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If you’re looking to buy a water softener, you’re probably interested to know how much it’ll set you back. As you’d expect, something that offers such sought-after long-term benefits doesn’t come cheap. But some water softeners are much more affordable than others. In this guide, I’ll discuss the varying aspects of water softener cost, and what might make one system lower or higher in price than another.
What does a water softener cost?
You can expect to spend around $1,000 on average for a water softener. And that’s just the initial purchase – there will be additional monthly or yearly costs to factor in over the lifespan of your system, which I cover below.
Water Softener Price by Type
Different whole house water softeners have different associated costs. Here’s what you need to know about the five most popular types of water softeners, and roughly how much you can expect to pay for them.
|Type of Softener||Average Price Range|
|Salt-based Ion Exchange||$800 - $1,500|
|Salt-free Conditioners||$500 - $2,800|
|Electronic Descalers||$75 - $300|
|Distillers||$75 - $600|
|Reverse Osmosis||$150 - $800|
Salt-Based Ion Exchange
Salt-based water softeners, as the name suggests, use salt to soften well or municipal water. They use a process called ion exchange, in which calcium and magnesium hard water minerals are swapped out for sodium ions. Ion exchange is one of the most thorough and effective softening processes out there, as the hard water minerals are entirely removed from water.
However, salt-based softener systems do carry some additional costs when compared to other systems. Their initial price comes in at around $800-$1,500, which is fairly average but they require more money put into them in the long run.
You can leave the mineral tank alone for years, but you’ll need to top up the salt in the brine tank for ion exchange after roughly 6 to 8 weeks. While salt is fairly inexpensive, it’s a recurring cost that you need to be aware of prior to purchasing a softener, as the ion exchange process can’t happen without salt.
You can also use potassium in most salt-based softeners. Potassium works almost as effectively in ion exchange and is a better alternative to salt to put into your drinking water, but it tends to cost more per year than salt.
Finally, salt-based softeners will need to perform regular water softener regeneration cycles, which will add a little extra to your electricity bill. Regenerating also produces some water waste, which will contribute to your water usage.
Salt-free water conditioning is a softening solution that is rapidly growing in popularity thanks to its low-maintenance, no waste operation.
Using a process called template-assisted crystallization, or TAC, a salt-free conditioner features a resin that clings onto hard water minerals and transforms them into a crystallized form, preventing them from being able to cause scale. While salt-free conditioners aren’t as effective as salt-based softeners, and don’t actually remove hard water minerals from water, they do effectively tackle the biggest hard water issue of them all: scale.
You can usually benefit from paying a little less for a high-quality salt-free conditioner; around $500-$2,800. Because salt-free conditioners don’t require salt to operate, there’s very little cost involved in maintaining them over their years of use. You can usually just set them up and forget about them until their media requires replacing (after approximately 6 to 9 years). And you won’t waste water, either, as when the resin bed is saturated, regeneration occurs with no water required.
The only cash you’ll need to save is the small price of a replacement pre-sediment filter, which costs anything between $10 and $70, depending on the quality and the brand you go for.
The kindest to your wallet of all the hard water softening options are electronic descalers. These devices don’t use media, salt or resin to soften your water – instead, they treat water with electric impulses generated inside an electronic unit that wraps around your water line. The electromagnetic field produced works similarly to the TAC resin beads inside a salt-free conditioner, altering the calcium and magnesium water hardness particles and preventing them from being able to stick to surfaces in the form of limescale.
There’s not a lot of evidence that electronic descalers work, which is largely because it’s impossible to prove this either way. But a big benefit of these systems is that you can buy them for a lower price (usually between $75 and $300) and they require absolutely no maintenance, not even pre-filter changes, throughout their entire lifespan. That means that once you’ve bought the water softener, you never have to spend cash on it again.
Water distillers don’t usually fall under the “water softeners” category, because they’re primarily seen as a solution for removing contaminants from drinking water. But what people often forget is that because distillers are so thorough – they’re capable of removing almost 100% of contaminants from water – they’re more than capable of eliminating hard minerals.
You can expect to pay around $75-$600 for a distiller, making them one of the cheapest water softening options available. They don’t tend to cost much in terms of maintenance, and they don’t require regeneration.
Most distillers just require washing out regularly to prevent a build-up of contaminants inside the boiling tank. Some also have a small carbon filter for removing any lingering contaminants, which needs replacing every 6 weeks or so and costs around $10 for a pack of 10. There’s no cost to install distillers either, as they simply require plugging into your electricity.
When distillers boil water until it evaporates, the contaminants that can’t turn into a gaseous form (i.e. most of them) are left behind in the boiling chamber. This includes calcium and magnesium hard water minerals.
The great thing about water distillers is that they’re a brilliant value, as they don’t just soften hard water, but they also remove the majority of contaminants too, from chlorine and lead to bacteria and viruses. However, some people find that distillers leave their water tasting “flat”, because they remove all the minerals from water, too.
Again, whole house reverse osmosis filters aren’t usually classed as a water softener, but if you’re looking to soften and filter your water at the same time, reverse osmosis is the smartest solution. RO filters have several filtration stages for treating water, including the reverse osmosis media that gives the system its name. This fine screen only allows the smallest water particles to pass through, while the rest of the contaminants – magnesium and calcium hard water minerals included – are flushed down the drain.
Reverse osmosis systems are so effective that they tend to be relatively expensive to buy. But a good system, which costs around $150-$800, is still cheaper than most water softeners.
You’ll just need to take on board the extra costs that come with a reverse osmosis system, including replacement costs of various filters on a 6-monthly basis and replacement costs of the RO screen every 2 years or so. While they don’t require regeneration to operate, RO systems do waste water and require electricity to run, which will contribute somewhat to your energy bills.
Additional Factors That Influence a Home Water Softener Cost
Aside from type of system, there are several other factors that influence water softener prices. Read on to learn what they are.
Water Softener Price by Capacity
The bigger the water softener, the more money it’s going to cost. That doesn’t necessarily mean size-wise, either; but, rather, a system’s capacity.
The greater the capacity of a whole house water softener, the more media it’ll contain. A greater amount of media will serve your home with soft water for a longer period of time, which is appealing if you’re keen to get the most out of a system. When a system has a higher capacity, it’s also capable of serving larger homes with softened water without affecting water pressure or flow rate.
It’s common for manufacturers to offer water softeners in two sizes: those suitable for homes with 1-3 bathrooms and those suitable for homes with 4-6 bathrooms.
There’s usually $200-$300 difference in price between the smaller and larger systems. Luckily, you won’t benefit from getting a system with a higher capacity unless your home actually needs it – in fact, it’s a bad idea to buy a system that’s designed to handle homes with more bathrooms than you have – so there’s no need to pay extra unnecessarily.
Water Softener Installation Costs
Something that’s easy to forget about when buying a system is the water softener installation cost involved.
Now, installation could cost nothing if you have the plumbing and DIY skills to install a softener yourself. But it’s not wise to try and save money by choosing to install a water softener yourself when you have no idea what you’re doing, as you may end up causing so much damage that you have to pay even more than you would for the price of installation to get your plumbing fixed.
When you outsource a professional to install a water softener, it usually costs between $200 and $300, depending on the individual prices of the plumber or handyman service you hire, the complexity of installation, and the time it takes.
Some professionals will charge for their labor per hour, while others offer a fixed price for the job. It’s best to look for professionals who offer a fixed cost and get quotes. When you get quotes from more than one plumbing service, it’ll give you more options – and a better idea of the labor cost you’re looking at.
Even if you’re working alone to install a water softener, you might find that there are some small costs involved. Not all water softeners come with everything you need for installation, so you may need to go out and buy components yourself. Some softener manufacturers offer upgraded water softener installation kits that include things like brass fittings, ensuring system durability. Unsurprisingly, these come at an extra cost.
Water Softener Maintenance Costs
Once you have your water softener installation cost figured out, you’ll need to also consider maintenance. Installing a water softener doesn’t always mean you can leave the system as it is for life, spending no more money after installation costs. Like most water treatment systems, the majority of whole house water softeners available today have maintenance costs to keep up with, too.
A salt-free water softener system is typically much cheaper to maintain than an ion exchange water softener system. Salt-based water softeners cost more money because you have the brine tank and the mineral tank to think about – you need to make sure the system can continue to remove hard minerals, and to do that, it needs salt.
You can buy bags of softening salt (sodium) for water softeners for around $30 per 50lbs, but there’s plenty of opportunity for a good deal because salt for water softeners is so widely available. Some ion exchangers also use potassium in the brine tank for softening. Potassium chloride costs around $200 to $300 extra a year, so if you’re going to opt for potassium, keep in mind that it’s more expensive.
Salt-free water conditioners don’t use salt for softening, which means that after the cost to install these systems, there’s not much else you need to think about in terms of water softener cost. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to replace the filter that sits before the water softening tank on a once or twice-per-year basis. The resin beads, on the other hand, should last for at least 6 years before you need to replace them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the average cost per year of a water softener?
After installation costs, you should expect to pay around 25 to 40 cents per day for an ion exchange water softener, but this only accounts for the running cost, and not the price of salt (sodium). If you have a dual-tank water softener, you’ll pay even more for salt than with a single tank. This is because a dual tank softener has two brine tanks, enabling your home always has access to a softened water supply as the water softener can simply divert from one tank to another during regeneration.
How do I know what size water softener system I need to buy?
Your required size can easily be determined by looking at how often, and in what way, you currently use your water supply. Your home’s water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG). Your water supply most likely measures water hardness in parts per million (PPM), and one GPG is equal to 17.1 parts per million.
Still with me? What you need to do next is take a look at the maximum level of grains of water hardness that a water softener is designed to remove (again, measured in grains per gallon). You then need to multiply the number of people in your home by the number of gallons of water you use on a daily basis.
This should fall around the 80 gallons per person mark. Finally, total up the individual gallons per person figures and multiply this total by the grains of hardness your water contains (which you can find out from using a water hardness testing kit or contacting your local water department), which will give you a final figure: how many grains of hardness you need a system to remove per day. All that’s left to do is make sure to look for systems that meet your needs.
Most water softeners are available in 32, 000 grains to 80, 000 grains or higher.
Do well water softeners cost more?
If you’re looking at whole home water conditioners or softeners for well water, you may have seen that there are specific systems that are advertised for this use. You’ll be happy to know that well water softening systems don’t usually vary too much from the standard water softener prices on the market. You may find that a water softener costs slightly more if it also tackles iron content, bacteria or other common well contaminants as well as producing soft water.
How much is a water softener expected to last?
No matter what water softener type you go for, whether it’s a salt-free system or one that uses salt (sodium), the actual system will usually last for between 7 and 10 years minimum. Most softeners work effectively to soften the water in your home for much longer than this, provided you look after them and perform system maintenance when necessary. You may need to replace some of the components, however, such as the control valve, which will come at a cost.
Are there any other cost factors involved in buying a water softener?
Yes – quality. The system cost of a high-end softener might be higher, but you’re likely to get many more years of good use out of a high-end system compared to a cheaper, poorer-quality system. Just remember that while cheaper systems cost less upfront, you may end up paying more for labor and repairs.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you’re planning to carry out a DIY installation at home, you need to have some level of plumbing competence if you want to install a water softener of any size at your plumbing system. If you install a system wrongly, this could again result in labor costs for repairs.