Another successful repair

As I mentioned earlier, we were having problems with the water softener and when your well water is as hard as ours is (“how hard is it?” “that’s a rather personal question sir” “no you git, how hard is the water?”) the water softener is pretty important.

So the venturi gasket looked okay, but I ordered a new one since it’s a bit sensitive.  I also ordered some new internal gaskets that go in the valve.  The parts arrived on Saturday.  Replacing the venturi gasket didn’t help, so I opened up the valve and found that I had the wrong sized internal gasket 🙁 .  Turns out that all of the brand name softeners (GE, Sears, Kenmore, Home Depot, etc.) all use the same valve, but in two differrent sizes, a common smaller size and then the rarer large size.  I’ll give you one guess as to which we own.  Of course, if I had paid attention, I would have noticed that the gasket had two sizes, but oh no…  Anyway, so I figure I’ve got to return the gasket, but then I google around a bit and find that in addition to the gaskets (which ironically allow the softener to suck), sometimes the symptoms we were seeing are caused by a blocked drain plug or blocked rotor.  I pull out the drain plug and sure enough – it’s blocked.  But even after I clear the blockage it still doesn’t suck – but in an entirely different failure mode.  I clean the rotor – now it works.  I still had some issues with leaks, but reseating the rotor and the whole valve has fixed those. I think we’re back in business.

On a related note, skvidal sent me a link to an old bicycle catalog which included a short piece on building items so that they can be worked on and repaired.  It’s fairly interesting and in a sense covers the problems I have with this softener.  Part of me wants to junk it and get something not broken.  This is actually fairly common.  I think that the average lifespan of a name brand water softener is 5-10 years.  Ours is seven.  Online, I’ve seen discussions from plumbers about customers that just replace instead of fix their softeners.  At this point, I have a fairly complete understanding of how ours works and a reasonable confidence that I can repair anything that goes wrong with it (assuming the parts are still available).  So why should I still want to replace it?  Because it’s a cheap piece of garbage.  The valve is designed to break after 3 years or so.  The rotor gets eaten away and can only be replaced.  On the plus side, it’s also designed to be easily repaired – not from any sense of reduced consumption, but because if a Sears/GE/etc. repair guy can come out, easily diagnose the problem and quickly replace an expensive part, it’s a big win for the service department.  They spend a short amount of time onsite, charge an X hour, minimum trip fee and then get to pass along a marked up price for the expensive part.  They win all the way around.

So, I figure that by giving it some love every few years, I could keep it going indefinitely (20+ years), on the other hand, a better designed softener could last 20+ years without all the attention and specialized parts.  I’ll probably keep repairing the water softener, but I wish that when the former owners had bought the thing, that they had spent a bit more and gotten something that was better built in the first place.

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