10 Things you need to know about Water Softeners

Do I really need a water softener?

If your water is greater than 10 grains per gallon, you are probably considering a water softener. The minerals in hard water produce a scale buildup that is harmful to appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines. It's a personal choice, but a water softener will improve the quality of the water and protect plumbing and appliances. Water hardness level vary from place to place. To find out the hardness of your water you can view the following maps. Remember though, these levels fluctuate slightly seasonally. 

What does a water softener do?

Water softeners use simple ion exchange to remove the calcium and magnesium from water. There is a small amount of sodium exchange, so the resulting, softened water, has trace salt left behind. The water feels smoother, you use less soap and there are no harsh minerals in the water to damage plumbing and leave unsightly scale on faucets, tubs and sinks.

How much does a water softener cost?

As you shop around, you will undoubtedly be wondering why there is such a huge price range varying from Hardware store brands under $700. right up to Culligan and Kinetico units for several thousands of dollars. In a nutshell, hardware stores usually sell cabinet models, don't include installation, and have short warranties and no in-store service should you need help with your softener. On the other extreme, franchise stores with commissioned salespeople often charge hundreds of extra dollars to compensate for these added expenses. Generally speaking, a good quality, high-efficiency, North American made product should cost between $1000 to about $1500. This price should include installation and a long warranty.

How many years will a water softener last?

A two-piece unit (separate salt tank) will generally last around 15 years under normal use. It's important to size your softener correctly, so it isn't regenerating too often. A single piece softener, such as hardware stores sell, usually last around the 10 year mark. This isn't written in stone and can vary depending on the actual hardness of your water.

What maintenance is required for a water softener?

No maintenance is required. You must keep a small amount of salt in the salt tank though, to facilitate regeneration and recharge of the resin beads. 

How do I size a water softener correctly?

There is a complicated formula for water softener sizing, however, you can make a close estimate quite easily. Newer water softeners regenerate based on the amount of water actually used. If the water hardness is 25 grains per gallon as it is in the Waterloo Region the following sizing would apply.

  • 32,000 grain for a family up to 4
  • 45,000 grain for a family up to 6
  • 64,000 grain for a family up to 8

Other sizes are available.

How much salt does a water softener use?

Salt consumption is determined by the hardness of your water and the amount of water you actually use. It varies greatly from family to family. If you fill a hot-tub every day and use the bathtub instead of a shower, you will use much more water than a family that showers at the gym and usually eats out!

That said, you should look for an efficiency rating of about 1 lb of salt to at least 4000 grains of hardness. All Pentair softeners, including Fleck and Autotrol will achieve this level of efficiency. Also Clack products are wonderfully salt and water efficient. 

The short answer though, is about 2-3 small bags (20kg) of salt per person, per year. 

Is softened water safe to drink?

Usually, when a softener is installed, the kitchen cold water line is bypassed and left hard for drinking and cooking. 

Can I soften only the hot water?

Absolutely! Not only will you reduce the amount of sodium in the Region's water supply but you will save almost 40% of the expense of operating a softener. All the cold lines will be hard and safe for drinking or brushing teeth, etc. The appliances that use water such as your dishwasher will not come into contact with hard water. It may be possible to connect your washing machine to hot and cold soft, but that would have to be determined by a plumber at the time of installation.

Where should I buy my water softener?

Why from Ontario Soft Water, of course!