Water Softeners – How To Choose And Install One

There are several types of devices designed to reduce the hardness of water; so, if you have decided to install one in your home, you should be aware that the installation process will vary tremendously from one system to another and from one model to the other, each one with its own level of difficulty.An image showing a diagram of how a water softener works

We can broadly classify all the different models and brands into three different kinds:

  1. Salt-based softeners; which can be, for most people, the most complicated to install
  2. Salt-free softeners; which are a little less complicated than salt-based systems but more complicated than water conditioners
  3. Water conditioners; which are the less complicated of all; these have very few pieces and are not very complex machines, some of can even be installed within minutes (most magnetic water conditioners actually consist of a couple of wire coils around an intake water pipe)
 

If you want to install a salt-based water softener then you will need to also place it near a drain; remember that such models need to recharge periodically and they have to flush out all the waste water with all the concentrated salts they catch.

But there is another special consideration you need to have if you want to install a salt-based water softener: remember that these systems extract all the salts that make water hard, which are calcium and magnesium, and replace them with sodium. Now, if you are on a low-sodium diet for your helath, then you should avoid drinking water coming from your salt-based water softener. In that case, you should to install your softener after your kitchen sink, your refrigerator, drinking faucet or from wherever you get the water you usually drink.

Where should it be placed?

For logical reasons, all water softeners or water conditioners have to be installed before any other device or appliance; remember that one of the main reasons for installing a water softener is to protect all your other appliances and machines from the negative effects of hard water, so, a water softener or conditioner has to be placed before all of them, and manufacturers recommend installing them as close as possible to your main water intake pipe; in other words, in the exact place where the pipe that supplies your home with water comes into your house, or the closest you can to such place.

Another reason for this is that if you install your water conditioner or softener after the water heater, then the higher temperatures in the water could potentially damage it. So, installing the water softener or conditioner before everything else will ensure your whole house is protected and you will be able to enjoy the full benefits of a whole house system.

 

If you are installing a water conditioner then remember it should be installed indoors. However, magnetic water conditioners usually do not take much space and can be easily installed and moved around in a few minutes

For reasons of convenience, most people install their water softeners in utility closets or in their basements, which is perfect as long as it can be placed before any kitchen or bathroom, as seen above.

 

The costs of a Water Softener

Now it is time to calculate your budget, and the first thing to consider is, obviously, the cost of the water softener.

Once installed, you should also remember that a salt-based softener will consume up to $20 per month in salt (some units can work with regular table salt).

A regular water softener can cost anywhere from $250 USD for the most basic unit (one for a small household, like, say, a house with 1 bathroom or 2 people or less; or maybe a unit that will only cover a single faucet) to $1,000 USD for a bigger unit that will cover the needs of a bigger household and offer the purest water. A water conditioner will be considerably cheaper, with prices ranging from $150 USD to $300 USD or more, but a conditioner will not work on bigger households, or if the water is too hard, and it will not get rid of the salts dissolved in water, it just modifies them and renders them inoffensive.

An image showing where to install a water softener

An image showing where to install a water softener

The installation a water softener, even a big and complex one, can be rather simple and straightforward, and most of the times the only expense you will incur is the cost of the water softener (or the water conditioner) itself. The only way you are going to spend any money is if one of your options is to call a professional to set everything up for you, in which case the costs will depend on whether the plumber works on commission or charges a flat hourly rate.

 

Install a salt-based softener

Before you start you will need the following tools and materials:

  • Pipe cutters
  • Pipe wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Tape measure
  • Tee valves
  • 2 union fittings
  • Torch and solder

 

Once you have all the needed tools and materials you will have to proceed like this:

  1. First shut off the main water line that goes to your house; and once closed, open the lowest valve inside your house and let all the remaining water in the pipes run out to completely drain the pipes.
  2. If you have a water heater, then shut turn it off and disconnect it.
  3. Write down the measures of your new water softener, you can refer to its user manual.
  4. Decide where you would like to install your water softener; just make sure the spot you chose is located as close as possible to the where the water main line begins and before your water heater, and then use the tape measure and the measures of your water softener you wrote down to make sure the unit will fit in the spot you chose.
  5. Mark with a felt tip pen the places in the main water line where you will cut, remember to take exactly enough space for the unit to fit.
  6. Use the pipe cutter to cut into the main water line in the places you marked. Some leftover water might spill but hopefully it will not be too much.
  7. Install an elbow just to fit inside the pipe you just cut; this elbow will feed the filter and also a bypass valve that will allow you to use an alternate pipe going around the filter and use unfiltered hard water if you ever need to.
  8. After cutting the pipes to fit, solder any fittings and nipples before connecting the pipe to the bypass valve.
  9. Attach the unit to the pipes with the compression fittings that were supplied with your water softener
  10. Clamp the drain hose to the water softener and feed the other end to the drain (be it the flood drain, a sump pump, utility sink or whatever).
  11. Using the user manual for reference, connect the overflow pipe to the brine tank of your softener.
  12. Put the bypass valve in the bypass position and let water run through it to flush any dirt or debris that may have remained.
  13. Plug in your water softener and set the valve in the backwash position, and then open it slowly and gradually to let water in and to flush out any air in the pipes.
  14. Consult your user manual for detailed instructions about how to set up a regeneration or flushing schedule and for adding salt to the unit.

(This is a video of the Nuvo h20, how to use it and install it)

Installing a salt-free softener

Before you begin you will need the following tools and materials:

  • Pipe cutters
  • Pipe wrench
  • Teflon Tape
  • Tubing or copper pipe
  • Compression fittings

 

Once you have all the needed tools and materials you will have to proceed like this:

  1. First shut off the main water line that goes to your house; and once closed, open the lowest valve in your house and let all the remaining water in the pipes run out to completely drain the pipes.
  2. Write down the measures of your new water softener, you can refer to its user manual.
  3. Decide where you want to install your water softener; just make sure the spot you chose is located as close as possible to the where the water main line begins and before your water heater, and then use the tape measure and the measures of your water softener you wrote down to make sure the unit will fit in the spot you chose. Also make sure it is the cold water line.
  4. Mark with a felt tip pen the places in the main water line where you will cut, remember to take exactly enough space for the unit to fit (remember it must be the cold water supply!).
  5. Use the pipe cutter to cut into the main water line in the places you marked. Some leftover water might spill but hopefully it will not be too much.
  6. Attach a shut-off valve to the pipe (solder it if the pipe is made of copper or glue it if it is made of PVC).
  7. After the shut-off valve, install the carbon pre-filter and attach it using compression fittings.
  8. Attach a second shut-off valve after the carbon pre-filter. Again, use compression fittings to attach it.
  9. Extend the pipe to the distribution head of the filter system and attach it with a compression fitting.
  10. Connect the outlet of the unit back into the cold water pipe (so the water goes through the softener and back into the house).
  11. Close the two shut-off valves and turn the main water valve of your house back on.
  12. Carefully and slowly open one shut-off valve, check for leaks, and then open the second one. If you find none then open them completely and start the unit.

 

 

Installing a Magnetic Water Conditioner

Before you begin you will need the following tools and materials:

 

  • A screwdriver
  • An adjustable wrench

 

Once you have all the needed tools and materials you will have to proceed like this:

  1. Consult your user manual and take note of the measures of your water conditioner. You do not need the exact figures, to write down the numbers or to use a tape measure and a felt tip pen to mark over the pipe the exact space it will take, because a water conditioner consists of a couple of wire coils that go over the pipe, so just an estimate will do.
  2. First locate the area over your main water supply pipe where you will want your conditioner to be located. Remember the water conditioner will not take much space.
  3. Consult the user manual or the instructions and open the magnet box of your conditioner; remember it should hinge on one side and be able to clamp down over the pipe.
  4. Fit the box of the water conditioner around the pipe. Consult the user manual or the instructions to make sure you arrange it in the right direction, because the water has to flow in a specific direction along the box.
  5. Close the box around the box with the screws that were provided with your water conditioner.

Final thoughts

As you may have noticed, the magnetic water conditioner is incredibly easy to install and set up and you can try it for the first time just a few minutes after it has arrived to your home. However, as we saw above, it is only suitable for small households with small water demands and for water that is not so hard (a very hard water will require a real water softener), plus it will not really get rid of the salts that make water hard, it will just mask them.

But regardless of the system you may have chose, a water softener is always a smart investment and a good idea if your water supply is too hard; as long as you have chose a system that covers the needs and demands of your home and your family.

The hardest your water supply is, the more you will notice the change and the improvement in the quality of your water and the more money you will save; and above else, being able to enjoy clear and fresh water any time you want has no comparison, and for this reason alone a water softener is worth the cost.

Remember that you can always check the instructions inside the water softener that you have purchased, also if you have some problems you can always consult DIY Forums or DIY Chatrooms.