An in-home water softener could potentially save you thousands on plumbing repairs. Chlorine and minerals added to municipal water, and those that are natural in private wells, can accumulate in your pipes. The build-up on your pipe’s walls has the same effect as cholesterol in the body.
Usually, hard water has a high concentration of magnesium and calcium. Eventually, you will have no water pressure, especially to the second floor of a home.
In some areas, water even has a strong sulfur odor. This is caused by hydrogen sulfide. Although hydrogen sulfide is not known as a health hazard, it can cause your water to smell like “rotten eggs.”
Another detriment is hydrogen sulfide negates the benefit of using bleach to whiten clothes. Bleach, when mixed with hydrogen sulfide, will turn your whites gray or brown.
Additionally, hard water makes your detergent and fabric softener less effective. Most cleaning products do not mix well with hard water.
The purpose of a water softener is to remove minerals to address these common hard-water issues. With a water softener, your silverware and glasses will come out of the dishwasher without spots. Your family will have cleaner, softer skin and silkier hair.
The capacity of a water softener refers to the number of grains-per-gallon (GPG) removed.
The usual water softener for a five-member home that removes around 35,000 gpg, and costs about $500 for a DIY kit. However, a non-salt or potassium unit that removes 75,000 gpg will cost between $1,800 and $2,000.
The average cost to purchase and install a water softener is $3,000 without regard to the type, and the average cost of repair is $150.
Common Types of In-Home Water Softeners
The most common types of water softeners are salt, potassium, and magnetic. How much you spend will depend on which you choose, not only initially but over time. Some require filter replacements, while others require you to add salt or potassium.
Salt (Think Sodium Chloride) NaCl
The first thing that should come to mind when you see salt is sodium and high blood pressure (HBP). Even when no one in your family has a problem with it, you must consider the possibility. Adding salt is likely not healthy for anyone’s diet. Particularly if you or a family member’s doctor said, “Cut back on the salt.”
The typical softener uses eight milligrams (mg) of salt in each liter of water to remove one grain of water hardness. Therefore, you could be adding 80 mg of sodium to a liter of water that contains the average of ten grains of hardness. Furthermore, if the water softener is not adjusted correctly, it could add more. These units retail for about $350 – $500.
A potassium water softener works identically to a salt-based water softener. However, instead of salt, it uses potassium. Potassium, required by your body for proper nerve and muscle function, can have the opposite effect in large quantities.
Although the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of potassium is 2,100 mg, too much can lead to Hyperkalemia. The Mayo Clinic defines Hyperkalemia as having more than 6.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) in the body. It is normally related to kidney problems; therefore, kidney patients should steer clear of this type of water softener or avoid softening the water in the kitchen.
What’s the Difference in Price?
The price to buy and install a potassium water softener is the same as a softener that uses salt. However, the difference comes in the refills. Salt costs $5.00 – $10.00 for a forty-pound bag, and the potassium is $25.00 – $30.00 per bag.
Also, some municipalities prohibit the use of salt-based softeners when there is a septic tank in use. Although a University of Wisconsin study disproved the myth these softeners negatively affect the septic system, many communities have not changed their stance. Check with your building inspector’s office before installation.
A magnetic system uses the same principle as the salt or potassium softener. Hard water contains positive-charged minerals. The system uses a negative-charged ion to attract the minerals and keep them from attaching to your pipes.
These are a new technology that will attach to your present pipes, and costs about $250 – $300. Do some research before buying, or check to see if a neighbor with the same water system likes it.
Dual Tank System
A dual tank system typically gets installed in multi-family homes, or homes with large families. One tank can get cleaned while the other is being used. These systems generally cost between $1,000 and $2,200 but could cost as much as $5,000, depending on the brand. So, shop around for the best deal.
Cost to Test Your Water
Before buying a water softener, testing your water can determine which is best, or let you know if one is even necessary. You can get a water test kit from your local hardware store for $20 – $50.
Professional vs. DIY Water Softener Install
If you’re comfortable with plumbing and following printed directions and you have the time and tools, you could consider a DIY install. However, do your research, and make sure you install the right type and size for your family and water condition.
Some localities might also require a licensed plumber do this kind of work, and might also require a permit and inspection. A permit usually costs $20 to $100 for this kind of work.
If you do choose to install yourself you could save around $1,000 for the installation.
If you’re not legally allowed or you’re not comfortable with the installation, consider getting several estimates from licensed plumbers for the project. They should be able to recommend the right system for your home and professionally install it.
A professional installation could cost $1,000 or more, depending on the plumbing modifications needed to add the system, but the cost is well worth it to avoid leaks and other plumbing issues in the future.
Learn more about plumbing projects and how much it costs to hire a plumber.
All pricing information on this page is based on average industry costs, and is subject to variance for project-specific materials, labor rates, and requirements.