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Water softeners: Time-Initiated vs Demand-Initiated

We have “theme months” here at Sterling Services where we focus on certain areas each month and January is “Water Quality Month”. This time we’re going to address some water softener features.

Once people learn about the benefits of water softeners, it becomes time to figure out the differences. Although most differences are in the overall product quality and reputation, there are some design variations as well.

One of the major progressions made in the water softener world is going from a timed regeneration cycle to a unit operating “on demand”. Most early models, along with some newer but lesser priced systems go through the regenerating process using a motorized or digital time clock (time initiated). When it’s time to regenerate, which is a necessary step in softening the water, the timer initiates this cycle whether it’s needed or not. The problem here is that you could have had a recent busy time in the household where there were Holiday visitors, lots of showers being taken, laundry being done and dishes being washed. By the time this regeneration cycle occurs, it may be long overdue and all the soft water could have long been depleted.

On the flipside, if you had been the one visiting others during the Holidays with your home sitting vacant with no water use, it could have very well gone through multiple “regen” cycles, which is a big waste of salt and water.

A higher quality alternative is a demand-initiated system, which begins the regeneration process when the softening capacity of the system is at the end of its usefulness; no sooner and no later. It accomplishes this by metering the amount of water passing through the system. Based on how hard the water is, the meter is set to start regeneration when the softening resin reaches the end of its service life. At this point, the control valve begins the sequence, including drawing in brine, rinsing and backwashing. Afterwards, it’s right back into service and softening again. Simply put, the on-demand version is a bit smarter.

Another point I might add is that this is not a product to be just taken out of the box, plugged in and assumed to be set up correctly. Because water quality varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, a water hardness test should be done when the system is first commissioned so that the meter is set properly as to not over or under soften your water.

As with many products we discuss here, research and professional advice is the safest avenue before deciding on a product.