Even before we moved to our new place, we knew that we needed to get a water softener system installed fairly quickly. The hardness in the Savage city water is around 19 grains, and anything over 10 grains is considered to be hard. (On a sidenote: The 19 grains is certainly not the hardest of water available for human consumption in the US. Places that use well water can have over 100 grains of hardness). We got quotes from Capones, Culligan, Kinetico, Lowe’s (Whirlpool tank-in-tank), and Home Depot (GE tank-in-tank).
Culligan and Kinetico are considered to be the “best” water softener systems that are available for residential use. I put the quotes around best because on further research, which I’m going to elaborate on below, these systems do have a better quality than the big box store brands, but their prices are nothing but absolutely ludicrous. You can build your own (superior) system for less than half the cost for a Culligan or Kinetico.
Before we dive into the various products available in the market, let’s take some time to understand what all factors we need to consider to build a water softener system.
First is, of course, the hardness of the water that we are trying to soften. You can get a test done to determine the hardness or use the data available from the city.
You need to consider a system which not only addresses your current needs, but also have the capacity to handle additional requirements, if you have a plans for a bigger family in the future or have frequent visitors who spend more than a day at your place. My suggestion is take the number of people in your current household and add 1 to it. The number of bathrooms you have in your house plays a role, but I’m a little circumspect of its importance. Let’s assume you have 3 person household and 3 bathrooms in your home. How likely is it that all 3 bathrooms will have someone taking a shower at the same time? Pretty rare, huh? More likely that 2 bathrooms might be occupied. My suggestion is to subtract 1 from the number of bathrooms in your home.
You’ll need to know the peak flow rate of the water in your home. Pretty easy to find that: take an empty 5 gallon bucket and place under your tub faucet, crank open both the hot and cold water, measure how long it takes the bucket to fill up. If it takes 30 seconds, your peak flow rate is 10 gpm (gallons per minute). If it takes 1 min, your peak flow rate is 5 gallons per minute. In most cities the average household peak flow rate will be between 7 and 11 gpm.
You can use this online calculator to input your numbers from the preceding 3 paragraphs.
Now we come to the components of the water softener system. Assuming we are going for salt based system, the primary component is (not the salt!) the resin. The resin is what removes the hardness (the Calcium and Magnesium bicarbonates) from your water. The salt (the 40 or 80 lbs. bags that you buy) is used to regenerate the resin when it has neared its low efficiency. The resin resides in the tall, cylindrical, metal tube. Since the resin is the most important part of the softening process, the size of the cylinder, and the volume of the resin required, are of utmost importance.
You will want to make sure that the maximum grains of hardness required to be softened by your system fits your needs.
The other very important component of the water softener system is the valve, or the control that will program and actually make the whole thing work. This control system sits atop the resin cylinder. Fleck is almost universally acknowledged to be the grand daddy of all valves available in the market. You can order a Fleck valve (and the whole system – resin, resin tank, brine tank, and connection) at very reasonable prices at Ohio Pure Water.
Now we have looked at the factors that affect the water softening system and the main components that go towards making the system. How do we align these two? Let’s take an example.
We are a family of 3. Add 1, to get to 4. We have 3 bathroom; subtracting 1, we get to 2. We have a hardness of 19 grains and Iron level of 0.01 ppm. Using the online sizing calculator (and manipulating the “shower head flow rate” to arrive at a “peak flow rate” of 10 gpm), the tool tells us that we will need between 46,550-37,240 grains per week, depending on whether we are using a low or a high salt dosage. Since regenerating per week is a good idea, we can go for a system which will easily handle over 46,000 grains.
Let’s try this from a slightly different (but inherently same) approach.
19 grains of hardness, 4 people, 70 gallons per day per person water consumption on average.
So, that equals 19*4*70= 5,320 grains per day
We want to regenerate every 7 days, so the system needs to handle 5320*7= 37,240. Viola! We are at the same number, when regenerating with a high dosage of salt.
Take a look at the table below, or visit here.
With this, we can say that a 1054 system, with 1.3 cu. ft. of resin will do the job for us using medium salt dosage. (There is a trade-off with min and max salt dosage use. With min salt dosage use you’d use the most water, and with max salt dosage use you’d use the least water. Also with high dosage of salt, sodium in your water increases. So it is good to find a balance at the middle.)
We have built the ideal system, so where to buy one now? Let’s go back to the 4 systems we got quotes from.
The Whirpool WHES44 at Lowe’s and the GE GXSH40V at Home Depot are almost the same price ($497/$488), have very similar specs, and the valve for both is made by manufacturer Ecodyne, a company based out of Woodbury, MN. Lowe’s installation service is $199 and Home Depot’s $299. The city of Savage charges a one-time water softener permit fee of $49.50, which will be added on. You are looking at at around $750 to $850 for the whole thing. Additionally, the longevity of these tank-in-tank units is around 10 years, if you are lucky. A name brand (Culligan, Kinetico) or Fleck systems can easily last for 2 decades.
Culligan quoted us a 1040 (resin tank of 10″ diameter by 40″ height, with no mention of the actual resin volume) Medallist Plus for $1,998.50, including the unit, installation and permit fee.
Kinetico quoted us a 940 (resin tank of 9″ diameter by 40″ height ) Essential Platinum for $1,889, including the unit, installation and permit fee. The resin tanks actually holds a measly 0.6 cu. ft of resin!
I went to the Ohio Pure Water site and configured a Fleck 5600 SXT Electronic Meter with 48,000 grain capacity for $585. This would include 1.5 cu. ft. of resin, the 1054 resin tank, brine tank, 1″ stainless bypass valve, and delivery. I would only need to install it and pay the permit fee. Since I’m not a DIYer (I can follow “orders” from someone who actually know what they doing! I know enough to get myself into trouble, but not enough to get out of it!) I researched for a local reputable installer. On the recommendation of a neighbour I looked up Bob Sable. You can find him here and reviews here. Few of the reviews say that he even listens to your problem and gives out free, but pertinent and valuable, advice over the phone. I called him and we talked for around 10 mins. I asked him if I could meet him face to face and we fixed on a time later that evening. I went over to his place and we talked for almost an hour and half! I kid you not! In the end we came up with the same Fleck model, but from a local supplier. With installation, $798. And he didn’t even charge me anything for the consultation!
footnote: I also had Bob install a whole house filter. Total charge, including all units (water softener and filter), all connections, installation and permit came to $1,148.