns and branding help these dealers to better establish themselves as “authorities”, especially in large markets. Independent water treatment companies will likely have much more affordable pricing options, and similar, if not superior technology due to their flexibility in equipment offerings, and custom designed options for individual needs, and applications for the area they live in. The mantra, you get what you pay for, does not necessarily hold true in the industry. Many times, consumers simply over pay for the same features, benefits, and quality. By carefully considering what your actually getting, and wading through fancy sales talk, and presentations, you can make an informed decision.
Quality of Components and Materials
Generally, the quality from independent water treatment dealers is on par with the large franchise companies combined with significantly lower cost to the consumer. Both can offer the most recent technology and features available. Most reputable water treatment dealers use industry certified components. Modern water softeners now have advanced features and benefits that conserve both water and salt. Most on-demand electronic control valves are equipped with a non-volatile memory with battery back-up. This type of water softener only cleans when necessary based on water usage, hardness, and softener capacity. The result is about 50% less water and salt usage, as well as lower maintenance costs.
The most important component of any water softening system is the control valve. The valve and controller work together to optimize efficiency, clean and regenerate the water softener, and keep track of vital data.
Here are some key points to keep in mind about control valves when researching your water softening equipment:
- The most reliable valves have fewer moving parts, and some have as little as three total moving parts.
- Water softeners that utilize valves with a single piston design have excellent reliability and maintenance reputations.
- Most residential valves today are made of Noryl. This is a glass reinforced composite material that has exceptional durability and strength.
- Several water softening systems that are manufactured overseas do not incorporate Noryl and are structurally inferior. In warmer climates, these valves can become brittle, and are prone to cracking.
Most of the water treatment systems offered by water treatment dealers and specialists today are generally of good quality. Typically, most have components that have been certified by the Water Quality Association, and/or NSF International. These independent resources are trusted by manufacturers, consumers, and regulatory organizations worldwide to facilitate safe standards for water quality systems, and components. In our experience, we have found that products and manufacturers that have been in the industry for long periods of time have the best track record for reliability, function, and performance. Over the years resin quality, valve controls, circuit boards, and other components have become more reliable due to technology improvement, and better engineering and design characteristics. Most products that can be purchased on-line and through many box stores, and home improvement outlets use inferior materials, and components. Composite materials used in these systems are typically manufactured oversees with less stringent protocols and standards, that ultimately effect product quality. When choosing a water softener check reputable review sites, BBB, Arizona registrar of contractors, and other state and local services to ensure the company you are considering is experienced and has a good reputation. In Arizona the company must be licensed to install water softening systems, whole home filtration systems, and other water treatment products.