While there are different water softener systems, salt-free systems are more popular than salt-based water softeners.
Discover different water softener systems for your home
Of the different water softener systems, salt-free softeners are the most environmentally friendly.
Water Softner System Options
Your soap barely lathers, your coffee tastes funny and your dishes are spotty after an hour in the dishwasher. Along with the scale on your shower head, your mineral-rich water supply is causing problems. Hard water is packed with minerals that linger long after the rinsing away the soap. Hard water contains calcium, manganese and magnesium carbonate. While these are not hazardous to your health, they can build up in your plumbing and water-fed appliances. Eventually, you'll invest in clearing away these deposits unless you install a water softener system.
Choosing the Best Water Softener System
A water softner system removes calcium and magnesium, replacing them with salt as the water moves through a bed made of polymer resin beads. Called ion-exchange water softners, some of these self-cleaning systems flush their resin beads once they are full and restore the beds' sodium automatically. However, you must manually restore a basic ion exchange softener's bed. These basic systems can cost as little as $400 to $1,000, which can change if you need new pipes or drains. Larger residential units can start at $1,000 but can cost as much as $10,000 depending on the options you choose. Many clean and refresh their beds automatically, but adding salt to salt-based systems can raise your water softener price by $3 to $20 per month. Unfortunately, water softener installation experts have not decided if water softners will harm septic systems and installation is often separate. When the system flushes minerals out of the bed, they travel down the drain to the sewage system.
Homes have had salt-based softeners for decades, but these water softeners are not as environmentally friendly as newer systems. They may also cause problems for individuals with health problems, as this system substitutes sodium for hardening minerals. If you are on a sodium-restricted diet, consider a saltless water softener. Instead of replacing the hardening minerals with salt, a residential water softener system can alter their behavior, making it difficult for scale to form. A saltless water softener can use a process called Template Assisted Crystallization, changing the minerals into calcium carbonate crystals that then fragment and flow out of the system. The system needs no maintenance, but you will use less laundry detergent and less soap for bathing. Salt-free systems are good for people with high blood pressure or prefer chemical-free water softening. Another salt-free version uses electricity and claims to keep carbonate salts from sticking and causing scale. Unfortunately, electric water softening is expensive. Efficiency fluctuates as the electrically softened water returns to its hardened state after 48 hours. Since salt-free softening removes nothing, there is nothing to flush, making these systems more environmentally friendly than their salt-dependent cousins. You may not have heard, but some systems can use potassium instead of sodium. Unlike sodium systems, a potassium system is environmentally friendly and you can use the gray water from your system on your lawn and plants. A company's water softener price is based on the amount of water a system can treat and the system's complexity. The more efficient a system is, the more complex it will probably be. Ask about warranties and delivery because these can add to your final costs.
Installing your System
Water softener installation is beyond most homeowners' skill sets. Finding the right placement, where the system can tie into the home's internal plumbing, can be the easiest step. It is important to remember that softened water can kill plants, so avoid pipes with access to the outdoor water supply. Electricity and a drain should be nearby and you'll need to test your water's hardness, which will influence your system's settings. If planning to install your system on your own, read through the directions and tools list and gather everything you need. Shut off your water, but open all of your home faucets to drain the pipes. Having chosen your location, you will measure the distance between the bypass ports and the cold water line. Each manufacturer provides specific instructions for your unit, so you will install discharge tubes, run overflow tubes and place the bypass valve according to those instructions for different water softener systems.
Water Softener Repair
If you are fortunate, you will have your system long enough to need water softener repair. However, there are some things you can do to stave off service calls. First, be picky about your salt if you have a salt-based system. A condition called salt mushing develops when salt forms a layer of sludge in the brine tank. This layer grows and interferes with water circulation, preventing self-cleaning systems from functioning properly. Your system can also develop a salt bridge or a crust in the brine tank that creates a void between the water and the salt. Since this keeps the salt from dissolving, your unit stops softening your water. In both cases, the salt is the problem and you'll need to buy better pellets. Cleaning your system with a resin bed cleaner removes organic matter from your unit and preserves efficiency. Replacing valves is a job for a professional repairman as is a leak, but some problems are not visible. You may need a professional if you get air in your lines or hoses need to be replaced on different water softener systems.