Whole House Water Filtration Systems – How do they work and where to find them?

The best brands and models for whole house water filtration systems

As you may already know, a Water Softener is a device used to reduce the levels of dissolved salts in the water supply of a home, in order to prevent or reduce all the traditional problems and negative effects of excessively hard water. The first and most common signs that you have a hard water problem are: lots spots in your dishes and windows when you wash them, a ring in your bathroom, scale buildup in your coffee maker pot, and if you notice that your soap, detergents and shampoo do not lather well and form a sticky scum with water that is hard to wash and after taking a shower you can still feel like it remains in your skin and hair even after you rinse with lots of water.

A whole house water filter being showed right here

Most of these problems arise when water evaporates or dries and the excess of salts dissolved in it are left behind, sometimes building up; which is the cause of water spots that form over windows and dishes. Lime and scale deposits also tend to build up inside the water pipes of your home and can severely reduce the flow of water, potentially reducing the efficiency and increasing the expenditure of electricity by your appliances (washing machine, dishwasher, toilets and faucets), and if the buildup is left unchecked or if your water is too hard then the scale buildup can sometimes completely clog a pipe; also increasing the need for repairs and replacements (as it might be easier and cheaper sometimes to completely replace a section of a severely clogged pipe).

To determine conclusively if your water supply is too hard then the simplest way is to acquire a water test kit (water test strips being the most common, widely available, cheap and easy to use) and use it with a small sample of your water supply. Water hardness (again, the amount of salts such as calcium and magnesium that are dissolved in the water) is measured in Grains per gallon or GPG; and, less commonly, in Parts per million or PPM. 1 GPG equals 17 PPM and if a sample of water scores above 3.5 GPG is considered then it the water is considered hard. The hardest water may have up to 10.5 GPG.

Here are some of the advantages of a whole house system:

  • A whole house system will provide clean and soft water for all your uses: cooking, drinking, cleaning and bathing
  • The filters of whole house systems tend to have a very long life
  • They are proportionally inexpensive for the amount of water they soften and the time they last before needing a filter replacement

And some of their disadvantages:

  • They tend to be considerably more expensive than smaller softeners with lower capacities
  • They may require the help of a professional to be installed and set up


However, regardless of their downsides, if your water is definitely hard and you would like coverage for your entire home, then a Whole House System is definitely worth it. But let’s first take a look at the other aspects of a Whole House System, how they work, how to pick the right one for your needs and what type of softeners there are.


How does a Whole House System works?

A Whole House System works exactly like a regular and smaller water softener unit, but with a higher output, potency and capacity.

There three types of water softeners: Salt-based units, salt-free units and dual tank units.

  • Salt-based units are the most common type and they work using a system known as ion-exchange. These units have a tank filled with resin beads; these beads attract ions of salts and are covered with sodium ions (which are provided by common salt, which the user replenishes). The tank with the resin beads is filled with the water that will be softened, if the water is hard then it will be filled with ions of calcium and Image showing a whole house water filter workingmagnesium; these ions are strongly attracted to the resin beads, so they displace the sodium ions and attach themselves to the surface of the beads. So this unit removes the salts that make water hard and replaces them with sodium ions which are essentially harmless. When the resin beads are completely full of salts and can’t take no more, then the regeneration cycle starts: the water flow is cut and the tank with the resin beads is filled with brine made with common salt (remember salt is sodium chloride) which provides the sodium ions, the sheer amount of sodium ions in the brine forcefully displace the magnesium and calcium ions, and the beads have been recharged with sodium and ready to be used again. The magnesium and calcium ions are left in the brine which is then simply flushed down the drain.
  • Salt-free water softeners work like the salt-based systems but they use potassium ions instead of sodium ions (provided by potassium chloride). Remember that salt-based systems just remove the bad salts and replace them with harmless sodium ions, but if you are on a low-sodium diet for health or medical reasons, then a salt-free softener might be a better option for you. It is widely accepted that salt-free softeners are less effective than salt-based, but still, they are better than using no softener at all.
  • Dual tank softeners work exactly like salt-based units but have two tanks of resin beads. During a regeneration cycle, a regular salt-based softener will not soften water and that is why these cycles are done at night when possible. A Dual tank softener is always working as it has two resin beads tanks: when one regenerates the other starts working so there are no downtimes. These units are perfect for large households and will cover all its needs, even during unexpected upsurges such as when you receive guests.


Types and sizes of water softeners

It is in such cases that a water softener (or a water conditioner at least) is indicated and where it can have the biggest benefits to your household. Most people, who decide they need one, choose to buy (or lease) and install a smaller unit if they come to conclusion that their hard water problem is not too serious and they just want to soften the water that comes out of a single faucet or pipe. Indeed, a small individual unit to cover your kitchen faucet is the most common option and is also enough for common households.

However, if your water is too hard or if you decide you would like to get softer water in your whole house then a smaller water softener for a single faucet will not be able to cover all your needs; and it is for such cases that a Whole House System is indicated. As the name clearly indicates, a Whole House System is a unit that will cover the entire water supply for your entire home, and as you might imagine, a Whole House System is a much bigger heavy-duty unit with a higher capacity and a higher output.

types-and-data-lazy-sizesA Whole House System is necessarily bigger and has much bigger physical dimensions, so, unlike any regular water softener, it can’t just be installed anywhere and may not fit, for example, under a kitchen sink which is where most users prefer to install their smaller water softeners.

The ability of a water softener to remove the minerals that are dissolved in the water that cause it to be hard, is measured by the number of grains (grains per gallon or GPG) they can remove in total before they have to go into a regeneration cycle, which is when their resin beads (the components that attract the dissolved salts, which bind to the beads) are full and have to be washed of all the salts they have trapped and flush them down the drain.

So, the physical size of the water softener is not really as important as its ability to remove grains of salts before regenerating.

To calculate the best size for the water softener your home will need, you have to multiply the number of people that live in your house by the number of gallons used per person per day which is 75. Then you have multiply the result by the level of hardness of your water supply, which is measured in GPG as seen above.

Here is the formula to calculate the minimal necessary capacity of your water softener:


(N x 75) x H

N = Number of people that live in your household

H = Level of hardness of your water supply (measured in GPG or Grains per gallon)

So, if 4 people live in your home and the level of hardness of your water supply is of 5 GPG, then the formula would be substituted this way:

(4 x 75) x 5

And the result would be 1,500 which is the amount of Grains per gallon (GPG) a water softener would have to be able to remove every day as a minimum, to satisfy the demands and needs of your household.


Buying or leasing a Water Softener

If you have now decided that you have a problem with hard water and that you need a water softener, now you would have to options to acquire one: you can buy your unit or lease one.

Leasing a water softener might be a better option and make more sense if you rent or if you are staying temporarily where you live; or you could be living in your own place and just wanted to try a water softener before buying one. Besides, there are usually no considerable upfront costs and it can be a very economic alternative, with prices ranging from as low as $15 USD per month to $60 or even more.

Buying on the other would be more convenient if you own your place or if you have a serious, obvious and very evident problem with water hardness and it makes no sense to lease a water softener if you can buy it from the beginning. But buying a new water softener is of course more expensive than leasing one and you will end up spending anywhere from $300 USD for a simple unit, to $2,000 USD for a bigger and more complete option, or even more. However, also keep in mind that using a water softener can help you save up to $100 USD per month, because soaps and detergents become more effective (and there will be no more sticky soap curd), which means you (when you wash and clean), your washing machine and your dishwasher will spend much less water.

water-softener-leasingWhatever the option you decide, keep in mind that you might end up paying some more if you need a technician or a plumber to install the unit for you, and while most water softeners are easy to set up and come with clear instructions and installation guides, and sometimes even with the tools you will need, you may simply decide that you do not have the time to do it or that you just want a pro to do it for you.

It is also advisable that you get at least two quotes, as you should do for every considerable expense. Also, when checking water softeners, make sure to check its capacity (the amount of GPG or Grains per gallon it can remove every day), its output, how many people it is designed to serve, the warranty on the control valve and the resin tank and, most importantly, check the ratings and reviews left by other users online. There are several websites and communities where you can find what other consumers and users think about the water softeners they use and how were their experiences. This might be the most important thing to look for about any model or manufacturer of water softeners you are interested in, and it will give you a unique insight.

When installing your water softener, also remember that, for a Whole House System, you will need to take the other usual considerations all users usually must take when setting up any other water softener unit.

  • The Whole House System has to be installed before the water heater if you have one
  • The Whole House System has to be installed (if possible) before any other machine or device (washing machine, dishwasher, kitchen, bathrooms, etc.) and (again, if possible) be installed in the main water line as soon as it enters your home; so every device and water faucet will receive softened water
  • You should have enough space beneath your kitchen sink or in your basement, which are the two most usual places chosen to install a water softener, for their convenience


And finally, also remember to look for the appropriate certifications. There are two specific certifications you should look for: the NSF certification from NSF International and the WQA Gold Seal from the Water Quality Association. While these two certifications do not guarantee the performance of the water softener, they certify that it has passed tests that certify the unit fulfills the industry standards and that the claims of the manufacturer regarding the capabilities of the equipment have been validated.

Now that obviously does not guarantees absolutely that you will be completely satisfied with your water softener or that it will fulfill all your expectations, but they are important indicators that certify the quality of the unit and the integrity of its manufacturer, and that you will likely receive great quality softened water for many years of service without any problems or incidents.


The best Whole House Systems

Now, and for your future reference, here is a table comparing 5 of the best reviewed and top rated models of Whole House System Water softeners for 2015.


  Fleck 5600SXT Digital metered Fleck 7000 Digital metered Aquasana EQ-1000 Premium Rhino Aquios Full House Water Softener and Filter System nuvoH2O Manor Complete Water Softening System
Size (inches) 10” x 54” (tank)

14” x 17” x 33” (brine tank)

15 x 7 x 18 9” x 44” x 46” 27 x 10 x 8 31.3 x 10.1 x 8.8
Filter life 12 months 12 months 120 months 6 months 12 months
Price $568.96 $715.00 $941.64 $452.43 $999.99
Warranty 10 years 10 years 10 years 20 years Lifetime
Users rating  5 stars  5 stars  4 stars  4 stars  3 stars
Type Salt-based Salt-based Salt-based Salt-free Salt-free