What is the problem with hard water?
- It causes build up in pipes
- It fades colors in clothing when used for washing
- Limescale can damage pipes
- It can cause a rise in utility costs
- Hard water stains your sink and can make your glassware brittle
- It can cause dry, itchy skin
How do you prevent this? The ideal process is exchanging the minerals for sodium and potassium. Excess ions are flushed from the system and you’re left with softer water. There are other ways of hard water treatment too which we’ll discuss below.
So do you need a water softener system? If you do you can save money by installing it yourself. A major benefit is that you won’t have strangers invading your personal space.
Sound like a good idea? Then read on.
The information below is important because each change has its implications. Even soft water can affect your family’s health and it’s not only important to ensure the installation is done right, but that you picked the right type of softener from the start.
This article will help you with each step.
Water Softener Installation Levels of Difficulty
Since we will be discussing 4 different types of water softening systems, it is essential to acknowledge their differences.
Salt-based, salt-free, magnetic and reverse osmosis systems not only use different processes to destroy hard water, but they also require to be installed in different parts of your home.
Having said that, we have come up with a simple system to evaluate the level of difficulty associated with each installation type. We are going to use a scale of 0 to 5, where 0 represents an installation that most average consumers can do themselves, and 5 represents an installation that will likely need to be completed by experienced professionals.
- Salt-based systems such as the Fleck 5600SXT are a 3.5/5. The level of difficulty can be a bit higher, depending on the way your pipes are running. But, in our experience, most people can manage to do this installation themselves. Just follow our step-by-step instructions below.
- Salt-free systems range from 2-3 out of 5. Sometimes electrical systems can complicate the installation.
- Magnetic systems are the easiest to install and we have given them a difficulty level of 1.
- Reverse Osmosis systems can be quite tricky because there are several different types. If you are looking at an under the sink system, these are usually quite easy to install – 2/5. But, If you are interested in a whole house installation, then the process easily becomes a difficulty level 5. For this, we would highly recommend you get a professional.
Water Softener Types & Installation
Firstly no two water softener installations are the same. So even if you’ve done this before you need to re-examine your situation. Has anything changed to require a different approach? Or do you need to change tactics in your new home with its unique layout?
Each type has unique installation methods and levels of difficulty. Unfortunately, you can’t simply pick the easiest one because it may not work in your situation.
What are your options?
Salt-based Water Softener
This method is also called the ion exchange method. The softener device contains a polymer resin bed. This bed supplies the system with sodium particles.
The water becomes softer because the process exchanges sodium for the hardness minerals (Calcium and Magnesium). In the softening process you can use one of three types of salt:
- Rock salt
- Solar salt
- Evaporated salt
It’s ideal to use evaporated or solar salt as rock salt has more insoluble materials. However rock salt is a more affordable alternative.
The risks of using this method include:
- The water contains high levels of sodium which can affect some people’s health.
- It can taste quite salty.
- This type of soft water can be harmful to plants.
You can opt for a different method or simply install it where it won’t affect your drinking water.
Salt-free Water Softener
You can leave the hardness particles in the water but change their form with a TAC (Template Assisted Crystallization). This is a salt-free process and technically you’re conditioning the water and not softening it.
In this new crystallized form, the particles can’t bind with other surfaces. This saves your water system from scaling, build up & other problems mentioned above.
This is easier to install than a salt-based water softener such as the Fleck 7000SXT model.
Magnetic Water Softener
It’s often disputed whether the magnetic water softener process really works. The theory is this: Passing hard water through a magnetic field will affect how the minerals react. The effect is less mineral scale.
These systems are popular with consumers who have limited space available. The devices are compact and can be installed almost anywhere.
Reverse Osmosis System
In this case, the solution stems from hydrostatic pressure. A membrane inside the system has pores large enough to let water molecules through but not hardness particles. The water emerging on the other side is, therefore, free of the minerals.
This process is a filtering system which will require you to replace components. Maintenance is also important to prevent the filter from becoming blocked. The after installation work is one reason people may not prefer this method.
Important Installation Guidelines
So, can you do it all by yourself?
In some cases, it’s a simple task but there’s also a legal aspect to consider. Depending on local legislation you may need a permit before you can start. Usually, you don’t need a permit if you’re simply replacing a water softener or not changing the infrastructure.
It’s best to talk to your local Building Inspection Department for clarity. Liaising with authorities is essential when you install one where there was none before.
Any plumbing changes require a permit and water softeners fall under these guidelines. The reason behind this legislation is that the BID needs to ensure your premises are safe for anyone who owns and uses it in the future.
Apart from getting permission to install the water softener, local building codes may require you to install additional components such as:
- Bypass valves
- Shut off valves
Make sure which of these are already included in your device to prevent unnecessary expenses.
If you don’t get a permit now and then need insurance inspections in future you may run into trouble. It’s best to make sure you do it correctly from the start.
Even if your local government agency tells you to go ahead, remember to confer with any relevant HOA (Home Owners Associations). You must have their blessing as well.
Where to Install the Water Softening System
Each step of the installation process is vital to ensure your new system works effectively. An important factor is deciding where to place the device. If you don’t place it correctly it can get damaged rather quickly.
Firstly it shouldn’t be placed downstream in relation to your heater. If the hot water continually enters the device it can damage it.
Apart from this, each type has a preferred placement.
- Salt-based systems: As mentioned above with a salt based system you need to limit the amount of sodium that gets into your drinking water. Apart from health concerns, it won’t taste good either. Therefore you should position your softener where it bypasses your drinking water faucets and only affects washing water. Another option is to link it only to pipes related to hot water and not cold water.
- Salt-free systems: These can be very difficult to install depending on the model you pick but they can be installed almost anywhere.
- Magnetic systems: Here is a safe and easy option since you can install it almost anywhere without risk to the system or yourself. Ideally, you should put it closest to where your main water source accesses your home.
- Reverse osmosis systems: Here it depends on which size you opt for. Small units are easy to install yourself and will be added to your faucets. If you want the same effect—to remove chlorine and rust—for all your water you can opt for a large system. But here it gets more complicated and we advise you employ professionals.
Why is it important to install it as far up the line as possible? Because only the pipes containing softer water will be protected from the effects of hard water. Many consumers find space in basements or in cupboards near their water heaters.
Installation Costs DIY
Is it really cost effective to try this yourself? Won’t it cost more in the long run? You can easily work out the answer by including these factors in your budget:
- A DIY project requires various tools (see below). If you don’t own any this can be a large additional expense to budget for. This means you can’t simply pick the easiest system—a magnetic system—and believe it will cost less. If you don’t have tools, to begin with, you may spend more than expected.
- Consider what the system itself will cost. A reverse osmosis system is the most expensive and that’s why many homeowners only install small units at certain faucets.
- The size of the system determines how much it will cost. A large system will cost you more no matter what type you pick. Unfortunately, you can’t always pick the most budget-friendly option because you’ll need a large system to filter large amounts of water. You can measure how much water travels through a specific pipe and then pick the device accordingly. When you install a magnetic system you also have to think of the circumference of the pipes needed for connection. These will be more expensive the bigger they are.
- Are there any ongoing expenses relating to the system you select? Most systems only require once off investments but with a salt based system, you also need to budget for the salt itself. This needs to be replenished from time to time.
- If you need to hire professionals to help you need to factor in their labor.
So will you do it yourself to hire the pros?
Professional Water Softener Installation Costs
If you feel more comfortable employing a professional there are pros and cons to consider before employing someone. If it’s not a complicated installation you may find someone through the vendor you purchase the water softener from. The disadvantage with hiring someone is they may not be available immediately.
Regarding the costs for their work, it’s not a standard rate. These factors will determine your final quote:
- Large systems cost more to install.
- Location determines the cost. If the technicians need scaffolding or other equipment to reach high or hard to reach places it will escalate their prices.
- If it’s a complicated installation such as a reverse osmosis system it costs more. This is in part because it takes longer. Even professionals will take two hours or more to install these.
- A complicated installation due to the layout of your building will require more hours of work and therefore you’ll have to cover more labor costs.
These professionals will obviously work faster than an amateur would. However, you need to find a time which suits both you and the technician. This could make a simple task become a project that stretches over weeks.
Although some installations are simple enough for you to do and it’s legal to make these adjustments when you have a permit, it’s advisable to employ a certified technician:
- They’re trained to install different types of systems so there’s less chance of complications.
- They will know how to optimize efficiency without affecting you home negatively.
- They can give you advice about maintaining the system in the future.
Before you employ someone It’s important to note that some regulations require a plumber should have a state licence for the city he or she works in. So make sure you pick the right worker. You can ask for NATE (North American Technician Excellence) certified professionals to give you peace of mind that you’ll receive quality workmanship backed by knowledge.
Another benefit in using professionals is that you can get a guarantee on workmanship from some licensed service providers. But if you’re still ready to try this on your own, you can follow these guidelines. Alternatively, it will also help you discuss the matter with more insight when you decide to hire a pro.
Important Installation Tips
Below you’ll find handy guidelines about the tools needed and the processes to be followed. Never start your installation process without having all your tools and components on hand. You may cause flooding or damage to the device if you need a tool but don’t have it with you.
In all the guidelines below you’ll start by:
- Shutting off the water leading to the areas you’ll be working in. This can be the main water supply to your home or simply the water leading to the faucets you’ll work on.
- Making sure there is no water left in the pipes by turning on the taps and draining water from the relevant lines.
Ensuring the water heater is shut off as well as the relevant power switch on your main board.
How to Install a Salt-Based Water Softening System
Tools & Materials Required:
- A tape measure
- Cutters for the pipe
- Tee and gate valves
- Compression fittings
- Tubing (flexible)
- Copper pipe
- PVC solvent
- Teflon tape
- Solder equipment
- 2 union fittings
You’ll be working on the pipes at a location before they run into your water heater. You don’t want the hot water running through the softener. Here are the steps:
- Cutting the main line: Keep a bucket on hand and cut into the pipe. Excess water may spill out and you can catch it in the container.
- The bypass: You install an elbow fitting where you cut the main line. This is so you can have a bypass feature if ever necessary. It will connect to the softener on the top or at the back depending on the design. Measure the length of pipe needed: It must lead to the bypass valve. Solder it in place with appropriate nipples and fittings.
- Connecting the unit: Attach pipes to the water softener unit with compression fittings.
- The drain: Where will the discarded water (brine) run into? Run a hose from the unit to this drain but make sure there’s a 2” gap below the hose. You don’t want water pushing back into the system.
- The overflow: Each product is different so you need to use the provided instructions to connect the overflow tube running from the resin tank to the brine tank.
- Clean the pipes: Set the valve in the bypass position and flush the system of any debris.
- Backwash: According to the manufacturer’s guidelines you need to plug in the unit and then start opening the valve. Do it slowly to compensate for the air being released from the pipes. You don’t want to damage your water system with this sudden change in pressure.
- Scheduling: Now you can set a schedule for flushing and also set reminders for yourself to add new salt when needed. This schedule will vary from machine to machine.
How to Install a Salt-Free Water Softening System
Tools & Materials Required:
- Cutters and a wrench
- Fittings (compression type)
- Pipe (copper or PVC)
- Teflon tape
You start by cutting the pipe before the pre-filter housing. After making this cut on the line you do the following:
- You need a shutoff valve which you can glue on or solder on depending on the type of pipe you prefer.
- Use a compression fitting to install a carbon pre-filter. This must be positioned after the shutoff valve.
- The second shut off valve is necessary on the other side of the pre-filter.
- Now run a pipe from the valve to the distribution head by using a compression fitting.
- To ensure the water flows through the building, as usual, you use a downflow outlet.
Test the system by closing the shutoff valves and opening the main source of water & then the valves. Do this slowly so you can check for problems until these valves are fully opened.
How to Install a Magnetic Water Softening System
This is a much easier process and you don’t really need to close the main water line. Simply keep this on hand:
Step-By-Step Installation Guide
A magnetic water softener fits over a pipe and is usually designed with hinges on one side. You can open it up, position it over the pipe—almost anywhere will work—and then you clamp it in place:
- Make sure you have it the right way around as the process only works in one specific direction.
- The product will include screws with which you can secure the clamp once it’s positioned around the pipe.
How to Install a Reverse Osmosis Water Softening System
Tools & Materials Required:
- A measuring device such as tape
- Knife to cut
- Pipe wrench
Step By Step Guide
- Install filter assembly: You need to measure accurately so you install it at the correct height in the cupboard’s side.
- Connect cold water: You’ll use the provided saddle valve between the cold water feed and the device. Tubing will run from the saddle valve to the softener and you can cut it to size depending on the space available inside the cupboard.
- Attach supply and waste lines: These lines must run to the provided faucet (not your usual faucet).
- Install the faucet: The faucet can be attached to the sink now. The drain line adapter must also be installed to create a hole in your wasteline. A valve must regulate the water between here and the faucet.
- Install the storage tank: Supply lines must run to the tank.
In all these installation processes you need to do a quality check afterward:
- Did you use Teflon tape on all fittings to prevent leakage?
- No part of the water softener must slide, twist or move while in use.
- All components must be leak free.
- Make sure the components didn’t get damaged during the installation process.
- Check it repeatedly after installation for signs of overheating or mechanical noise not related to normal functioning.
- Are the components level with the ground (if relevant to their functioning).
That’s all there is to it. Ready to start? Compare your situation to these guidelines and determine what your needs are and whether you need professional help. We hope you see it’s not too difficult to install most water softeners. So good luck with your next DIY project!
Jake is a clean water enthusiast and blogger. He has spent his university days in Chicago studying various water filtration technologies and now enjoys helping people live healthier lives when it comes to water consumption.