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Private Wells and Water Treatment
Old 07-12-2009, 08:55 PM   #1
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Private Wells and Water Treatment

DH and I have been workin' our rear ends off fixing up our rental house since the renters moved out. New siding, painting, general fix up, new appliances, etc.

One thing we need to take care of is the private well. It supplies a good flow of water, but it's full of minerals that stain sinks and clothes and doesn't taste that good. We have a very old Sears water treatment system that worked OK when we first got it about 15 years ago, but simply doesn't do the job to our satisfaction.

We are planning to call a couple of well/water treatment companies for an assessment of the situation. Hopefully, a newer, better water treatment system will solve the problem. If not, we may just get a new well drilled.

DH and I would appreciate any advice you may have regarding private wells and water treatment systems. I'm sure some of you have dealt with this before. BTW, public water is not available even though the place is only about 22 miles from DC. It's in a portion of Fairfax County, VA zoned for low development (one house per 5 acres) to protect the watershed and water quality of the greater DC area. Bummer public water is not available, but the upside is the area has a very pleasant country feel even though it's so near a major metro area.

Our current plan is to sell the place and take the capital gains hit, but we might change our minds and move back in. It really depends on the market and if our main home would be easier to sell. In any event, we do need to tend to the water well issue.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:31 PM   #2
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Purron,
I've got PLENTY of experience--we have a private well with very hard water (34 grains/gal). I installed the water softener myself as well as an add-on drinking water system (sediment filter, carbon filter, reverse osmosis, UV light).

As you probably know, drilling a new well is a very expensive proposition. In addition, the water is almost certain to be just like the water you have right now. If you've got good flow, you don't need a new well.

If you want to go about this right, the first step is to get your water tested. Not a free test, but pay some money and get a complete test. I've had good luck with this lab, but there are others. The water test results might also be a useful selling point when you put the house on the market.
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The $95 test is probably all you need.

You'll probably find that the staining is caused by hard water, and also possibly iron. The water softener will fix these problems (unless the iron is especially high, then there are other approaches.). It's possible the old softener can still do the trick for you if you just change the salt dose and other settings (after assuring the resin is as clean as you can get it by ordering a few manual regenerations, and maybe adding some anti-iron stuff.) If it worked when new, it can probably work again.

A softener is the only practical way to treat hard water, and it will add salt, possibly in amounts that you don't want to drink. That's why I have the reverse osmosis system after the water softener.

If the house has been unoccupied for awhile (as ours was), and the water hasn't been flowing in the pipes, the well and house plumbing may be harboring some bacteria. This can be easily taken care of by "shocking" the well with chlorine bleach and assuring the solution gets introduced to all the pipes and places where water is kept (toilet tanks, water heater, etc). Chlorine bleach is serious stuff, and it isn't great for the seals in your well pump, nor for the water table in general, so this is not something you want to be doing every week, but I did it once and have had no further problem with bacteria in our well.

The best online source I've found for answers to detailed water treatment questions is here. Heads-up: Gary can be gruff and often blunt, but he does know what he is talking about.

You can get a water softener relatively cheaply--a few hundred dollars from Home Depot, and if yours is truly broken and you'll be selling the house soon, this might be a good approach. I spent quite a bit more for a higher-end unit because we plan to stay put for a long time, but that wouldn't make sense if you plan to sell the house.

Good luck, post follow-ups.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:42 PM   #3
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The resin in water softeners lasts only a few years. I did a quick Google search and found this:
Quote:
Softening Resin Life (Approximate):
No chlorine: 8 years
Chlorine: 3-4 years
It could be new resin will solve your problem, but at 15 years, I'd just go ahead and replace the softener. As Samclem says, they aren't all that expensive.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:43 PM   #4
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I second the previous poster's comments. It sounds like iron in your water is the problem but get an analysis. Here where I live, private wells are the norm and iron in the water is very common. We use water softner systems to take the iron out. I had it in a previous house and had to buy a big bag of sodium crystals periodically to dump in a tub in the basement flanked by two torpedoe looking devices. Then this system by some chemical process took the iron out of the water. Although we did not think much of it at the time, I now wonder about the health aspects to geezers of sodium in the water. Anyway, it did not affect the value of the house when we sold it.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:44 PM   #5
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Samclem, The well and water treatment outfits offer free water tests. From your comments, I'm guessing they might use this to sell us treatment systems or even a new well. So you think it's best to bypass this and start out with an independent test then use this info to proceed?
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:51 PM   #6
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We have a private well, and the water tastes much better than county water with no taste of minerals. In fact, it's the best water I have ever tasted. Other than replacing the whole house filter every 3-4 months, the only thing we've had to add in the ten years we have lived here is a system to raise the PH, since our PH was low and we were told it could lead to pinhole leaks in our copper plumbing. Before we put in the PH system, the water had a slight bluish-green tinge (which could be seen in a full bathtub) from the copper being dissolved by the low PH (and therefore acidic) water. The system cost about $1000 to have installed by Culligan, and every couple of years we have Culligan come out and add lime to the system for about $80 which brings the PH back up to where it should be.

I agree with samclem that you don't need a new well will since you say the pressure is fine, and a new well will tap into the same water supply. I would call in Culligan. They will test out your system for free (with the hope of selling you some equipment, if needed). We have been happy with their service.
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Old 07-12-2009, 09:59 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Purron View Post
Samclem, The well and water treatment outfits offer free water tests. From your comments, I'm guessing they might use this to sell us treatment systems or even a new well. So you think it's best to bypass this and start out with an independent test then use this info to proceed?
Right. The free tests will be very basic, and can give you some information, but you'll have to put up with a hard sell job if a guy comes to your house. You'll probably want to pay for an indepth test anyway (to tell you if you have pesticides, nitrates, iron, etc in your water). If you just want to know approximately how hard your water is, Sears offers a free test. Just ask them for a sample bottle and return it, they'll tell you right there in the store in a minute roughly how hard your water is. In my experience, there was no attempt at a hard sell. Also, you can buy a slightly more advanced home test kit for less than $20 at Home Depot/Lowes, and mail it in.

If you know the water hardness, you know almost everything you need in order to get the setting right on your softener. It's also good to know iron content, especially if iron is a problem (are your stains red?).

You could get two vials from Sears--fill one with water before the softener and one with water after the softener. The results will tell you what your well water hardness is and if your softener is doing much to reduce it.
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Old 07-12-2009, 10:09 PM   #8
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One other approach that might be useful in your case: Some places rent water softeners. They'll test the water and determine what you need, then you rent (rather than buy) the softener from them. I don't know what the commitment is, but this might be a way to get someone else to do all the analysis AND not have to buy expensive equipment. I don't know how it would affect the sale price of the home, I'm sure you'd have to disclose that the equipment is being rented and doesn't come with the house. It's almost certain to be more expensive to rent than buy over the long term, but maybe this other option suits your situation.
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Old 07-13-2009, 12:33 AM   #9
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The resin in water softeners lasts only a few years. I did a quick Google search and found this:
It could be new resin will solve your problem, but at 15 years, I'd just go ahead and replace the softener. As Samclem says, they aren't all that expensive.
They forgot to add "This handy tip is brought to you by the Resin Manufacturer's Society of America: Lather. Rinse. Repeat!!"

We have a 12-year-old water conditioner with the resin still going strong. It sounds like you'll appreciate a new system for its greater reliability & improved controls, but I wouldn't replace the resin just because it's celebrated a few too many birthdays. Before you make a decision you could always check the conditioner's output to see if the mineral content is rising over time.

Submarine nukes know not to let the plant's resin temperatures get above 180 degrees Fahrenheit, but you don't want to know how that was learned...
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Old 07-13-2009, 07:06 AM   #10
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They forgot to add "This handy tip is brought to you by the Resin Manufacturer's Society of America: Lather. Rinse. Repeat!!"

We have a 12-year-old water conditioner with the resin still going strong.
Nords, should I move this to the "frugal vs. cheap" thread?
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Old 07-13-2009, 11:44 AM   #11
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We have a 12-year-old water conditioner with the resin still going strong.

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Nords, should I move this to the "frugal vs. cheap" thread?
Why? I just checked, our water softener is 16 years old on the same resin. We have hard water and moderately high iron. No indication that the water isn't getting soft. Same settings and salt usage as the day it went in. I add a bit of Iron-Out when I add salt, or weekly if I remember.

Twice in that time we had a toilet flap stick overnight and run unnoticed. We woke up to hard water since all the capacity had been used up. We can tell immediately between hard and softened water, so it is clearly working just fine. What advantage would I get in replacing the resin in a working unit?

Loading it up with 3 50# blocks gets us about 4 weeks before we are low again. That matches the 14# setting required for our hardness and water usage, runs every third night - pretty close.

When I do replace it, I'll look at an on-demand type with a clock. I think those run at night after it sense the capacity is getting low.

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Old 07-13-2009, 11:51 AM   #12
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Old 07-13-2009, 01:57 PM   #13
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...............Why? I just checked, our water softener is 16 years old on the same resin. ....................
-ERD50
Ditto, I have a Water Boss brand softener that is closer to 20 years old with the original resin. I've heard poor reviews on the newer ones, but this old gal has been flawless for all this time, just sipping salt as needed.
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Old 07-13-2009, 02:10 PM   #14
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I congratulate those of you with properly functioning old equipment.

I'm thinking the life of both a water softener and its resin media is dependent on the quality of the softener itself and especially on the hardness and other mineral content of the water.

Here in limestoneland our softener is set for 75 grains of hardness and even that doesn't remove all the calcium. To get really soft water we'd need to run a second softener in series - not worth it in my opinion. Add in some iron and other minerals in the water and you end up with lots of equipment wear and tear. Our first softener lasted ~6 years and, even using iron removal additives, gradually began to lose softening ability over the final year or so. The cost to replace the resin wasn't much less than a new DIY installed Sears softener. We're approaching 5 years on it and so far, so good.
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Old 07-13-2009, 02:26 PM   #15
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For water tests I would recommend: Ward Laboratories, Agricultural Testing, Consulting, Kearney, Nebraska
This is the go to place for homebrewers in NA. Good prices, quick turnaround and they can add on specific, unusual tests if you are worried about something in particular not included in templated assays.

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Old 07-13-2009, 02:27 PM   #16
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... I have a Water Boss brand softener .... just sipping salt as needed.
I read up a lot on these in preparation for the day I would need to replace softener. They really talked up the low salt and water usage. It seemed hard to believe they could be so much better, ion exchangers are a pretty established technology. But there was a lot I liked about them.

But after digging through their datasheets, it seems like it is really optimized to be very efficient with water that is not very hard to begin with. When you get up to my levels of mineral content, they fall in line with other models.



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I'm thinking the life of both a water softener and its resin media is dependent on the quality of the softener itself and especially on the hardness and other mineral content of the water.

.... Our first softener lasted ~6 years and, even using iron removal additives, gradually began to lose softening ability over the final year or so. The cost to replace the resin wasn't much less than a new DIY installed Sears softener. We're approaching 5 years on it and so far, so good.
That's mainly why I questioned the value of a calendar for estimating the life of the resin. In a case like yours, it does make sense that resin replacement could be due long before the rest of the unit wears out, esp since you saw reduced capacity, and could (should?) be cost effective.

Can you do the resin thing yourself - I'm pretty sure mine are just in mesh bags in that tank? If you can get them at decent prices, it sure seems like it should be much cheaper than an entire unit.

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Old 07-13-2009, 03:55 PM   #17
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My septic system guy once told me that having a water softener (salt?) can eat away at the holding tank and he did not recommend them. Don't know if this is true or not. I don't have a water softener.
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Old 07-13-2009, 04:11 PM   #18
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Up here in low pH / high iron land, most people have a "iron stripper" and a water softener. My system also came with a "neutralizer" to raise the pH. That part is probably not needed.

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Old 07-13-2009, 04:33 PM   #19
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My septic system guy once told me that having a water softener (salt?) can eat away at the holding tank and he did not recommend them. Don't know if this is true or not. I don't have a water softener.
I have an aerobic septic system and it doesn't work very well unless the softener is working - hard water causes calcium buildup on the diffuser and prevents air from bubbling in the tank. Not enough salt discharged into the system to do any harm to the tanks, which are made of fiberglass.
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Old 07-13-2009, 04:42 PM   #20
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I have an aerobic septic system and it doesn't work very well unless the softener is working - hard water causes calcium buildup on the diffuser and prevents air from bubbling in the tank. Not enough salt discharged into the system to do any harm to the tanks, which are made of fiberglass.
The tanks here are made of concrete so maybe that makes a difference.
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