Installing A Water Softener
Water softener installation can be a great do-it-yourself (DIY) project for homeowners with some home improvement experience and with home plumbing not unduly difficult to reach. To install the typical ion-exchange water softener, it helps to be already fairly comfortable and confident with plumbing tasks and familiar with the manufacturer’s owner manual before beginning.
Some homeowners decide on DIY own installation, and others choose to purchase their softener at the best price and contract out the physical grunt work. The latter choice may present the best parts of both options in homes not pre-plumbed with pipes for a softener or for homeowners who want a fancy nonsoftened line to the kitchen faucet and icemaker and another to outdoor faucets, an arrangement most professional contractors recommend.
Double the softener purchase cost to estimate the cost of a contracted installation, in most cases a high number but one that would keep the job within the homeowner budget. For any unexpected plumbing problems encountered, this amount of money would provide for them without busting the budget.
The biggest benefit to having a professional install the water softener is no worries about warranty issues. Some major softener manufacturers discourage DIY installations and may not honor warranty requests on them. Policies on this point vary among manufacturers so the homeowner always should find out about it in advance of the purchase.
Another benefit of paying for installation is that a contractor can do in a few hours what might take the DIY homeowner several days or an entire weekend to get done, especially with trips to the hardware store for supplies as needed. Sometimes DIY jobs cost the homeowner more in frustrations than contractors would charge in cash. The tradeoff is between time and energy one way and money the other.
Whether hiring a contractor or doing the installation personally, the homeowner will enjoy the rewards of pure, clear, tasty drinking water.
How to Install a Water Softener Avoiding Problems
A water softener damaged during installation may void the warranty, may operate inefficiently or improperly or not at all, or there could be damage to the home. A fairly handy homeowner with plumbing pipes easy to access should be able to do the installation job without overwhelming difficulty. With some knowledge and experience from doing home plumbing maintenance or repair, the DIY homeowner should be able to complete the installation without any untoward consequences.
If there are concerns about whether the homeowner can handle the installation, it is better to be safe rather than sorry by calling in a contractor. On the other hand, water softener manufacturers provide installation instructions, and there are many online videos to guide fairly competent homeowners through the process. Some of the most likely installation tasks:
- Turning the home water supply off and back on
- Turning off and on the electricity or gas supply to the hot water heater
- Connecting new water lines by cement or solder
- Assembling the water softener and connecting it to the water lines
- Programming the initial water softener configuration
Before beginning, be sure to have at hand all correct parts and all necessary tools. Read the instruction manual carefully to comprehend the instructions, unfortunately sometimes drafted on an assumption that only professionals read them. Check out online home improvement guides and tips from other DIY enthusiasts.
Homes of recent construction may have pipes already roughed in for a water softener. Look near the water heater. If such pipes are already present, the job becomes much easier.
Turn off the water supply outside the home. The pipes probably join in a U-shape or they may be capped. One pipe is the water supply; the other connects to the interior plumbing. Remove the caps and turn on the main supply slightly to see which home pipe connects to it. Turn on a couple of ground-floor faucets to drain the water remaining in the home pipes. Always turn off the gas or electricity supply to the water heater before beginning this project.
After attaching the pipes to the water softener, turn on the main slightly to make sure all fittings are secure and do not leak. Then turn on all faucets in the home to check for proper plumbing function overall.
If there are no pipes already roughed in and suitable for water softeners, add such piping manually. The new piping needs to connect to the main water supply line and to the home indoor plumbing. Depending on where the softened water should go, this job could be extensive. Maximum benefit from soft water comes from appliances and bath showers.
Water softeners connected to home hot-water supply plumbing usually near but not downstream from home water heaters. Temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit may damage a softener and void its warranty. Always install a water softener in a level, protected area where it won’t freeze or get wet. Install the tanks close together. Remember that the brine tank must be refilled with sodium or potassium salt regularly and so should be the more accessible.
A standard 120-volt, three-prong, grounded outlet should supply electric power to the softener. Most softeners have 10 to 12 feet of power cord. Extend the length if necessary up to as far as about 50 feet with splice connectors and extension wire of 18/2 gauge or thicker.
A drain is also necessary. A standard ion-exchange softener needs to regenerate by rinsing the resin regularly, and this rinse water must have a drain within 20 feet of the softener.
Some drain options are standpipes, floor drains, or utility sinks. Connect the small drain tubing to the softener drain valve fitting. Then connect the overflow drain hose to the salt tank drain elbow. Then place both of these hoses where they can drain easily.
Both hoses need an air gap of at least an inch and both should be fixed in place above the drain as they will be under pressure. Make sure there is a trap on the drain line. Always install the drain tube below the softener head top in a drain pipe of at least an inch and a half diameter. Connect the drain lines after the tanks are in place.
Adding Resin to the Tank
After connecting the plumbing lines and setting up the drainage, set up the softener itself and turn the water supply back on. Refer to the softener owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation of how much of which type of sodium or potassium salt to use.
After assembling the resin tank, add the resin medium. Cover the end of the distribution tube with tape so no resin goes into the tube as the tank fills, pour the softener resin slowly so none of the tubes moves around, and be sure to remove the tape after the tank has filled. Don’t pull the tape off roughly or the distribution tube will move out of position.
Now install the control valve head on the mineral tank slowly as it must be in position over the end of the distribution tube. Turn the water supply back on slowly. Sudden pressure may damage fittings. Turn on a cold water faucet inside the house before turning on the house water supply to keep pressure from building up too fast.
Always install a bypass loop with a cut-off valve as a precaution in case of problems with the softener water still can run around it to supply the house. Most softeners include bypass mechanisms but, if not, install one for safety and convenience. If the softener has a bypass mechanism, attach it after the control valve head is in position.
Water softener plumbing hookups can seem complicated but can be easy. There is at least one cold water branch upstream from the water softener. In standard practice the home cold water supply goes to outdoor hose connections. Gardens should get regular water for the benefit their plantings get from the minerals naturally present.
Sometimes a second cold water branch comes off the water line before the water softener. Those who don’t want to drink soft water or make ice cubes from it may plumb in a regular water line to the kitchen. The main water supply line continues to the water softener. The water leaving the softener branches into two lines, one to the water heater and the second to the home interior fixtures and faucets. The line from the heater is the source for home hot water.
Flex or Hard Pipe
The softener unit can hard-pipe into water lines, but consider use of the alternative of flex piping. Cut into the water pipes and attach a flex pipe adapter. Push fittings are available for homeowners who dislike soldering. Take care when attaching plastic to metal fittings. Hold the plastic fittings firmly steady but go easy with pressure on them when tightening adapters so as not to strip the threads or crack the plastic.
- Connecting the tanks is easy with the supplied tubing. Connect the brine tank to the mineral tank elbow under the timer.
- Connect a brine tank overflow line, which is not under pressure and should not connect to the backwash drain line.
- Fill the brine tank with clean water per owner’s manual instructions.
- Plug in the water softener appliance to a suitable outlet.
- Adjust softener program settings according to owner manual instructions.
- Add salt taking care to keep dirt or debris out of the brine tank.
After correct softener assembly, turn on the water supply gradually. After removing all air from the water lines, open the water supply fully. Allow one full regeneration so the softener sodium or potassium salt covers the resin medium completely. Look for leaks.
After backwashing finishes, see whether the water has returned to about the same level where it was when it started. If much higher or lower, investigate with the control valve. Otherwise, add the remaining sodium or potassium salt.