How Our Guide to Water Softener Systems Could Help You
It might be challenging to choose just one water softener among the many alternatives available on the market today.
It is the responsibility of the producer to convince you that you require their product, even if it is not necessarily the best option for you.
In this purchasing guide for water softeners, I’ll explain what to look for in a water softener and how to locate the softening option that most closely matches your needs. By the end, you’ll be able to select a water softener with assurance based on the aspects that matter to you the most.
What is soft water?
A gallon of water is considered soft water if it has less than one grain of hardness in it.
According to American National Standards NSF/ANSI 44 and NSF/ANSI 330, “soft water is defined as water containing less than one grain of hardness per gallon (or less than 17.1 mg/L hardness) of water.”
While the presence of calcium and magnesium determines water hardness, their absence determines water softness.
Benefits of Soft Water
Our body wash and soaps’ negatively charged molecules react with positively charged hardness molecules, resulting in the formation of curd and the accumulation of soapy scum on our skin.
However, when using soft water, the soap performs as intended, fully cleansing our skin before being removed, releasing our natural skin oils.
Shampoo responds the same way as described previously. The shampoo and conditioner may function correctly when soft water is utilized, leaving your hair healthy, organic, and smooth.
Soft water aids in the maintenance of water-using equipment, but hard water causes scale to form on whatever it encounters. Small water passageways, heating devices, and other things are all quickly blocked by hard water.
Scale accumulation in pipes can be a serious problem. It may lower a home’s water pressure and flow rate. Future scaling is not possible with soft water.
Additionally, while utilizing soft water, one may often use half as much or less detergent and soap and yet anticipate better results. Soft water also keeps shower doors and shower tile clean and free of buildup.
Determine If You Need a Water Softener
You must determine whether a water softener is the best water treatment choice for you before learning how to pick one.
To achieve this, you may run a water test to find out how many grains of hardness are present in each gallon of water (called grains per gallon, GPG for short). Your water’s calcium and magnesium concentration may be determined by the number of grains per gallon.
Before using a test kit to measure your grains per gallon of hardness, a more basic hardness test is to look for limescale stains on your dishes, clothes, and coffee maker.
Additionally, make sure your water pollution problem isn’t a result of any condition other than hard water.
There are countless potential trace pollutants in drinking water, ranging from bacteria and iron to chlorine and lead.
You’ll need a device that’s geared to eliminate this contaminant if you’re dealing with another specific pollution issue because softeners are only made to deal with hard water.
Consider Different Types of Water Softeners
You likely know that there are several types of water softeners available nowadays if you’ve done some research on water softeners.
Salt-based ion exchange softeners, salt-free water softeners, dual tank water softeners, and electronic or magnetic descalers are the many types of water softeners.
Salt-Based Ion Exchange Water Softener
The oldest softening technologies on this list are salt-based water softeners. To perform ion exchange, which efficiently removes water hardness by exchanging calcium and magnesium hardness ions with sodium ions, these machines need water softener salt.
To remove the hardness minerals and discharge them down the drain, salt-based water softeners must periodically run a regeneration cycle, usually twice per week. The device will additionally replace the resin bed with sodium throughout the regeneration cycle via a technique called reverse ion exchange.
System prices for ion exchange water softeners typically range from $800 to $2,000, depending on the manufacturer and construction quality.
Salt-Free Water Conditioner
Although salt-free water softeners don’t technically “soften” your water, they nonetheless efficiently combat limescale, which is the main problem with hard water.
Hard water minerals are often crystallized by a salt-free water conditioner using a technique called template-assisted crystallization (TAC), which prevents the minerals from adhering to surfaces.
The hardness minerals will still be present in your water, but they won’t be able to produce scale.
This means that you may still benefit from the flavor and health advantages of calcium and magnesium without having to deal with the issues caused by limescale. Typically, water conditioners cost between $700 and $1,500.
Dual Tank Water Softener
Water softeners with dual tanks employ two resin tanks as opposed to one. The advantage of having a dual-tank device is that soft water production is never interrupted.
Twin-tank softeners easily move from one tank to the other, but single-tank softeners require downtime when completing a regeneration cycle. Because the other resin tank is available for use while the first resin tank is regenerating, this enables a continuous supply of soft water.
These items are excellent selections for small companies like cafes and restaurants, while they may also be utilized in private residences.
Systems for softeners with two tanks are often more costly than those with one tank. You may anticipate to pay between $1,500 and $3,000 depending on the size and capacity of the unit.
The final choice for water conditioning is electronic descalers. Once more, technically speaking, these devices don’t “soften” your water because they don’t require salt, resin, or even a tank.
Your main water line is intended to immediately attach to an electronic or magnetic descaler. Once the device is installed, it will emit an electromagnetic wave that modifies the makeup of the minerals in hard water and stops them from creating scale.
Descalers that are magnetic or electrical treat water by using a coil of wire or magnets. They don’t require regeneration since they don’t require salt or water to function.
Although descalers are the most low-maintenance appliances, there is now scant scientific proof that they are effective.
Understand Water Softener Size & Capacity Needed
How do you pick the proper size water softener for your water usage?
Grains per gallon are used to measure soffteners (GPG). The smallest systems typically start at 24,000 GPG, while the maximum capacity for use across the home is often 64,000.
It’s crucial to correctly size your water softener. If your water softener is too large, it could not renew regularly enough, which might cause impurities to accumulate in your resin tank. On the other hand, a water softener that is too small will work too hard and can run out of salt before its planned regeneration cycle.
Collect two numbers: your water hardness and your daily water use, then use those numbers to determine the grain capacity of a water softener that you need.
To determine your daily water softening needs, multiply your water hardness by your normal daily water use. Find a water softener that can handle the number of grains per gallon you need by multiplying this by 7, and then use that figure to get your weekly water softening need.
Even easier, you can size your water softener in less than 20 seconds by using our water softener size calculator. You only need to respond to a few simple questions.
What else should you take into account now that you understand how to buy a water softener based on grain capacity and softening technology?
Your purchasing options for a water softener may be influenced by your budget. Your search will be more focused as your budget decreases, but that’s not always a bad thing.
I would advise creating a budget before beginning your search for a water softener. Three expenses should be included in your budget: the cost of the original purchase, the cost of expert installation, and the cost of ongoing maintenance to keep the equipment in working order.
The water filtering systems without a salt requirement are the most economical. Descalers and conditioners don’t need to regenerate at all, thus they don’t need any salt or water. They are also less expensive up front; a decent machine costs less than $1,000.
The long-term cost of ion exchange water softeners is slightly higher since you must purchase salt to replenish your brine tank on a regular basis. Additionally, during regeneration, these softeners waste liters of water, which will be shown in your water bill. They are often somewhat more expensive to buy, costing roughly $1,300 on average.
If you are unable to install your water softener yourself, you may choose to invest in professional installation. All devices, with the exception of electronic descalers, need to be plumbed into your water line, so if you’re not too handy, you could need a professional to complete the task for you.
The cost of installing a water softener by a plumber normally ranges between $200 and $300, depending on local competition.
Space Available For Installation
Different water softeners occupy different amounts of room in your house.
Magnetic descalers are the tiniest and most compact appliances. These devices often just need to be mounted to the exterior of your water pipe and lack either a resin tank or a brine tank.
You won’t need to make more room for easy access to the tank because electronic descalers don’t need to be maintained.
Compared to electronic descalers, water conditioners are slightly larger in size. The TAC medium is typically contained in a single tank, which also serves as the location for the conditioning process.
This tank must be able to be stored comfortably with suitable length. As most TAC media lasts up to 8 years, you also need to provide adequate room to replace the media, even if this isn’t a routine task.
The biggest water softeners use an ion exchange process and have two tanks: a resin tank and a brine tank.
Since you’ll need to periodically top off the brine tank with salt in this situation, you’ll need plenty of space for doing so. Additionally, you will want access to the resin beads, which ought to be changed around every 10 years.
You’ll need space for three tanks if you purchase a twin-tank ion exchange water softener: two tanks will hold resin beads, and one tank will hold softening salt.
For usage in RVs, there are furthermore smaller, portable water softeners. These units use significantly smaller tanks and are simpler to install in tight locations, making them ideal for compact vacation homes or RVs.
I would advise deciding in advance where you want your water softener to go, then carefully evaluating the area you have available and comparing this to a water softener’s measurements before you buy.
Buying vs Renting a System
You could find it more advantageous in some situations to rent a water softener. For instance, the monthly cost of renting a water softener will probably be less expensive overall than the cost of owning a system if you know you’ll be leaving the property in the next year or two.
However, it’s vital to keep in mind that while renting can first appear like the more economical choice, it can easily end up costing more. In the long run, purchasing a water softener will be far less expensive than renting one if you don’t have any moving plans in the near future.
Let’s look more closely at the continuing maintenance associated with owning the various varieties of water softeners because I’ve already covered the cost of upkeep above.
The greatest upkeep is needed for a conventional ion-exchange softener. The ion exchange process cannot occur without salt, hence the brine tank needs to be topped up with salt every month as part of regular maintenance.
Although many individuals are content to spend a little additional time topping off their water softening salt, ion exchange is the most efficient (and scientifically proved) softening method.
A salt-based water softener just requires replacement of the resin beads as additional maintenance. This isn’t a typical chore by any means, as the majority of resin lasts for at least 10 years.
Since they don’t require salt top-ups, water conditioners require almost no maintenance. If you don’t want the commitment of a regular water softener, conditioners are a far less complicated option because you only need to change the TAC media every 6 to 8 years.
Over time, both water conditioners and softeners will begin to exhibit wear and tear. The more moving parts a softener has, the more parts you’ll probably need to repair, particularly as the machine ages.
Parts for water softeners can range in price from $1 to $500. The size and significance of the component that has to be replaced determine price.
Finally, electronic descalers are often completely maintenance-free. Since they don’t directly contact water and don’t have any moving components, they should endure indefinitely.
Most people don’t consider installing a bypass valve for a water softener until it’s too late.
Water can travel through the softening unit’s bypass valves while it is undergoing repair or regeneration. Even if your softener malfunctions, you won’t run out of drinking water because to the independent path your water takes.
The majority of conventional water softeners have a bypass valve in their installation kit. You might have to pay extra for a bypass valve with some items.
It’s important to note that you would still have access to your regular water supply if you needed to utilize the bypass valve, say while your water softener was regenerating. As a result, you would be circulating hard water around your house.
Although hard water is preferable than no water, it’s crucial to be ready for the possibility that your water softener could become inactive frequently during the course of its career.
Descalers are the only devices that don’t need bypass valves. It is quick and simple to remove the descaler system from your water line in the odd event that it does develop a problem (which is extremely improbable). Descalers don’t need cutting into your plumbing, so when you take them out, your regular plumbing will still be there.
Look at the system’s regeneration initiation if you get a water softener that requires it.
Either demand-initiated regeneration, also known as metered regeneration, or time-based regeneration will be used by single-tank water softeners.
Metered regeneration is more effective since it is brought on by water use. You must enter the water hardness and the number of occupants in your home while configuring the softener. The amount of water the system will need to utilize before running out of salt and needing to be regenerated will then be calculated.
With time-based regeneration, the user may set a certain time for system regeneration. You could set the system up to renew, say, twice a week at two in the morning.
With time-based regeneration, you may schedule the system to renew at times when you won’t need to use your water, which is a benefit. In addition to being more wasteful, this programming causes the water softener to regenerate earlier than necessary. This means that compared to timed regeneration, you will waste more salt.
A twin-tank water softener is something to think about if you want to get the most out of your salt and water use. A twin tank softener will use up every sodium ion present in each of its two resin tanks before regeneration. You won’t ever waste salt as a result.
Of course, you might alternatively choose a system like a conditioner or a descaler that doesn’t even need to regenerate.
Bluetooth Connectivity & Control
A highly useful feature to look for is Bluetooth connectivity, which is now present in many contemporary water softeners.
A mobile device, such as your phone, may be connected to a Bluetooth control head. This gives you access to data about your water softener, such as the cycle it’s in right now, a regeneration timer, how much water you use, and more.
The benefit of Bluetooth control is that you can use your phone to detect problems, change the system’s cycle, and plan regeneration without having to be at home and next to the softer.
Water softeners that utilize salt are often the only ones with Bluetooth control since they require more frequent inspection than descalers or conditioners.
Look for a third-party certification to confirm that a water softener lives up to the manufacturer’s claims. Water treatment systems are put through a rigorous testing process by independent certifying organizations like the NSF to guarantee both quality and safety.
Salt-based home softening systems are eligible for NSF/ANSI Standard 44 certification. If a water softener has the NSF 44 certification, it has been tested and shown to be efficient in eliminating hardness below 1 grains per gallon. Additionally, you may be sure that the system complies with criteria for structural integrity and material safety.
Type of Technology
Ion exchange softeners, which require regeneration, employ salt to soften hard water. These require regular salt top-offs to function.
The most effective water conditioners involve technology that helps scale develop, such as template-assisted crystallization. They prevent scale from developing but do not really remove calcium and magnesium from hard water.
Electromagnetic waves are used by electronic descalers to inhibit the growth of scale on a whole-house waterline. Again, they don’t get rid of the minerals in hard water, but they ought to assist get rid of scale.
One of the most significant topics I’ve discussed in this buying guide for water softeners is warranty. A system’s warranty is a good indication that the maker stands behind the item they’re offering.
You should be suspicious if there is no warranty or even a very limited guarantee. Why wouldn’t a manufacturer provide coverage if your water softening equipment was defective or destroyed due to no fault of your own?
The majority of water softeners provide various warranties for various parts. Softeners frequently have a 10-year warranty on the tanks and a 3-5-year warranty on the other components.
Limited lifetime guarantees are now the greatest warranties on the market. The term “limited lifetime” refers to the manufacturer’s obligation to replace any system components that fail during their useful lives, provided you didn’t break them.
It’s crucial to review the laws and plumbing rules in your state before you buy a water softener. Verify that the regeneration drain water complies with these rules and that all installation and maintenance follow the guidelines as well.
My advice is to speak with a nearby plumber if you’re unclear about the rules in your region. Your water softener may be installed by a plumber, who can also provide guidance and ensure that you follow all plumbing regulations.