Water Softener Service Life

The are many factors that determine the service life of a water
softener. Some water softeners need to have their resin replaced in as
few as two to three years, and other units can last as much as 25
years or more. It is typical to expect a useable service life of 10 to 15
years from a water softener, but this depends on many variables as
discussed below:

Control Valve: The softener’s control valve and associated mechanical
components should be of good quality. Most better quality water
softener controls (made by companies like Fleck, Autotrol, Clack,
Culligan, Kinetico, etc.) have at least a 5-year warranty. Lower quality
“entry level” softeners found at many of the big box stores can last
only a few years (sometimes you can identify these by their shortened
1 to 2 year warranty). It’s always important to select a good quality
softener control valve when choosing a softener.

Brine tank and components: The brine tank and brine tank internal
components should also be of good quality. Typically a brine tank
should be round rather then rectangular, and should include a salt
platform (grid). The round tank and grid help to prevent “salt
bridging”. Salt Bridging is when salt pellets solidify together after
repeated regenerations, and create a “bridge” over the volume of
water that is placed back into the tank by the valve/control. This can
lead to insufficient brining. If a rectangular brine tank must be used
(for instance in the case of a cabinet style softener or due to floor
space limitations), then always be sure that it contains a brine tank

Be sure that the brine tank also contains a good quality safety float
check. If the valve that controls the brine tank refill were to fail, it’s
important that the system contains a secondary (back-up) float check
valve that will prevent water from overflowing out of the brine tank.
Most better quality softeners also have a tertiary gravity overflow
fitting, so that in the event that both primary and secondary valves
fail, water can be directed through this fitting to a sump pump or drain
location if available.

Resin Tank: Be sure that the system you purchase has a commercial
quality resin tank. These tanks are available from a number of
manufacturers (Structural/Park, GE, and others), and can typically
carry a 10 year residential warranty.
Water quality:

a) Chlorine concentration – Although most high quality cation
exchange resins used in water softeners are resistant to chlorine or
chloramine attack, they are not impervious. If your water softener is
exposed to higher levels of chlorine or chloramines, then it is possible
to see a shortened water softener resin bed life. This can sometimes
be a factor when you are connected to municipal water supplies.
Normal chlorine/chloramine concentration found in city water does not
effect water softener resin significantly. However, during times when
there is a disruption to the normal water distribution system
(hurricane, flood, pipeline break, etc.), the level of chlorine may need
to be increased to assure proper disinfection. Also, some
municipalities need to inject elevated levels of chlorine because the
water source contains a higher amount of bacteria, or the integrity of
the distribution system is in question. Higher levels of chlorine can
cause premature resin bed failure, and it may be necessary to replace
the water softener bed with new resin periodically. This said, water
softener resin will normally last throughout the life of the softener, and
is not normally replaced.

b) Iron and manganese concentration – Municipal water supplies
typically have very low levels of iron and/or manganese present.
However, on-site wells can contain these materials. When present as
particulate ferric (also called “red water” iron), it can accumulate in a
water softener’s resin bed. If these contaminants remain within the
bed, and build up over time, then resin bed failure can occur, and it is
important to set a frequent regeneration & backwashing to wash this
particulate to drain. The frequency of regeneration required varies
depending on iron & manganese concentration, but can be as much as
every day to 7 days in frequency.

It is also typical to have 5 to 10 micron pre-filtration, to remove any
particulate iron and manganese from your water before it can reach
the water softener. You can also consider using a commercially
available blend of phosphoric acid (available under the brand names of
Res-Up and Pro-Res) that is automatically added via. a drip feeder
installed on the inside of your brine tank. Phosphoric acid aids in
cleaning the bed of accumulated iron and manganese during the
automatic regeneration process. This material is only used during the
regeneration process, and does not enter your household water
c) Dirt and sand – Like the iron and manganese particulate discussed
above, organic sediment (dirt) and sand can be contained in your
water, and a pre-filter is normally used upstream of the softener to
protect the bed. Larger sand can be removed using a sand specific
filter (like a Spin-Down or SandMaster centrifugal filter), and smaller
sediment is removed using an automatic backwashing filter system or
inline cartridge filter.

d) Iron & sulfur bacteria – Iron and sulfur bacteria live on the outside
of an iron or sulfur particle, and are “slimy”. This material can stick to
water softener resin and ultimately lead to fouling of the bed. While
this bacteria is not a health hazard, if present you need to first remove
it from your water if planning to install any backwashing water
treatment equipment (like a filter or water softener). Chlorine
injection is the preferred method to resolve this problem, but be sure
to install a carbon filter to remove any injected chlorine, protecting a
water softener installed downstream.

There are many other factors that can determine water softener
performance and service life, but the ones discussed here are the
common ones that need to be considered when purchasing a softener.

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