As per reports, hard water can be found in a majority of homes in the United States. Hard water can result in buildup around piping and fixtures. If you live in hard water areas, then scale inhibitors can be something worth investing in. They are designed to reduce the formation of limescale in hard water areas. They can protect your devices like water heaters from the harmful effects of limescale formation. It can also prevent unpleasant odors or flavors of drinking water, discoloration of dishware and glasses, stained clothing, etc. In this article, we will see how to install a scale inhibitor, how they work, and their types.
What Is Limescale?
Before proceeding further, let us set the basics clear. Let us see what actually limescale is. Most people in the hard water areas suffer from the problems associated with limescale. This can range from added costs and time to clean scaled up fixtures to needing to replace expensive equipment due to irreparable damages caused by scale formation. So to cope up with this problem, let us understand what it is.
The formation of limescale is related to water hardness. Mineral content (mainly calcium and magnesium) in the water makes it hard. The calcium carbonate in its calcite form is the building block of limescale. This hard, chalky deposit gets firmly bonded to the surface it rests on. It can form more thick layers with the deposition of more and more calcium. The color of limescale depends on the minerals present in the hard water causing it. For example, if the hard water has high iron content, then the limescale can appear reddish brown.
Wonder why the calcium carbonate in the water bond to surfaces and form limescale? In reality, the high temperatures can alter the chemical equilibrium in the water and converts the soluble calcium bicarbonate to become insoluble calcium carbonate, which precipitates out of the water and bonds to the surfaces forming scale. As a result, it is your kettle, boiler, water heater and other heating elements that are especially susceptible to the damage of limescale formation.
Problems caused by limescale formation
Limescale ruins the appearance of fixtures. There are also some other serious problems caused by limescaling. It affects heating elements the most, deteriorating the efficiency of these elements. Research suggests that for every 1mm of scale formed on a heating element, about extra 10% of energy is required for it to function. When the build-up further accumulates, the heating element is rendered unusable, requiring it to be replaced. This is it is common in hard water areas that expensive pieces of equipment such as boilers break down regularly.
Methods to prevent limescaling
You have to deal with the source of the problem, i.e., the minerals in the hard water. You can use water softeners to get them removed. They change hard water to soft water. This does have some health, plumbing and further expenses.
Another method to tackle the problem is to alter the way the hard water minerals behave. Water conditioners reduce scale by preventing the minerals in the hard water from bonding normally. As the minerals in the solution are kept, the positive aspects of hard water are still maintained while tackling the negatives of scaling. Scale inhibitors are also scale reducing equipment, though they lack some of the key benefits that water conditioners offer, such as the ‘soft water lifestyle benefits’. This article deals with scale inhibitors.
What are Scale Inhibitors?
Now let us see what a scale inhibitor is. As said earlier, it is a compact device designed to reduce the amount of limescale formed in hard water areas. They change the limescale makeup. They feature chemical agents that ensure that limescale doesn’t easily attach to the surfaces o fixtures when water gets heated, thereby minimizing the damage to devices like your kettle, boilers, showers, water pipes, tanks, and washing machines. Thus they lower the level of deposits and also improve the water flow rate, thereby enhancing the longevity of the appliances. It also eases the cleaning process. However, you should be aware that a limescale inhibitor will never physically eliminate the calcium content in hard water.
So if you are someone looking for an effective whole house solution to your limescale issues, then an inhibitor is not likely to be the best solution for you. You can have them installed if you are not heavily troubled by limescale issues and you just need a solution to keep your fixtures working efficiently without spending much.
Look out for the lifespan of the scale inhibitors and replace them periodically so as to ensure that your fixtures stay protected. The lifespan of these scale inhibitors depend on several factors. It also varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some can last up to 10 years, while others last for 5 years, 2 years or even a year. The lifespan also depends on the hard water concentration that you deal with in the particular area. If the hard water is exclusively hard (180 mg/L), then you may have to change your scale inhibitors more often.
Look for properly approved models or else your manufacturer warranty claims can get void.
Types of scale inhibitors and how they work
Inhibitors use several different mechanisms to reduce scale. There are physical, chemical, magnetic as well as electric systems available in the market. Let us see the mechanism involved in each of these types in short.
- Physical limescale inhibitors temporarily change the molecular structure of Calcium ions (Ca+), without eliminating water hardness. Once the water moves far enough from the physical limescale inhibitor, the calcium crystals will lose these effects. The crystals assume their original shape and can also adhere to the surface of the fixtures. For this reason, for best scale inhibition results, you need to position the physical limescale reducer before your electric shower, boiler, heat exchanger, header tank, or other fixtures.
- Chemical limescale reducers are another category of scale inhibitors. The chemical treatment adheres to pipework and forms a small chemical residue that hinders limestone from precipitating and sticking to the pipework supplying water to your boiler, electric showers and other fixtures. The chemicals used are of food grade. The cartridges need to be replaced or refilled about twice a year. However, here also the structure of the water hardening crystals is altered temporarily by coating them. They do not eliminate hardness.
- Magnetic Scale Inhibitors create a tiny magnetic field closely surrounding the water supply pipe, which leads to molecular changes in calcium salts. They change the irregularly shaped calcium crystals to regular so that these crystals pass without sticking to the fixture surfaces. If the magnetic field is strong enough, then these types of scale inhibitors can be beneficial. However, if you go for cheap ceramic type magnets, then they may seek replacement within a short duration of time.
- Electrolytic limescale inhibitors are priced higher than magnetic scale inhibitors. They form an electrolytic current between the internal cathode and anode resulting in a particular quantity of iron dissolving in water from the internal cathode. These iron particles deter the limescale particles from coming together and create the fur deposits in appliances.
- Electronic limescale inhibitors is a chemical free and magnetism free approach. It makes use of electronic impulses which modifies the crystallization process of liquid calcium, thereby which the hard limescale loses the adhesiveness. The limescale thus gets washed away with the water as a fine powder. Thus it prevents limescale build up and rust of the fixtures.
Installation of Limescale Inhibitors
Now let us see as to how we can install a limescale inhibitor. With chemical and physical limescale inhibitors, you need to connect them in an upright position for effective scale reduction. You can connect the unit in the pipeline before the fixture is protected. The installation is pretty straightforward and requires less time.
Electrolytic and Magnetic Scale Inhibitors
Let us first see some of the positioning instructions.
- Ensure the scale inhibitor unit is installed in a location that will make it readily accessible for examination, test, maintenance or replacement.
- The scale inhibitor unit is not directional. You may fit the scale inhibitor unit at any angle between horizontal and vertical.
- You need to choose a pipe run long enough can accommodate the unit.
- Now as per recommendation, the unit needs to be fitted on the cold feed approximately 1 meter from the appliance intended to be protected.
- Include an approved single check valve or another no less effective back-flow prevention device at the point of connection between the supply and the unit.
Below mentioned is the installation of electrolytic and magnetic scale inhibitors.
- You can ensure a leak proof installation by making sure that the pipe is cut square with a pipe-cutter. You need to try this even if the pipe run is initially broken into using a hacksaw.
- Now you can tighten the fittings with a 24mm/32mm spanner whichever is needed.
Electronic Scale Inhibitors
Let us see the positioning instructions.
- It is recommended not to install the electronic scale inhibitor on lead piping.
- Also avoid positioning the signal coils adjacent to elbows, pipe fittings or stop clocks. You need to allow at least 28mm or more.
- Install in a dry environment and do not submerge in water.
- Install the unit and power supply indoors.
- The pipework can be vertical or horizontal.
Let us see how we can install the electronic scale inhibitor unit.
- You need to warp the antenna around the pipe you wish to protect.
- You can wrap it in clockwise or anti clockwise direction.
- Fix the control box in a suitable location near the pipe selected.
- Secure the antenna using the cable ties. Each of the antennas needs to be wrapped around the pipes in such a way that there is a minimum of 50 mm between the two coils. You can wrap the coils in clockwise or anti clockwise direction.
- Finally, you can plug the mains plug into the power socket and switch on the power.
Alternative for Scale Inhibitors-Water Softeners
The limescale inhibitors reduce the deposition of limescale in the pipes. However, they may not prevent the overall phenomenon of limescale formation. If you want to prevent limescale formation fully, then you can invest in water softeners. Water softeners convert hard water to soft water. It replaces Ca+ with salt (sodium). However, they cost much more and also require more money in terms of installation. Also, hard water contains certain minerals which are good for human consumption. Hence you may need to make sure that the artificially softened water is not fed into a potable supply. This makes the installation of water softeners further challenging. Also, water softener units are bulky when compared to scale inhibitors, which are compact. They are not eco friendly. They may also require continuous salt refilling and pipe drainage. The water softeners may also require periodic maintenance which further adds to the cost. However, they are the best choice when it comes to removing the water hardness and thereby effective scale inhibition.
In this article, we have seen the different aspects of limescaling. The effects of limescaling can be extremely detrimental on household equipment, leading to frequent maintenance and even replacement of the equipment. We have seen how to tackle the situation by using limescale inhibitors. We have seen the types of limescale inhibitors and their installation techniques. Now we have also seen how the limescale inhibitors work without completely preventing limescaling. They just reduce limescaling to an extent. As a result, this method works well as a cost efficient method for reducing scaling problem. If the hard water density is extremely high, then the method may not work for you. An alternative to the method is water softening which will prevent scaling completely as hard water gets converted to soft water. Based on your budget, you can opt for water softening or scale inhibition.