Water Softeners and a New Furnace

Furnaces and Water softeners

This two-for-one guide on water softeners and purchasing a new furnace explains how water softeners work, the different types of water softeners you can get, and how to determine which furnace is the right choice for your home. Plus, some tips on how you can save money!

new furnace installation

Water Softeners

Water softeners work by replacing hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium ions) with another ion, such as sodium or potassium. If your water is very hard (25+ grains per gallon), salt softening may be the only solution. Hard water creates the gross scales on water fixtures, increases electricity consumption by coating water heating systems, and leaves residue on your skin and hair. Water softeners are designed to remove ions within a conditioning tank and flush them away. They’re able to remove up to 5 ppm (mg/L) of clear water iron.

As the water enters the house, it passes through a bed of small plastic resign beads. These beads are covered with salt ions, which exchange with the calcium and magnesium ions.  To regenerate these beads when they become too full of magnesium and calcium ions, you must soak them in a stream of salt ions. These salt ions can be either sodium chloride or potassium chloride. With a water softener, sodium is switched out in place of calcium and magnesium, because the sodium is more desirable. The amount of sodium added is only really 12.5 milligrams per 8-ounce glass, a very low amount according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Salt-Based Water

Some people may not like salt-softened water, because it makes them feel slippery when bathing with soap. The upside to salt-based water softeners though is that they can prevent the scale build-up in pipes and water heaters by removing the hardness minerals of calcium and magnesium. They prevent soap-scum buildup in shower doors, and produce better results with clothes washers and dishwashers. Those with salt water softener systems will have to compensate with more water heaters due to the salt’s corrosive effect on the heating coils.

Water Hardness

water softener chart

Groundwater gains hardness by dissolving metals from surrounding soil and rock. Water hardness is measures by grains per gallon (gpg) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). A grain is considered 64.8 milligrams of calcium carbonate, and you have soft  water if your water tests at 1 gpg or less. Hard water can cause your pipes to become clogged with scale and reduces soap’s ability to lather in the shower, sink, dishwasher and washing machine. Instead of lathering, it creates a sticky scum.

Solutions

You can soften water by filtering it through distillation or reverse osmosis, running it through a water softener, or adding a packaged chemical softener like powdered borax or sodium carbonate. Even though many sink taps and refrigerator water dispensers help with the taste of water, the expense isn’t worth it. Even though packaged chemicals get the job done for dishwashers/washers, they make the water undrinkable and can have negative effects on your clothing. If you’re more concerned with cutting down on the harmful effects of hard water, it might be better to invest in descaling. These are sometimes marketed as ‘salt-free water softeners’, meaning they don’t actually change the chemical composition of the water.

Recharging

Some softeners utilize electric timers to flush and recharge based on a set schedule while others have computers that judge bead depletion based on water use. The third option is a water softener that uses a mechanical water meter to measure water use and initiate the recharging process once sodium exhaustion requires it. The electronic timer’s downside is that it doesn’t allow you to dispense soft water while recharging. Mechanical systems come with two mineral tanks that allows them to make soft water and recharge at the same time.

water softener recharging

The great thing about water softeners is that they’re designed to be easy to install and remove. You can take it with you when you move!

Furnaces

A furnace is used for high-temperature heating and derives from the Greek word meaning ‘oven’. The heat energy used to power a furnace is supplied by fuel combustion, electricity or introduction heating in induction furnaces. A furnace in America typically refers to the household heating systems that are based upon a central furnace (boiler).  A home furnace is permanently installed in your home and utilizes air, steam or hot water to provide heat. If your new furnace uses steam or hot water, it’s called a residential steam boiler or hot water boiler. Typically though, your new furnace will be powered by natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, or fuel oil. If you live somewhere with low electricity cost or air conditioning is used more than heating, electrical resistance heating may be a more cost-efficient option. A high-efficiency furnace will operate with 98% efficiency without a chimney. A gas furnace is about 80% efficient.

The pro to having a boiler is that the furnace can provide hot water for bathing and washing dishes. No separate water heater required! However, you also have to keep in mind that if the boiler breaks down, neither heating nor domestic hot water will be accessible. Air convention heating systems are nothing new, though they’ve updated from the passive air circulation system that used to be in effect (warm air rises, cool air sinks). Now, modern ‘warm air’ furnaces use a fan to circulate the air into other rooms of the house and absorb cooler air back into the furnace for reheating (forced-air heat).

Heat Distribution

Heat is transferred in the home through an intermediary distribution system. Air is circulated through ductwork (made of sheet metal or plastic ‘flex’ duct) and can be either insulated or uninsulated. Ductwork leaks can are unavoidable unless you have some sort of mastic or foil duct tape sealing them. Wasted energy may also come from the installation of ductwork in unheated areas like attics and crawl spaces.

Size

When choosing a new furnace, it’s important to keep in mind that size is important. A home’s furnace is typically bigger than necessary to avoid the possibility of dealing with a chilly home in the wintertime. However, larger furnaces cycle on and off more frequently, putting wear on the system and wasting energy. It might also cause the temperature to jump and fall frequently, making your home uncomfortable. In addition, you’ll probably need larger ducts. To make sure you’re getting the correct size of furnace, you can contact a reputable contractor who will calculate a good size based on your home’s square footage, climate, design, and construction. Your new furnace needs to be regularly maintained according to manufacturer instructions. Most service calls for furnaces are due not to defective equipment, but human error or inadequate maintenance.

 

new furnace sizeEfficiency

Having an efficient furnace can save you a lot in the long run (and produce fewer emissions from an environmental standpoint). Gas is the most popular heating fuel right now, with efficiency measured in an annual fuel-utilization-efficiency (AFUE) rating. This is measured as a percentage, with a higher percentage correlating to the amount of heat that the furnace can get out of each therm of gas. The lowest efficiency allowed by law is 78%, but newer models normally get up to 97%. You’ll have to accept a higher price tag if you’re looking for this level of efficiency though. Possibly $1,000 more. Keep in mind that this investment will pay off with the lower fuel bills, especially if you live in the Northeast or Midwest. Fuel bills also depends on where you live, how well your home is insulated, and your local gas and electricity rates. You can ask for multiple price estimates based on varying efficiencies to get the price that meets your needs. Always be cautious when getting a new furnace, and feel free to ask questions. For your contractor, you might ask whether the model is too new to have been properly tested, or whether an older model has any reliability problems that you wouldn’t have to deal with in a new furnace.

On top of getting a more energy-efficient furnace though, make sure to do your own part as well. For example, turn down the thermostat a s couple degrees in the winter. This can cut back on emissions by as much as 6 percent. Utilize curtains to block the chill from a window, and keep the windows covered on sunny days during the summer. When it’s cold out, pull back those curtains and soak up some free solar heating. You can even reduce heat loss by insulating ducts and sealing leaks. Help out your new furnace whenever possible!

new furnace sealing duct

Repair vs. Replace

Deciding whether to repair or replace a furnace can be a difficult decision. While a new furnace costs more than replacing, it may be a better investment for you in the long run if you’re constantly having to fix a lemon. Low airflow might be a sign that the air filter is clogged. Loose wires or a malfunction in the thermostat might be an issue. Electronic thermostats might require batteries to be recharged. Some of these repairs can be easily handled. However, if important parts (like the heat exchanger or control module) go out, you’ll be better off getting a whole new furnace. This is especially true if your furnace is more than 15 years old. Check out these furnace types to determine which kind you’re looking for.

Contact Us

You can contact us for more information on water softeners or a new furnace. We do furnace repair and install new furnace systems.