So ... it was time for me to start researching water softeners. We have never owned a home that had one before, so I've never really had any idea how they worked. The whole “add salt and your water gets better” part was a mystery to me. Fortunately there are numerous excellent web sites that explain all this, and in a short while I actually understood how these things worked. But I still didn't know which one I should get, and there are a bazillion choices. My next tactic was to start reading water conditioning bulletin boards and blogs, and there are quite a few of them. I quickly got to several concrete recommendations, based on the experience of quite a few installers. The big ones:
- Fleck controller. This is a brand of controller – the usage meter, electronics, and valves that control the operation of the water softener. There are several manufacturers of these, but the Fleck products are the consensus “good stuff”.
- Twin tank. This is a more expensive route to go, as there is an additional resin tank and double the resin beads. However, there are multiple advantages to it. First, your system has double the total capacity (that is, number of gallons of hard water that can be softened before a brine wash is needed). Second, the regeneration job is done with soft water (coming from the tank that's not being regenerated) instead of hard water (which a single tank system must do). This results in a better job of regeneration. But third, and to me most important, is that the system is never off-line for the regeneration – one tank is regenerated while the other continues to supply softened water to the house. This means that we can go to a purely metered system (a tank is only regenerated when it is actually needed, as opposed to being on a schedule). The two hour regeneration process won't affect us at all.
- High capacity. I discovered that “buying up” the total capacity is relatively inexpensive and results in much longer times between regenerations, and less wear-and-tear on the controller. The capacity is measured in “grains” of calcium removed from the hard water. Small units may be 16,000 or 24,000 grains capacity; large residential units are 64,000 grains. With a twin tank system, that doubles – so a large residential unit would be 128,000 grains total capacity.
Three days later, UPS dropped off 7 or 8 boxes containing the parts and pieces of our new water softener. I arranged for a local plumber to come out and install it a week later, and then I unpacked and inspected all the parts. It all looked great – the right stuff and all looked well made – except that they had shipped me the wrong controller. Dang.
Well, anyone can make a mistake. What really matters is how they handled it. I called CAI, and within 30 seconds I was connected to an actual tech – someone intimately familiar with their products and how they're used. He had me do a couple of checks to verify my belief that I had the wrong controller. I did. Then he said the magic words:
“Well, we’re going to fix this right now. We’ll ship you the right one by overnight express today, and we’ll arrange for a pickup of the wrong one. Our apologies for screwing this up. Let us know if there’s anything else we need to do to make this right.”I can't ask for anything better than that. CAI did exactly as promised. The next day I had the right controller in my hands, and the day after that UPS picked up the old (wrong) one to return to them. By the time the plumber arrived, I had all the right stuff. He installed it, we tested it, and all looked good.
That was a week ago. I've now gone through two startup regeneration cycles (manually initiated) and one automatic regeneration cycle (because we used enough water to consume the capacity of one of the tanks). It works flawlessly. I've tested the water before and after softening: before it's 23 grains/gallon (fairly hard), after it's 0 grains/gallon (perfectly soft). There are no brine leaks, and no resin beads are escaping into our water supply.
Good product, good company, great service. Recommended!