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Hard times for your pipes

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Check all that apply:

• My hot water supply (from a traditional tank water heater) is dwindling.
• My clothes are dingy or unclean after going through the washer.
• I’m finding calcium rings or deposits in tubs, sinks and dishwasher.
• My shower heads and faucets clog;
• My dishes and glasses are spotty or unclean after a run through the dishwasher.
• Pipes leak.

If you checked any or all of the above, chances are you have hard water gushing through your plumbing — and now you know it.

“If you think you’re not affected, think again: 85% of Americans have hard water,” Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, said in a press release. “Water with a high mineral count is really hard on your appliances and can take years off their useful lives.”

Now that you know the warning signs, the first step to have your water analyzed, which some utilities and health departments will do, but companies that specialize in water conditioning also offer it, often free-of-charge. And it’s a good idea to get at least one outside opinion.

So your water’s been analyzed, and lo and behold, you do have hard water. There are a few options to removed calcium and magnesium, which are what make water hard. Traditional water softeners use salt to remove those minerals, but there are devices that do not use salt to soften water, called “water conditioners” or “descalers.”

Angie’s List, which collects consumer reviews of contractors and service companies, offers these tips for buying a water softener:
• Water softeners can cost between a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000, depending on size and type. Some companies offer rental equipment for a monthly charge. Installation typically runs $150 to $300.
• Before you buy a water softener or conditioner, research products and service companies and demand a money-back guarantee.
• In most states, installation does not require a licensed plumber. At a minimum, use a company with technicians certified by the Water Quality Association.
• Understand and follow the maintenance to keep the unit operating properly.

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