Water softener installation can be a great DIY project for those with some home improvement experience and plumbing that is fairly easy to access. If you’re installing a typical ion exchange water softener you should be fairly comfortable with plumbing and parts before you get started. Of course you should always read the manual before beginning.
Water Softener Installation
While this isn’t meant to be a step-by-step guide some of the tasks you will most likely have to do are:
- Turn your home’s water off and on
- Turn off and on the electric or gas flow to your hot water heater
- Connect new water lines-Cement or solder pipes
- Assemble the water softener and connect it to your water lines
- Perform the initial configuration of your softener
Before you get started make sure all the correct parts were included with your water softener. Also make sure that you have all the tools necessary before you get started. Read the instruction manual carefully to make sure you understand the manufacturer’s instructions, unfortunately some manufacturers write their manuals in a very technical way on the assumption that only professionals will be making installations. You can also check out online forums or YouTube for installation guidelines and tips from other DIY enthusiasts.
If your home is of newer construction you may already have pipes roughed in for a water softener. You should check the garage near your water heater. If you do have the pipes your job just got a lot easier!
Installing a Water Softener, Do You Feel Confident?
Start by turning off your water supply at the road. Your pipes will probably be joined together in a U shape or at least each one will be capped off. One pipe will be your water supply the other will connect to your interior plumbing. Once you remove the caps you will want to turn on the main water supply just a bit so you can see which of the pipes is connected to your main water supply.
Always turn off your electric or gas supply to your water heater before starting this project!
Once you attach your pipes to your water softener turn the main on just a little to make sure all your fittings are secure and you have no leaks. You should then turn on all the faucets in the house to check that all the pipes are working correctly.
Now, if you don’t have pipes already roughed in you will have to manually add piping for your water softener installation. You will need to tie into the main water supply line and you will need to tie into your indoor plumbing as well. Depending on where you want your softened water to go this could be an extensive job. You will get the most benefit from a water softener going to your water-using appliances and your shower. Some folks don’t like the slippery taste of softened water so you could easily avoid your kitchen faucet if you wanted to.
The Best Location for Your Water Softener
You should always install your water softening system in a protected area on a nice level location where it won’t freeze or be wet. You will need to install the tanks so that they are close to each other. Remember that the brine tank will need to be refilled with sodium or potassium on a regular basis so it should be in the most accessible position.
You will need access to a standard 120v, three prong, and grounded outlet to supply the power to your softener. Most softeners will come with about 10-12 feet of power cord. You can extend the length if needed, up to about 50ft, but you will have to purchase the splice connectors and extension wire (18/2 AWG or thicker) separately.
You will also need to be able to tie into a drain. This could be a floor drain, a nearby utility sink, or washing machine drain. Your standard ion exchange softner will need to regenerate by rinsing the resin on a regular basis and this rinse water must be able to be drained. You should keep the drain within 20ft. of the softener.
How To Install A Water Softener
Connecting to a Drain
Water softeners will need a place to drain water during the regeneration process. Some of the options for draining would include a standpipe, a floor drain, or a utility sink.
The softener will have a valve drain fitting, connect the small drain tubing to this. Once you do that you will need to connect the overflow drain hose the salt tank’s drain elbow. Then both of these hoses should be positioned so that they can drain easily.
These hoses both need an air gap in most cases an inch should be sufficient and should be anchored into place above whatever drain you intend to use as the drain will be under pressure. You should also make sure there is a trap on whichever drain line you are using. Always install the drain below the top of the head of the softener and in a minimum 1.5” drain pipe. Connect the drains after you have the tanks set in place.
Adding Resin to the Tank
After you are tied into your plumbing lines and have set up the drainage you are ready to set up the softner itself and turn the water supply back on. Refer to the owner’s manual you received with your softener for the manufacturer’s recommendation for which type of salt to use and how much to add.
After you assemble the resin tank (the smaller of the two) you will need to add the resin media. You should receive instructions on how to do this. One tip I can offer is to cover the end of the distribution tube with masking or scotch tape so no resin goes into the tube as you fill the tank, pour the softener resin slowly so you don’t move any of the tubes around, and be sure to remove the tape once the tank has been filled. But don’t yank the tape off or you will move the distribution tube out of position!
The control valve head can now be installed on the mineral tank. Do this slowly as it will need to be positioned over the end of the distribution tube.
When turning the water supply back on taking care to go slowly. Sudden pressure can damage fittings. Turn the cold water on at a faucet inside the house before turning the water supply on.
Install the Bypass Loop
You should always install a bypass loop with a cut off valve that bypasses the water softener. This is insurance in case you ever have problems with the softener you can still have water running to the house. Most units will have a bypass mechanism included but if not you should install one for safety and convenience. If the softener you purchased has a bypass mechanism it will be attached once the control valve head is in place.
The plumbing hookups for a water softener can seem overwhelming but just follow these tips to make the water connections easy.
Usually, there will be at least on cold water branch before the water softener. It is standard procedure to have a cold water supply going to the outdoor hose connections. It is usually recommended that gardens, plantings, and flowers receive non-softened water as they get a lot of benefit from the naturally occurring minerals and usually perform poorly with increased sodium.
Sometimes there will be a second cold water branch coming off the water line before the water softener. In case you don’t want to drink softened water or have your ice cubes made from it you may wish to plumb in another non-softened line to the fridge and kitchen sink.
The main water supply line to the rest of the house will continue on to the water softening unit. Once the water leaves the unit it will branch off into two lines. One line will go to the hot water heater and the second line will feed the interior fixtures and faucets of your home. The outgoing line from the hot water heater is the source of hot water for the house.
Flex Pipe or Hard Piping the Unit?
You can always install the unit by hard piping it into your water lines but you might want to consider using flex piping instead. You will need to cut into your water pipes and add an adapter that will accept the flex pipe. You can add push fit fittings very easily if you don’t want to solder copper pipes. And take care when you are attaching plastic fitting to metal ones.
Be sure you hold the plastic fittings steady and don’t put too much pressure on them as you are tightening any adapters, you don’t want to strip the threads of crack the plastic.
Finishing Up the Installation Process
- Connecting the tanks should be simple using the supplied tube. Connect the brine tank to the mineral tank elbow below the timer unit.
- Hook up a brine tank overflow line. This line is not under pressure and should not be tied into the backwash drain line.
- Fill your brine tank with clean water, according to your owner’s manual.
- Plug in your softener.
- Input the correct settings according to your owner’s manual.
- Add 40# of salt being careful not to get any dirt or other debris in the brine tank.
- After your softener is correctly assembled and set up to be “in service” you should very slowly turn on the water supply. After all the air is purged from the lines open the water supply fully. Allow the softener to go through one full regeneration phase so the softener sodium or potassium will completely cover the resin media.
- Be sure to check for leaks at this point.
- After the backwashing is complete make sure the water level is about the same as when you started. If it is significantly higher or lower you will need to troubleshoot this issue with your control valve. Otherwise you can now add the remainder of your sodium or potassium. Most units will hold about 400# at a time.
- Now you are ready to enjoy your softened water.
Installing Water Softener Tips for Avoiding Problems
When installing a water softener be aware that if you damage the water softener you could void the warranty, your softener might operate inefficiently, or you could cause damage to your home. However, if you are fairly handy person and your plumbing pipes are in an easy to access place you should be able to handle this installation job easily. Particularly if you have done any home plumbing maintenance or repair work you will probably be able to complete your water softener installation yourself.
Should You Install Water Softener On Your Own?
Once you’ve done all your research and decided which water softener best suits your family’s needs your next concern is installing the water softener. Even before making your final purchase it’s important for you to understand what can be involved in water softener installation and whether you want to do it yourself or hire a professional.
If you have any concerns about whether or not you can handle water softener installation you should call a plumber or contractor. Keep in mind most manufacturers of water softeners provide instructions with their product and there are many videos available online that can guide you through the process if you feel fairly competent.
Water Softener Installation Cost
While many people decide they want to do their own installation some folks would just rather choose and purchase their softener on their own to find the best price then farm out the dirty work of the install. This can really be the best of both worlds especially if your home is not pre-plumbed for a softener or if you want some fancy piping work such as a non-softened line going to the kitchen faucet and icemaker and one going to the outdoor faucets (which is recommended).
For the most part you can just double the cost of your softener to get the cost of installation. This would be a high number in most cases but it would certainly allow you to stay within budget. And, if you have any plumbing issues that need to be solved this number would allow for some surprises to unfold without blowing the budget.
The biggest benefit to having a pro take care of the install of your water softener is that you will not have any warranty issues. Some of the major softener manufacturers have an issue with diy installation and my not honor a warranty request if you do the install on your own. This varies of course so you should check into it if it’s an issue for you.
Another benefit is that most pros can handle an installation in just a few hours whereas you may need a weekend to get everything taken care of, especially if you end up doing a few hardware store runs to pick up supplies and forgotten supplies! Sometimes just avoiding the frustration is worth the cost of paying a pro for their expertise.
Whether you decide to hire a professional or do your water softener installation yourself you can rest assured that you will enjoy the benefits of pure, clear, great tasting drinking water.