Water SoftenersSalt-Based water softeners exchange calcium and magnesium which is attached to the water molecule for sodium in what's called sodium ion exchange. Wikipedia also states that "Water softened by sodium ion exchange will have a higher sodium ion content than the natural water it was derived from". Calcium and magnesium are removed from the water and a slick feeling on the skin is created. Water softeners will help to prevent hard water damage and buildup. Water softeners will not remove existing hard water deposits or reverse existing hard water damage. Water softeners use anywhere from 30 to 120 gallons of water per regeneration cycle which may be weekly. Regeneration is basically cleaning out the water hardness mineral trapped in the resin in the water softener. Many of the older models are a timeclock style water softener and are set to go off at a predetermined time every week to regenerate. Some of the new models of water softeners are more efficient and only regenerate as needed. Updating an old water softener to a newer model can save a significant amount of salt and water and also keep the resin and your unit lasting much longer.
Costs vary tremendously on these units and the installations and these are the reasons why:
Undersizing - Smaller capacity water softeners or improperly sized ones increase the total amount of regenerations (more salt/water usage and more waste water) needed for the household and thereby making the water softener much less efficient. An improperly sized water conditioner will not work as it should and may not work at all.
Materials - Water conditioners and water softeners come in many shapes and sizes. Many companies make water conditioners and water softeners and many are questionable. At Pat the Plumber we only use units that we know and trust. We test the units and get customer feedback routinely. We experiment with units before we release them to the general public so we know that the units deliver on their promises.
There are always less expensive units that have much less lifespan and are less efficient. A good water softener can last 20 plus years and still be rebuilt. A good water conditioner can last 20 years with no maintenance. A less expensive water softener may last 10 years then either the hard water has had its way with the machine enough that major components are needing replaced or the resin (the stuff that attracts the calcium and magnesium hardness out of the water) needs to be replaced. Either way both options are costly and sometimes changing the unit is more cost effective. A less expensive water conditioner may just not work at all.
Training - when a problem arises during the installation such as sediment being caught in the unit an untrained installer may not know how to correct the situation. Disassembling the water softener is an untrained installer's worst nightmare. All of the little parts and pieces which are installed in a very sequential and correct order must be reassembled in the same fashion. Would you ever think of rebuilding an automobile engine if you have never done it before? Never. Even then you not only need to know how to install the engine but what to do if it doesn't work right after it's installed. There are companies that will sell you a unit and hand you the instruction booklet and say "good luck". I'm not sure why these people are installing water softeners. Being trained to diagnose problems with the equipment you are working on is key.
Installation - I have been out on installations where the "new" water softener was not installed correctly and not set up correctly. The water softener wasn't working and the customer had no idea other than the water wasn't slick like they thought it should be. Many people don't understand that the water must be tested and the usage habits known prior to the installation to determine the proper sizing of the unit. After the installation the water test results must again be used to set up the water softener up properly. Improper settings can lead to excessive water and salt usage or it can allow the water to remain hard negating the effect of having a water softener in the first place.
Unlicensed contractors - It is required by the City of Topeka that a Permit and an Inspection is acquired for a water softener installation. It is not required for an electronic water conditioner such as Easywater due to the installation being less invasive. Companies that do not adhere to this may be suspect. The permitting and inspection process protects the homeowner. I understand that it creates an additional step but otherwise a homeowner takes on all of the liability of the installation and the contractor with limited recourse. Homeowners usually call contractors do work that they don't want to do or are unable to do. Who checks the contractor to make sure what they did was proper, acceptable, safe and up to code?