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Installing and Using a Water Softener

Installing and Using a Water Softener

You researched the hard water issue at your Huntsville, AL home and decided to purchase and install a water softener yourself to help solve the annoying water problem.

In this post we take a look at installing and maintaining a water softener.

Do note: Most homeowners who are comfortable with Do It Yourself projects around the house and who are familiar with basic plumbing should be able to install a water softener themselves. However, if you are unsure of your DIY skills and plumbing knowledge, call your Huntsville plumber for assistance. It will cost extra dinero, but you’ll have a peace of mind that the job is done correctly and you can save a weekend day to watch the Bulldogs, Falcons, or Braves.

Locating the Water Softener

Water softeners usually are placed in a home’s basement or garage, away from the living area. For homes without a basement, the next best place is near the water heater.

  • A key requirement is that the water softener is close to the main water line. This ensures all water for daily household use gets directed to the softener for treatment before it flows through the taps, shower heads and pipes.
  • Softened water is not ideal for outside use (like watering plants) so it’s important that the softener be connected at a place that won’t be plumbed externally.
  • Another requirement is locating the water softener near a drain. This facilitates easy disposal of the brine solution after regeneration.
  • The location should be level and dry and near an electrical outlet.
  • There should be at least 10 feet of piping between the water heater and water softener. This distance will prevent the possibility of hot water migrating backward into the softener during regeneration. If hot water gets into the softener, it could damage some of the tubing.

If meeting any of these requirements are beyond your capabilities as a Do It Yourselfer, call your Huntsville plumber for assistance.

Installing a Water Softner

A few tips and tricks.

  • Create and follow a detailed checklist so you do not miss key installation steps. See below.
  • Know which tools you will need and have them on hand, at the ready.
  • Know if you will need additional tubing or fittings. Purchase these at a Huntsville-area home improvement center, hardware store, or plumbing specialty before you begin the installation.
  • Purchase flex connectors. These eliminate issues of mating pipes to the height of the softener inlet/outlet, reduce stress on pipes, and take less time (and skill) than traditional soldering.
  • If the water softener must be installed outside, make sure it is protected from the elements — rain, direct sunlight, cold temperatures.

Installation checklist

  • Turn off the water supply at the main.
    • Drain the water lines by turning on a faucet at the highest and lowest points in your home.
    • Make sure that the incoming water connects to the inlet on the valve and that the outlet on the valve connects to the water supply going into the house. (Note: Many homes have a cold water supply line that branches off the main to supply outdoor hose connections. This water should not be softened.)
    • As an option, you can install a remote bypass that lets you shut off the water going to the softener.
    • Make the proper connections with hard connections (soldering required) to the water supply lines or by using flexible connectors and connect any drain lines.
    • Fill the brine tank half-full with salt.
    • Slowly turn the water back on at the main and ensure the bypass valve is shut.

Start-up and Maintenance of the Water Softener

  • Enter the regeneration settings (based on the number of people in your home and the average water use).
  • Complete an initial manual regeneration to get the process started.
  • Monitor salt levels and conduct routine maintenance.

Water Softener–specific Numbers

Important water-softener numbers to know:

  • 5–10 Days: On average, you can expect the water softener to regenerate every 5–10 days. This depends on whether you have a time- or demand-initiated water softener, your home’s water use and the grain capacity of the softener.
  • 6–8 Bags: Demand-initiated water softeners, which only regenerate when needed, are extremely efficient, so you’ll probably only need to add one 40-pound bag of salt to your softener every 6–8 weeks.

Water Softener Maintenance

Water softeners are remarkably low maintenance and should not require an annual checkup from a Huntsville plumber.

Enter the water hardness level, regeneration timing parameters, refill the salt, and that’s it. There are, however, a few easy steps to make the water softener work more efficiently and last longer.

Avoid Salt Bridges and Salt Mushing

A salt bridge occurs when a hard crust forms in the brine tank and creates an empty space between the water and the salt, preventing the salt from dissolving to make brine. Without the brine, the resin beads that soften your water can’t do their job.

Common causes of bridging include high humidity, temperature changes around the water softener or using the wrong kind of salt. You may have a salt bridge if your salt tank appears full but you know your water isn’t soft. The quickest way to test for a salt bridge is to take a broom handle and carefully push on the top of the salt, using a little bit of pressure to break it up if it has solidified.

Salt mushing is more serious and happens when dissolved salt recrystallizes and forms a sludge on the bottom of the brine tank. This thick layer of salt keeps the water softener from properly cycling through the regeneration process, leaving your water hard and creating a serious blockage in the tank.

If you test for a salt bridge but it doesn’t break up when pushing on it, salt mushing is probably the cause. Draining the softener of its water, digging out all the old salt and replacing it with fresh salt is the only way to fix this problem.

If you are uncomfortable managing salt bridge or salt mushing, call the Huntsville plumber you use. He may even give you a house-call discount as there may be no repair required and the time spent breaking up the bridging or salt mush should be minimal.

To avoid salt issues, purchase high-quality salt pellets, which greatly reduce the potential for any problems, especially salt mushing.

Don’t overfill the brine tank with salt. Keeping it half-full prevents older salt from sticking to the walls of the tank.

It’s important to manage the humidity level around your water softener. If it’s too humid, condensation can occur in the brine tank, causing the salt to bond together and bridge.

Salt Types

There are three basic types of water softener salt: rock, solar and evaporated. These are available at Huntsville-area home improvement centers, some larger hardware stores, and plumbing supplies.

  • Rock salt, the least expensive, contains higher levels of insoluble minerals or impurities. Over time, this can result in a muddy tank, decreasing the softening efficiency while leaving impurities in your water.
  • Solar salt, which is much more soluble than rock salt, is obtained by the evaporation of seawater and is found in both pellet and crystal form.
  • Evaporated salt is the best option. It is obtained through a combination of mining and evaporation. This is the purest form of salt at 99.99% sodium chloride.

Resin bed cleaner

  • Even though resin beads are routinely recharged by salt, it doesn’t hurt to flush the resin bed every few months with a water softener cleaner to keep it in top form.
  • A water softener over time can become polluted with iron, silt, heavy metals and other organic compounds that cause your softener to lose efficiency. Simply pour the manufacturer’s recommended amount of water softener cleaner down the brine well and regenerate the system manually. The cleaner is then discharged during the normal flushing process of the water softening cycle. This action keeps the resin “clean” and able to absorb as much calcium and magnesium as possible in its lifespan.