A City Girl in the Country: Water Softeners

In my last post, I talked about how we went about getting water into our house after our move to outside the city limits.  Today, I will discuss the process of preparing that water for consumption.

The property we purchased was a foreclosure.  During the inspection process, we found several problems resulting from the previous owner not keeping up with regular maintenance before the bank re-possessed the property.  The water test during the inspection process showed that our well water was safe to use and drink (this is what “potable” means in the sales contract). Let me assure you: potable does not necessarily mean palatable. The water coming out of the taps had a muddy appearance, contained visible black and grey flecks, and had a strong odor of rusty nails. Much of this was caused by sediment that had collected in the pipes from the house sitting vacant for several months before the bank put it on the market.

OMNIFilter Heavy-Duty Whole House Filter SystemWe found a sediment filter attached to the water pipe just past where the water came into the house.  A quick trip to the hardware store to to buy a replacement sediment filter and a wrench that would help us open the filter housing took care of the muddy appearance and occasional black fleck. Replacing the filter was a five-minute job when we got home.OMNIFilter Heavy-Duty replacement cartridgeOMNIFilter Whole House Filter Housing Wrench

Now the water came out of the tap clear! Now, some people stop there and enjoy the taste of their well water, saying the extra minerals give it taste.  My husband and I did not like the taste or the smell and noticed several symptoms of the minerals in our well water.

We could see crusty white build-up of the calcium and magnesium on all the plumbing fixtures and inside the dishwasher. We also saw the presence of iron as rusty stains in the dishwasher, sinks and showers. Also, a bucket of water would start out clear but that after a few minutes, the oxygen in the air would literally rust the iron and the water would turn a brownish color. Strangest of all was a bubbly, red-colored slime in our toilet tanks. We found out later this was from a rust-loving bacteria that flourished in stagnant, iron-rich water. The iron was so high in our water that it smelled like rusty nails.

We needed to treat, or “soften”, the water to remove the minerals that were causing these problems. There are many options for softening water. When shopping around, I found it important to weed out softeners designed to remove smells and hardness present in municipal water.  We had more minerals, specifically iron, than these “water refiners” or “scale-reducing” systems can handle.

I called both water softener companies in town, EcoWater and Culligan, and arranged to have them come out to evaluate the water and recommend a system. Both companies did a chemical analysis to see how much of which minerals were in our water after passing through the sediment filter. Both companies recommended a two-tank salt system that could handle our iron-rich hard water and provide the daily water capacity we needed.  The units ranged in price from $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the capacity of water they could provide. The smallest and least expensive units might suffice for a family of two that did not take long showers, but simply would not be a suitable option for a family of four.

Overall, Culligan’s units were the most expensive. They also offered a monthly service, I think it was $20-30, which included a technician coming by to check the machine and top off the salt reservoir when needed, plus free service calls if problems arose. The additional cost for each bag of salt they brought was a dollar or two more than purchasing the salt in a big-box store. The thought of having someone else carry the 20 lb. bags of salt down to the basement and lift/pour the pellets into the machine was very appealing to me. Overall, I felt they offered Cadillac-type products and service at Cadillac-type pricing.

I found the owner that visited me from EcoWater Systems of Urbana more down-to-earth. Like Culligan, the softening systems used the latest technology. Instead of a monthly service, EcoWater’s units included a remote sensor that could be placed anywhere in the home that would indicate when the unit needed more salt or was not working properly. Most importantly for us, they had a rent-to-own program.  Fifty percent of our monthly rental fee could be applied towards purchase of the unit at a future date.  Another benefit of renting instead of buying was that if there was a problem with the unit they would come out and service the unit, free of charge.  If we purchased the unit, there would be a service fee.  I believe that you have 24 months to elect the purchase option.

The least expensive option was to purchase a two-stage water softener at Blain’s Farm & Fleet and hire a licensed plumber to install the system. If you are comfortable cutting and soldering copper water supply lines, you could do the work yourself.

Benefits from using the softened water:

  • Elimination of spotting on glassware, dishes and flatware.
  • Whiter and brighter laundry, while using up to 50% less detergent. I have noticed that we don’t buy soap or shampoo as frequently as we used to.
  • Elimination of hard water residue in fabrics, which can help clothing last longer.
  • Reduced scale build-up in pipes, and up to 29% lowered energy consumption of your water heater due to reduced scale build-up.
  • Reduced build-up of film on tubs, sinks, faucets and wall tiles. I use a squeegee or damp cloth to clean up splash marks on my glass shower door and stainless steel fixtures, instead of chemical cleaners.

Some people enjoy the taste of softened water. We did not, so we also had EcoWater install a reverse osmosis, or “RO” system under the kitchen sink.  We have had both the EcoWater softener and RO systems in place for two years and have had no problems.

LittleWell WQA Gold Seal 5-Stage 75-GPD Reverse Osmosis Water Filter with Brushed Nickel Faucet and See-Through HousingReverse osmosis systems, sometimes called “drinking water” systems are available a most larger hardware stores and can usually can be installed without a licensed plumber with the use of pressure fittings. The cost depends the level of filtration and the daily capacity. The multi-filter system supplies water to a small tap, usually installed at the kitchen sink. The replacement filters cost $25-40 each, depending on the system and how small a particle they filter.

Replacement Filtration Faucet in Chrome

Many city-folk use reverse osmosis systems to remove any smell or taste (like from chlorine) found in municipal water. We use water from this tap for drinking, cooking, making coffee, tea, juice concentrates, etc. We have also noticed that  our ice cubes no longer have bubbles and do not affect the flavor of beverages.  If you are looking at homes and see an extra faucet on the kitchen sink, look in the cupboard underneath.  It could be an instant hot water tap or a reverse osmosis system.

If you are considering purchasing a home outside of the city limits, our team can certainly help you identify potential issues as best as we can.  We have certainly likely seen it in other homes, or, like in this case, may even have have personal experience.

Next time, I will talk about what happens to the water after it goes down the drain and introduce you to the septic system!

Admin Assistant for the AroundCU Team

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