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WeatherMakers Heating, Cooling & Plumbing Blog

What Do I Need to Know About Hard Water?

How Do I Keep My Appliances and Pipes Clear of Limescale?

Hard water. We know the Edmonton area has it, but what is it and do we need to be concerned?

In short, hard water is water that has a higher than average amount of dissolved minerals. In our area, that’s mostly calcium and magnesium. The calcium and magnesium are not harmful to people or pets, but hard water can have annoying side effects and require some action on your part.

Typical symptoms of hard water include:

  • Regular soaps and detergents don’t clean as effectively.
  • Shampoos and soaps don’t rinse easily.
  • Cloudy or chalky deposits accumulate on your tub or shower tiles, showerheads, and the bottom of faucets.
  • Soap scum builds up quickly in showers and tubs.
  • Scaly deposits can build up in your drains, pipes and toilets.
  • Glasses and dishes may come out of your dishwasher with white or opaque spots.
  • Laundry may become stiff and bath towels less absorbent.

Preventive Action for Hard Water

These annoyances are simply that, annoyances. There are special soaps, detergents and shampoos that are formulated to work better with hard water, and buying those will make a small difference. There are also whole home water softener systems that will cure most of the issues, freeing you from buying multiple chemicals and products. Some bathtub and sink cleaners are specially formulated to reduce scum and scale buildup, so that takes care of that–with a little elbow grease.

For appliances that heat or run water, it’s recommended to give the areas that come in contact with water a little soak with white vinegar now and again. If you’ve noticed a bumpy buildup around your electric kettle’s heating element, for example, that’s the stuff we’re talking about. Regular soaks in white vinegar will take that back, and in appliances or humidifiers that are a bit harder to treat, look for special descalers that you can buy at grocery and home supply stores. Be sure to choose products with care. Don’t use industrial descalers in appliances that make food and drinks.

Hard Water and Home Plumbing

For your pipes, we need to get a bit more specific. Anywhere water is delivered or drained is at risk of accumulating deposits of calcium carbonate and other mineral salts. If your home has hard water, this limescale is likely to build up around the heating elements of a traditional storage hot water heater, and potentially in the heat exchanger of a tankless water heater. This can reduce the efficiency of your water heater, increasing your hot water energy bills over time. Draining these periodically can help reduce the build-up. Some tankless hot water heater manufacturers supply people-safe descalers that you can use to help keep them clean. Learn more about tankless water heaters here.

Limescale can also build up inside your home’s pipes. Over long periods of time, this can lead to decreased water pressure as the supply flow becomes restricted. In serious cases, leaks happen as water pressure builds up behind blockages, and in the worst cases, clogged, corroded, cracked, or burst pipes can happen.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Your home’s age matters. If your home was built after 1975, you likely won’t experience the worst of these problems because you have copper, PVC, or PEX pipe. These modern materials are more resistant to hard water corrosion and scaling.
  • If your home was built before 1975, you could have galvanized steel pipes, which do run the risk of attracting limescale over time.
  • If your home was built in the WWII era or before, you could have low-quality galvanized steel pipes, or pipes of even older materials, in which case, you should call an experienced plumber to inspect your home and recommend if your pipes should be descaled or replaced.

It may take years for limescale buildup to cause noticeable problems, but, if you have hard water and galvanized pipes, it may have been accumulating for many years. Maybe you’ve already noticed a slight decrease in your water pressure? If so, we’re here to help.

Next Steps

If you notice some of the obvious signs of hard water in your home, the best thing to do is get more information. A qualified plumber can give you a more accurate reading of your home’s water hardness and conduct a whole house plumbing inspection to:

  • Inspect your water heater for scaling and flush out any accumulated sediment.
  • Inspect your other major water-using appliances for buildup.
  • Inspect your pipes for signs of limescale obstruction, corrosion, and leaks.

Remedies for Hard Water Issues

We mentioned some DIY remedies above, and we highly recommend them for regular maintenance of your appliances, pipes, drains and faucets. But if your water is very hard or if you have a lot of buildup in your pipes, your home may benefit from a more comprehensive solution:

  • A whole house water softener, water conditioner, or reverse osmosis filtration system can remove minerals from your water or prevent limescale.
  • Descaling is not possible or advisable in all situations, but it’s sometimes useful to restore water pressure and prevent future problems. Your plumber will be able to advise you. Do not do this yourself unless you have plumbing experience.
  • If your home still has galvanized piping, consider upgrading to a more modern material.

Not Sure If You Have a Hard Water Problem?

WeatherMakers can help. We’ve been serving the Edmonton area for over 60 years. We’re part of the Better Business Bureau’s 55+ Trust Club, and we’ll perform a thorough inspection of your home and test your water to come up with a plan to improve and protect your home. Contact us today to explore the best solutions for your Edmonton-area home.

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