How to install water softener?

Last updated on: August 1, 2022.

A salt-based water softener can help protect you from the unpleasant results of hard water. Hard water increases scale build-up and reduces the lifespan of your household appliances. It also leaves your hair looking dull and your skin feeling dry and itchy. That is because the hard minerals make it difficult to lather properly. So, you use more soap or shampoo, which does not get rinsed thoroughly, leaving a filmy residue on the skin.

Over time, you also notice that your clothes appear older than they should. These are a few reasons people have begun to invest in water softeners. However, buying a water softener is not enough. It must be installed properly for it to function optimally.

You can certainly call a professional to assist you, but it will cost you. Fortunately, you don’t need a plumber to help, as water softeners can be installed by you as long as you have the tools and can follow instructions. While you can buy or rent a water softener, the installation process is the same. Buying one outright will require more upfront cost but will cut down on monthly utility bills. Renting a water softener may sound viable but will cost more in the long term. 

The location of a water softener is a factor. If you already have an older water softener that you plan to replace with a new one, you can install the new one in the same location. But, if it is a brand new one you are buying, here are a few tips on where to place the unit.

A new water softener should be placed out of the way but still easy to tie into the plumbing system. In most cases, the plumbing system would be in the basement, garage, or utility room, quite often near the water heater. Ensure that there is enough space around the unit to make it easy for service.

Areas to avoid must include those where freezing might happen as it can cause damage to the water softener. Your warranty will probably not include such damage. If you expect the temperature to fall below 40 degrees F, you should protect the system by relieving the pressure and draining the system.

It is also best to avoid placing it in direct sunlight or outdoors. A water softener needs a drain, such as a utility sink or a floor drain. Additionally, it needs an electrical receptacle that is not controlled by a switch.

Who installs water softener?

Water softener installation is a straightforward process. You can have your plumber set it up. You can also have a professional come in for the installation. Some manufacturers offer assistance and send in a technician to install the water softener in your home. However, you can do it yourself. Most homeowners have the tools and know-how to use them and can follow instructions to install their water softener.

Do you need a professional to install a water softener?

While you can have professional assistance, you don’t necessarily need a professional. Water softeners are easy to install and come with a user manual that gives detailed instructions on installing them in your home. You need a few things if you intend to install it yourself. 

  • Screwdriver
  • Razor knife
  • Teflon tape
  • Two adjustable wrenches
  • Any other tools that may be necessary to work on the plumbing system
  • Make sure that the size of the valve matches the plumbing size. 

How much does it cost to have a water softener installed?

The cost of installing a water softener can vary depending on the softener system being installed, your home’s accessibility, and the technician’s services. For example, homeowners could pay anywhere from $400 for a DIY installation to $4,000 for professional assistance. There are a few factors that help determine the cost of the installation:

Water softener systems’ maintenance

Distiller

Typically, a distiller is the most affordable system. It uses a steam process to purify the water. However, it works quite slowly and can only clean a few gallons per hour. They are small-scale water softeners that use distillation to remove the hard minerals and are better for single-use applications such as drinking water. It is small enough to install by yourself. 

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis, RO, is another way to treat water and is useful if you are on a sodium-restricted diet. It also works slowly, but it is very effective. Reverse osmosis water softeners need routine maintenance and filter changes that professionals best handle. Typically, ROs are installed under or near a sink. You can do it yourself or with the help of a professional.  

Whole-house water softener

A whole-house water softener system is one of the most popular choices to soften water. It treats water at the supply source and softens all the water that flows into the house. However, it is an expensive option, although simple to install and maintain.

The different types of whole-house water softeners include ion exchangers, salt-free water conditioners, magnetic or electronic softeners, and ones with dual tanks. Installation cost will depend on the type you choose to install. 

Salt-based water softeners: $400 and $1,000

Ion exchangers or salt-based water softening systems can cost between $400 and $1,000 for installation.

The salt-based water softener, otherwise known as ion exchangers, is the most common water softener. A salt-based water softener removes high levels of calcium and magnesium from water through an ion exchange process. This process softens hard water by swapping the hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) with sodium chloride (salt). The running cost will also include regular salt purchases.

Salt-free water conditioners: $300 – $4000

Salt-free water conditioners use potassium instead of salt, usually preferred by people on low-sodium diets. It’s important to note that potassium is more expensive than salt, although it is eco-friendly and will suit specific dietary restrictions. Salt-free units work, suspending the calcium and magnesium ions and preventing a build-up. The advantage here is that you don’t have to buy salt. The cost will include only the unit itself, delivery, installation, and filter change.

Dual tank water softeners: $1,000 – $2,000

A dual tank water softener comes with two mineral tanks. It is ideal for homes that experience high hardness levels in their water. It’s especially useful in large households where regeneration downtime is a concern. While one tank is down for maintenance or cleaning, the second tank can be activated to ensure an uninterrupted supply of softened water. The upfront cost will be higher as it is larger, and installation will need professional assistance.

Magnetic/electronic water softeners: $30 – $200

There is a new type of water softener on the market, a plug-in unit that can be attached to your existing pipes. The theory is that the system’s magnetic field reverses the charge of ions and helps them resist sticking to the pipe or each other. It is also a way to prevent build-up. It is one of the more easy-to-install water softeners. 

A Step By Step Guide To Install A Water Softener In Your Home

The first step is naturally assembling the parts of the water softener. Once you remove the tank from the box, make sure that the riser tube is firmly secured at the bottom of the tank. Install the plastic cap onto the distributor tube. Using a funnel, pour the media into the tank evenly around the hole to equally distribute it in the tank. Make sure that the media has settled well in the tank.

Now, you can remove the cap from the distributor tube. Add some lubricant to the distributor O-ring and the outer tank’s O-ring. Place the upper basket on the bottom of the valve and lock it down by turning the basket clockwise.

Next, place the upper basket over the distributor tube and push the valve onto the tank. Make sure you don’t cross-thread the valve on the tank when you turn it clockwise to thread the valve. Tighten the valve with just a few taps of your hand without using tools as they might damage the valve. 

Once the water softener is assembled, you begin with the installation.

If you have an electric hot water tank, the power must be switched off. In the case of a private well, the pump’s power must be switched off before shutting off the main water shut-off valve. On the other hand, you can shut off the main valve if it is a municipal water supply. You may need to relieve the pressure by turning on cold water and waiting till the water flow stops. 

Place the water softener tank and the brine tank near a drain and where you intend to have the unit installed. Make sure that the surface is level. Note that if there is any soldering that needs to be done, it must be done before connecting the pipe to a valve. At least 6 inches of space is necessary between the control valve and soldered joints. The unit has male pipes that are threaded ports on the control valve bypass. You will see arrow marks on the bypass that show flow direction – the inlet is indicated by an arrow pointing towards the valve, and the one pointing away is the outlet.

Insert the plumbing fitting into the bypass. You will have ¾ and 1-inch pipe thread fittings, so it is important to pick the right one for the plumbing system. Again, ensure that the fittings are threaded right. You may need pipe sealants to ensure a tight fit. 

Now, you can connect the drain hose to the valve and tighten it with a hose clamp. Ensure that the drain hose runs to a floor drain or a laundry tub. The hose can be along the floor or overhead. If it is run overhead, make sure that the tubing is smooth with no kinks. It must be run linearly towards the drain. It is best not to directly connect to a waste drain as you don’t want the wastewater glowing back through the drain line into the water softening system. Use hose clamps to ensure that the drain line is secure at the connection points.

Remove the nut and sleeve from the control valve and connect the brine line to the control valve. Slide the sleeve and nut over the brine line and push the brine line till it stops. Tighten the nut carefully without damaging the valve body.

The brine line must be connected to the brine tank’s safety float assembly. Remove the lid of the brine tank and the brine well cap. Push the brine line through the brine tank and well. Make sure that the brass insert is removed for this step. Push the brine line fully into the brine safety valve. Now, install the red locking clip between the collar and the brine elbow around the brine fitting. Finally, install the white cap on the tube.

You have to turn both the bypass handles perpendicular to the bypass. You can turn on the water supply slowly. Open a faucet and let the water flow for a few minutes. All the debris from the plumbing system will flow out. Check for leaks in the system before proceeding. Once you see that the water is running clear, you can close the faucet. 

It is time to fill the brine tank. Open the tank and add one or two gallons of water. Add at least 80 lbs of salt to the brine tank. It is best to start by filling the salt until it is 2″ below the top of the safety float. Then, add the rest of the salt until you can see the water on top of the salt. It is time to start the system up.

System startup

Let the bypass handles be in the bypass position and initiate the regeneration process. It will move the valve to the backwash position. You can open the bypass handles about an eighth turn once it is in the backwash position and the valve has stopped moving. You will see the water slowly filling up in the tank.

During backwash, you can slowly open the bypass valve until you see water draining out of the drain hose, after which you can open the bypass valve fully. Wait for the backwash to be complete, so all air is pushed out through the drain. The valve will move to the brine draw cycle at this time.

Press and hold the set/ change to skip the brine draw cycle. This is how to let the unit rinse for a cycle. It is also how the brine line has no air and is primed for the first regeneration cycle. The system returns to the service position after refill and is ready for use.

Where is the best place to install a water softener?

a guy with water softener

The water softener must be placed upstream on a water heater to prevent scale build-up. Experts recommend that you leave at least 10 feet of piping between the water heater and the water softener to stop the hot water from moving back into the water softener during regeneration. The unit should also be near enough to a drain for wastewater. If there is an extra water load, you can use a floor drain, laundry tub, or utility sink. 

What to do right after having a water softener installed?

Once the water softener has been installed, you must start the system up with the above instructions. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How long does it take to install a water softener?

The time taken for installation will depend on the water softening system. The magnetic water softener takes very little time, whereas a whole house water softener can take a few hours.

How to install drain line to water softener?

The important thing is to avoid a cross-connection. The point is to avoid wastewater from flowing back into the water softener during regeneration. The water softener must be installed so that the drain line empties into a floor drain or a laundry tray. Connect the drain hose to the valve and use a hose clamp to tighten it.

The hose can be along the floor or overhead. If it is run overhead, make sure that the tubing has no kinks. It must be run linearly towards the drain. The hose clamps will ensure that the drain line is secure at the connection points.

Can you install water softener outside?

Yes. You can install the water softener outside. But, some conditions apply. For instance, if your home is in a region that does not face freezing temperatures or doesn’t have a basement, you may install the water softener outside.

Ideally, it should be placed near the entry point of the water supply and must have a power supply for the control valve to function. It must also be a place that can handle drain water safely. Ensure that it is accessible and there is enough room around the unit, as you will have to add softener salt regularly and perform routine maintenance.

How to install a bypass valve for water softener

A water softener bypass valve helps regulate the needs of the water softener. The installation of the water softener bypass valve can be simple. Start with cutting the waterline. You can cut the waterline after deciding where the bypass valve will be placed. Make sure the pipe edges are smooth. 

Then, apply some flux to both the pipe and the bypass valve. Run the pipe into the valve and push it as far as possible. You may need a torch to heat the intersection. As it heats, touch the pipe with a solder, which will melt around the pipe and ensure a watertight seal between the pipe and the bypass valve.

Can water softener be installed in garage?

Yes. Water softeners can be installed in a garage. If you don’t have a basement or crawl space, you can try the garage, as it has the required space. You can also store the water softener salt in the garage for easier access.

Conclusion

Learning to install a water softener is a good thing, even if you don’t wish to do it yourself. It gives you pointers to ensure that the installation is done correctly. Since water softeners have become more of a necessity than a luxury, considering the hardness levels in water in most regions of the country, learning the steps of installation can be of great help.

About The Author

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Judith— a passionate water treatment specialist — is a waste water management enthusiast, clean drinking water advocate, and someone with deep personal experience and knowledge about various water equipments. Her work was mentioned in countless notable water associations. Previously she was an editor at Water Alliance.