Don’t you just love coming home after a long day at work, filling up your bathtub, and letting the stress melt away . . . right into the chemical cocktail pouring out of the faucet?
If you haven’t thought about getting a water softener installed, it’s never too late. Instead of letting calcium, magnesium, and iron float around your water supply, you can get your own water softener to lighten the load.
What is a water softener?
At this point, you might need a primer on the inner workings of a water softener. For the most basic of basic information, a water softener removes minerals so that your home’s water is gentler on your body, hair, appliances, pipes, and more. The resin tank extracts those minerals using ionic interactions between the resin and minerals. Then, the brine tank takes all the sediment buildup out of the resin tank using salt. Chemistry, am I right?
The benefits of water softeners far outweigh the cost of exposing yourself to excessively hard water. You don’t want to deal with scale buildup on pipes and inefficient wash cycles, not to mention weird-tasting tap water.
But who absolutely needs to install a water softener? Nowadays, state health departments recommend water softeners when the mineral content of your water exceeds seven gpg (grains per gallon). Nobody wants extra-hard water. That’ll only lead to sediment buildup and sadness.
As you can see, water softener installing is no joke. But if you’d rather not worry about the pressure tank and water softeners, professional installation is an option for your water softening system.
That being said, if you’re ready to take your basic plumbing skills to the next level, learning how to install a water softener will do the trick.
How to install a water softener
- Adjustable wrench
- Pipe cutter
- Utility knife
- Water softener salt
- Slip joint
- Soldering torch
- Tape measure
Step 1: Pre-installation equipment check
Before you step foot near your water meter or water systems, check that your water softener kit has all the parts you’ll need for the installation. This may include the bypass valve, clips, clamps, a drain hose, and whatever else is listed in your installation manual.
Step 2: Shut off the main water supply
It’s still not time to install your water softening system, but you’re making progress. Now, you need to turn off your main water supply so there isn’t a major leak in your house. Drain the water out of the pipes by opening up the lowest spout in the house and letting the water run out.
Step 3: Shut off the hot water heater
If you have an electric water heater, shut off the appropriate breaker so that the water heater won’t be getting any power as you install your water softener. If you have a gas water heater, turn off the gas valve. You don’t want any, ahem, accidents while installing your water softener.
Step 4: Pick a location
Where you install a water softener is almost as important as the installation itself. Most homeowners put their water softeners as close as possible to the point where water enters their home. These areas might include a basement, garage, or utility room, usually near the water heater. By placing the water softener at the earliest possible point in your home plumbing system, it’ll be somewhere it can feed into your water heater. This way, you can prevent hot water from damaging your water softener while improving the life-span of your water heater by feeding it softer water.
On top of that, there are a few other factors you should consider. For one, a water softener requires a 120V, 60 Hz grounded outlet with circuit breaker protection. You’ll need to pick an area with access to that kind of power.
Also, you’ll need to think about temperature. Placing water softeners in freezing or even below freezing temperatures can permanently damage your water softening system. Hot temperatures are equally as bad for your water softener, so stay clear of direct sunlight. To sum things up, don’t pick somewhere outdoors. Your new water softener won’t appreciate it.
Step 5: Cut into the water supply line
It’s time to cut some pipes! That is, now you’ll hard-pipe the water softener into the water supply system. Grab your pipe cutters, folks. You’ll want to tighten the pipe cutter on the pipe and rotate it to make that cut. Once you’ve cut into the water supply line, install elbow fittings so you can run two lines to the inlet and outlet ports of the bypass valve.
If your softener doesn’t come with a built-in bypass valve, you can install it by pushing the bypass valve into the softener valve and snapping the holding clips into place. The bypass valve is essential in case you need to shut off water supply to the softener without cutting off the entire house.
Step 6: Positioning your inlet and outlet ports
This part is IMPORTANT. You’ll be cutting and installing pipes that lead to the bypass valve. You want to make sure that the hard water from the water supply runs into the softener’s inlet. In other words, the inlet should be attached to the water supply pipe while the outlet should go toward the water heater. Soft water will run OUT to supply fixtures and faucets inside the house.
The softener’s inlet and outlet port are usually marked, so make sure you get the direction right. Otherwise, the softener won’t be able to provide soft water.
This step is especially important because it determines where your softened water will go. It’s standard procedure to branch off a cold water line to outdoor hose connections. That’s because water for gardens and lawns doesn’t need to be softened. In fact, softened water can damage or kill your plants.
If you’d prefer, you can also branch off the cold water line to another kitchen sink and icemaker if you don’t want to drink softened water. Softened water is known to elevate lead and copper levels, so diverting it away from your drinking water isn’t a bad idea.
After all that branching off, the main supply line to the rest of the house should continue on to the softener. By now, the main water supply should branch into two lines: a cold line that runs to interior fixtures and faucets and another line that feeds the water heater.
Step 7: Measure, cut, and assemble drain line
The regeneration process also needs a drain, which should be included with the softener. The drain line will carry the discharge water made during the regeneration process.
To connect that drain tubing, you’ll want to attach 1/2-inch diameter flexible tubing to the drain elbows on the control valve AND the brine tank. Then, use hose clamps to secure the drain line to whatever drain location you picked. Usually, this is to a floor drain or utility sink.
Whatever you do, don’t connect the water softener drain directly to the home drain system without an air gap. You need an air gap fitting to prevent contaminated water from back siphoning into the water softener. For the required size of the air gap, check your local plumbing codes.
You may be wondering, “What’s the deal with the air gap?” As it turns out, “the deal” is that the air gap ensures that bacteria and wastewater don’t travel back through the drain line into the water softener. That wouldn’t be ideal, now would it?
Step 8: Set up the brine tank
After you’ve finished fiddling with the drain tube, you’ll need to move on to the brine tank.
Make sure to install a brine line for side-by-side softeners only. This’ll suck brine from the brine tank into the resin tank.
To install the brine line, remove the nut and sleeve from the control valve and slide them over the brine line. Then, push the brine line in the control valve until it stops. Push the nut back down and tighten it.
From there, you can fill the brine tank half-full with salt. Not too complicated.
Then, you’ll connect your water softener’s overflow tube to the brine tank. You’ll want to refer to the water softener’s instruction manual for specifications on height and placement of that overflow tube.
Step 9: Complete a regeneration cycle
Your manufacturer’s instructions should have information on running a backwash cycle or regeneration cycle. This process purges air from the system and loosens plastic resin beads in the mineral tank to make sure the system runs efficiently. You could say it’s kind of important.
With bypass handles in the bypass position (according to the installation instructions), initiate an immediate regeneration. This will move the valve to the backwash position.
Once the valve is in the backwash position (and isn’t moving), slowly open the bypass handles about 1/8th turn. Now, water should be slowly entering the tank. Beware of a loud knocking sound. If you hear this, the system is filling TOO quickly and you need to turn the bypass handle back a bit.
During the backwash cycle, slowly open the bypass valve until there’s water coming out of the drain hose. Then, you can open the bypass valve fully. Now, the system can backwash and push air out through the drain. The valve automatically moves to the Brine Draw cycle when the regeneration cycle (aka backwash cycle) is complete, so make sure to skip using the “Change” or “Go to Next Regen Step” button.
When the backwash cycle is all done, check the water level in the brine tank and make necessary adjustments (as recommended by the manufacturer).
Step 10: Turn the main water supply back on
Now, you’re ready to turn on the main water supply. I know what you’re thinking. Finally, I’m done with all these pipes and valves and can get to the good part—bragging about my plumbing skills to the neighbors. But there’s no room for self-congratulations just yet. Now’s not the time to slack off. You’ll need to proceed with caution, making sure there’s no leaks or pressure issues.
To turn on the main water supply, you’ll want to find the sink closest to the water softener. Slowly turn on the cold water faucet of that sink. While the water is running, push the bypass valve inward into the bypass position. If you didn’t figure this out in the last step, the “bypass position” is when you turn both bypass handles so that they’re perpendicular to the bypass.
From here, you’ll slowly open up the main water line and run it until the water flows steadily without any air bubbles. Pull the bypass valve out again so the water can travel back into the water softener. Wait a few minutes, then run hot water from that faucet until there’s another steady flow.
Step 11: Check for leaks
Now that you’ve run your water softener through some faucets, it’s time to go back to the source and check for leaks. Make sure there are no leaks around the water softener or main line.
If there aren’t any leaks in sight, you’ve just finished installing your water softener!
Congratulations! You’ve now read an entire article on how to install a water softener. If you’re lucky, you’ve even used the article to install a water softener.
After you know all about water softener installation, take the next step and learn about how to install a reverse osmosis system. And if you don’t know which water filtration system to buy, don’t worry—I have an article on the best water filter, too.
In the meantime, be on the lookout for anyone who might need to install a water softener. This might be the neighbor or in-law who says, “Gee, I’ve always wanted to know how to install a water softener!” If that’s the case, it’ll be your time to shine!