How Much Does a Water Softener System Cost to Install?
Water softeners work wonders for dry skin and hair—not to mention your home’s plumbing system. The average water softener system cost is $1,500, but it could range between $500 and $6,000.
- Typical Range: $500 to $6,000
- National Average: $1,500
You don’t often consider anything about the water in your house other than if it’s running and it’s the correct temperature. What you might not know is that most household water is considered hard water, which means it’s full of minerals that leave behind scummy residue and mineral deposits. Over time, these mineral deposits can clog pipes and reduce the water flow. You may also notice you feel quite dry after getting out of the shower due to the hard water minerals building up on your skin and hair.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution to eliminating hard water challenges: water softener systems. These handy units can neutralize or eliminate the heavy minerals from the water. Water softeners come in various configurations based on their method of mineral removal and the quantity of water that needs to be treated. A water softener system cost ranges between $500 and $6,000, but the average cost is $1,500. The type of water softener you choose has the most significant impact on the price you pay. Additionally, the size of the house or plumbing system that’s being treated also affects the price since a system for an RV won’t need to be as powerful or complex as one for a 2,500-square-foot house. You can find most water softener systems at local hardware stores, but you’ll want to have a professional install them since they will integrate with your home’s plumbing.
Factors in Calculating Water Softener System Cost
As you decide on the best water softener, you’ll want to consult with a pro to make sure you choose a system that has the capacity that’s suitable for your house’s size and the number of inhabitants. These factors, plus the type of system and the installation cost, will primarily determine water softener system costs.
Type and Capacity of System
There are five effective water softeners: ion exchangers that use salt and brine, water distiller, salt-free, reverse osmosis, and magnetic. The type and capacity you choose will largely determine the price you pay. The larger the capacity, the more water will be treated, which means it will cost more.
Size of Home
A larger house that has several bathrooms requires more plumbing than an apartment. To adequately treat enough water for daily use, you’ll need to estimate the capacity based on grains per gallon. The grain capacity is how much mineral content can be removed. Use the following steps to calculate the size of the system you need:
- Multiply the number of people in your home by 90, which is the average number of gallons used per person per day.
- Multiply the result from above by the hardness of your water as listed by your local municipality. (The average is 10 grains per day, but it can range from 0 to 17.)
For example: 3 people x 90 = 270. Multiplying 270 by 10 equals 2,700 grains per day. This number falls between the average of 0 to 3,500 grains per gallon, so you would need a water softener with at least 24,000-grain capacity, according to HomeAdvisor. On average, a 32,000-grain water softener can work for a household of up to five people.
Part of Home Served
If the idea of installing an entire water softener system is daunting, then you might like the idea of installing a small under-the-counter unit for specific rooms where you want soft water. This is a standard option for kitchens or bathrooms. These simpler units often cost around $100 and can be installed in approximately 30 minutes.
Labor and Installation
For traditional, whole-house water softener systems, labor rates typically run between $150 and $600 for installation. The cost could go even higher if the installation is complex and new pipes need to be run to account for the new system.
Where you live affects the total cost you pay for most installation projects. Urban areas tend to have higher labor and material rates since there’s a higher cost of living and more demand than in rural areas. The specific region you live in may also affect the hardness of your water—places like Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Antonio, and Tampa have higher mineral content than many other cities. You’ll need to choose a system that works best for the mineral content in your region.
Additional Costs and Considerations
Aside from the up-front system cost and labor fees, a few more considerations affect how much water softener systems cost. You’ll need to have water testing done and pay for maintenance on the unit after it’s installed. Additionally, the installer may need to add electrical or plumbing features to make sure it works properly.
Water softener systems are complex units that utilize many parts to keep the system working correctly and safely. They require regular maintenance to make sure the water is being treated correctly. The brine tank needs to be checked every 3 to 4 months to prevent salt buildup if you have a saltwater system. A water softener technician will also replenish the salt or potassium as needed. Annual maintenance usually costs $100 to $300 to inspect, flush, and replenish the unit.
You need to know the current state of your water content to know which water softener system is best for your house. Some local municipalities can provide a recent water test, or you can hire a water treatment specialist to perform a test on-site. If you’re on a well, be sure to get a test that measures pH, hardness, and iron content. Well test kits cost around $10 to $50.
Electrical and Plumbing
A water softener system for the whole house needs to be installed near the water main. If this area is not easily accessible or you have to trench a new plumbing line, your installation costs will quickly rise. You’ll also need to have access to electricity to run the system. If there is no power nearby, it will cost more for an electrician to reroute and run power to the unit.
Most water softener installations do not require the oversight of a general contractor. Still, if there is structural work that needs to happen to get the correct plumbing and electricity installed, then you may need to hire one. You’ll likely pay an additional 15 to 23 percent for a general contractor.
Permits and Inspections
A major installation may require a permit or inspection from your local authorities. Check with the installers to see if your project will require a permit.
Water Softener System Cost: Types of Water Softener Systems
Once you’ve identified your water usage and water hardness, you can narrow down the type of water softener you want to install. Some water softeners work better for septic systems, and others are best for high-use households. Here is the breakdown of the cost per system.
This is the most common and reliable type of water softener. Water passes through the mineral tank, where calcium and magnesium exchange ions as they are attracted to plastic or resin beads. The beads pass into the brine tank that’s filled with salt that washes away the hard minerals and restores the beads. This style typically costs $500 to $2,000 for the unit and total installation cost, but these require regular salt refills, which is an ongoing maintenance cost.
A water distiller is a less common system that separates water from heavy metals and minerals by creating water vapor just before the boiling point. Since it works without filters or mineral tanks, it doesn’t effectively remove all chemicals from the water. Water distillers also work more slowly, making them a better option for drinking water than a whole house system. It costs $50 to $2,000 to install a water distiller system.
A salt-free water softener or conditioner works similarly to an ion exchange system, but it uses potassium instead of sodium or salt. This neutralizes the minerals and suspends them in the tank rather than removing them. Potassium is gentler on septic tank systems and may also be safer for people on a low-sodium diet. You’ll pay between $800 and $4,000 to install a salt-free water softener.
If you prefer to focus on removing all minerals, chemicals, toxins, and heavy metals from your water, then a reverse osmosis system is one to look at. For $1,000 to $2,800 for the unit and installation, they handle mineral removal plus total water filtration for purified water that’s much safer than regular tap water. You can have one installed under a kitchen sink or for the whole house, and they can work in tandem with other water softener components.
An up-and-coming option that’s still somewhat unproven is the magnetic water softener. You attach an electrical device to your existing plumbing, and magnets create an energy field that reverses the mineral ions to prevent buildup. Users state this system works well, though there aren’t many studies to back up the claims. However, they only cost between $200 and $600 to install.
Signs You Need a Water Softener System
Do you see stubborn, unattractive stains around the drains in your house? Hard water is probably the culprit. It’s also the reason why your white laundry seems to grow dingy, your hair and skin feel dry all the time, and the utility bill has risen lately. Take a look at these top reasons why you need a water softener system.
Water Test Results
If you have any suspicions about how hard your water content is, you can purchase a DIY water testing kit from a local hardware store. The measure you’re looking for is milligrams per liter of dissolved calcium carbonate. Anything between 0 and 60 mg/L is considered soft, 61 to 120 mg/L is moderately hard, 121 to 180 mg/L is hard, and more than 180 mg/L is very hard. Results above 121 strongly indicate that a water softener system is needed to protect the pipes from mineral buildup.
As water slowly recedes down a drain, any remaining puddles will eventually evaporate and leave behind minerals. These minerals are stubborn stains that can become almost as hard as rocks. A water softener prevents these minerals from coming out of the faucets, so you won’t have to fight these ugly stains anymore.
This same mineral buildup can also be known as scale or limescale. It can build up on shower heads, teapots, glassware, or any other surface that’s often wet. That includes inside appliances and especially inside your plumbing system. Too much buildup can eventually damage the system, causing costly repairs.
Higher Utility Bills
Sometimes your first indication of a scale buildup is higher utility bills. If the pipes have lost flow capacity due to mineral deposits, the water may push harder to get through. And if that is heated water, then your boiler or hot water heater won’t run as efficiently as it tries to keep up.
The minerals in hard water interfere with laundry detergents so they can’t clean clothes as effectively. And just as they leave scummy buildup in pipes, they do the same on clothing. This results in fading, graying, roughness, and even foul odors that never seem to wash out.
Dry Skin and Hair
Hard water is especially hard on your hair and skin. It can cause dryness and even itchy, flaky skin on your scalp and body. The heaviness of those minerals often causes hair to become more dull or limp than most people prefer. They can also prevent soap from dissolving normally, which means you may end up with residues of soap that didn’t wash away the bacteria.
Water Heater Malfunction
The scummy, scaly buildup of minerals in pipes and drains is bound to happen in your water heater as well. Hard water often causes the premature aging of a water heating system. Electrical heaters almost accelerate the process since the heat encourages scale buildup.
Benefits of a Water Softener System
Improving the water quality in your home is beneficial for more than just feeling silky smooth and clean when you wash your hands or take a shower—though that’s a popular reason for many users. It’s a cost-effective way to prevent long-term problems with your plumbing systems while making your laundry tasks more effective and your water taste better.
Softer Skin and Hair
Your skin and hair prefer not to be constantly weighed down by an excess of chemicals and minerals. Hair will respond better to the shampoo and conditioner and may appear less dull and limp. With a water softener system, you’ll experience less dry and itchy skin, which means you might not need as much lotion.
Efficient Use of Cleaning Products
Since soap dissolves and lathers poorly in hard water, you might discover that you need less soap overall. Whether it’s body wash, hand soap, dish soap, or laundry detergent, your cleaning products will have better cleaning and lathering power in soft water.
Less Scale Buildup
This is the best reason for a water softener system in terms of preventive maintenance. Soft water prevents the ever-growing scale and scum of hard water minerals that stick to drains, pipes, appliances, and kitchenware. You won’t have to worry about the condition of your pipes or appliances when you have soft water running through your plumbing.
Many people purchase bottled water since it often tastes better than tap water. With a water softener system, you’ll discover that your tap water now tastes better than most bottled water. It’s an added benefit of removing excessive minerals that influence the flavor of water.
Water Softener System Cost: DIY vs. Hiring a Professional
Water softener systems don’t have to be installed for the entire house. If you only have moderately hard water, then perhaps you’d just like to have a small unit installed under your kitchen sink or in your master bathroom. Some under-the-counter systems come with DIY installation kits. Just remember there are always risks when working with your own plumbing systems that could lead to poor, leaky connections, or worse.
For water softener systems designed for an entire house, save yourself the risk of damaging the entire plumbing system by hiring a water softener installer. This is crucial (and possibly required by law) if you discover you’ll need to add plumbing or electrical work to get the system installed. The last thing you want is to accidentally create a water leak that costs more to fix down the road. A qualified installer will be familiar with the system they’re installing and can troubleshoot any issues that may arise during installation.
How to Save Money on a Water Softener System
It might surprise you to discover that the long-term benefits of a water softener are how you’ll save the most money. You’ll see reduced cleaning supplies costs, increased appliance lifespan, and even lower energy bills. However, consider these tips if you’re looking to save money on the up-front water softener system cost.
- Have a professional (or two) assess your house to help you choose the right type and capacity of water softener. Bigger isn’t necessarily better.
- Shop around to find a suitable unit at the right price.
- Once you know the best water softener system for your house, consider waiting for a holiday sale. The unit may go on sale, or the company could offer free labor.
- Ask if there are any rebates available from the manufacturer.
Questions to Ask About Water Softener System Cost
Since water softener systems are a long-term investment, you want to make sure you’re getting the right system installed. As you begin your search for a water softener installer, use these questions to help guide the process. Always start by making sure the installer (and any subcontractors they need to hire) are licensed and insured and can provide references upon request.
- How long have you been in business?
- Do you have water testing kits available?
- Do you offer free, on-site consultations to determine how much work will be required for installation?
- Which water softener system is best for my plumbing system?
- Have you installed a system like this before?
- How much will an under-the-counter system cost to install in my kitchen and bathroom?
- How much capacity do you recommend for my household?
- What if we have guests staying with us? Will we run out of soft water?
- Will we need to install additional plumbing?
- How much maintenance will this system require?
- Do you offer a maintenance plan? If so, what’s included?
- Does this water softener come with a warranty?
Water softener systems don’t have to be a mystery. Their benefits and cost-effectiveness have a proven history for homeowners who choose to invest in them. If you’re still wondering about water softener costs, then consider the answers to these most frequently asked questions.
Q: How much should it cost to have a water softener installed?
It depends on the type and capacity of the system you need to install. A typical price range is $1,000 to $2,800, with an average of $1,500. Smaller units that install under a sink cost less, but if you install a smart system or need significant plumbing added, it could cost up to $6,000.
Q: How can a water softener system improve your quality of life?
Homeowners have found they use less soap, detergent, and other cleaning products since they work better without the interference of hard minerals in the water. As a personal benefit, your hair and skin will be less dry and itchy without the scale buildup of minerals on your skin. And finally, your tap water will taste noticeably better than before.
Q: Can I install a water softener system in any type of house or apartment?
Yes. You can install smaller systems that fit right under a sink. That way, you benefit from soft water right where you need it. There are also portable water softener units available that work well for recreational vehicles that have plumbing.