A look inside a salt-free water softening system
What’s the water like?
Hard water isn’t just another name for ice — it’s something that can be detrimental to a home’s plumbing system.
When water is referred to as “hard,” it means it contains more minerals than ordinary water. Although generally not harmful to one’s health, the high presence of calcium and magnesium ions in water can cause a variety of problems for your home, including shortening the lifespan of appliances.
“These ions can lead to buildup of lime scale,” says Scott Wilson, president of NuvoH2O, a manufacturer of salt-free water softeners. “This can slow plumbing, promote corrosion and shorten the longevity of high-cost home appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters. Scale buildup is more than just unsightly on your fixtures. In your water heater, scale buildup acts as an insulator so it may cost 25% more to heat your water.”
Water-softening systems treat the calcium, magnesium and other minerals in hard water. The resulting water, now called soft water, is more compatible with soap and extends the lifetime of plumbing and appliances. Soft water can be achieved through water softening or water conditioning.
Water softening can be achieved using ion exchange. Ion exchange devices reduce the hardness of water by replacing magnesium and calcium with sodium or potassium ions. This is done with the use of water-softening salt. With water conditioning, the minerals are converted so they can’t bind to surfaces.
Although there are many benefits to saltwater softening systems, the greener solution is salt-free. “Unlike salt systems, salt-free systems have no need to purge any minerals, eliminating water waste,” Wilson says. “In addition, because it maintains the healthy essential minerals found in water, it is a healthier alternative to traditional salt softeners.”
Paul Peterson, owner of Salt Lake City-based contracting company Professional Plumbing Services, agrees salt-free is the greener option. “A traditional salt system uses electricity and lots of water to regenerate and clean out the system,” he says. “Also, if you leave you have to shut your water off, so now you have to reset everything with the system. With salt-free systems, there is no adjustment needed, it just works on the flow — it is on when the water is turned on and off when the water is turned off.”
Inside the system
To consumers looking for a soft-water system that doesn’t leave the slick feeling of salt water on the skin, doesn’t have the room or doesn’t think that it can be installed in their house, Peterson, who has the system installed in his house, suggests they inquire about a salt-free system.
NuvoH2O’s website explains how their salt-free water softeners work: “First, instead of removing calcium like traditional salt softeners, our system chelates (binds) and sequesters (isolates) the calcium ions, preventing them from precipitating out and forming scale. Once bound to CitraCharge, the chelant, the mineral cannot form scale. Second, it lowers the measured pH of the water to reduce or eliminate scale formation.”
A primary ingredient in CitraCharge is an FDA-approved citric acid. The CitraCharge formula keeps the hard-water-causing mineral ions apart by creating a ring structure to bind the ions to the CitraCharge instead of to other ions. Now, the water passes right through instead of attaching to the metal in the pipes. Because they’re bound, those minerals also freely wash away from surfaces, such as the body, dishes, fixtures and appliances.
The water produced by the system is safe to drink, so no additional plumbing or major remodeling is required for a soft-water loop. It doesn’t require a separate drain, electricity, soft-water loop, brine tank or calibration.
“Because of the size, you can install it where you normally can’t fit a salt-water system,” Peterson says. “There are some challenges to getting it on the whole house; sometimes things are sheet-rocked or the rooms are finished. But I have never had to turn away and say I can’t do it.”
Another feature the company highlights is its easy-to-replace cartridges. With a built-in bypass, no additional shutoff valves are required to change the cartridge. “There are companies that will come out and install your salt for you, but with NuvoH2O all homeowners have to do is change the cartridge once every six months,” Peterson says. “We can come out and replace it for the owners or they can do it themselves. I show them how and tell them when the time comes they can call me and I’ll talk them through it.”
Inside the home
Homeowners choose salt-free over salt for a variety of reasons. “We wanted it first and foremost for ourselves,” says Nicole Torrijos, a civilian for the U.S. Air Force, who had the system installed in her house in April. “The water in Utah is very hard. Being from Hawaii where we don’t have hard water, it was really tough to get used to not only the hard water but the dry climate on top of that.
“My son has eczema and when we were back in Hawaii his eczema was almost completely gone. So we figured if we didn’t have hard water at home maybe that would help take it away.”
For many, the easy maintenance is a huge deciding factor. “I like the fact that it doesn’t involve salt,” Torrijos says. “I don’t have to go and buy bags of it and drag it up and down the stairs — our system is in the basement.
“I also like the fact that even our hoses are attached to it,” she continues. “If we wanted to wash our cars, we wouldn’t have the white, hard water spots covering them or have to rush to dry off the car before the water dried.”
Torrijos’ whole-house system was installed by Peterson. “Nicole’s was a basic installation,” he comments. “It was very straightforward. Sometimes what we find is where people want the system, they have the whole room filled with things, so we have to spend time moving things out. That was not the case with this. They were ready for us — it worked out really well.”
Torrijos adds: “I haven’t had it a very long time, but I have seen a huge difference so far. The fact that it helps my son with his skin is a huge plus. It eliminated us having to put steroid creme on his skin, which I really didn’t want to do. It has been a huge benefit to our family all the way around. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking to put in a water softener.”