How to Install a Water Softener
You’ve probably heard of salt-based water softeners if you’re looking for a solution to hard water problems. These simple systems are the most popular way to solve the drawbacks of living with hard mineral water.
Maybe you’re shopping for the best water softeners and want to look ahead to installation—or perhaps you’ve already purchased your softener and need a general overview of installation methods and costs?
Let’s take a look at how water softeners are installed and how much softener installation should set you back.
How to DIY install a water softener
Installing a water softener yourself will save you money! However, it does require a certain amount of DIY plumbing know-how.
While DIY options are less expensive than hiring a contractor, remember that in order to finish the project, you’ll likely need to cut and join water piping (typically made from copper, steel, or plastic).
Plumbing connections in your home’s mains water supply and on the water softener system itself can be confusing, and mistakes when cutting into piping can be costly, frustrating, and damaging.
That said, there are very few water softener systems that unquestionably, 100% need the help of a professional plumber to install.
So, if you enjoy getting your hands dirty with home improvement projects, a DIY install could be the right option for you.
Water softener installation: Quick assessment
Time required: Half-a-day
Cost: Low. Any extra piping, connectors, or missing tools
(Bear in mind that if you’re replacing an old water softener or connecting a softener to a pre-plumbed “soft water loop”, the fittings already in your home are likely sufficient. This should make the job much easier and quicker.)
Common tools required
- Plumbers tape (Teflon Tape)
- Slip joint /groove join pliers
- Adjustable wrenches
- Pipe cutter, solder, and soldering torch (for copper piping)
- Tape measure
- Tubing cutter for (PEX piping)
- Water softener installation guide
Common materials required
- Plumbing and drainage piping
- Tees and valves
- Fitting brush / Wire reaming brush
- (Also ensure all water softener components are included in your package)
Choosing the right installation spot
When finding the best place to install a water softener, look for a spot near the beginning of your water line. If your home runs on a domestic well, find a place directly after the pressure tank.
After the water exits the softener, it should split into two lines: a line for interior fixtures and faucets, and a line for the water heater. Installing the softener before the water heater is important because it protects the softener system from hot water damage and extends the life of your water heater by reducing mineral buildup.
If a minor cold water line branches off before the water softener, that’s no problem—and may be preferable. Water for gardens and lawns, for example, does not need to be softened, and many plants benefit from hard water.
Because your water softener will need to drain, it should be installed near a laundry tub, floor drain, or approved air gap fitting (basically, any drain that can withstand the additional water load.) Ideally, you should place the softener unit within 20 feet of the drain.
Also, keep in mind that most modern softeners are powered by electricity.
Bypass valves and sizing connectors
Water softener installation in 10 steps
1. Turn off the main water supply
Turn off the main water supply valve in your home. If your hot water tank is electric, turn that off too, in order to prevent damage to the tank’s element.
2. Drain the water lines
Turn on the cold water at a faucet on the lowest floor of the house and let it run until the water stops and all of the pressure has escaped your home’s plumbing.
3. Measure and cut pipes
Use the softener system instructional guide to correctly measure and mark out an installation spot along your main water line. Cut the line with enough room to position the filter tanks and install valves, connectors, adaptors, etc.
4. Assemble the softener
If the mineral tank contains a riser tube, check that it’s secured to the bottom of the tank. If your softener contains separate tanks and tank heads to control flow, lubricate any O-rings and thread the tank head clockwise onto the mineral tank. Be careful not to cross-thread the valve and don’t use any tools to tighten it.
5. Add the filter media (if necessary)
Use a funnel to evenly and slowly pour the filter media into the tank. When you’re finished, lightly shake the tank from side to side to settle the media.
6. Connect the water softener (optional: install bypass)
Insert the plumbing fittings into the softener valves. These are most likely 3/4′′ or 1′′ pipe fittings. If your plumbing and the softener system are not compatible, you may need to purchase adapters.
Tighten the retaining nuts by hand, making sure the fittings are not cross-threaded. Once everything is in place, seal the plumbing fitting threads with Teflon tape or another pipe sealant—then use two adjustable wrenches to tighten everything up.
Hook up the bypass if you’re installing one. The bypass valves on the softener should be marked with arrows to show proper flow direction. The inlet is indicated by the arrow pointing toward the valve. The outlet is indicated by the arrow pointing away from the valve.
7. Connect the drain hose
Connect the drain hose to the valve on the softener system and feed it into a floor drain, laundry tub, or an approved air gap fitting. The drain can be installed overhead or along the floor. Make sure there’s an air gap of at least 1.5 inches between the drain tubing and the drain itself to prevent bacteria and wastewater from entering the softener.
Hose clamps should also be used to stop the line from moving and leaking when under pressure from the softener.
8. Connect the brine tank and half-fill with salt
If your water softener includes a separate brine tank, attach the brine line to the control vale. If there’s a safety float, ensure it’s assembled.
9. Make sure the bypass is turned on, then slowly turn on the water and check for leaks.
First, put the water softener in bypass mode by turning the handles perpendicular to the bypass.
Next, restart your water supply, open the earliest faucet, and run the water for a few minutes to clear the system of trapped air and any installation debris.
Finally, slowly open the bypass valve to let water into the softener tank. It’s important to add water slowly to allow all the air trapped in the softener tanks and lines to escape. This may cause a hissing noise.
Once water is successfully running through your softener, check all fittings and connections for leaks and make any necessary adjustments.
10. Follow your softener’s start-up procedure
Turn your softener system on and program it according to the installation guide. This is likely to include initiating a regeneration/backwashing phase, where the softener will flush itself through and prime the resin media so that softening can begin. This is likely to take a few hours.
DIY water softener installation pros
- You’ll save money!
DIY water softener installation cons
- While you’ll save on labor costs, any errors made during in the installation can prove costly down the road. Cutting the wrong pipe or installing the wrong size valves will likely inflate the overall cost of the project.
- A minority of manufacturers will void their warranty if a softener is not installed by a professional service.
How to get your water softener installed professionally
For many people, it’s much easier and less stressful to have a professional contractor install their water softener system.
Although labor costs can be significant, you will make savings in time and future headaches down the road.
Because different contractors will charge different rates for parts and labor, it makes sense to shop around a little.
Tips for getting a plumbing quote:
- Get a few quotes of approximate costs from local contractors and plumbers before making a decision.
- Local hardware store employees may be able to advise on the best plumbing installation services local to you.
- Depending on where you purchase your softener, you may be offered a loyalty discount on installation if you use the same store or service.
Professional water softener installation pros
- Having a professional carry out the project provides you with peace of mind. Using a professional also means you have someone to call when it comes time to give your water softener some maintenance.
- A professional should have the experience to handle any unforeseen complex installation issues.
Professional water softener installation cons
- Labor costs are high and can significantly offset any savings you made by carefully shopping around for your softener system.
How much does it cost to install a water softener?
DIY install costs
For small, simple jobs that don’t require a lot of new plumbing work, installing a water softener can be a relatively low cost—as low as $200 to do-it-yourself.
In general, projects cost hundreds of dollars rather than thousands for a professional service. You will not be paying for labor, and you should be able to purchase the majority of the necessary materials (if you don’t already have them) at base costs.
For DIY installation, typical costs for a metered softener range from $100-$400.
This includes the cost of materials and parts, as well as any equipment rentals.
Professional install costs
Hiring a contractor or plumber is strongly advised for large or complex jobs (unless you have previous experience).
Unsurprisingly, less expensive units are less expensive to install on average. A small, manual regeneration softener can be installed for as little as $200-$300.
Installing a large, metered unit, on the other hand, can cost up to $2,000. Larger and more complex systems will almost certainly necessitate the use of a professional installation service.
Keep in mind that a water softener must be installed close to the water source. If you already have the necessary plumbing setup in that area, the cost will be significantly lower. However, if your water main is difficult to reach, installation costs will skyrocket.
Using a contractor to install your softener can cost anywhere from $400-$4000.
We know that’s a big range! But as mentioned, the cost of installing your unit will depend on the details of the job.
Should I buy a water softener or a water conditioner?
If you’re still in the shopping phase of choosing and installing a water softener, it’s worth taking some time to decide whether a traditional salt-based water softener or a modern salt-free water conditioner will best meet your needs. Depending upon which type of water treatment product you buy, the installation process will be slightly different, and you’ll also get a different set of benefits to your water supply.
Water softeners are generally more effective for treating moderate to extreme water hardness, including treating hard well water.
Water conditioners are generally more effective for removing future and pre-existing mineral scale and retaining mineral water taste.
For a deeper look at the differences between salt-based water softeners and salt-free water conditioners, here’s our full article: Water softeners vs water conditioners.
- You can use the fittings in your home from a preexisting water softener to make the DIY installation process much easier.
- If you buy your softener from certain retailers or services, you may be eligible for a loyalty discount on installation.
- Labor costs for professional softener installation can cost as much as the softener system itself.