Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Hard Water

"Furry Water"

Cedric rang.

“I’ve got fur in my kettle” he said.
“Does your tea tickle your palette?” I politely enquired.
“No, why do you ask?” he said.
“Forget it.” I said. “Rats a problem? Do you need pest control or is that huge hairy hound of yours drinking out of it?” (He does have rather a large dog with a lot of hair).

“No, no” he said “I mean fur in my kettle not fur in my kettle”

“Ah,” I twigged “you mean you have fur in your kettle, why didn’t you say so. For a moment I thought you were boiling cats or some such strange Kerobokan ritual”.

They are odd people in that part of the world you know. I put it down to the “funny” smoke that blows across from the prison. They always say that when the wind blows from the east they have great parties in Kerobokan.

But no, Cedric’s problem came from underground, nothing to do with the prison, it came from his bore. He had a problem with hardness (I beg your pardon). You see his water supply had a lot of calcium in it. Cedric’s bore had become a real bore.

Boring bores are a common problem in Bali particularly on the Bukit where there is a lot of limestone. If, on its way to your tap, your water passes through rock with a high calcium or magnesium content such as limestone, coral stone or chalk (and incidentally cement/concrete) it will pick up calcium or magnesium which dissolves in the water. The water becomes “hard”. It might be good for your bones but not for your peace of mind.

Only well boned people live on the Bukit you know.

When hard water gets a bit of rough treatment such as being heated or running through something or dripping onto something it can get a bit fed up to say the least. It throws a wobbler and dumps the calcium. Calcium deposits can build up quite quickly, visit a show cave and you will soon see what deposited calcium can do.

Around your house calcium or magnesium can get deposited in pumps, water heaters, kettles, in toilets or around taps. If you have hard water you may find you can see it deposited on glasses if they are left to dry after being washed.

Calcium/magnesium deposits are generally known as “scale” by reptile lovers (although cat lovers tend to call it fur).

The removal of scale, known as “descaling”, has always been a major maintenance issue in steam engines, boilers for heating systems and power stations.

In household situations scale has a number of detrimental effects, most are merely inconvenience but some can cause expense.

Hard water stops the soap from lathering properly making a shower a rather disappointing experience.

Scale in your kettle coats the heating element and makes it inefficient. If the scale builds up too much your kettle will eventually fail requiring a new element or even a new kettle.

Scale in your toilet can look very unsightly and may block up the valves in the cistern.

In a water pump it can choke up the impellor.

Scale can also leave a mat surface on the tiles in your bathroom. If under the shower the tiles are not shiny it is usually a thin film of calcium deposit although it could be fat from soap or a roughened surface caused by cleaning with a scouring agent.

Probably the worst effect of scale deposit is in water heaters where it is deposited on the inner surface of internal water pipes. The internal diameter of the pipes is reduced which considerably reduces the heating efficiency of the heater but worse reduces the flow of water through the heater. This reduced flow is a nuisance and can reduce your shower to a mere dribble but, in instant demand type of gas and electric heaters scale can also stop the heater’s control system working properly. Eventually you have to replace the heater.

So how do you remove calcium deposits? Calcium is very hard and trying to chip it off can be a bit of a disaster especially from fragile items such as heating elements. The usual method is to use hydrochloric acid which, quite worryingly, is freely available in most hardware shops. BE CAREFUL IT IS VERY NASTY STUFF. If you must use it use rubber gloves, protect your eyes, do not breathe in the fumes and be very careful where you dispose of it.

It is far better to avoid using it.

Cedric had a particularly serious problem. There was a particularly beautiful formation around his water pump he called “the Crown Jewels.” He was thinking of opening his house as a show cave. Every four days he had to clean his kettle with Hydrochloric acid (HCL).

So how do we deal with hard water? Filtering will not remove the calcium or magnesium ions. Distilling the water is an expensive exercise.

The cheapest and easiest solution is to get yourself a water softener.

A water softener is basically a tank full of plastic beads which is installed in the water supply to your house. The plastic or “resin” beads are precharged with sodium ions. As the water flows over the beads the calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions which leave the calcium and magnesium deposited on the surface of the beads.

Every now and then (depending on how hard your water is) you regenerate the beads by “backwashing” using a strong salt water solution. The salt water solution (Sodium Chloride) displaces the calcium and magnesium that has built up on the beads replacing it with sodium ready to start again. The salt water flushes away the released calcium and magnesium deposits to a drain.

This is an environmentally safe process with only natural salt, calcium and magnesium being deposited in the drains.

Your standard water pressure is usually sufficient to drive the water through the water softening unit.

There are many water softeners available from small “under the sink” mounted units designed just to soften the water for your kitchen sink to large household units that soften all your household supply to toilets, showers, water heaters and taps.

The process is quite simple and, while many fancy looking units are available for upwards of RP 15 million, rugged practical models with automatic backwash can be found for around Rp 6 million. It may sound a lot but for people like Cedric struggling with a serious problem it is little price to pay. If Cedric decides to move house he can take the water softener with him.

Cedric is happier now. His hardness problem has been solved. He has nice foaming showers with lots of hot water. He can sit on his balcony and breathe in the night air and, as the psychedelic images flutter across his mind, he can drink his tea secure in the knowledge that he won’t burn his mouth and it certainly won’t tickle his palate.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

9 December 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180