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Water Softening > Costs & Considerations
  Unit Installation
  Average Costs
  Purchase Options
Once you have decided to purchase a water softener for your home, the next step is to figure out the installation requirements and to make sure that the combined expenses of the purchase price and the installation costs fit within your budget. You should also explore a number of different sellers in order to find the most competitive price.
Unit Installation
The installation of a water softener is not trivial and requires a basic understanding of home plumbing. We are not going to provide a step-by-step installation guide here, as the specific steps will vary depending on your specific plumbing and water softener. However, we will overview the basic approach and emphasize some key considerations.

Quite honestly, the first step of installation is to figure out whether you want to take the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach or hire a professional to do the work. If you have any reservations or discomfort about doing it yourself, or lack experience, you should absolutely retain the services of a qualified professional, such as a water softener company serviceperson or a local plumbing contractor. 

If you do decide to go the DIY route, you will first have to identify the best placement for the water softener unit. The general recommendation is a protected, dry, level, accessible, shaded, and non-freezing location that is no more than five feet from the main water supply pipe, no more than ten feet from a drainage area, and no more than fifty feet from a power outlet.

Before installation can begin, you should turn off the water main and drain the water lines through the faucets. Once the water is off and the pipes are drained, you can then install the bypass valve to the control head and attach the inlet water lines to the water softener. Your unit should come standard with all the necessary hardware, including washers and nuts, to complete this process. It should also come with a plastic brine tube used to connect the mineral tank and the brine tank.

You will have to connect a drainage tube (either PVC or flexible plastic should work) to the appropriate drain connection on your water softener and run it to the nearest drain. Make sure there is an air gap between the drainage tube and the drain to prevent reverse siphoning of the drained water. This drainage will be utilized during the water softener's backwash cycle to expel debris from the mineral tank in the course of the regeneration process.

The final step will be to plug the water softener into a power source. For this, you can either use the water softener's own power cord, or an extension cord that is long enough to reach to the nearest standard 3-pring grounded outlet. As mentioned, the general recommendation is that the water softener be no farther than 50 feet from the outlet.

Once all of the pipes, valves, tube and connections are in place, you can then fill the brine tank with salt and program the unit for desired operation, as per the product instructions. With that complete, and all the connections double checked, water can be turned back on. But be careful and take your time in making sure that everything is working as intended.

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Average Costs
While purchase price is the most substantial expense, the costs associated with operating a water softener involve more than just the initial outlay for the unit. There are several kinds of additional expenses, although precise amounts will vary depending on the model of water softener and the extent of water usage in the household.

A residential water softener can cost anywhere between $300 and $3,500, depending on the brand, size, model, and feature set. You will typically be able to find an excellent product in the $1,000 to $3,000 range from any of the companies on our list of top brand manufacturers. If you have a larger household with greater water consumption, you will need a water softener with a higher capacity and this will correspondingly push you into a higher price range. 

The second largest one-time expense for a water softener is usually its installation. If you use the services of a qualified professional, installation should run between $100 and $1,000, depending on the complexity of the system and the extent to which your home plumbing and drainage setup needs to be updated or modified. Installing the unit yourself can definitely save you this expense, but unless you know what you are doing you may end up with more costs than you save.

In addition to purchase and installation, most water softeners use a brine tank which has to be refilled with new salt every month or so. The actual frequency and amount of the refills will vary depending on product model, salt type, and water usage, but a typical expense on salt and additional water comes out to somewhere in the range of $150 to $300 per year.

Assuming the water softener continues to work as intended, there should be no other upkeep or maintenance needs beyond refilling the brine tank on a timely basis. However, over time, parts can wear out, pipes can corrode, and lines can become damaged. Common problems for water softeners include issues with the brine line, the injector, and the filter screen. The good news is that these are fairly inexpensive to replace. Other times, the issue can be solved simply by flushing the brine line. However, if the water softener is old and no longer working properly, it may make more sense to buy a new unit rather than try to fix the old one.

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Purchase Options
There are several options available once you make the decision to go ahead and buy a water softener for your home. We will review the drawbacks and benefits of each of these options in turn, but regardless of the opinions expressed here, you should still comparison shop across every available alternative. That is the only way to really maximize your chances of finding a good deal.

A number of major retailers that specialize in home improvement or that have extensive home improvement departments offer water softener products. This list includes Sears, Home Depot, Lowe's, Wal-mart and Costco. The main benefit of buying a water softener at a retail store is that you can visually inspect the product prior to purchase. However, there are a number of drawbacks, including limited selection and a lack of in-depth expertise on the part of the sales staff. 

Another way to purchase a water softener is through an independent shop that specializes in water treatment systems. These are local shops with a more narrow specialization and, oftentimes, better technical knowledge. However, some of these local dealers only carry a few brand options and may provide advice that is biased in favor of the brands they carry. To manage this risk, try to visit with several local dealers in order to compare products and price levels.

Yet another alternative for buying a water softener is to go to an authorized distributor for a particular manufacturer. These distributors usually only carry water softeners from the one brand. This is both a benefit and a drawback. The benefit is that the distributor will know a great deal about the specific products offered by that brand and often be able to provide installation and maintenance services in addition to selling you the product. The drawback is that the distributor will not recommend anything other than the brand he represents. In general, an authorized distributor may make sense once you have decided to commit to a specific brand manufacturer, but may not be the best option if you are still shopping around and looking for some impartial advice.

Finally, you can shop for a water softener online. There are numerous ecommerce sites that sell and ship the full spectrum of water softening systems. The benefit of shopping online is that you can often find a better price than at a retail store or from a dealer. However, the drawback is that you cannot be certain of what you are getting until the product arrives on your doorstep. You should really do your homework if you intend to use the online option. Make sure that the product you are buying is exactly what you want and that the online seller you are using is reliable and trustworthy. Also, check the return policy and make sure that a full refund is available if there are any issues.

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