Hard water is a big problem in some parts of the United States. The Southwest generally has the hardest water in the country, but many places in Idaho also encounter this issue. Hard water can create serious problems for your appliances and your plumbing system, which is why we recommend that everyone in Boise and the surrounding areas have a water softener. To understand why, let’s look at how hard the water is in Idaho and the benefits you can enjoy by installing a water softener in your home.

Understanding Water Hardness in Idaho

Water hardness is a measure of the concentration of dissolved calcium and magnesium particles in the water. The U.S. Geological Survey has established guidelines for measuring water hardness. This system is based on how many parts-per-million (PPM) of calcium and magnesium particles are in the water. Scientists measure how many milligrams of calcium carbonate are in one liter of water (mg/L).

Between 0 and 60 mg/L is considered soft water, and between 61 and 120 mg/L is classified as moderately hard. Between 121 and 180 mg/L is considered hard, and anything above 180 mg/L is very hard.

Most of Idaho falls under either the moderately hard or hard categories as the average across the entire state is approximately 128 mg/L. The hardest water in the state is in Pocatello, which has approximately 350 mg/L. The Boise area is slightly below the average for the rest of the state at 108 mg/L, which is still considered moderately hard. If you live around Lewiston, you are in luck as this area has the softest water in the state at only around 17 mg/L.

What Causes Hard Water?

The reason that Idaho and other areas have issues with hard water is that they get most of their water from underground aquifers. Despite the huge abundance of lakes and rivers in the state, approximately 95% of all municipal water in Idaho still comes from groundwater sources.

Groundwater is less susceptible to contamination, which makes it easier to treat. While this is great for reducing the cost of water treatment, groundwater typically has a much higher concentration of calcium and magnesium. As water travels underground, it passes through soil and rock. Along the way, it dissolves many of the minerals out of the surrounding rocks.

Water is especially good at dissolving magnesium and calcium. This means that if the area where the groundwater is drawn from has a high concentration of these minerals in the rocks and soil, the groundwater will as well.

How Hard Water Affects Your Home

If your home has hard water, many of the dissolved minerals will separate and be left behind. This can cause limescale to build up inside your pipes. Over time, the scale will continue to accumulate inside the pipes and start to restrict the flow of water.

The scale also collects inside your dishwasher, washing machine, coffee maker, ice maker and water heater. All of these appliances typically have a far shorter life span when hard water is present inside the home. This is because the scale can damage components. The scale also clogs water lines and makes appliances more prone to leaking.

Hard water is especially bad for water heaters. When water is heated, it allows far more of the dissolved minerals to separate. These minerals will then collect and harden to form a thick sediment on the bottom of the water heater tank.

Sediment is the main reason that traditional water heaters fail. The problem occurs even with soft water, but it is far more pronounced with hard water. The sediment usually creates hot spots in the bottom of the tank, which can damage the tank and cause it to start to corrode. In electric water heaters, the sediment can also damage the lower heating element and cause it to burn out.

Sediment buildup is also the reason that older water heaters often start making loud knocking noises. These noises are caused by the sediment hitting the sides of the tank, which occurs when air bubbles rise through the sediment and disturb it.

The higher concentration of minerals in hard water also interferes with the ability of soap to lather properly. If you have ever washed your clothes in hard water, you probably noticed that they came out looking dingy and feeling overly stiff. This is due to the soap scum that occurs when soap or laundry detergent combines with the minerals in the water. In most cases, you will need to use far more laundry detergent to overcome the effects of hard water.

After showering with hard water, your skin will also usually feel itchier and drier than normal. This is due to the minerals in the hard water getting left behind on your skin. This is similar to why your dishes come out of the dishwasher with mineral spots when you wash them in hard water.

How Water Softeners Work

Water softeners remove most of the dissolved minerals in hard water using a process known as ion exchange. Positively and negatively charged particles attract each other, and water softeners use this effect to trap the mineral particles. Calcium and magnesium ions both have a strong positive charge, which means they will stick to any negatively charged ions.

Inside the water softener’s mineral tank are tiny beads made of polystyrene. Known as ion exchange resin beads, these carry a negative charge. As water flows into the mineral tank, it passes through these beads. This causes the positively charged mineral ions to cling to the negatively charged beads. As a result, the minerals are left behind in the tank.

This process can only continue to work if there are enough free beads to attract additional mineral ions. The ion exchange process is one-to-one, which means that every negative ion can only grab onto one positive ion. To ensure the system continues to work, the tank routinely flushes itself out using a salt brine.

At the bottom of the brine tank, salt pellets mix with water to form a brine. This brine is then pumped into the mineral tank whenever it needs to be flushed. The salt ions in the brine are positively charged just like the mineral ions.

While positive and negative ions attract each other, two positive ions repel one another. When the brine flushes through the resin beads, the positive salt ions repel the positive mineral ions. This causes the mineral ions to release from the resin beads and sink to the bottom of the tank. Finally, the tank is flushed with fresh water, which removes all of the mineral ions and salt from the tank.

Boise’s Most Trusted Plumbing Company

Founded in 2006, Express Plumbing Heating & Air is the number one rated plumbing service in Boise. We specialize in installing water softeners, and our licensed plumbers also repair and maintain all makes and models of water softeners. We also service, install, and repair water heaters, garbage disposals, and all types of bathroom and kitchen plumbing fixtures. If you need drain cleaning, sewage repair, repiping, leak detection, or any other plumbing service, you can count on us for that as well. For more information on water softeners or to schedule any plumbing service, give us a call today.

Brad Jordan

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