The first question one might ask about either water softeners or filters is “why have one”? That’s a valid question and, depending on where you have lived in the past, the need might not seem too apparent. The simple answer is that both devices do much to ensure that your water is safe for you, your home, and your appliances. But the “why” of it has to do with the nature of our local water. It is absolutely loaded with calcium and magnesium, (thus earning the name, hard water) two elements that have a nasty way of affecting many items in and around your home. Dissolved calcium and magnesium precipitate out of hard water as scale, which builds up on the insides of pipes, water heaters, tea kettles, coffee and ice makers and washing machines. Scale reduces water flow through pipes and is a poor conductor of heat. Unless managed, the deposits grow and will begin to affect the function of the appliances, eventually choking them altogether. Hard water also reduces soap’s ability to lather and reacts with soap to form a sticky scum It leaves a white deposit in your sinks, shower, and around swimming pools. These are often referred to as lime deposits and on top of everything else, they’re just downright difficult to clean.
So what’s the magic of a water softener that helps deal with all this? The magic is pure science and specifically, chemistry. Calcium and magnesium are strong, positively charged ions which are attracted and adhere to the negatively charged resin balls within the softener. Salt must be regularly added to the softener to allow it to create brine which then bathes the resin balls. During the brine bath, the calcium and magnesium ions are displaced by the sheer quantity of weaker but also negatively charged salt (sodium chloride) ions. The softener goes through a periodic rinse cycle to drain out the calcium laden water and to make fresh brine. And the cycle stars anew.
Softeners are designed to rinse themselves based on a schedule or the amount of water used. If you live full-time in your Baja home, there may not be much difference between the two but if you only use the house part-time, a softener that rinses on a schedule may be wasting salt. Regardless of occupancy, homes with a pool do better with units on a scheduled rinse. Though it will likely require the addition of more salt, the regular rinse helps to keep the scale off your pumps and filters and will greatly reduce the rate of calcium buildup around the pool’s water line.
Water filters differ from water softeners in that they filter out impurities in the water and, depending on the model of filter, can also sterilize it. The filtration is accomplished by use of simple filter cartridges and the process of reverse osmosis. Typically, the cartridges array consists of a 3 micron, a 5 micron and a carbon cartridge. The micron cartridges remove particles of free-floating debris and the carbon cartridge helps to purify the water. The reverse osmosis (R/O) process passes water over a membrane which further removes almost anything that is not H2O. A fifth and optional part of the process is ultraviolet (UV) sterilization. In this process, the water is passed in front of a UV light which kills the living organism exposed to it. It’s usually not inorganic debris that will cause you to get sick, it’s the bacteria and for this reason, the water authority and many of the water delivery companies take steps to minimize this risk. The R/O process also helps considerably but the UV can be a good, final backup. Despite the various parts, the water filter is surprisingly small and can usually be installed under a kitchen sink. There are two drawbacks to the system, however. The first is that the reverse osmosis process creates waste water that usually just goes down the drain. The second is that the process is slow. For those reasons, installing the unit under the kitchen sink makes good sense. It provides a nearby drain and allows you to use the unit for an icemaker and drinking water where it is most needed.
When combined, water softeners and filters are a great pair of devices to help keep you and your house functioning well. There are a number of reliable sources around the city where you can find these items affordably priced and with knowledgeable staff for sales and service.
Glenn is a full time resident of La Paz and works as a realtor for Prestige Properties. He also is the owner and operator of La Paz Home and Pool. Feel free to send inquiries to: LaPazHomeandPool@gmail.com. Photo courtesy of Kat Bennett.