If you’re worried that water hardness is behind your bad hair days and strange-smelling tap water, you might be right. But don’t worry! There’s an easy solution. Water softeners are a well-known remedy for exactly these kinds of problems.
But you have no idea where to start and hey, aren’t water softeners pretty large? Who’s going to haul that thing into your house? And how soon after you install a water softener will your hair become luscious again?
These are all valid questions. They deserve answers.
BUT those answers have many levels. For example, the water softener system cost plays into the installation costs. Where you live determines which companies are available to install a system for you. Whether or not you know what a brine tank is may sway you toward professional installation over the DIY route.
By the end of this article, you’ll know way more than you came here for. But you also just might save some money and your hair.
What types of water softener systems can you have installed?
Surprise! There’s more than one type of water softener, and different water softeners have different installation costs. To determine which one will work best for your circumstances, check out my article on the best water softeners.
Salt-based water softener
If you’ve ever seen bags of water softener salt at your local outdoorsy warehouse store, you’ve probably guessed that it’s for water softener systems that, you know, require salt. But what does that actually mean?
Obviously, the objective of water softener systems is to reduce water hardness and create soft water. They prevent mineral buildup in your pipes and other kinds of nastiness. As chemistry professor Chuck Wight of the University of Utah explains it, the resin in the mineral tank of your water softening system is covered with positive sodium ions. As hard water passes through, the resin attracts magnesium and calcium ions, releasing the sodium into the soft water.
That’s where the salt comes in. Saltwater rinses that resin every few days to remove minerals like magnesium and calcium from the mineral tank.
Maybe chemistry isn’t your thing. That’s fine. All you need to know is that salt-based water softener systems need salt to function properly. Duh. But this also means you’ll have additional maintenance costs. The salt will cost you money, too, on top of the install.
For this type of water softening system, the cost to install ranges $500–$2000. Heads up, a salt-based water softener is also called an ion exchange water softener. When you’re checking installation prices, it could be advertised as either.
Now, this price range is just an average and will vary by region. The installation cost may be as low as $200–$500, depending on where you are.
But the ion exchangers are the most common and typically the most reliable kind of water softening system out there. You should be able to find a wide variety of installation services and compare prices in your locale.
Salt-free water softeners
If you’ve been in the water softener community as long as I have, you know that a salt-free water softener system isn’t actually softening your water. They’re considered “water conditioners.”
So what does that mean? And does a “salt-free” system still work as well as a regular old water softener system? As a water conditioner, a salt-free system doesn’t actually pull out minerals from your water. Instead, they chemically alter the minerals so that they no longer stick to things. They don’t remove minerals, but they still condition those minerals so that they can’t stick to your pipes and water heater.
Unlike the last type of water softener system, these water softeners don’t have added maintenance costs because the minerals aren’t actually being removed. There’s no need for a saltwater rinse cycle to remove mineral buildup. Also, there won’t be extra sodium in your drinking water, a benefit for water softener customers who are on a low-sodium diet.
Like the first type of water softening system, there is quite the range in installation costs. On average, having a salt-free water softener installed costs $800–$4,000. Again, this varies according to where you live, what resources are available, your water usage, all that good stuff.
Reverse osmosis water softeners
Reverse osmosis systems add another twist to the water softener system options I’ve shared so far. These systems use sediment filters, carbon filters, and a semipermeable membrane (biology flashbacks, anyone?) to thoroughly soften and filter your water supply simultaneously.
That membrane I talked about takes out dissolved solids while the other filters remove contaminants and large particles like dust. This’ll take a lot of pressure off your plumbing system AND improve your drinking water’s taste.
There is a catch or two, though. Reverse osmosis systems require routine maintenance by professionals along with frequent filter changes because all the water for the whole house is constantly being filtered. That means the total cost, after taking into account the cost of the system and installation, goes up.
Also, they work slowly. They’re removing minerals and filtering pollutants so that you have safe drinking water. That takes time, but it’s not ideal if your water usage is higher than average. But it might be worth it if you’re really trying to stick to your low-sodium diet or if your water quality is particularly poor.
Besides having a higher water softener system cost, the cost to install a water softener of this type ranges from $1,000–$2,800. Luckily, you don’t have to use a reverse osmosis system for your water softener. Separate whole-house water softeners, with an under-counter reverse osmosis system for your drinking water, are typically much cheaper and more efficient.
Magnetic water softeners
Here’s where I get into the sci-fi realm of water softeners. What if I told you that your water hardness could be reduced by a magnetic field?
That’s the case for the magnetic water softener, also referred to as an electronic water softener. The idea is that a magnet is applied to your water supply, which then introduces a magnetic field that separates minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, from your water supply.
Magnetic water softeners require little to no maintenance and use magnets around the pipes to neutralize the minerals. Basically, you’re attaching magnetic water softeners to your pipes, which creates a magnetic field that reverse charges mineral ions as they float through your pipes. This prevents buildup and gives you all the benefits other water softeners do, without adding sodium to your diet or requiring additional maintenance costs.
So if they’re so low maintenance, what do they cost to install? Great question! To install water softeners of the magnetic variety costs, on average, $200–$600. That’s because they don’t require much labor to install. So if you’ve successfully passed plumbing projects and want to save money, the magnetic water softener should be an easy weekend activity.
But be warned—many companies and water softener users also say that magnetic water softener systems don’t actually work. Whether it’s because the magnet can’t reach the entire water supply or the results were iffy, there are those who complain that this particular water softener system isn’t worth it.
Dual-tank water softeners
As you can probably tell from the name, a dual-tank water softener has two mineral tanks. This is great for extremely hard water and large quantities of water. So if you have a few kids in your household, the dual-tank system might be the way to go.
Like I mentioned before with the ion exchange system, resin beads need to be “recharged” every once in a while since they’re taking up all those minerals from your hardened water. In ion exchange systems, that’s accomplished through saltwater.
For the dual-tank setup, there’s no down time while the control valve is cleaning those resin beads. Thus, there’s always access to softened water. Thanks to the twin tanks, one mineral tank is always operating, even while the other is “recharging” its resin beads. You’re getting soft water 24/7.
These systems are quite large. When you take into account labor costs and materials, the average cost to install a dual-tank water softener is $2,500. Like all the other types of water softeners so far, there’s room for variation. But it’s definitely a pricier installation.
What determines water softener installation cost?
If you haven’t noticed, there’s quite the range of prices in the water softener system cost of installation. And while there are a few factors that go into the range of prices, a major factor that determines water softener prices is labor. Despite what the water softening systems themselves cost, the ease with which the professionals can install the system makes all the difference.
Think about how big your house is. Is there existing plumbing? Will the professionals need to cut pipes to install your water softener system?
Maybe it’ll help to know a bit about the installation process. A conventional water softener (ion exchange) will need a spot in your home where it can fit, access to a power outlet with high enough voltage, access to the main water line before it hits the water heater, and protection from extreme temperatures. Oh, and it’ll need to be somewhere where the system’s drain line can connect, whether it’s to a utility sink or somewhere else.
I go into so much detail about location because if your house doesn’t have a convenient location for your new water softener system, you’ll have to pay that much more for the professionals to make it work. That means more piping, building a trench, whatever it takes. If you’re interested in how to install a water softener yourself, I have an article on that, too.
Of course, this is the most expensive scenario where you’re looking for a whole-house water softener to be installed. If you’re more interested in an under-sink water softener, that’s a completely different story.
But for now, just know that the cost of water softener installation is labor dependent. If you need a professional to install a water softener loop because your house didn’t come pre-plumbed, you’re looking at more cash.
Type of water softener
You already know about all the different kinds of water softeners and how they operate. Water softener prices are highly dependent on the type of system as well as the brand.
Along those lines, each type of water softening system has a slightly different installation process. Some require hacking away at your current plumbing system to attach your new brine tank, a bypass valve, that kind of thing. Others are very easy to install and hardly require any labor, much less labor provided by expensive professionals.
With that in mind, installation cost is also linked to your current water hardness. A water softener with a 95,000 grain capacity is significantly larger than one with a 24,000 grain capacity.
To sum things up, how much you spend on a water softener will depend on your home’s current hardness level. The higher the hardness, the larger your water softener will have to be. The larger your water softener, the more work will be required for installation.
So you see, water softener cost plays into installation cost based on the type of water softener your home requires.
The cost of water softener installation also depends on where you are. Installation prices vary so widely because the selection of water softener services is limited by location.
If you’re purchasing your water softener from a local company, they may offer you a package deal with both the water softener and discounted installation.
If you live out in the country and the nearest water softener supplier is 60 miles away, your installation may be a bit pricier to account for transportation.
So how can you work around this? How can you get the best deal possible? Get quotes from different companies. Once you’ve figured out the type of water softener to best suit your needs, investigate what companies are in your area. Check their websites, call them up, visit their store. Whatever you’re most comfortable with.
The bottom line is that there is no uniform installation cost for these systems, and it’s up to you to scout out the scene in your area.
What’s the cost difference between a DIY and professional water softener installation?
As I mentioned before, professional installation for your water softener system can get really pricey really quickly. You’re typically looking at over a grand, not to mention all the money you’ll drop on the system itself.
If you’re keen on saving money or simply want to put your plumbing skills to the test, there’s no shame in making this a DIY project. However, there are a few caveats to the price difference between a DIY project and a professional installation.
First of all, you need to check your water softener’s warranty. A DIY installation may void the manufacturer’s warranty, adding to your water softener cost in the long run. And with how expensive and complicated these units are, you want a warranty.
Second, you need to think about the cost of materials. Installing a water softening system can require a hunk of cash depending on whether your house is pre-plumbed for such a unit. If you don’t have a soldering torch, pipe cutter, or adjustable wrench on hand, you’re already looking at a few bucks for those and other supplies needed to properly handle the piping.
Similarly, you’ll need to think about where your water softening system will go. Like I mentioned earlier, location is very important. If you’re installing DIY-style, then you will have to figure out how to make it work if your home doesn’t have a convenient location already.
This also ties in with labor costs. They’ll be lower if your house is pre-plumbed for a water softener or the main water line is easy to reach. If your water softener is a plug-in device that’ll attach to your existing pipes, you probably want to go the DIY route. You’ll save time, money, and stress from pipe cutting. Otherwise, it might be best to leave it to the professionals. Or even a rental service because, yes, those exist for water softeners. Water softener rental costs average at about $30 per month.
At the end of the day, a DIY project might be a little or a lot cheaper than having the installation professionally done. Some people choose to become amateur plumbers and install the system themselves for around $500. Whether that’s worth the time and labor depends on what softener and installation packages are available to you.
This article has been full of hard lessons, but hopefully having more information softened the blow. See what I did there?
All puns aside, there’s a lot that goes into pricing an installation of these systems. The type of water softener system affects the price of the unit itself and subsequent installation cost. Also, the hardness of your water affects the price of your water softener, which then affects the cost of installation because higher capacity softeners are larger.
Water softener installation costs can be a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars.
Ultimately, whether or not a water softening system is worth it is up to you. Personally, I don’t like scum residue on my shower walls, smelly tap water, and mineral buildup in my water heater and pipes. Investing in a water softener and the installation costs that go along with it seems well worth it.
Speaking of investments, I’ve almost forgotten about the cousin of the water softener—the water filter. While I did discuss dual tanks and their water-filtration abilities, usually you’ll buy a water filter separately. And since there are far too many options for the average sane person to sift through, I’ve gone ahead and done it for you. You can head over to my article on the best water filter if you’re considering drinking uncontaminated water.
Now back to the topic of the hour. Unfortunately, water softener system costs and installation pricing varies widely, so it’ll be up to you to figure out what the best deal is for your situation. You can install a water softener yourself. Or if you really don’t care to learn what a brine tank is, you can hire someone to install and maintain the system for you.
Most water softener systems cost a pretty penny to install. Luckily, you are now equipped with a bunch of random information about water softeners that will help you scope out the best deal for you.