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water softeners?

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Joined: Apr 19 2007

i'm investigating water softeners... our water here in concord. i think (based on the nasty water residue) that our water is hard.

preliminary research indicates that really only the salt based (or potassium based) systems work to help eliminate spotting (and wear on appliances), which is out goal. hard water and a black shower don't mix. we have a filter for drinking water in our fridge...

i'd love to know your thoughts. worth it? snake oil? any brands better than another? fortunately, our water inlet is pretty accessible, so a self-install is possible.

Joined: Dec 9 2005


We have a Sears - they came and installed it, piece of cake. I'll email you the model if you want, uses Potassium. We've been using it and enjoying soft water with few spots on cups, shower, etc, etc.


and this is a big however, we had to call the plumber for a problem with the dishwasher and plumbing to and from it - and he told us someone in his family had an Eichler, and had serious issues with salt from a softener corroding the pipes.

What pipes (i.e., copper, steel, iron), and what salt was used (Sodium, Potassium) he couldn't tell.

We naturally got concerned, and plan on learning more, and I advise you to do the same.

Any experience out there, fellow Eichler owners, or is this an urban legend?


Willow Glen

Joined: May 24 2004

Hi Hunter,

As part of our remodel, we've been investigating water treatment systems. There is certainly a lot of information/mis-information available in the market. And opinions are everywhere.

Interestingly, one of the groups that is most dedicated to eliminating problems caused by hard water (i.e., scaling) is car collectors. They are all looking for ways to keep their cars looking perfect after a wash. And washing cars in hard water leaves spots. They are a very serious group.

Our primary issue in the municipal water in Monte Sereno (Los Gatos) is that it is very hard (the water is from San Jose Water Company). Very hard. The calcium in the water creates scaling that looks horrible on stainless steel, creates ugly deposits on plumbing fixtures, and will, over the years, restrict the water flow in plumbing pipes. Prior to our remodel, the scaling caused problems with our dishwasher and coffee makers.

From our research, the only way to eliminate scaling is with water softeners. We thought that certain treatments could eliminate the scaling (e.g., LifeSource) but we learned otherwise. Given the need for a water softener, the choice is either (1) salt based or (2) potassium based. Salt costs ~$4/bag and potassium costs ~$20 bag. The negative with potassium is, obviously, the high operating cost.

Salt is corrosive and increases sodium intake. While you may not drink tap water, it still ends up in most food.

Some people prefer showering with hard water because it make then feel 'clean'. The criticism of showering with soft water is that it leaves a 'slippery' feeling as if one hasn't washed all the soap off. Some people prefer that feeling. Go figure.

Water softening systems require periodic backwashing. The water that is backwashed through a salt-based system cannot be used for irrigation. Potassium-based systems can be used for irrigation. You will have to plumb for the backwashing.

Recently, I went to a very high end home that used well water. The couple that owned the house invested in a state-of-the-art water treatment system. The person that designed the system took me to the house and showed me the system. It was very well done (and probably very expensive).

First, the system had an activated charcoal filter. The water was filtered for sediments and then went through the activated charcoal filter. After being filtered, the water was then softened with potassium. The output of this went to the entire house. Both the activated charcoal and water softening components must have periodic backwashing, which requires plumbing. If the backwashed water goes 'down the drain' then these systems increase your water consumption.

In addition, the drinking water went to another system. The drinking water was first treated with SteriLight, a UV system that uses ultraviolet light to treat water. Then, the water is filtered again for sediments and goes through reverse osmosis (RO).

Given the low flow rates through RO, the treated drinking water then goes to a small storage tank.

From the storage tank, there are two dedicated stainless steel lines to the dedicated drinking water fixtures in kitchen and the icemakers. RO needs to be backwashed as well.

I reviewed the system with my plumber. He endorsed the activated charcoal filter and potassium water softener. He has these in his home and likes the taste of the water. The activated charcoal removes the impurities that cause odors, etc. in his water. He is a big advocate of activated charcoal water filters and potassium water softening.

Although he likes the SteriLight and RO, he would never use a storage tank. He believes that storage tanks are impossible to clean and will create their own impurities and problems. He would go straight to the dedicated taps/icemakers with the drinking water.

He did reiterate that the dedicated drinking water system is overkill. However, he will plumb our system so we will have dedicated lines and, if we chose to in the future, we can add the additional water treatment for drinking water.

In terms of cost, the rough numbers are around $2,500 for activated charcoal and $2,500 for potassium water softening. Give or take.

I will be posting a more complete analysis (with photos of the system) at

Hope this helps.



Joined: Apr 20 2006

I must agree with you about the confusion re. water adjustment and purification.
We always figure that getting everything out of our water is desirable.
Case in point: Recently there was a new hotel with 'state of the art' water filtration. The filtration removed all the chlorine from the water. Bacteria was able to grow in low-usage parts of the water supply system. People drinking the water got very sick.

Joined: Apr 2 2003

I, too, am taking a look at water softeners. I expect to use one with potassium, however, my bigger problem is figuring out the code for drainage.

In my San Jose atrium-model Eichler, the water supply (and water heater and water boiler) are all on the same wall as the kitchen. The sewer line runs up the opposite side of the house, some 40' feet across.

A contractor I had out to evaluate adding a water softener said that by code I could not drain the softener into the kitchen plumbing (grey water) because it had to drain into the sewer. This is causing me grief as it basically means I would be limited to installing a removable tank (the water softener company comes and replaces the old tank with a new one on a prescribed frequency).

I tried to stop in and ask the folks at the SJ building department about this yesterday morning but they "only answer questions in the afternoon due to budget cutbacks". ( No, I'm not kidding.) Anyway, I haven't made it back yet in the afternoon.

Has anyone else dealt with this problem? Also, I've seen some mention of "water softener alternatives", basically a canister that requires no drainage or servicing. The media the water passes through basically lasts 5 years (manufacturers like Watts). Anyone know anything about these?


eichfan at rawbw dot com

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