At the beginning of last month’s column, I wrote that, on occasion, I think I have completed a topic only to realize that I have missed something. Well, readers, I have done it again. I did not address an innovative type of softener control timer and forgot to mention a simple method that really uses no timer at all.

Perhaps the most sophisticated control valve timer is not a timer at all, but, in effect, a computer. Units that have this type of system have a flow meter on the inlet side of the softener. This meter keeps track of the number of gallons of water going into the softener. I have not sold very many of these and maybe the flow meter is on the outlet side, but I can’t really remember. If the meter is on the inlet side, it would total up the gallons for regeneration and that would not be good. 

Wherever it is placed, this flow meter sends a signal to a small computer that controls the regeneration valve. The hardness of the water being treated is programmed into the computer, and it keeps track of the number of gallons that have gone through the softener. When the capacity of the softener is approached, the computer will signal for regeneration at 2 a.m. the next morning — or whatever time the unit is set to regenerate. If this delay were not programmed into the computer, regeneration would begin when the last so-called soft gallon of water came out of the unit. This would not be a good thing, as you can imagine, if you were taking a shower and suddenly had hard water as the softener began to regenerate. You would be unhappy. So, the time delay until the next morning is almost a required feature.

The idea behind meter-control regeneration is, I believe, to get every last gallon of water through the softener before regeneration occurs. This, of course, would give the most efficient use of salt and also regeneration water, if this water were in high demand with perhaps a slow pump or weak well. I doubt that any system, no matter how efficient, can get the absolute last gallon of soft water through a unit. But, certainly, the meter types are more efficient than a time clock as the time clock is, in effect, an educated guess as to water usage. These meter-controlled units are more expensive than timer-controlled ones, but some affluent consumers want the very best and the meter unit is the machine for them. 

One very simple way to control frequency of regeneration on a softener is not to use a timer or meter at all. I have had customers who really did not want an automatic softener, but also did not want the difficulty of manually regenerating a unit. The answer for these folks is an automatic softener set to regenerate zero times a week, or not at all. When these picky customers feel it is time for a regeneration, they merely turn a knob slightly or push a button, and the softener will begin to regenerate. It will then be ready to run until the next time the consumer feels it needs to regenerate. I know that this method sounds somewhat goofy, but I have sold a few customers a time-controlled softener and they set the frequency in their own mind and not with a clock or meter. 

Now, on a whole different subject, I recently attended a short conference on the subject of PFAS contamination. PFAS is a substance that has about 20 letters in its real name. I’m quite sure you readers have heard about it, as it seems to be the contaminant of choice currently. PFAS is all over, not just in the state of Michigan or the United States. It is worldwide. It occurs in non-stick cookware, in water proofing for shoes and clothes, and many, many other articles that are part of everyday life. In west central Michigan, we have a major PFAS contamination where a shoe manufacturer disposed of a material used to waterproof shoes and boots.

Now, since it was held about 35 miles from my office, was free and included lunch, I went to this seminar. It lasted about four hours and was attended by about 40 people. We were given a background on PFAS and where it occurs and legal aspects of its occurrence, as well as some information on cleaning it up (especially when it occurs in water).

This information was presented by a panel of four well-educated people who made a good presentation. While I was glad I went to the seminar, I came away with a feeling that we as a society don’t really know much about PFAS. We know it occurs and we know it is bad stuff if ingested. As one of the speakers suggested, our information level is somewhat like the above-water portion of an iceberg (that is, we’re only seeing about 10 percent of the issue). The current maximum safe level of PFAS for most contact with humans is 70 parts per trillion (ppt). At the seminar, we learned that a part per trillion is akin to about two persons out of the world’s entire population. 

There are some lawmakers who believe the contaminant limit (I think this is what they call it) should be 5 ppt and, if I’m not mistaken, Australia has set a limit of 2 ppt. The big problem, as I see it, is we really don’t know much about this substance and its effects on humans, animals and the environment itself. Some good news is that, at least in water, PFAS can be treated for or cleaned up using a couple of methods — both of which are very expensive. On the negative side, it seems there are no hard and fast ways to test for PFAS and testing protocol can vary widely from lab to lab. 

If a seminar on PFAS is held near you, dear reader, I suggest you attend — even if you have to pay to do it. You will come away with more questions than answers, but also with much more knowledge about this widespread subject. I was really glad that I went to the event I did, and it was very well presented and managed. 

I write this a couple days before Thanksgiving, but you will read it in 2019. I hope each and every one of you had a good 2018 and were able to celebrate the holidays with loved ones and friends. We’ve had a dull and wet fall here in southern Michigan and my infamous lawn tractor has been converted to a snow plow. We’ve had a few light snow falls, but nothing worth plowing. Happy 2019 to one and all.

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