Focus On Troubleshooting Water Softeners

10 Need-to-Know Tips for Dealers

March 11, 2003

Let's face it, as good as water softener valves have become,
certain factors can affect their performance. There also are many older units
out there that dealers still have to contend with. So, in an effort to help
keep business flowing, as well as softened water, Water Quality Products went
in search of an expert to bring you the top troubleshooting tips for valves.
The search led to Jay Runkle, employed in technical services at Pentair Water
Treatment. According to Runkle, issues quickly can be sorted out if you know
what to look for. Here are Runkle's top 10 dilemmas, accompanied by probable causes
and suggested antidotes.

Problem Number 1

The customer is complaining of low water pressure style='font-weight:normal'>. According to Runkle, improper system sizing and
installation are the root of this problem. You need to consider the required
flow rate to meet your customer's need, the inlet pressure available and
plumbing system layout. Remember that you lose 1 psig for every 2.3 feet in
piping elevation (this means the water pressure on the second floor of the
house may be 10 psig lower than it is in the basement). For well systems, you
need to consider the low (cut-in) pressure setting for the well pump.

Problem Number 2

The softener is producing a blend of hard and soft water style='font-weight:normal'>. The problem here could be an improperly cut
distributor. If cut too short, the distributor will not reach the O-ring in the
control valve, thereby producing the water blend. Runkle's suggestion? Put the
valve in a brine draw and see how long it takes for salty water to reach the
drain. If salty water reaches the drain immediately, chances are the
distributor is too short. Alternately, the O-ring could be missing in the
valve. Check both and replace as necessary.

Could the distributor ever be cut too long? Yes, says
Runkle. In that case you may see media inside the valve when it is in the
service position.

Take a flashlight and check inside the tank to see if there
is a loss of media. Besides the control valve, the media also might appear in
the service lines.

Problem Number 3

Media in the service line when the valve is in the
service position
. Once again, a flashlight
is a necessary diagnostic tool. In this case, Runkle reports the probable cause
to be a reversed inlet/outlet with service water going down the distributor
rather than down the media and up the distributor. This causes the media to be
lifted out of the bottom of the control valve and found in the service line.
Use a flashlight to see if there are media either inside the control valve or
in the service lines. Here is another tip: Runkle reports that an
electromechanical metered valve never will go into regeneration with a reversed
inlet/outlet. He suggests you check the meter dial. If the dial will count up
and not down, you definitely have a reversed situation. However, this is not a
definitive test with an electronic meter valve, as it will continue to count
down meter pulses correctly even with a reversed inlet/outlet.

Problem Number 4

Water is leaking out the drain when the control valve is
in the service position
. According to
Runkle, the problem here is a drain line leak due to piston seal failure. He
suggests you check the piston to see if it is scratched or if the piston seal
is pinched or torn. Alternately, there also could be foreign material between
the piston seals and piston. If any of these are true, the piston and/or seals
will need to be replaced. Worn seals can cause this problem, too.

Problem Number 5

The softener is refilling the brine tank with water
instead of drawing brine into the softener
This happens when the control valve is in the brine draw position but is
refilling the brine tank instead. Runkle says the culprit in this case is
backpressure to the injector. This can be determined easily if you check the
drain flow during brine draw. If there is no flow, the drain line or control
valve are plugged. If there is a large flow or backwash rate, the control valve
is bypassing water internally. Then check for a blockage in the control valve
or drain and repair.

Problem Number 6

The brine tank is overflowing normal'>. Here the control valve is putting too much water in the brine tank.
This is less likely to happen if the valve is installed with a safety brine
valve in addition to the brine valve. Runkle suggests you check for the

* Inspect
the brine valve to see if it is stuck in the open position.

* Look
at the O-ring inside the brine valve to see if it is missing or pinched.

* Check
to make sure the refill time is properly set on the control valve timer.

* Access
the brine line flow control. See if it is the correct control for the softener,
or alternately, if it is in crooked.

* Refer
to the troubleshooting tips in problem number 5. An overflowing brine tank also
could be a symptom of backpressure to the injector.

Problem Number 7

Low flow in the drain and brine lines style='font-weight:normal'>. In this case, Runkle reports that the probable
cause is a backward flow control. For example, there are two sets of numbers
molded into a Fleck flow washer. One number is the mold number of the flow
washer, and the second number is the size of the flow washer, he explains. To
be properly seated, the two sets of numbers should face the control valve. This
will prevent the proper flow for media expansion in the backwash and not allow
enough water into the brine tank for proper salting.

Problem Number 8

The softener is producing hard water style='font-weight:normal'>. This one takes some investigation. According to
Runkle, there are a number of possible causes. The first thing he suggests is
checking the bypass valve. If it has been left open, close it. Otherwise, hard
water will be the result. Next, look for salt in the brine tank. If there is
none, add enough salt to the tank so it is above the water level. Another
possible cause of hard water is a plugged injector screen. Check it and clean
it, if necessary. A leak at the distributor tube also can cause hard water.
Inspect the tube to make sure it is not cracked. Also check the O-ring and tube
pilot. Finally, consider an internal valve leak. Replace the seals and spacers
and/or the piston to correct the problem.

Problem Number 9

There is iron in the conditioned water. According to Runkle,
many dealers will first suspect the valve, but usually the problem is a fouled
mineral bed. Check the backwash, brine draw and brine tank fill times. Then
increase the frequency of regeneration.

Problem Number 10

The wrong system has been recommended for the job style='font-weight:normal'>. Runkle says there is no fixing an improperly
applied softener system. More and more customers find they are not facing a
service problem as much as a sales problem. Selling a low-price valve to get
the order is no good if it cannot do the job. Make sure the water treatment
system you recommend has the ability to solve your customer's hard water, iron
or any other problem. Remember to consider all the factors involved including
hardness, number of family members, well type and flow. Then, sell up. In the
long run, your customers will appreciate your integrity.

About the Author

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