Hard water is not considered harmful to your health, but it can cause ugly stains from scale build up in sinks, tubs, and elsewhere if left unchecked. People notice the stains, but they are generally unaware of the significant hidden costs of scale build up in pipes and fixtures until it is too late.
Scale is formed when minerals (usually calcium) precipitate out of water. The scaling process accelerates dramatically when the temperature of the water increases or when the pH of water increases significantly which is what happens in the water cells of alkaline water ionizers. In fact, scaling is primary cause of malfunction for water ionizers.
What is hard water and how is it measured?
Hard water is water with a high mineral content. The primary components of water hardness are the cations (Ca 2+) and Magnesium (Mg 2+), with calcium playing the major role. Calcium usually enters the water as either calcium carbonate (CaCO3,) in the form of limestone and chalk, or calcium sulfate (CaSO4). The predominant source of magnesium is dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2). Less significant contributors to water hardness are other dissolved compounds such as the anions of bicarbonates ( HCO3−) and sulfates (SO2−4).
Water hardness is measured in parts per million (ppm) or grains per gallon (gpg). In the USA, 1 gpg = 17.1 ppm. In Canada, 1 gpg = 14.2 pmp. I prefer parts per million as the measure is consistent in both countries. There is no absolute definition of levels of water hardness. The water softener companies define medium hard water a lot lower that I believe is realistic, but you have to remember that they are trying to sell you there products. I think a more realistic guideline for measuring the hardness (given that I’m not trying to sell you a water softener) of your source water would fall into the following catagories:
- Soft: Below 70 ppm
- Medium: 70 ppm to 140 ppm
- Hard: 140 ppm and up
Once the source water reaches 140 ppm of hardness, it probably makes sense to consider getting a water softener. Of course, the higher the number goes and the more water you use, the greater the need for a water softening solution.
The hidden costs of hard water scaling:
While hard water scale strains are annoying, the more significant problem is the cost associated with scale buildup. Hot water tanks create scale at a rapid rate as the heat facilitates the precipitation of calcium out of the water. The scale forms on the two heating elements in the tank. As the scale builds up, more and more energy is required to heat up the water in the tank. Nobody thinks about the additional cost of heating their hot water because it is out of sight and out of mind. However, the energy wasted can amount to several hundred dollars per year.
Additional costs from scaling show up in the form of shortened lifespans of heat producing appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, kettles, and water ionizers.
Additional costs show up in the form or replacing taps and sinks.
In older homes that have hard water but don’t use a water softener, sometimes pipes have to be replaced (see the picture above).
I’m a hydrogen water guy and as such understand the incredible importance of making sure that your body produces enough hydrogen gas (H2) on its own, or supplementing with H2. Therefore, I always find a way to sneak a H2 paragraph into almost any article. If you are not interested in making your drinking water as healthy as possible, you can skip the next paragraph.
For the past 15 years or so, health conscious people have been buying alkaline water ionizers. Scaling destroys the performance of the alkaline water ionizers unless you have the new technology found in the form of a Hydrogen Infusion Machine (HIM). Nobody should ever buy an alkaline water ionizer now that the HIM’s are available because all of the health benefits are derived from the hydrogen and none of the health benefits are attributable to the water being alkaline. You can learn more about H2 at the science based, non-profit educational website www.molecularhydrogeninstitute.com. If you end up deciding that you might want to investigate H2 products, you might want to start with Brilliantz. They sell good quality H2 products directly to the public at 50% the prices charged by their competitors. You can save an additional 5% if you use the link www.brilliantz.com/discount/waterfyi and type in “waterfyi” in the coupon code.
Water jugs contain water that is subjected to reverse osmosis which means the water is devoid of substances that create hardness, or they are from natural springs. Scaling is not an issues with either water. Water jugs are expensive and you really can do better.
Water bottles Ugh! Water bottles should only used in emergencies no matter what is in the bottle. If you need to take water with you for travel or work or to the gym, use a refillable container. Scaling is not an issue.
Reducing hard water for an entire house:
The traditional method of reducing water hardness was to use a salt based water softener. To keep the discussion really short and simple, the system captures calcium and magnesium with beads, and then washes out the beads with salt each day. The state of California has banned the sale of salt based water softeners. I expect that we will see the ban extended to other jurisdictions over time because of the high cost to the municipalities of removing the salt from the waste water. Another downside to salt based water softeners is the fact the salt in the water gets absorbed into your skin during showers or baths at levels that often exceed the recommendation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In recent years, we have witnessed growth in salt free water softeners, which are much healthier for your skin. I owned one of these systems in my previous home and found it to be effective and a lot easier to maintain than hauling bags of salt. I don’t have a specific product recommendation but you can Google: salt free water softeners. My only caution is that if you have really hard water (250 ppm or more of hardness) the salt free water softeners don’t work as well as they do when the source water is not so hard.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author based upon his research and experiences working with hard water conditions across the country.