Water Softener Installation – The Complete Guide on how to Install a Water Softener
Need to know how to install a water softener? Having hard water flowing through your pipes can make water usage in your home difficult at best and costly at worst.
Hard water makes it difficult for detergent to suds, can stain your sinks and fixtures, and can even corrode your pipes, causing them to degrade and require replacement. This is why people just tend to find water softeners such a useful technology to have in their homes. It is not just a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity for each and every home. It keeps you and your family safe from sickness and you just can not put a price on that.
Hard water also frequently accompanies minerals that can make your water taste or smell bad, as well. Correcting these problems is as easy as installing a water softening system in your home, a project you can frequently do yourself in a few hours.
Quick Navigation DIY Water Softener Installation – Difficulty LevelWhere To Install A Water Softening System Water Softener Installation CostsCosts to Have a Pro Do the InstallHow to Install a Water Softener: A Step-by-Step GuideInstalling a Salt-Based Water Softening SystemInstalling a Salt-Free SystemInstalling a Magnetic SystemInstalling a Reverse Osmosis SystemEnjoy Your New System
DIY Water Softener Installation – Difficulty Level
There are several different types of water softening systems that you can install in your home, and each has its own level of difficulty.
Depending on your home, the types of pipes you have, and the location you intend to install your softener in, your difficulty level can also vary. It is recommended to hire a professional if you haven’t had any experience in doing various home improvement projects, nonetheless jobs that involve pipes. It’s something that you don’t want to mess with because it can cause a lot of mess if you do not know what you are doing down there. I’ve heard of a guy that flooded his whole house because he didn’t know what he was doing. Yikes!
That being said, most homeowners that have some DIY experience and who are comfortable with cutting through pipes can tackle this project with several different kinds of filters.
Some smaller filters will only require you to install some compression nuts on the pipes, but larger whole house filters may require soldering of the pipes.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with a 1 being so easy that anyone of any ability level can install it, and a 10 being so difficult that only a professional can do the job, you should consider:
- Salt-based systems such as GE systems (www.watersoftenercritic.com/ge-water-softener-reviews) running about a 6 to an 8 simply due to the way that the pipes connect.
- Salt-free systems can range from a 4 to an 8 depending on the type of system you get, whether it is electrical or uses a filter media, and what type of pipes you have
- Magnetic systems are easy to install, and are around a 2 – nearly anyone can install these with ease
- Reverse osmosis systems vary based on the size you get. An under the sink system is about a 5, but a whole house system may be a 10+ – in fact, most whole house system will need professional installation simply because they require 300 gallon holding tanks, large pumps, and a delicate balance of membranes
Keep in mind that in some areas, installing a whole house water filtration or water softening system will require you to conform to building codes and possibly to pull a permit as well.
If a permit is required, keep in mind that your work will be inspected by the town after completion.
Check with your town hall before you begin to find out what types of systems may require a permit.
Where To Install A Water Softening System
The type of system that you install is going to dictate in large part where you end up putting it. So, if you are unsure about this part of the job then I would suggest hiring a professional instead rather than trying to accomplish the task on your own. It’s better to be safe than sorry especially when it comes to expensive things like a water softener. Personally, I’d rather have someone do it for me for a couple of twenties than having to bother doing it on my own and risking doing it wrong. Unless, you got the skills needed to execute it properly, I’d pay someone else to do it.
Whole house systems, for example, need to be installed as close to the place where the water enters your house as possible.
You’ll want the system to feed into the hot water heater at a minimum, because otherwise the hard water could end up corroding the tank and shortening its lifespan.
Do not install your softener downstream from your water heater, as the high temperatures could damage the unit.
If you are installing a reverse osmosis or salt-based system, you will also need to ensure that your system is near a drain, or that it can be flushed into a nearby drain or into a sump pump to be flushed outdoors. Under sink models can usually drain straight into the waste line.
- Salt-Based Systems
- Reverse Osmosis Systems
- Magnetic Systems
If you are installing a salt-based system, and for health reasons you need to restrict sodium in your drinking water, you may want to place your system so that it bypasses either the cold water entirely, or just bypasses your drinking faucets.
Reverse osmosis filters can soften your water while removing things like chlorine, rust, and sediment as well, but these are usually installed just at your faucet to improve the taste of your water, rather than at the point where water enters your home.
It’s possible to purchase a large enough system to soften the water throughout your home, while improving the taste and quality of the water, but this can get very expensive, and usually requires professional installation.
Magnetic systems are the easiest to install, and can be put nearly anywhere.
It’s recommended that you install them on your main water line as close to where the water enters your house as possible.
Remember, the further back on the line you go, the more you’ll be protecting your pipes from the corrosive effects of hard water.
In most homes, you’ll want to install your system in your basement, or in a utility closet close to your water heater.
Even systems that aren’t covering the whole house should ideally be installed as far down the line a possible so that your showers, washing machine, kitchen and bathroom sinks are all covered.
Water Softener Installation Costs
As with any plumbing job, your biggest costs in installing a new water softening system are going to come from the water softener itself.Reverse osmosis systems are the most costly, which is why many people opt for the smallest versions possible and install them only at the faucet.
Keep in mind that the size of your unit is directly correlated to the size of your home; the more water that the system has to filter, the more it will cost.
- Both salt and non-salt media filtering units cost roughly the same amount. If you use a salt-based system, keep in mind that your total cost will also include the salt
- Magnetic systems are amongst the easiest to install, and are usually installed by homeowners, rather than by a pro. They range in cost for the unit is all depending on size of the system and the size of the pipes you’ll be connecting them to.
- Reverse osmosis systems are among the most expensive.
Keep in mind that factored into the cost of doing the work yourself is any tools and other materials you may need, such as a pipe cutter, fittings, and a soldering torch. If you have these tools already in your possession, your cost will be less than if you need to purchase them.
Costs to Have a Pro Do the Install
If you’re not comfortable with doing the install yourself, there are many companies out there that can do the work for you. Their prices range depending on the size of the unit, its location, and how hard it is to reach.
- According to homewyse.com, salt and non-salt units begin their pricing for installation depends on the time it takes and how hard it is to access the place they will be installing.
- Magnetic systems are rarely installed by Pros, simply because it’s such an easy job that most homeowners tackle it themselves.
- Reverse Osmosis system installation running around 2-1/2 hours start to finish. Keep in mind that these figures could be higher if the system is difficult to reach.
Finding a Pro to Do the Install
If you decide to have a Pro go ahead with the install for you, you can generally find one a few different ways.
In many cases, the company you purchase the unit from will be able to assist with installation, preferring to give you a package deal on purchase and install.
In fact, some reverse osmosis manufacturer will install your unit for free when you purchase directly from them. Otherwise, you can generally find someone to do the install for you by visiting 1800contractor.com to find a certified technician in your area.
How to Install a Water Softener: A Step-by-Step Guide
Keep in mind that every water softener system that you purchase may come with its own set of instructions. Always refer to the included instructions when installing your water softener.
Installing a Salt-Based Water Softening System
These instructions are for how to install a whole-house water softening unit.
Before you begin any install, check with your local town hall to make sure that you are conforming to building codes; some codes will require a bypass or shut off valve to be installed with the unit.
Many units will also come with a bypass valve already installed; refer to your manual in this case. (Tips on cutting and soldering copper pipes can be found here)
Tools & Materials Required
- Tape measure
- Pipe cutters
- Pipe wrench
- Tee valves
- Gate valves
- 2 compression fittings
- Tubing or copper pipe
- Flexible tubing
- 2 union fittings
- PVC solvent or flux
- Teflon tape
- Torch and solder
- Shut off the water to your house at the main line. Drain your pipes by opening up the lowest valve in the house and letting the water run out.
- Shut off your hot water heater and turn off the power leading to it.
- Locate the area along the main line where you want to install the water softener. Keep in mind this needs to be before the line feeds into the hot water heater.
- Cut into the main line using a pipe cutter. Tighten the cutter onto the pipe, then rotate it around until the pipe is cut through. Catch any water that comes out of the pipe in a bucket.
- Install an elbow fitting in the line. This will allow you to feed the filter and have a bypass valve that will let you feed water around the filter if necessary.
- Measure the pipes that will lead to the bypass valve taking the measurements from the unit. Cut the pipes to fit, and solder on any nipples and fittings before you connect the pipe to the bypass valve.
- Attach the pipes to the unit using compression fittings, which should be supplied with the unit.
- Clamp the hose to the unit, then feed it to where it will drain. Options include a floor drain, utility sink, or sump pump. The end of the hose will have to be at least two inches above the drain hole to prevent back siphoning of the water. Make sure the hose is securely clamped.
- Connect the overflow tube to the brine tank. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for height and placement.
- Turn the valve to the bypass position and flush water through it to remove any sediment or debris.
- Plug in the unit and set the valve to the backwash position. Open the valve up very slowly to let water in while releasing any air in the pipes. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for setting up the flushing schedule, and for adding salt to the tanks.
Note: If you have a well, you may need to know how to install a salt-based system to help filter the water, simply because well water is more likely to contain hard water minerals that water coming from a treatment facility.
You shouldn’t have any trouble installing the system with a well, unless you have problems with supply or pressure. In this case, consult a plumber or well company to address this problem first, then install the water softening system.
Installing a Salt-Free System
There are a number of different types of non-salt systems on the market.
This installation describes the filter system, which uses a non-salt media to filter the water. Also included in the package is a guide on how to install the water softener.
Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions when installing your non-salt water softening system to ensure the best results.
Tools & Materials Required
- Pipe cutters
- Pipe wrench
- Compression fittings
- Tubing or copper pipe
- Teflon tape
- Set up the components of the system in the area you want to have them installed.
- Shut off the main water to your home, and drain the water out of the pipes by opening up the lowest spout in the house and allowing the water to run out.
- Make a cut into the pipe on the cold water supply before the pipe will reach the “pre-filter” housing. Tighten the pipe cutter onto the pipe and rotate it around the pipe to make the cut.
- Attach a shut-off valve to the pipe, either by gluing it to PVC, or by soldering it to copper.
- Install the carbon pre-filter after the shut-off valve, attaching it using compression fittings.
- Install a second shut-off valve after the pre-filter, then extend pipe to the distribution head of the filter system. Attach it with a compression fitting.
- Connect the down flow outlet of the system back to the cold water supply pipe so that the water will flow through the system and back through the house.
- Close both shut off valves and turn on the main water valve for the house.
- Slowly open the shut off valves one at a time and check for leaks. If none are found, open the valves all the way to start the system.
Here is a video of a larger, whole house salt-free system (the Aquasana whole house system) being installed:
Here is a video of a typical, smaller, salt-free system (the Nuvo h20) being installed:
Installing a Magnetic System
Most magnetic systems are fairly easy to install and can be done by most homeowners.
Tools & Materials Required
- Adjustable wrench
- Locate the area where you want to install the magnetic system. Because these aren’t very big, and they fit over your pipe, you can put them nearly anywhere, including in small spaces where a large filter wouldn’t go.
- Open up the magnet box according to the instructions. It should hinge on one side, allowing it to clamp down over the pipe.
- Fit the box around the pipe, oriented according to direction so that the water flows through the box in the correct direction.
- Close the box around the pipe and secure it with the screws or nuts provided.
Installing a Reverse Osmosis System
Most whole house systems must be sized directly to the house. This installation deals with smaller, under the sink units that can deliver purified water through its own tap. NOTE: If its a faucet water filter that you are trying to install, it will be much easier.
Tools & Materials Required
- Measuring tape
- utility knife
- Adjustable Pipe wrench
- Shut off the water below the sink and turn on the taps above to drain the water out of the lines.
- Find the recommended height to install the filter assembly, and measure your cabinet walls. Mark the area where the assembly will go, and screw it to the wall.
- Unscrew your cold water feed from the valve and install the saddle valve, included with the filter. Screw the cold feed into the top of the saddle valve.
- Attach one end of the water filter supply to the saddle valve. Cut the tubing to length with the utility knife and attach the other end to the filter.
- Attach the supply and waste lines to the faucet that comes with the system. Shorten the lines if necessary to help avoid kinks once they are installed and functional.
- Attach the faucet to the sink and install the drain line adapter. Cut a small hole into your waste line and attach the valve and line so that it runs from the fitting on the valve to the faucet.
- Set your storage tank into place and connect the supply lines.
- Fill the system according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Slowly turn on the faucet with the cabinet doors open to check for leaks
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all water softeners need a drain?
Not all water softeners require a drain, but those that don’t usually act more as filters than actual softeners. What people usually see as salt-less and easy-to-install softeners are actually water descalers or electronic water conditioners. With that said, those are also great alternatives in case you want to avoid California’s strict water softener regulations or if you simply don’t want the hassle of connecting an entirely new system to your existing drain.
What happens if you don’t have a water softener drain?
So you really don’t want to or can’t afford to install a softener to the drain? Well, an alternative would be to route the discharge to a bathtub or sink. Though not a great solution by far, it can save you a lot of hassle if your house is extremely small and you can’t install a softener to a drain in any given way. However, to be aware that the excess minerals found in the softened water might leave severe stains in your bathtub or sink. So, if you plan on doing so, do assume the risks from the start so that you won’t have an unpleasant surprise afterward. Luckily, you can clean those resulting limescale stains with these methods.
Do water softeners damage water heaters?
In theory, yes, but that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily happen. The anode rod inside a heater is designed to prevent corrosion by absorbing most corrosive elements, such as hard minerals. When installing a water softener, these hard minerals get removed from the water, thus making the heater’s anode corrode faster. The solution is to inspect your water heater’s anode more frequently and replace it as necessary. It’s the lesser evil, as hard water would otherwise provoke other damages such as corroded pipes and whatnot.
Enjoy Your New System!
Hard water isn’t necessarily harmful to your health, but might damage your pipes, staining your sink, and even making your water have a distinctive taste or odor.
Installing a water softening system is a great way to help solve these problems, giving you fresh clear water any time you want it.
Remember to always follow the specific instructions for the water softening system you have purchased, and if you run into problems, try consulting a few DIY forums such as the DIY Chatroom or DIY Forums.
We hope you found this article helpful. For more information about specific systems, including reviews and ratings of the top performing systems, visit the Water Softener Critic’s homepage.