So, this past week, my water softener died and I researched and talked to many people about what I might be able to do to fix this problem. In the meantime, my bathtub went all yellow and by the end of the week, my wife refused to wash the baby until I got this working again.
So, in an effort to not have a stinky family, I got to work. First, I had to set a budget for my project. I set a budget of $700.00 (yes, I did it all, too). I have a family of 3 and one dog, so I looked for options that could accommodate this size. Most water softeners are rated by “grains” and so you pick one based on the size of family, but more importantly, about how much you truly use. If you have two teenagers who shower multiple times a day – you might as well count them as two people each. Think about how much an average person uses, then think about your family and in reality, how much they consume on a daily basis. This is assuming showers, drinking, laundry and dish washing.
So after some searching, I decided on a Whirlpool 44,000 grain softener from Lowes Hardware store. I wanted to get the 33,000 grain which was a little bit cheaper, but in the end, my budget did allow for this bigger one — and they didn’t have the 33,000 in stock — so I would have had to wait. The one I did get is a bit bigger than this house is going to probably ever need because it’s rated for 5 people — and at best I think 4 sleep comfortably within my small country home.
Anyway, the first thing I did was research the type of piping I was going to need to get this job done. The plumbing industry has really moved quickly in recent years and there is now a product called “PEX” piping, which is a semi-flexible, frost resistant, DIY-friendly type of plumbing option that you see on all the home-DIY tv shows. It comes in various colours but the standard is white, blue and red. Since the water softener is one of the first things your well-water comes to – I went with white. I bought about 50-ft of it from my local Home Depot (HD) along with several fittings, made by “Sharkbite.” The fittings themselves were the most expensive part (90-degree elbows) of the plumbing but it makes doing this project kind of like working with legos. You cut along the designated spots and snap the elbows on.
Super easy — you can do this — I promise. Check out Youtube for help.
Then it happened. The night before I began, I was laying awake and thinking about the project (11:45 pm, of course) and it dawned on me. In my house, there is a little room that the water softener is housed and functions in. It’s a terrible spot and makes it impossible to clean. It is also hard to clean for when water gets on the floor – promoting mold. Across the hallway is my laundry room. So what if I was able to find a spot in my laundry room to place the water softener and remove it out of this little nook?
Well, sure enough, there was a way to do it and I decided that I was going to put the softener in the utility room with the laundry, water heater and boiler – getting all my utilities together. Now, with 50-ft of PEX, this is no problem. Your water softener is going to need a HARD water line and a SOFT water line. I decided to come out of the original room, plugging into the water supply lines and sending it over the hallway and around the utility room to where I was going to have the softener. The photo to the right shows the HARD and SOFT lines coming and going from the old system. The filters are on the HARD line.
So I shut off the water in the house, depressurized the system (opened 2 or more faucets), unboxed the water softener, took out all the parts, assembled it, slid it into place, plugged it all into the system, closed the faucets, turned on the house water main, checked for leaks and then followed the setup instructions. After about 12 hours of work, I got everything replaced and working correctly – and it’s digital (a nerd’s dream) — meaning, it has a digital clock, tank LED light and a battery backup, so if the power died (like it commonly does in this country home) there is about a 3 hour backup that will help in quick blackout situations. It won’t run the softener, but it will keep the time and all my settings (you can also put this on a secondary backup to keep it functioning – if you choose). It fit perfectly into the little nook I found in the utility room and it’s out of the way and accessible.
There was one other thing I had to consider when I was installing this unit. Drainage. You have to have access to a drain in the house in order to get this to work because all water softeners have a “backwash” and “overflow” functions built into them. Both are absolutely necessary – so be advised. Luckily, the utility room had a PVC drain pipe in the room, SOOOOOOO… back to HD for some PVC pipes and cement glue. I cut a 3-inch spot out of the drain PVC spot, glued in a Y-joint (btw, PVC cement – dries and is permanent in about 5-10 seconds – BE ADVISED) and made a drain over to behind the water softener. Took me about an hour total with the parts and a hacksaw. Be sure to test your drains and watch for leaks over the next 24 hours.
So once it was all put together, I fired up the water softener and ran a clean/recharge cycle through the machine – which took over 2 hours!! Needless to say, that day was over with and I went to bed.
The following morning, my wife wanted to bathe the baby — so I got to work on the tub. I was raised by a family who knew how to clean, and so a little rust didn’t intimidate me. Instead, I went at it with some cleaning chemicals and scrubbed for about an hour – including sacrificing my toothbrush so I could get in the small spaces. Here is the before and after photo.
I went and checked the Water Softener again to make sure there weren’t any leaks and to see how things were working. I also hooked up a hose to my hot water tank and drained about half of it because, remember, it’s all HARD water in there until the softener has a chance to replace it. I drained it for about 20 minutes. I waited till the water went cold and then stopped the drain and let it fill back up again.
So if you are facing this task, let me tell you – there is nothing about it that you can’t find on YouTube and online. They make some amazing products that make the job easy and manageable. Don’t let it get you overwhelmed. Just keep moving and plan to take 2 or three days to sort it all out. I only had the water OFF in my home for about 2 hours total — the rest was done before and after (unboxing, assembling, running new pipelines, etc). There are loads of helpful people online and maybe even a few blogs to give you some confidence.
You’ve got this! It’ll be fine — I promise.