By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Do you have hard water in your home? Maybe your not even sure.

One sign could be plumbing troubles caused by mineral build up clogging your pipes. In this week’s Angie’s List, Jim Donovan shows you how to spot hard water and shows you how to get rid of it.

Hard water is water with a high mineral content. Specifically, high concentrations of calcium and magnesium ions.

And hard water doesn’t just wreak havoc on your pipes.

“It also reduces the lifespan of water-using appliances – like your water heater,” said Angie’s List founder, Angie Hicks.

You might also notice shower heads and sink fixtures can becoming clogged and your dishes look cloudy or feel gritty.

“If you suspect you have hard water, you should have your water analyzed. A water conditioning company will often offer a free analysis. You can also get an analysis from your local water utility or health department, and both of those organizations don’t have a vested interest in the outcome,” said Hicks.

One solution, a water softener which uses salt to replace hard minerals with softer ones. They can range in price from about $400 up to $1,500.

“You should also ask the water softening company if they have an opportunity to rent the equipment for a nominal monthly charge,” said Hicks.

Another option, water conditioners which don’t use salt. But they aren’t quite as effective in areas where water sits, like a hot water heater.

More from Angie:

Common effects of hard water:

· Pipe damage: Minerals can eat away the pipes in your home which can cause flooding. Check floors and walls for dampness.

· Reduce the lifespan of water-using appliances: Hard water can reduce the life of appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, and can add additional wear to your clothes.

· Hard on your water heater: Minerals can accumulate in your water heater, decreasing your heater’s efficiency. Every three months drain a quart of water from the water heater. That’s going to help get that sediment working through the water heater and give it a much longer life.

· Clogged fixtures: Shower heads and sink fixtures can become clogged with minerals that they must be replaced.

· Stained dishes/spotty glasses: Hard water can causes dishes and glasses to look cloudy and/or feel gritty. It also reduces soap and detergent’s ability to lather.

Angie’s List tips for removing hard water:

· A water softener is a water treatment system that uses salt to remove minerals responsible for creating hard water, like calcium and magnesium, and replaces them with soft minerals, like sodium and potassium.

· Some homeowners prefer alternative softeners because they are concerned with the salt in their water. Salt-free units are often called “water conditioners” or “descalers.” Water conditioners typically fit around a pipe and claim to change the chemical structure of minerals in water as it travels through the pipe, by using magnets, electrical current and crystallization polymers. The descalers prevent those solids from being deposited inside pipes and on fixtures. They’re not entirely effective, as places where water sits, like in your hot water heater, will still get a build up of scale. The advantage is that there are no chemicals added to the water and there is no waste water.

Angie’s List tips for buying a water softener:

· If you suspect you have hard water, test to be sure. Water conditioning companies will usually offer free analysis, but you can get a reliable review from your local water utility or health department, which don’t have a vested interest in the outcome of your test.

· Water softeners start around $400, but there are some models that cost nearly $1,500. Price varies according to the size and type of softener. Some companies offer to rent their equipment for a nominal monthly charge. Installation costs typically fun from $150 to $300.

· Before you buy a water softener or conditioner, do you due diligence and investigate the product and company supplying it. Be sure to deal with a reputable company that offers a money-back guarantee.

· In most states, licensed plumbers are not required to install a water softener. If hiring a water softening company, check that they are certified by the Water Quality Association.

· Don’t forget maintenance. They key is not to let the water softener run out of salt.

Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3

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