How to Install a Water Softener the Easy Way

You may have heard people talk about their water at home being ‘hard’. What they are referring to is the texture of the water caused by calcium, magnesium, and certain other metal cations present. You can fix this issue if you know how to install a water softener.

What Is a Water Softener?

A water softener is a pair of cylindrical units which are connected to your home’s water supply and remove potentially harmful minerals from your water.

Water that contains a significant amount of calcium, magnesium and iron, is known as hard water. Hard water can have a damaging impact on your home’s water system by clogging pipes and preventing soaps and detergents from dissolving in water. Water softening is a method that removes the ions that cause water to be hard.

Before we get into how to install a water softener, it is important to understand how they work. We will get a little scientific now; but don’t worry, the process is easy to understand!

How Does It Work?

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Water softeners remove the minerals and ions from hard water by utilizing a scientific process called ‘ion exchange’. The water softener unit is filled with negatively charged ion-exchange resins, or zeolite crystals, that have the space to hold positive ions. These ‘cation exchangers’ exchange positively charged ions (cations) for negatively charged ions.

When the hard water is pumped through the water softener, the positively charged calcium (Ca+2), magnesium (Mg+2) and iron (Fe+3) ions are pulled to the resin and crystals, allowing clean, soft water to flow out into your home’s water supply.

The water softener unit regenerates itself with the use of its secondary tank and water softener salt. Water and salt combine in the secondary tank to create brine, which is why it’s known as the brine tank. It then pumps the brine into the primary tank which bathes, or washes, the ion-exchange resins, and crystals releasing the hard minerals and disinfecting the tank. Finally, the water that now contains the hard minerals is flushed out of the system entirely.

Is There a Need for a Water Softener?

A water softener provides significant protection against the harmful and negative effects that hard water can cause to your home’s piping, water appliances and your general well-being.

If left unfiltered, hard water can clog pipes and prevent soaps and detergents from dissolving easily, which can permanently damage your home’s piping system. Hard water can also cause strange tastes and smells in the household and sometimes minor skin irritations among occupants.

Hard water also creates a higher risk of limescale deposits building up, and these can reduce the efficiency of boilers and increase the cost of domestic water heating. Many household water appliances, such as laundry machines and dishwashers, can also become damaged from constant exposure to hard water.

Water softening provides longevity to your home’s water system and appliances and can reduce future maintenance costs while lasting for many years! Water softeners installed in the 1980s are still fully functional and normally will have only required minor maintenance.

If you decide that there is a need for one of these systems in your home, the next few steps on how to install a water softener will make installation a breeze!

How to Install a Water Softener

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Whether you decide to buy a water softener or rent one, where you position the unit is important. Water softeners should be installed inside, near the water heater, in a dry place that avoids extreme cold temperatures and direct sunlight. The basement, garage or utility room are optimum environments for the unit and ensure there is enough space for easy servicing. 

If you live in colder climates where the temperatures drop below 40° Fahrenheit (4°Celsius), you might drain the unit to relieve the pressure. 

Other things to consider include:

  • A floor drain or utility sink
  • A nearby power outlet that can handle the needed amperage (please review the manufacturer’s specifications)
  • Placement must be downstream from the water heater, as water temperatures above 110° Fahrenheit (43°Celsius) may void your warranty and damage the softener

If sodium in drinking water is a health concern for your family, you can:

  • Bypass the kitchen faucets
  • Only soften the hot water supply system
  • Select a salt-free water softening system

Before undertaking any DIY or home installation, familiarise yourself with local plumbing codes and the manufacturer’s instructions. Once confident, you can begin the following 10 steps on how to install a water softener:

1. Prepare the Area

Clean the area where you intend to position the water softener. The orientation of the unit is critical, so ensure you attach the inlet to the water supply pipe and the outlet to the water heater.

2. Turn Everything off

For safety and to avoid accidents or flooding, turn off the water supply valves in your home and the water heater’s water supply. You will also need to turn off the power to the water heater, which is the gas valve for a gas water heater and the circuit breaker for an electric water heater.

3. Drain the Water

Open 2 to 3 bottom-floor faucets to drain the water from the pipes.

4. Bypassing the Valve

Check the orientation of your system again. Hard water must run into the systems inlet so that soft water can run through the outlet to the house’s fixtures and pipes. Using a pipe cutter, cut into the water supply line and install elbow fittings. These fittings will enable you to run two lines to the inlet and the outlet ports of the bypass valve. You also have the option of installing a T fitting before the softener so an outlet (like a hose bibb) can carry hard water to the outlet.

5. Install the Pipes

Before installing the pipes that lead to the bypass valve, be sure to cut them to specification. It’s a good idea to solder all the fittings and nipples first before attaching them to the plastic bypass valve, as the heat from the soldering could melt and damage the plastic. Have a ‘reducer tube fitting‘ in case the pipes are too large and you need to correct the size. When you’re ready to attach the pipes to the unit, use the compression fittings!  (https://www.amazon.com/Hydro-Flow-Barbed-Reducer-Fitting/dp/B00WBZYBA2/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=reducer+tube+fitting&qid=1561978994&s=lawn-garden&sr=1-1)

IMPORTANT: If the electrical system of your house uses the plumbing for safe grounding, then you must attach a jumper wire around the water softener piping for proper grounding.

6. The Drain Hose

Run the end of the drain hose to a drain or utility sink before clamping it to the water softener. Place the end of the hose at least 2 inches above any drain hole and securely clamp it, as this prevents back siphoning of waste water. The size of the drain hose will depend on the distance of its run and its height in relation to the inlet.

For guidance, typically a pipe with ½-inch interior diameter (ID) can run up to 15ft if its outlet (discharge) is lower than the inlet. If the outlet is slightly higher than the inlet, you will need a 5/8-inch ID pipe for the same run distance. Any distance between 15ft to 25ft that has the outlet above the inlet will need a ¾-inch ID pipe. A drain line should never be more than 10ft above the floor.

7. Turn On Water

This is the most critical part of how to install a water softener! Adhering to any specific details in the manufacturer’s instructions, connect the brine tank’s overflow tube to the unit. You must position the overflow fitting higher than the overflow’s discharge. Once connected, set the bypass valve to the “bypass” position and run water through the softener for a few minutes. This will expel air in the pipes and flush out any sediment.

8. Backwash

You can now open the valves to the water heater and restore its power/gas and plug the water softener into a nearby power outlet (one not controlled by a switch). Set the valve on the system to the “Backwash” position and hold the “Regenerate” button down until the valve advances to Backwash.

9. Fill the Tank

Partially open the inlet control on the bypass valve slowly to bleed off any build up of air. Once the unit stops spluttering and water flows easily to the drain, you can completely open the inlet and outlet bypass controls. Fill the tank with water and salt as directed by the manufacturer and always check for leaks.

10. The Final Step

Plug the power cord back in and select “Regenerate” on the system again to allow it to continue cycling to its next stage. You should repeat this step until the system reaches the “Service” setting. After this is complete, you can program the controls.

Conclusion

By using an ion exchange process, water softeners remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from you water, which make it hard. The silkier water that a softener produces has a wealth of benefits for your home and family.

Softened water softens hair, it’s gentler on the skin (reducing your chances of dry skin and eczema), and is perfect for cleaning electronics and washing clothes. It is an asset to any home!

If you follow the steps above on how to install a water softener, you can start enjoying the positive results today!

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