Comparing the market of water conditioners and water softeners is no easy task. The market is flooded with different products, there is no independent body monitoring them and any web search is filled with conflicting information. Our aim here is to make the entire process much, much easier for everyone involved. So in this article we’ll take a general view of the different product types in the market. We’ll be looking at how they relate to each other in price, longevity and performance.
One of the key areas to compare in this market is cost. However as we’re sure you’ve noticed this is no simple task. Many companies hide their prices meaning that you have to get in touch with a salesperson to figure out the costs. This is not usually a quick, cut and dry conversation either. We know how frustrating this can be but sadly until companies decide to make that information public we can only make estimates based on information from customers and installers.
The other key point to look at is value. Whilst some products are very cheap they don’t bring as much to the table whereas other are more expensive upfront but have much more bang for buck.
We’ll start with salt softeners. As a rule of thumb these are the most expensive treatment options on the table. Not only do they tend to have a high initial cost (this can often be paid for with a finance plan) they also have ongoing running costs. Salt softeners need to be regularly topped up with salt and can also lead to increased water use for the regeneration process. There is a wide range of products available with more expensive twin cylinder units such as the Harveys HV3 costing between £1,500-£1,800 including fitting costs, mid-range systems such as the Monarch Midi HE costing about £499 excluding fitting and cheaper systems such as the Water2buy W2b110 going for £299 excluding fitting. Salt prices can range depending on factors such as water hardness and number of people. As a rough ballpark estimate the cost of salt can run up to around £68 a year.
Water Conditioners and Inhibitors
The next group is Water conditioners and inhibitors, these can vary quite significantly in cost with top range premium conditioners such as the Aquabion costing between £450 – £550 for the unit, to cheaper electronic conditioners, such Eddy costing £139.99. Scale inhibitors are cheaper still with products such as the inline Liff limebeater costing only £55.10. Generally these systems are cheaper than softeners although the higher end conditioners will often be more equivalent in cost.
Performance is probably the biggest thing that customers want information on after cost. If a system works well people are happier to spend a little extra. Sadly this part of the industry is just as shrouded in mystery as price. There is no independent organisation tracking how systems perform on tackling limescale or in providing lifestyle benefits. All the information on this subject has to be taken from the websites of the companies themselves, from reviews and testimonials and in many cases from second-hand and anecdotal sources. We’ll do our best to comment on performance in this section but please bear in mind that our hands are somewhat tied when it comes to this topic.
Salt softeners have been the go to limescale solution for many years in the UK. If properly and regularly maintained and looked after they keep surfaces clear of limescale and appear to make the water feel better on skin and hair. Softened water also seems to allow customers to use less product when washing. More expensive softeners tend to be more efficient, using less salt than cheaper products. They will also tend to use less water during regeneration as they will have built in meters ensuring optimal water use and more efficient processes in place.
Water Conditioners and Inhibitors
Water conditioners and inhibitors seem to vary in performance much more significantly than their more traditional counterparts. All of these systems, in theory, will alter hard water minerals reducing scale. Premium conditioners such as the Aquabion and Halcyan will both prevent new scale formation and remove existing scale over time. On surfaces you can expect to see a soft powdery residue which is easy to clean and a thin layer of hard brittle scale on heating elements. Premium conditioners will also provide some of the benefits of soft water, such as feeling better for skin and hair. Systems such as the Eddy also offer some of these benefits though it may be the case that the effect of the system is reduced the further the water travels from the unit. Conditioners such as the Halcyan maintain their effect on the water for longer (2-3 weeks) compared to other systems which range between 24-72 hours. one of the big advantages of many of these systems is that they require no maintenance, if any. Running costs in most cases are also non-existent.
The cheaper inhibitors such as the Liff seem to vary wildly in performance. Some reducing scale to varying degrees, others have a minimal impact. These systems usually only help reduce scale formation and do not remove existing build up. Nor do they provide any of the ‘soft water’ benefits which premium conditioners provide. They also tend to be designed with single pieces of equipment in mind e.g. the boiler.
Longevity is a key area of interest especially where water treatment is concerned. Installing a limescale prevention system can be costly and time consuming. The longer a system lasts the less faff involved all round.
Salt softeners tend to be more long lived and reliable in the upper range. Systems like the Harveys HV4 last between 15-20 years before needing replacement. These systems also require much less servicing, if any at all. Cheaper systems will usually last around 10 years before requiring replacement and will often require regular servicing.
Water Conditioners and Inhibitors
Depending on methodology water conditioners and inhibitors can have radically different lifespans. A unit such as the Halcyan using a blended core can last for 30 years or more, a sacrificial system such as Aquabion will need replacing every 6-7 years. Electronic systems such as the Scaleguard seem to last about 10 years. Some however have lifetime guarantees such as the Eddy. With inhibitors the lifespan is entirely up for debate, units such as the Liff limebeater are guaranteed for about 5 years.
We hope this has proved a somewhat useful general overview of the market and has given you a bit more to work with while making your decision on how you plan to treat your limescale problems. Stay tuned for a handy table which will directly compare some products on the market.
We know that comparing the market for water conditioning and water softening is difficult. These articles are very much works in progress, subject to regular revision and updates when and where new information arises.