A lot of the water we use comes into contact with underground limestone, which is rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium. When the water contains 10 or more grains of these minerals, it’s considered “hard” — and when there are fewer than 3 grains, it’s considered “soft water.”

There are several ways to test the water’s hardness in your area. Some laboratories use the parts-per-million method, while others use the grain-per-gallon method, which dates back to ancient Egypt and is the equivalent of one dry grain of wheat. There’s an easy way to correlate this data. If the water has been tested at parts-permillion (or milligrams-per-liter), just divide by 17 to get the hardness in grains-per-gallon. For example, water that has scale at 200 parts per million has approximately 11.7 grains of hard minerals.

Hard water can be damaging to a home’s pipes and appliances, as we’ll discuss in detail below. And here’s the bad news: Roughly 85% of the U.S. has hard water, according to Homewater101. If you don’t live in New England, the Pacific Northwest or sections of the Southeast, chances are high that your water is hard.

The upper Midwest has America’s hardest water, but there are many other locations where it’s a problem, including San Antonio, Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas. By some estimates, however, only about 30% of homes with hard water currently use any water softening products.


How does limescale form?

Limescale is created when hard water gets heated. The calcium and magnesium separate from the water and take solid form. Much like the plaque that forms in our arteries, too much scale build up can do real damage to the water “circulatory system” as it flows through pipes, shower heads and home appliances. This limescale can accumulate inside your pipes, water heater, washing machine and dishwasher, which can lead to other issues and even failure of certain appliances.

Scale buildup can reduce the efficiency — and even shorten the lifespan — of many items in a home. Tankless water heaters are particularly sensitive to hard water, but so are dishwashers, ice-makers and washing machines. Even when attempts are made to de-scale these appliances, they sometimes never return to peak efficiency.

Heat exchangers in tankless water heaters are extremely vulnerable to even the smallest amount of limescale buildup. Over time, the exchanger must work harder to transfer heat, dramatically reducing its overall efficiency and even cause it to overheat. Hard water can also cost a household in other ways. When hard water levels are high, it usually takes more laundry detergent to wash clothes and more soap and shampoo to adequately lather. It also takes longer and more elbow grease to clean.


Innovations that prevent scale buildup

Water softening and conditioning products have been around for decades, but in recent years, the innovations have accelerated. One example is specifically designed filters, which significantly reduce scale accumulation in heat exchangers. The product protects tankless water heaters without chemicals or requiring electricity and works better and longer than de-scaling. As water flows through the filter, hard-water minerals form inactive scale crystals that travel through the tankless unit without sticking to the heat exchanger. This technology eliminates the need to use isolation valves to flush the tankless unit with a de-scaling solution. All the service technician needs to do is replace a cartridge in the filter every two years.


Advantages for plumbing contractors

Today’s water treatment products like the one mentioned above are easier to use and more effective than the old “flush the system” process. Plumbing contractors can also benefit from these breakthroughs.

Space-saving, slim-profile water softening units now include self-cleaning sediment filters, power-loss protection and touchscreen controllers.These are typically available in 35,000 to 50,000 grain capacities. The 35,000-grain product is ideal for a two to four person household, while larger families would probably need the 50,000- grain unit. In addition to reducing scale buildup, these units help prevent water stains and spots — and can improve skin and hair softness. Another great selling point: These units never require a filter change.

Water conditioning products are now designed for use in either city or well-water connections. In addition to dramatically reducing scale buildup, these products can also remove more than 97% of chlorine from the water for up to six years or 600,000 gallons.

Acid neutralizers for tankless water heaters help neutralize acidic condensation and prevent premature deterioration of pipes and other materials.

There are many new options in under-counter water filters, including products for both existing and dedicated faucets. Reverseosmosis products can reduce up to 99% of 90 contaminants, including lead, fluoride, asbestos, viruses, bacteria and more.

If we all showered with rain water — which contains almost no limestone content — there would be no need for water softening and conditioning products. Obviously, that’s not a feasible option. About half the homes in America that really need water treatment products aren’t using them, so offering them to your customers can help boost your bottom line.