The first indication you may have hard water is when you notice a white substance coating the inside of your teakettle. Persistent “water spots” may develop on dishes, glassware, and pots and pans. These spots show up in your sinks and on your bathroom tiles, resisting all attempts to clean them.
You may also experience difficulty in getting soaps such as shampoos, or dishwasher and laundry detergents to lather. In an attempt to get more suds or a better rinse, people wind up using more water and driving up the water bill. This makes hard water more than just an annoyance; it increases your energy bills even as it decreases the efficiency of your home.
Water normally contains some minerals, but a higher than normal mineral content is considered “hard water”. Usually the culprits are an excess of calcium and magnesium, picked up as groundwater makes its way to your home.
As this hard water evaporates, whether through excessive heat or naturally into the air, the calcium and magnesium which are left behind bind together and solidify on whatever surface it is on. You’ll see evidence of this in an off-white scaling around the edges of faucets or showerheads. Over time the coating becomes thicker and thicker until it causes problems. This build-up is called limescale, and it’s not just unsightly, it is the direct cause of future problems with your plumbing.
Effects on Plumbing
The gradual build-up of limescale damages rubber washers and makes it difficult for valves to close completely. You’ll notice you’re no longer able to tighten dripping faucets, or that you can’t find the source of water oozing onto the sink where fixtures are attached.
Limescale also narrows the diameter of your pipes, slowing or even halting the water flow. As your plumbing system struggles to move water through the pipes, you’ll notice a decrease in water pressure. Water pipes leak where they are joined and develop holes along their length, causing damage to the walls and foundation.
Effects on Appliances
Hot water heaters are particularly susceptible to hard water damage. When water is heated past 55° C (131°F) the limescale starts to coat the heating element and a barrier develops between the element and the surrounding water. The heating element works harder to heat the water, and eventually gives out, shortening its lifespan.
Dishwashers are similarly vulnerable to hard water damage. Their smaller valves are easily clogged, and expensive parts such as the pumps must be replaced. Washing machines which struggle to get water flowing through the cycles will also need replacing more frequently.
It’s important to fix the underlying problem, the water itself, before you focus on replacing broken appliances and leaking pipes. Since limescale is extremely difficult to remove once it is established in your plumbing system, the best solution is to prevent its formation.
One popular solution is to remove all minerals and contaminants from the water before it comes in contact with the pipes using a reverse osmosis system. Installing a water softener to add salt to the water also reduces the prospect of mineral build-up and restores cleansing ability.
Fixing hard water problems not only saves on repair bills, it results in lower energy bills and a more energy efficient home.
Charlie Teschner started MESA Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling in 1982. Charlie has a journeyman and master plumber’s license. He was raised with a strong work ethic and he now applies those values to tasks such as Longmont, CO heating repair.