TAC and NAC are salt-free water softening technologies that prevent scale formation in your plumbing system. A chalky buildup of hardness minerals, scale is a nightmare for appliances and water heaters.
What exactly are TAC and NAC, do they work, and how are they different than traditional salt-based water softening methods? If you have hard water and think you need a water softener, the answers to these questions could save you thousands.[lwptoc skipHeadingLevel=”h3,h4″]
TAC vs NAC Media — What’s the Difference?
TAC stands for template-assisted crystallization — NAC is an acronym for nucleation assisted crystallization. If the two terms sound oddly similar, you’re not wrong.
Like most scientific advancements, the jargon was coined by the different teams of researchers involved in developing the process. But there’s no practical difference between these two salt-free water conditioning technologies — the terms are interchangeable.
What Is Template Assisted Crystallization?
If you have hard water, you know that scale formation in your pipes can decrease the efficiency and life span of your appliances and water heater by up to 30 percent.
Until recently, traditional water softeners were the only the solution to scale build-up. But using salt to remove hardness minerals is a cure that can be worse than the problem. Template assisted crystallization is a salt-free, low-maintenance alternative.
How does it work? TAC media is made of ceramic polymer beads peppered with so-called nucleation sites that capture calcium and magnesium ions. These sites act like molds, or templates, in which minerals gather and grow into tiny crystals.
When the crystals outgrow the template, they break free from the nucleation site. Transformed, they remain suspended in water and float harmlessly through your plumbing system instead of forming scale.
Do TAC/NAC Water Conditioners Soften Water?
TAC water conditioners are often referred to as salt-free water softeners, but they’re not. Although they have a softening-like effect on water, only ion exchange water softeners remove hard minerals.
What’s the Difference Between Water Softeners and Water Conditioners?
Salt-based water softeners rely on an ion exchange process to treat hard water. Negatively charged resin beads trap positively charged calcium and magnesium ions as water flows through the mineral tank.
Once the resin is saturated, a rush of sodium solution from the brine tank breaks the electrical bonds between the media and hardness minerals. Calcium and magnesium are rinsed down the drain, and the resin beads are rejuvenated. It’s a self-cleaning system.
TAC conditioners turn calcium and magnesium ions into calcium and magnesium crystals, altering their molecular structure so that they can’t form scale on hard surfaces.
Do I Need a Water Softener or a Water Conditioning System?
TAC media is proven to prevent scale almost as well as a water softener in nearly all conditions. If scale prevention is the goal, a water conditioner will do the job for less money and with fewer maintenance hassles.
For most homeowners, there are four good reasons to choose TAC technology over a water softener:
Cost of Ownership
Conventional softeners and TAC conditioners are both whole-house water treatment solutions, but that’s where the similarities end.
Despite a similar upfront price, water softeners cost significantly more to operate. Not only do they burn through $250-$400 worth of salt annually, but they also waste water. Regeneration cycles send 70-200 gallons down the drain weekly. If you pay for water, expect your bill to rise.
Water softeners also require electricity to operate, another small but not insignificant monthly expense.
Water softeners discharge briny wastewater. Laden with hard minerals and salt, it increases treatment costs for public water systems.
Salt is also classified as a pollutant in most states because of its impact on wildlife, so traditional water softener usage is restricted in many ecologically sensitive areas.
Ideal in drought-prone places, salt-free water conditioning systems don’t use electricity, and they produce zero waste.
Water softener resin and TAC media both last up to 15 years depending on your water quality, and replacement costs are similar. But while water softeners need monthly salt refills, salt-free water conditioning systems are virtually maintenance-free. Set it and forget it.
Calcium and magnesium are not only good for you, but they also give water its characteristic flavor. Without them, your drinking water can taste flat. Like reverse osmosis filters, water softeners strip away these beneficial minerals. Softeners also add about 100 milligrams of sodium to your daily diet. It’s not much, but it can make a difference if you’re trying to reduce your salt intake.
Water conditioning systems don’t remove healthy minerals or add sodium to your drinking water, so it will taste like nature intended, and you won’t have to choose between protecting your health or your home.
Further reading: Benefits of water softener
Is There a Downside to TAC Water Conditioners?
Dissolved calcium carbonate in your water causes a wide range of unpleasant effects around the house from itchy skin and soap that won’t lather to unsightly stains on bathroom fixtures and scale build-up. But while conventional water softeners address all of these issues, the sole purpose of a TAC conditioner is to prevent scale formation. For most homeowners, that’s enough.
But because very hard water has effects you can feel on your skin, hair and clothing, a water softener may be the better choice for hardness levels above 10 PPM. It’s always worth testing your water before purchasing treatment equipment, so you can make the best choice.
Does TAC Technology Really Work?
There’s no shortage of suspicious devices marketed as “water conditioners,” so a healthy skepticism is warranted. But template assisted crystallization is a proven technology.
Arizona State University studied salt-free water softener alternatives and found that TAC reduced scale formation by more than 90 percent without chemicals or adverse environmental effects. Electronic and magnetic water conditioning systems reduced scale by less than 50 percent.
Is a Salt-Free Water Conditioner Worth the Money?
Scale builds up slowly, so its effects aren’t always noticeable. But rest assured, it’s coming for your appliances, water pressure and your checkbook.
Research done on water heaters shows that scale can slash years off the service life of the heating element and compromise its efficiency by up to 30 percent. There’s less risk to a tankless water heater, but it’s not immune. And neither is your washing machine or dishwasher.
TAC conditioners can protect your home going forward and even undo damage that’s already been done. They not only prevent scale formation, but they also pare away existing scale, so your plumbing system gets a fresh start. And it’s an investment that can pay off when it’s time to sell your house. Buyers will know that you’ve taken good care of your home.
As with any water treatment system, its quality matters if you want good results. Because TAC conditioners don’t remove contaminants, they’re not certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF). Testing would require long-term observation, so it’s cost-prohibitive.
The NSF does, however, test TAC media and TAC conditioner parts under NSF/ANSI Standard 61 covering:
- Protective barrier materials
- Joints and seals
- Mechanical valves
- Filter media
- Pipes and hose fittings
It’s not a performance guarantee, but it ensures consumers that none of these parts are made with toxic materials. A voluntary program, manufacturers pay to have their products evaluated. So, if they trust their systems enough to invest in them, chances are you can, too.
Further reading: What does NSF Mean?
TAC and NAC may be the same, but salt-based water softeners and TAC conditioners are not. Yet each has a place and a purpose. So, test your water, consider your needs carefully and choose wisely.