Updated Aug. 6, 2018
Periodic proactive maintenance of point-of-entry (POE) water conditioning equipment will benefit the end user and the service provider. Consumers generally prefer to be taken care of on a set schedule rather than waiting for a malfunction to occur. For residential applications, an annual visit is typically adequate and can often be combined with other point-of-use drinking water filter service. For commercial customers, more frequent attention is often required, usually with monthly visits. Efficient service hinges on being prepared, so have the proper tools and parts to do the job correctly the first time. The goal is to prevent an avoidable return trip that costs you time, money and most importantly, can have a deleterious effect on your credibility.
Arrive On Time
Start by being on time for your appointment. Because most service appointments are behind schedule, being punctual will impress your customer and start things on a positive note. Check the water quality performance of the effluent and observe the systems settings. Compare these results with the influent conditions. In other words, make sure the system is removing the contaminants, hardness, chlorine, iron or whatever else it was designed to remove. This should give you an idea of whether you are dealing with a simple maintenance issue, or whether you also must diagnose and repair the system.
You will need to visually check all the mechanisms, gears, dials, motor and other ancillary parts. The valve internals will need to be inspected for undue wear, grooves or scratching. Inspect and service the sensitive, all-important meter or sensor components. It is critical to test these components for accuracy. Reusing suspect parts, seals or O-rings is a disservice to your customer and will inevitably lead to otherwise avoidable return trips. You will earn a few extra dollars profit by replacing these small items, but the real purpose is to do the job right. This will help prevent return calls and premature failure of the system. How much productive time will be lost if you have to return and replace a leaking O-ring that should have been replaced the first time?
Clean the System
Thoroughly clean the injector, injector screen and all other related components. Partial clogging of the injector assembly is one of the most common areas of water softener failure. Clear the brine line flow control and backwash flow control. An obstructed brine line flow control leads to poor regeneration and incorrect brine levels, often resulting in low capacity. A drain line flow control must maintain the designed flow rate to keep the media properly cleaned and classified. A severely restricted drain line flow control will prevent proper brine draw, subsequently resulting in hard water. Inspect for the proper drain line flow rate and adjust the flow control mechanism appropriately. Keep in mind that the backwash flow rate is highly reliant on the influent temperature and of course, the type of media in the tank. Most backwash flow rate charts are based on about 50 to 60?F. Colder influent water temperatures will require lower backwash rates, while warmer water will need to be compensated for with a higher rate.
Check the Resin
Inspect the resin or other filter media on a regular basis. Depending on the application and frequency of service, this step may not need to be completed with each preventative maintenance call. The longevity of softening resin and most filter media varies greatly, being highly dependent on many chemical and physical factors. Exposure to excessive chlorine levels and other oxidants is especially detrimental to softening resin. Undersized systems with excessive service flow rates will literally crush and fracture the resin beads, leading to premature failure. Each media type will need to be evaluated individually based on the application and expectations of the customer. Measure for the proper bed depth as significant media attrition can lead to reduced capacity and inadequate contact time. In general, expect softening resin to require replacement about every five to 15 years for a typical residential application.
Drain the water out of the mineral tank so the top of the media bed is exposed and visually inspect for signs of channeling. This will typically be seen as a depression in the center of the media bed or near the tank wall. Channeling is an indication of a deteriorated media bed or other malfunction that will result in reduced contact time and poor, inconsistent performance. Resin beds suffering from channeling problems will provide sporadic hardness removal results and even occasional salty water to service. Whether caused by the media, inadequate backwash, clogged distributor or other malfunction, the corrective repairs must be made. This often involves replacing the media and other related components.
Due to cost and time factors, most POE systems are too small to justify a laboratory analysis of the media. For resin beds you will want to use a small diameter pipe to take a core sample of the media. A thin wall 13/16-in. plastic distributor or similar tube works well for this purpose. Slowly insert and simultaneously spin the pipe down into the media bed as deep as possible. Plug the end with a rubber cork or your thumb and pull the core sample out of the tank. Release the resin from the pipe by laying it at an angle slightly over horizontal onto a clean surface. You should have a nice line of resin showing the condition of the media from the bottom to the top of the tank. This sample should be inspected for inconsistencies such as swelling or broken beads. An inexpensive handheld magnifier is helpful for this purpose. Look for possible resin degradation, especially near the top of the sample, as this is where the smaller, lighter and broken beads will settle. Squeeze the resin in your hand and feel for a coarse, firm texture that easily flows through your fingers. If you are not sure, simply use a new resin sample as a guide. If the resin feels soft or somewhat mushy, you are likely confronting a resin bed in need of replacement. Do not attempt to salvage the “good” part of the resin bed under the deteriorated top portion. The top of the media bed is simply an indicator of what will soon follow with the balance of the resin.
Resin can have good appearance and texture, yet be fouled to the point of uselessness. Fouled resin beds, often by iron, have a reduced number of available exchange sites robbing from their rated capacity. They typically provide poor capacity, even with higher salt dosages and will often cause increased hardness leakage. Common resin cleaners are inexpensive and readily available in many forms. Citric acid, phosphoric acid and others are designed for ongoing maintenance of the resin beads. These can be installed as a simple, integral part of the brine tank. Others are specifically designed for one-time use only. Once fouled, it is difficult to readily regain the full capacity capabilities of the resin, thus the best path of action is to avert the source of fouling.
Clean the Brine Tank
The brine tank is the most neglected part of a water softener system. It collects insoluble matter from the salt or potassium chloride in addition to the trash and debris that enter from outside sources. Dust, leaves, portions of the salt bag and any number of other unwanted materials are commonly found clogging the brine system. These materials will settle to the bottom of the tank and may be drawn up into the brine mechanisms, clogging them and causing general havoc. In extreme cases, this insoluble matter will clog the brine well, leading to inadequate water flow. When clogged, the brine well will quickly overflow from the refill water and either shut off the float mechanism or overflow onto the ground. Poor regeneration follows as much of the brine make up water has been lost or not been allowed to enter the system at all. The brine tank needs to be emptied and thoroughly cleaned. The air check and float mechanisms need to be inspected and serviced. Make sure the customer is using a good quality salt with minimal amounts of insoluble matter. It’s all about service, so it is a good idea to bring a supply of salt to refill the brine tank.
Update the Settings
Check all system functions for proper operation. Update the valve settings based on local conditions and requirements. Use an efficient regenerant dose and adjust for optimum operation. Sufficient for most residential applications, 6 lb of salt per cubic foot of resin will net up to about 24,000 grains of capacity. This results in an efficiency rating of 4,000 grains of hardness removal per pound of salt. The water conditioning industry is under ever-increasing scrutiny with regard to discharge issues, so do your part by using sensible, efficient settings.
Sanitize the Components
Under normal conditions, the following quick disinfection procedure is sufficient. Initiate the regeneration cycle and wait for the beginning of the brine draw cycle. Add 1 to 2 oz of 5.25% household bleach per cubic foot to the brine well water. The bleach will be drawn into the system, sanitizing all of the water contacting components.
Finally, do not leave the location without thoroughly cleaning the system. Aesthetics matter and few things will leave a better impression with your customer than thoroughly cleaning the system and work area.