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Thread: Does a water softer shorten the life of your water heater?

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    DIY Junior Member 13jerry's Avatar
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    Default Does a water softer shorten the life of your water heater?

    does a water softer shorten the life of your water heater

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    Forum Admin, Expert Plumber Terry's Avatar
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    It is a prime example why you need
    a water softener in the mid west .....

    the fellow did not have a water softener , this heater was 10 years old
    and they had 7 people living in the home when it finally started leaking in the garage........

    usually you use about 300 per year to heat your water,
    my guess is he probably used 3 times that much to keep this pig heating water...

    he was still not interested in doing anything about it...
    the water softener would literally pay for itself in gas savings pretty quickly
    Master Plumber Mark






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    DIY Junior Member ferd's Avatar
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    Cool

    Have had a softner and the same water heater for the last 35 years. If anything, I would think that a softner would help a water heater.

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    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    A water softener converts the "nonsoluble" calcium ions into sodium ions which are soluble so they do not build up in the water heater. This implies that a heater with soft water will outlast on without a softener.

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    IBEW Electrician big2bird's Avatar
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    I am considering a water softener because the water here is hard as concrete. What are the drawbacks? I have heard it can cause copper plumbing corrosion. ARE there any drawbacks?

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    Water systems designer, R&D ditttohead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by big2bird View Post
    I am considering a water softener because the water here is hard as concrete. What are the drawbacks? I have heard it can cause copper plumbing corrosion. ARE there any drawbacks?
    The pluses and minuses would take volumes to go over, but in general, the positives greatly outwiegh the negatives. Here is a quick read on the positives of softened water (true, not "anti-sclae, magic electronic wires, or magnets). http://wqa.org/pdf/pressreleases/battelleresults.pdf

    As to the hot water heater issue, as a licenesed boiler technician, we recommend turning off (bupassing) the softener for most water heaters, boiler, steam boilers (not counting steam boilers in excess of 400 PSI, superheated steam etc) for a few days once a year. This simply puts a mm thick layer of protective scale over the surfaces of the system including the sacrificial anode without affecting energy efficiency etc. Again, this is a long a tedious discussion, but in general... soft water good, hard water bad, and running hard water on a very rare occassion for short amounts of time will have little negative affect...

    I am not going to argue this point, just adding my 2 cents that for most systems, softening is beneficial so long as they are operated at high efficiency.

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    Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek Mikey's Avatar
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    Google "water heater anode smell soft water" for another possible side-effect of softening some water -- the hot water will smell like rotten eggs. I found this out after installing a conventional (chlorination-carbon-softener) system, a neighbor after installing a Kinetico. I solved my problem by changing the anode rod from the aluminum rod supplied by the manufacturer to an aluminum/zinc rod offered by an on-line vendor. My neighbor is still stubbornly trying to get Kinetico to fix it in their system, and has so far failed, although he's spent a lot more than the $40 I spent on the anode rod. The Al/Zn rod is doing the trick for me, but I 'm a techy geek, so will probably install a powered anode rod when this one wears out.

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    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    Soft or hard water doesn't matter.

    You can remove the rod or replace it with another type rod but if some of the old rod is scraped off into the tank as you remove it, or you choose the wrong type of rod, in most cases you will still have the odor.

    You can turn up the temp on the heater to 140f for a couple hours and the odor goes away. The reason is because that pasteurizes the water killing all bacteria in it. The odor will return after sufficient time for the bacteria to colonize the heater again; turn up the temp again and the odor goes away and returns after a period of days to weeks.

    And that proves the odor is not caused by softened water or the anode rod. The odor is caused by SRB ([harmless] sulfate reducing bacteria) and some sulfates in the water for the bacteria to survive and the type of anode rod that allows the bacteria to use a hydrogen ion from it to produce H2S gas and its resulting odor.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

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    Water systems designer, R&D ditttohead's Avatar
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    The aluminum /zinc rods are an excellent fix for supplies that have the sulfur odor when it is not caused by SRB but by other problems. Gary is correct in that a quick heating of the water above 140 is a good test and many countries require that tanked heaters be maintained at 140, Not only for SRB, but it is also beneficial for controlling much more dangerous pathogens including legionellas etc.

    FYI, the problem is much more common in electric water heaters than gas, and almost non existent in tankless designs. It is simple physics, the electric heating rods locations allow for the water in the bottom of the water heater tanks to stay cooler (below 140) and the accumulation of sediment and other "stuff" help to grow the bacteria. The Gas fired heaters heat the bottom up and "cook" the pathogesns. Terrys picture shows it very well, the "insulation" can become quite excessive and the amount of energy required to heat the water is considerable.

    Thanks Terry for that picture. It is better than the one I have. Can I add it to my training seminar? I will credit you for it of course.

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    Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek Mikey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Slusser View Post
    And that proves the odor is not caused by softened water or the anode rod. The odor is caused by SRB ([harmless] sulfate reducing bacteria) and some sulfates in the water for the bacteria to survive and the type of anode rod that allows the bacteria to use a hydrogen ion from it to produce H2S gas and its resulting odor.
    My experience is a little different. First, this WH is primarily storage for a solar water heating system. It's a lot more effective than I thought it would be, mostly, I believe, due to a very efficient solar-powered pump. The hot water out of the faucets is typically 160F during sunny weather, and we get a lot of it, even in the dead of winter. Second, the Hach SRB tests have shown no H2S or sulfate reducing bacteria in the well water for years, although my nose doesn't trust them (H2S can be detected by smell at a concentration of 0.5ppm). Third, I didn't have the odor before softening the water. Finally, by changing only the anode rod I got rid of the odor. Much as I believe in theory and science, I'm very pragmatic.
    Last edited by Mikey; 10-01-2012 at 03:32 AM.

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    That's all folks! Gary Slusser's Avatar
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    There are three things needed, sulfates in the water, bacteria capable of using the right type of anode rod to be able to produce a hydrogen ion. Remove any one of the three and no odor formation.
    Gary Slusser Retired (= out of business)
    Click Here to learn how to correctly size or program a water softener.
    CAUTION, as of Nov 12 2013 all YouTube videos showing how to rebuild a Clack valve have an error in them that can cause damage.

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