Water Conditioners and Softeners Aren’t The Same

These units are what you have mostly seen and have been promoted within the plumbing industry over the years. The correct terminology is a water conditioner, but they are marketed using many different names. They are marketed sometimes as a whole house water filtration unit, a total home water conditioner, home water refiner, a no salt water softener and various other names that make a consumer or contractor feel confident that purchasing or installing one of these units will satisfy any number of water treatment issues.

Also marketing or promotional material uses phrases like “easy to install” “no maintenance” “no chemicals” and “no waste” along with the words “green” and “clean” making it sound like they will provide treated bottled quality water throughout the house. The promotional brochure also might say it will remove contaminants such as chlorine. All convincing enough to create sales, just enough information (and lack of information) to make a person believe they can solve their water treatment needs with this one unit.

So there you have it — an easy-to-install, no-maintenance, green water treatment unit that doesn’t waste water, needs basically no attention and spews out bottle quality clean water at every faucet. How great is that? Install it, collect your money and forget about it.

You can identify these units from a water softener because they will not have a salt tank included with the unit. The unit itself will most likely look very similar to a water softener’s main unit — control valve and media tank underneath it will sometimes look just like a water softener, but the absence of the salt tank and the fact that it doesn’t use salt in the process will identify it as a water conditioner.

Water conditioners are actually designed to reduce chlorine from the water entering the house, so yes, the water will taste better, but might be stretching it a bit to say it is bottled quality water. Water conditioners are not designed or configured to address hard water, so even though they will sometimes you might see wording or phrases to make the potential buyer feel like they are getting a unit that will address hard water that is asking more than the equipment can provide and is scientifically impossible.

These units do not produce soft water and should never be sold or installed for a solution to hard water issues around the home, but over the years they have been sold and installed for just those reasons. They will not protect tankless water heaters from hard water scaling or any other water using appliance or fixture in the home.

Water conditioners have over the years been installed as incorrectly as water softeners far too often which has resulted in contractors getting into trouble with customers and even causing enough trouble that some contractors have stopped installing water treatment altogether, thinking it’s the equipment not performing, not knowing that it was the wrong equipment for the application that got them into trouble.

Over the past few years here in Southern California we’ve seen water utilities transition from the chlorine-only treatment we have always had to using chloramine, which is a byproduct of adding ammonia to the chlorine and used as a disinfectant for the water as it is moved through the utilities’ distribution lines. Chloramine is much more difficult element to address with a water treatment system and very specific filtration media has to be utilized to be effective when dealing with chloramines.

The water conditioners installed here in the west have to incorporate this specific chloramine media or they will be ineffective on the water provided by the water utilities here in the Southern California area. The expectation is the use of chloramines will spread to other areas of the country over time, for now we get to deal with this new element on our own. Make sure when installing a water conditioner here in Southern California that chloramine-specific media is included with the unit. Online companies and out-of-the-area water treatment suppliers may not even know what chloramine is let alone how to treat it.

So why would anyone purchase a water conditioner? Well, a conditioner shouldn’t be purchased or installed as a hard water solution, but they can provide a very important role in home water treatment. By reducing the chlorine/chloramines they can satisfy the homeowner that has concerns about those elements in their water, it will give the water a better taste and can reduce the effects of dry skin, hair and other skin conditions from bathing or showering.

This month’s water treatment lesson is to be successful and do a good job at providing water treatment for your client is basically matching the correct water treatment process with the application.

A good water treatment supplier can provide this information for you along with sizing the equipment correctly and keeping you out of trouble with your customer. Like anything else after some time you will become experienced enough to recommend the correct water treatment process for a client’s specific application except when it might be an out of the ordinary situation. A wholesalers counter sales person is probably not your best option for water treatment guidance unless they refer you to a qualified supplier that can provide good quality equipment along with experience in providing solutions for water treatment applications.