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Water softeners are expensive. Let’s just get that out of the way.
It’s without a doubt the biggest reason people don’t get a softener system or ask themselves questions like, “are water softeners even worth it?”
It can also be one of the smartest decisions you can make as a homeowner.
In reality, a water softener system will save you an insane amount of money in repairs to all your fixtures, valves and pipes.
In order to understand just what exactly the differences between hard water and soft water are and to understand why soft water is beneficial, I need to explain the basics of each.
If you’re in a hurry, our favorite water softener is the Fleck 5600.
Hard vs Soft Water Basics (Beginner style, I’ll try not to Bore)
Prepare for science! Water is considered “hard,” when it contains more minerals than actual Water. In general these minerals are Calcium and Magnesium.
These minerals are positively charged ions which, when present, make it more difficult for other positively charged ions to dissolve in the water.
This is why soap does not dissolve as easily in hard water. The term “hard” refers to how hard or difficult it is to clean with soap using this water.
Soft Water on the other hand, is water that is “treated” and only contains the Sodium ion. It is considered “soft” because there are no minerals in it.
Ok, you can stop banging your head on the table. For you science geeks out there, check out our soft vs hard water post!
Why Hard Water is Bad
Nutritionally speaking, there is nothing wrong with hard water. It is completely healthy to drink. In fact it can be healthier than soft water because it does contain minerals.
Here’s the low down (down low?) on hard water. Hard water can create a slew of problems in your home.
- Over time, hard water will clog your pipes reducing water flow
- The minerals will build up in all your valves and fixtures reducing their lifespan and efficiency.
- Hard water will significantly reduce the efficiency and life span of your water heater.
- The build up in your water heater causes it to use more energy to heat the water (Increased utility costs!)
- All appliances that use water will see significantly less life spans as well. Refrigerators, washing machines, dish washers, sinks, toilets etc.!
Pros and Cons of Water Softeners
- The first pro is probably obvious. Water softener systems “soften” your water reducing all the problems for you home I listed in the above section.
- Increased energy savings from the water heater using less energy to heat water.
- You’ll use less soap and detergent for cleaning your body and clothes.
- Can be expensive! The cost of the system itself to the installation and then the maintenance.
- You’ll have increased sodium consumption as this is what’s used to soften the water.
- More maintenance is required for your system including costs to buy salt.
Types of Water Softeners
When deciding if a water softener is worth it, you need to also look at the different types of softener systems and decide if that particular system is better than staying you’re your hard water.
The Ion-exchange system (traditional softener using salt) is the most common and widely used one. This system takes out the “hard” minerals calcium and magnesium, and replaces them with salt or potassium.
These systems will generally cost you the least up front as well, but you also have to think about the added cost of replacing the salt or potassium. On average, you will have to add salt every 6 to 8 weeks and replace the salt every 6 months.
One thing to think about with the ion-exchange softener is that a lot of people have debated its impact on the environment. Some say that there are potential negative consequences when the system regenerates and releases large amounts of salts in to the waste water.
These systems come in single tank or dual tank formats. Single tank systems are better used in homes that have fewer people where not as much water is required. If too much water is called for in a single tank configuration, it won’t have enough time to soften the water causing it to put hard water through your lines.
Dual tank systems are for the opposite. With the dual tank, there is a much more readily available amount of “softened” water.
Salt-free water Conditioners (Descaling) are the solution to those concerned about the environmental impacts that salted systems use. The way these work is highly confusing and I couldn’t even begin to explain it.
What you need to understand, though, is that the difference between the two ISN’T that one uses salt and the other does not. The salt-free system actually leaves the minerals in the water but changes their form so they won’t adhere to surfaces.
The salt-free water softener is not actually a “softener” as it doesn’t pull these mineral out, but a “water conditioner” as it changes these minerals.
You water is passed through what is called a Template Assisted Crystallization (TAC). This process changes the hardness of the minerals to a crystal that makes it so the mineral won’t bind to surfaces.
The biggest benefit to these systems is that there is no maintenance like that of the salted softener.
So, Are Water Softeners Worth It?
Like a lawyer loves to say, That Depends.
There are obvious negative impacts to your home if you have hard water. My first bit of advice would be to actually have your water tested. You can get a hard water tester on Amazon!
If you have significantly hard water in your home, you would be wise to get some kind of water softener.
Here’s a quick chart.
|Degrees of Water Hardness|
|Soft Water||0-17.1 mg/L of minerals|
|Slightly Hard Water||16.1-60 mg/L of minerals|
|Moderatley Hard Water||61-120 mg/L of minerals|
|Hard Water||121-180 mg/L of minerals|
|Very Hard Water||more than 180 mg/L of minerals|
I would say that if you have slightly hard water or soft water you’re probably fine with no water softener.
If you’re in the moderately hard water area, you could probably get away with not getting one if you don’t really need to.
Your appliances, pipes, water heater, toilets, and fixtures will still last a while. If they start to go on you, just sell it!
Anything above moderately hard water you should definitely get a water softener. The negative impacts of hard water at these levels definitely justify the costs associated with getting a softener.
The big difference between the two types of softeners comes down to installation.
The traditional water softener HAS to be installed by a plumber (or someone experienced in the installation of piping). Whereas, the other can be installed by a homeowner (assuming one has mechanical talents)!
Have a look at our favorite water descaler picks!