What is killing our appliances?
July 1, 2009 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Our appliances are dropping like flies. Is this because of hard water, or is it something more sinister?

In the last year we've had to replace the heating element on our recently-installed hot water heater, as well as the heating element in our 3 1/2 year old dishwasher. As of this week, said dishwasher is also facing another repair which will cost $275 (we're just going to buy a new one). All of these problems were caused by deposits from our hard water, according to the repair people we've consulted.

The strange thing is, as far as I know my neighbors aren't having this problem (even though all our water comes from the same sources). Is there something else that could be causing the mineral buildup in our dishwasher and hot water heater?

We're strongly considering buying a water softener (salt or reverse osmosis? I have no idea...) when we get the new dishwasher, but before we do that I'm trying to rule out other possibilities.
posted by missuswayne to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you on a well or municipal supply? If a well, even neighbors can have differing water characteristics, depending on the depth of their well.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:30 PM on July 1, 2009


Municipal.
I looked at our water company's water quality statement and it did indicate that our town has hard water ranging from 62ppm to 244ppm.
posted by missuswayne at 5:34 PM on July 1, 2009


You may need a water softener. Get a reputable water treatment company. check around there are LOTS of shady people doing water systems. also I advise a Kenico system IF it is determined that you NEED water treatment. The Kenico system does not use a electric timer gizmo that quits working every 3 months. It is powered by the water flowing through it.

A airator might be what you need. that would require a pump. I had one for over 10 years on the worst well water in FLA. 32'deep well. We are now on county water & boy is it nice. I was able to sell my old, wore out Kenico system for $200! I think that tells the story. You should not be having those type of issues.

Make sure the electric is NOT grounded to the plumbing. That is a big no no.

If this is a new house do you have that Chinese drywall?
IANYPOYE
posted by patnok at 5:52 PM on July 1, 2009


Thanks for your response. No, no Chinese drywall here...
posted by missuswayne at 6:33 PM on July 1, 2009


Perhaps you could check which brand of dishwasher your neighbors have, as that one may be more immune to the hard water issues. Also, my mom has the same problem. She uses Calgon Water Softener. It goes right in the dishwasher with every load. Seems to do the trick.
posted by anniek at 6:51 PM on July 1, 2009


2nding Kinetico if you need a water treatment system. It's one of the best investments we've ever made for our house. In fact, when we move, we're taking it with us.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:00 PM on July 1, 2009


patnok writes "Make sure the electric is NOT grounded to the plumbing. That is a big no no."

If you have metal pipes safety requires them to be bonded. Don't know what Florida is like but in Canada it is perfectly acceptable to also get your ground off a buried metal water pipe of sufficient area. Do not remove a bond or ground connection to a metal water pipe without consulting an electrician.
posted by Mitheral at 7:22 PM on July 1, 2009


My water runs at least 250 ppm permanent hardness, and my electric water heater
and dishwasher are nearly 15 years old. We don't have a water softener.

You have to clean out the water heater regularly, or the carbonate crud that falls
off of the element eventually piles up around the element and kills it. The easiest
way that I've found involves removing the bottom element and using a shop vac
and a piece of stiff PEX tubing taped onto the hose to suck out the crud.

You can also flush your electric water heater using the valve at the bottom, but
there are a couple of things that make that less workable: it's a valve with a
contortion and constriction inside of it, so the chunks are not easily passed, and
its usually made of plastic, which has a thick wall and reduces maximum flow
rate.

We control carbonate crud in the dishwasher with several tablespoons of vinegar
added to the machine, after the fill has started.

If you do get a water softener, don't expect the softened water to taste as good.
The dishwasher, water heater, and clothes washing machine don't care what the
water tastes like, but you probably don't want to plumb it to the kitchen sink.
posted by the Real Dan at 7:36 PM on July 1, 2009


A water softener is probably the easiest way to solve the problem. You could clean the hard water deposits by hand, but getting a water softener will also make detergent/soap work better. Reverse osmosis is more for filtering than softening. Get a demand regeneration softener, not a timed system. You don't need to go with Kinetico -- they're really good but it may be more than you need (our nephew's family is still using a demand regeneration unit from Sears 15 years after MrR installed it in GrammaR's house).

Used to be that you could take a water sample in to the appliance store and they'd test it and tell you what your hardness/iron level was, and what you could do to change it to something more acceptable -- I have no idea if you still can do that.

Plumb the water softener only to the hot water -- that way it doesn't affect the taste of your cold tap water. (As an aside, what changes the flavor of the water is the filtering and the removal of the minerals -- the salt is only a catalyst, and very little of it goes into the water.) Use potassium chloride rather than sodium chloride in the salt bed, and then you can run the discharge into the garden -- the tree growing down by the softener drain is flourishing, as is the grass (the neighbors who use sodium salt have dead areas where their softeners drain).
posted by jlkr at 8:09 PM on July 1, 2009


"Make sure the electric is NOT grounded to the plumbing. That is a big no no."

Depends on what you mean. If your water service comes into the building in metal pipes, I'm pretty sure code *requires* it to be bonded to the house ground. On the other hand, that should be the only connection between the electric and plumbing. You are correct that an outlet shouldn't be bonded to a nearby water pipe.

Things I would check: the voltage delivered to the appliances and/or the quality of the power. It's possible that fluctuating or high/low voltage would cause the elements to not act right. I would also check to make sure your grounds are correct. My mother has an ice maker problem (that I have yet to fix) caused by some kind of weirdness where there is some kind of gremlin causing electrolysis between the copper supply line and the icemaker, causing the ice to be green.

And yeah, see if the neighbors have water softeners.
posted by gjc at 5:20 AM on July 2, 2009


I have pretty hard water, and it killed my last dishwasher *despite* running vinegar. Vinegar didn't seem to help much for us. I finally used phosphoric acid, in a load by itself, to clean it out occasionally. I'd generally pour it in after the load started so it was diluted a bit and not sitting on the plastic full strength. But after a load of that, and another load to rinse it out, that sucker sparkled.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:59 AM on July 2, 2009


By the way, I've been thinking about a softener, and read with interest the Kinetico recommendation above. A quick search reveals that not all are as enamored with the system, citing the high maintenance cost and the non-user-serviceable parts.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:27 AM on July 2, 2009


Used to be that you could take a water sample in to the appliance store and they'd test it and tell you what your hardness/iron level was, and what you could do to change it to something more acceptable -- I have no idea if you still can do that.

Our local Sears store still does it. I would imagine they all do. We have a Sears softener, fwiw.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:37 AM on July 2, 2009


I went to Sears to look at dishwashers and water softeners yesterday. The guy had no idea about the softeners, said he sold only one in the last year. Lowe's wasn't helpful either. Even the plumbing company we use from time to time didn't have much useful information. I'm relying on the internet at this point :)

I also saw some less-than-great stuff about the Kineticos. Sounds like they might be outside my budget anyway...
posted by missuswayne at 1:28 PM on July 2, 2009


By the way, I've been thinking about a softener, and read with interest the Kinetico recommendation above. A quick search reveals that not all are as enamored with the system, citing the high maintenance cost and the non-user-serviceable parts.

I think you'll find someone with an axe to grind about any product or service. I won't speak for anyone else, but our Kinetico system has been problem free from Day One. It's as efficient, quiet, and low maintenance as advertised -- all we have to do is add the salt and change a filter at the sink once a year. By contrast, our previous water softener and filteration systems (Rayne and Culligan) were nothing but problems; we wasted a lot of money trying to keep them in working order. It's been 100% worth it in our case (and after we finished negotiating with them, we didn't pay much more than an equivalent system from a local competitor would have cost).

Do your homework and get the system that best fits your needs, as you would with anything else.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 4:04 PM on July 3, 2009


« Older How can I develop more of an a...   |  Which way is West?... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.