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Water Softening > Brands & Features
  Capacity Calculation
  Product Features
  Leading Brands
In order to be effective, a water softening systems has to be appropriately sized for the daily water usage needs of your household. Additionally, it has to have the necessary feature set to make operation straightforward and ensure the on-going availability of water in the home. Finally, it has to be properly designed and manufactured, which means a trusted brand.
Capacity Calculation
It is important to select a water softening system which is appropriately sized for your household's daily water usage. A larger capacity system is more expensive than a smaller capacity system, but if you do not need the additional capacity, you will be overpaying unnecessarily. In addition, you will end up incurring extra utility expenses associated with the greater electricity required to power the larger system.

The capacity of a water softener, commonly called the "flow rate", is how much water a particular unit can soften over a given amount of time. Water softeners are generally sized in terms of "grain removal capacity" and come in standard sizes, which include 15,000 Grain; 24,000 Grain; 32,000 Grain; 40,000 Grain; 48,000 Grain; 60,000 Grain; 64,000 Grain; 80,000 Grain; 96,000 Grain; and 110,000 Grain.

In order to estimate the appropriate capacity of a water softener for your home, you can use the following short-hand estimate:

SIZE = [number of people in the home] * [water hardness in GPG] * [100 gal.] * [7 days]

Thus, for a 4-person household with 10 GPG water, the size requirement would be 28,000. Here is the math:

4 (number of people in the home) * 10 GPG (water hardness) * 100 gal * 7 days = 28,000 Grain

Since 28,000 Grain is not a standard size, you should round up to the nearest standard size. In this case, the closest standard size is 32,000 Grain. So for this example household, a 32,000 Grain water softener would be most appropriate. If the residents select a water softener with a lower capacity, they could well experience problems such as hardness breakthrough, pressure drops and even unstable water temperatures at the sinks and showers. On the other hand, if they select a larger water softener, they would end up paying a higher sticker price and higher utility bills unnecessarily.

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Product Features
Various water softener models provide different feature sets and these can affect a range of performance issues, from how well the unit fits with the plumbing system to how easy or difficult it is to operate and maintain. Older water softener systems had analog controls - the sorts of knobs and dials that we tend to associate with radio sets from the 1950s. Today, leading water softener systems come standard with digital controls, electronic displays, and touch key interfaces. You should definitely pick a system with a comfortable and user-friendly control panel.

The regeneration of a water softener is another important feature. As mentioned, the most efficient and easiest to use regeneration type is metered, which is automatically tied to water usage. If you choose to purchase a system with timed or manual regeneration, make sure you understand the differences and the additional requirements that will be placed on you as the user. In addition, it is important to understand how the water softener handles water usage at the exact time of regeneration. Is there a second tank or a bypass system which allows uninterrupted usage during regeneration? If not, you may have periodic water outages each time the system regenerates.

The bypass valve is an important feature, not only in times of regeneration, but in general for when there is any type of issue with the water softener. Anytime the water softener is out of service, the bypass valve provides an uninterrupted flow of water into the home and allows continued water access for all the on-going appliance, kitchen and bathroom needs.

The brine tank is another feature. This is where the salt, or the potassium, goes that is then used to regenerate the plastic beads in the main tank. There are three primary types of salt which are commonly used in a water softening system: rock salt (naturally occurring salt mined from the ground), solar salt (harvested from the evaporation of sea water) and evaporated salt (underground deposits with the moisture removed). Rock salt is the cheapest, but it also requires the most frequent cleaning of the brine tank. Some water softeners will not work as well with different types of salt, so it is important to determine whether a particular model will support the type of salt that you prefer to use.

Finally, you should find out what warranties are offered with the water softener product. Because this is a substantial investment, it is important to know that the model you purchase is backed both by the manufacturer and the seller with at least a 3-year warranty. A number of manufacturers offer 5-year, 10-year and even lifetime warranties. In addition to the amount of time that a warranty will be in effect, it is important to determine which specific elements are covered under that warranty.

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Leading Brands
Navigating the myriad water softener brands can be a challenge, especially since the number and quality of consumer reviews are rather limited. The good news is that we have compiled a comprehensive list based on independent research. Inclusion in the list indicates our view that a particular manufacturer produces effective softening systems. In compiling the list of top brands, a range of available information was used, including consumer reviews from a broad range of sites and forums, expert analyses and independent research. Factors that were considered included quality, effectiveness, durability, convenience, availability, and cost.

We believe the top three brands are Culligan, Kenmore, and GE. Culligan was founded in 1936 by Emmett Culligan and, over the decades since its founding, has become the world's leading water treatment company. It has consistently been at the forefront of water product and technology innovation. The company sells its products exclusively through a network of Culligan dealers, which can be located through the company's website.

Culligan offers a vast array of water softener products, from the mid-priced Medallist series to the higher end Gold and Platinum series. In addition, Culligan has a range of Total Home solutions which combine water softening and water filtration in a single product. Many consumers appreciate the quality of Culligan's systems, the extensive warranty coverage on their products, and the helpfulness of their specialists, particularly when it comes to installation. However, Culligan products tend to be on the more expensive side and some consumers believe that they are overpriced compared to offerings from other manufacturers.

In second place, Kenmore is a brand name that was started by the Sears company in the 1920s for a new line of washing machines. Over the succeeding decades, the Kenmore line was grown to incorporate a full spectrum of household appliances. At present, Kenmore is the largest brand in the appliance space. As Kenmore remains a Sears brand, its products are only available through Sears stores and authorized outlets.

Kenmore's water softeners offer great value - a high quality product that is priced below $1,000. Many consumers praise Kenmore water softeners for their ease of use, quiet operation, salt usage efficiency and softening effectiveness. Purchase and installation are simple to arrange through one of the hundreds of Sears retail outlets. Similarly, maintenance and repair are a phone call away. Some consumers do recommend purchasing the 5-year protection plan along with the unit.

In third, General Electric, or GE, is one of the largest and most diversified companies in the world with a storied history going back to Thomas Edison. One of the many brands under the General Electric umbrella is GE Appliances, which manufactures refrigerators, ranges, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, water heaters, air conditioners, washers, dryers and - you guessed it - water softeners.

GE's water softeners provide fairly dependable operation for a reasonable price. The company makes water softeners in many different sizes, so regardless of how large or small your household, you will be able to find a GE unit that suits your needs. The company's models incorporate SmartWater technology which adjusts to your water usage patterns and leads to reduced energy and salt usage without any decrease in the availability or quality of softened water. The GE product is lower priced than many competitors, but it does not come with the same warranties.

In fourth we place Fleck, which is owned by Pentair, a large diversified conglomerate with an extensive portfolio of water technology products. Originally, the Fleck brand name came to the forefront because they were the first to truly understand the importance of valves in water softener systems. To this day, Fleck control valves are considered to be among the best. The number of water softener models offered by Fleck is not as extensive as offered by other brands, but the products they do offer are incredibly high quality and dependable. Many consumers who have purchased Fleck systems, including those who were replacing other brands, have been exceedingly positive about the effectiveness and reliability of the units. We believe that Fleck water softeners are some of the absolute best available for the price. The only reason Fleck is not rated higher on our list is because they do not have the same level of brand recognition and customer service availability as some of the others.

In fifth is
Kinetico, a company founded in the 1970s by two engineers who pioneered the development of non-electric water treatment systems which ran on energy derived from the flow of the water itself rather than from an external electrical power source. The company has grown over time into an international presence. In the water softener space, Kinetico is well known for its high end products.

Kinetico's water softeners differ from competitors' models in that they do not run on electricity, in that they provide a twin tank design which allows them to never need to go offline for regeneration, and in that they utilize countercurrent regeneration technology which arguably makes the resins in the mineral tank last longer and work better. The  company sells its product through a network of dedicated dealers and service professionals, which may be located through a local directory or through the company's web site. Kinetico's water softeners are among the most expensive on the market, but come with an excellent warranty and service record. While some consumers believe that Kinetico provides the best water softeners available, others have concluded that the brand is "overhyped and overpriced". We believe the company offers a noteworthy product, but it is not for every budget.

We would strongly recommend that you go with one of the top five brand manufacturers, but in case you are considering others, we offer our views of several other brands, giving them provisional rankings of sixth through tenth.

In sixth we would place RainSoft. They have
been in the water treatment business since the 1950s. Today, the company is a subsidiary of Aquion Water Treatment Products and retains a major focus on residential water softening, filtration and purification systems. RainSoft distributes its products exclusively through a network of authorized dealers. RainSoft refers to its water softeners as "water conditioners" and offers high end products with such features as battery back-ups, automatic bypass during regeneration, and fail-safe tank within tank construction. On the other hand, the company's products are among the most expensive on the market. Some consumers enjoy the quality, durability and advanced features of RainSoft water softener systems, but others complain that the products are overpriced and do not differ greatly from the models offered by lower cost brand names.

In seventh we would place Morton. The name is primarily known for salt and salt-related products, which the company has been producing for a staggering 150 years. However, under its System Saver brand, Morton has also been making water softeners. If you are not looking to spend a fortune on a water softener, Morton can offer a cost effective alternative. Many consumers are actually quite happy with the performance of their Morton water softeners and especially their super-efficient utilization of salt which makes fewer refills necessary and reduces operating expense over time. Some consumers also praise Morton's customer service department. On the other hand, Morton water softeners are not nearly as popular as a number of other brands and do not have the same level of dedicated service support, particularly with respect to installation.

In eighth and ninth we would put AquaPure and Crystal Quest, which are both owned by 3M.
Aqua-Pure offers a mid-range to higher end water softener, but most consumers agree that it is a high quality unit that does the job well. The company is willing to sell to consumers direct and its customer service has received good ratings. On the downside, Aqua-Pure has a limited selection of products and not much in terms of budget priced offerings. Meanwhile, Crystal Quest offers a water softener product with an extra long mineral tank for enhanced softening and specialized sediment and carbon cartridges for the removal of sediment and organic pollutants from the water in addition to the usual ion exchange process. Like AquaPure, Crystal Quest water softeners tend to be on the expensive side, ranging from about $1,200 to about $2,000 in price. Unfortunately, the company does not provide a lot of information on its product offerings and does not seem to be particularly consumer-friendly.

we would like to mention North Star, which is a brand name owned by Ecowater. North Star produces mid-range to high-end products that are usually distributed through plumbing wholesalers. The brand is not as popular or as well reviewed as some of the other top brands, but it still deserves to be placed ahead of certain brands with strong negative consumer sentiment such as Whirlpool or WaterBoss.
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