Don’t Let Hard Water Make Your Life Hard: The Ultimate Guide to Water Softeners
June 26, 2019

Expert Real Estate Tips

The Las Vegas Valley has some of the hardest water in the country. At 283 Parts Per Million, the water here is considered “very hard” by the Las Vegas Valley Water District. For reference, water is considered “very hard” once it passes 180 Parts Per Million. Our water is hard because the majority of it comes from Lake Mead. According to pureplumbinglv.com, “Beginning as snowmelt high up in the Rocky Mountains, the water then follows the path of the Colorado River, dissolving minerals, like magnesium and calcium, from rocks in its path, until it settles in the lake.” These minerals are what differentiate hard water from soft water.

The negative effects of hard water are not necessarily dangerous, since hard water poses no health risks. Still, spotty glass and soap scum are annoyances all too familiar to those who live in the Las Vegas Valley. Hard water can also irritate your skin and hair, make it harder to clean, and can cause plumbing damage due to deposits of minerals that build up in your home’s plumbing over time.

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Whether you’re able to ignore the irritation caused by hard water or not, mineral deposits in your plumbing can be expensive to fix. According to ahs.com:

“Mineral deposits from hard water, also known as scale deposits, are often responsible for clogging pipes. When hard water is heated, a certain amount of water evaporates, causing the minerals suspended in it to precipitate. This solidified scale (or limescale) can then accumulate inside your pipes, water heater, washing machine and dishwasher. These accumulations can cause major troubles all throughout your plumbing system, from low water pressure to the failure of certain appliances.”

The solution? Buy a water softener. This seems easy enough, but when it comes to choosing such an appliance, many home owners feel lost. To help you with this decision, this article will list different types of water softeners, weigh the costs and benefits of leasing versus buying, and enlighten you by answering a few common questions about water softeners.

Types of Water Softeners

1. Salt-Based Ion Exchange Softener

This is the most common type of water softener. It works by exchanging calcium and magnesium ions in hard water with salt ions. If you get this type of water softener, you’ll have to check the salt levels in the brine tank about once a month. The good news is that bags of water softener salt are cheap and readily available. There are two types of salt that can be used:

  1. Sodium Chloride: The cheaper of the two options (about $5 for a 40-lb bag), sodium chloride is the classic water softening agent. Some users experience a slightly salty taste when using sodium chloride. If you’re concerned about your sodium intake, you might want to go with the next option.
  2. Potassium Chloride: This type of salt is more expensive (about $30 for a 40-lb bag), but it has some additional benefits. Potassium is an important nutrient for us, as well as our pets and plants, and many people who use potassium chloride say that it gives the water a better taste.

How much can you expect to pay for a salt-based water softener? Serv-All Water Conditioning in Las Vegas sells the 32,000 grain Clack WS1 for $1,295, which includes installation. The Clack WS1 is the #1 water softener valve on the market, has glowing testimonials, a long lifespan, and is rated for homes up to 3,000 square feet.

2. Salt-Free Water Conditioner or Descaler

You may see the term “salt-free water softener” thrown around, but technically a “salt-free water softener” isn’t a water softener at all. Unlike the salt-based systems, these systems don’t actually remove hard minerals from your water. Instead, minerals are retained in the water, but they are changed from their ionic form to a harmless crystalline form through a process known as template assisted crystallization. This prevents hardness minerals from being deposited in your pipes and on surfaces without actually removing them from the water. While this still reduces scaling and hard water stains, salt-free water conditioners are generally considered less effective than their counterparts. One benefit, however, is that these systems require no maintenance, electricity, or salt.

Pelican, a well-known water conditioning brand, sells their NaturSoft Salt-Free Water Softeners for $1,413 (for 1-3 bathrooms) or $1,696 (for 4-6 bathrooms). This price does not include installation.

3. Dual-Tank Water Softener

Dual-tank water softeners are generally salt-based. What makes these systems special is that they make soft water available at all times. Water softeners are designed to disconnect from your home’s plumbing while recharging, which usually happens in the middle of the night, 2am being the standard start time. During the regeneration process, soft water is unavailable for about 90 minutes. With a dual-tank system, one tank recharges while the other is in use. If you want continuous soft water with no break in service, a dual-tank system might be the right choice for you. However, it’s important to note that not all homes require daily recharging, and the recharging time can be programmed to suit your family’s soft water needs and personal schedules. Often, a better and more efficient solution is to get a single-tank system with a bigger tank.

If you do end up buying a dual-tank water softener, expect to pay about twice as much as you would for a single-tank system. For example, Serv-All sells and installs dual-tank Clack systems for $1,900-$2,600 (depending on tank size), but the majority of these systems are installed in restaurants, which use a lot more water than your typical family.

Pro-tip: Keep in mind that a single-tank system technically uses two tanks (one for salt storage and one for the water to regenerate in), so if you think you already have a dual-tank system, you might want to double-check.

4. Reverse Osmosis Water Softener (Filter)

Arguably the best that money can buy, these systems utilize semi-permeable membranes to filter out even the smallest of contaminants. This not only softens the water, but purifies it for drinking. Many luxury homes have reverse osmosis systems, but it’s generally not practical to soften water in the whole home this way because such systems are bulky and expensive to maintain. Reverse osmosis systems can also be wasteful. According to uswatersystems.com, “a reverse osmosis system wastes about 4 gallons of water per gallon made.” However, the ratio of waste water to filtered water can get as low as 1:1 depending on what system you purchase.

Smaller reverse osmosis units can fit under the sink, so they’re generally installed in areas where crystal clear drinking water is desired—such as the kitchen or wet bar—while the rest of the home’s water is softened with a traditional softener. No need to flush your toilet with filtered water.

What can you expect to pay for an RO system? The iSpring RCC7AK has six stages of filtration and remineralization (to keep the good minerals), over 1,000 five-star reviews, and only costs $213 on Amazon. This does not include installation, but any handyman or plumber should be able to do the job in under an hour for $100-$200. The filters need to be replaced every 6-12 months, which costs about $65/year. If you’re willing to spend more money, you can get a high-efficiency system like the iSpring RCS5T for $567, which produces much less waste water and is perfect for large families.

5. Magnetic Water Softener

You may encounter this type of water softener in online searches. These devices are relatively cheap, can be purchased on sites like Amazon, and some of them have good reviews—like the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler available for $200. However, magnetic water treatment is regarded as unproven and unscientific, so be wary of buying into the hype. You’re better off with one of the options above.

Buying vs. Leasing

Because of the wide range of products available and the unique water needs of each home, water softener costs can vary greatly. According to a study done by improvenet.com, the cost of purchasing and installing a water softening system can range from $400 to $10,000, with the average being around $3,000. Serv-All Water Conditioning, a company of local water experts that has served the Las Vegas area since 1978, offers a variety of water softeners ranging from $1,200 to $2,400. On the lower end, they sell the 32,000 grain Clack WS1 (which was mentioned previously in this article) for $1,295 with installation. A representative at H2O TO GO, a leading water treatment company in Southern Nevada since 1981, said that their costs range from $1,000 to $5,000 for a new water softener (including installation). The same representative mentioned that the only added benefit of purchasing a more expensive model is the addition of extra filtration stages, resulting in the removal of more contaminants than just the minerals that cause hard water.

Another buying option is to purchase a water softener online, then hire a handyman or plumber to install it. Just keep in mind that not all plumbers have the experience and classification necessary to properly install and program these systems. There are horror stories of plumbers installing water softeners backward (a mistake that gets you instantly terminated at Serv-All). This causes resin to flood through your plumbing and stop the flow of water in your home, which can be expensive to repair. Also keep in mind that a plumber’s base fee may not include every part needed to install your water softener: fittings, flex lines, etc.

If you do choose to purchase a water softener online, one popular model is the Fleck 5600SXT 48,000 Grain Water Softener, a single-tank salt-based system currently available on Amazon for about $575. This system has hundreds of five-star reviews and can provide soft water for homes of up to 6 people. Amazon also offers the option of adding on expert installation in some cities (you should verify the expertise/classification of whatever plumber Amazon hires before they break out the tools). In Las Vegas, Amazon charges $380 to install the the Fleck 5600SXT, putting your total cost for this system under $1,000.

Whoever’s installing your water softener, make sure the installation fee includes the following:

  • Removal of your old water softener (if you have one).
  • Installation of your new water softener, including all necessary parts.
  • Clean up and testing of your new water softener.
  • Disposal of your old water softener (this is important because Republic Services won’t pick it up off the curb).

Most commercial grade water softeners last about 15 years, so it’s generally considered advantageous to purchase one instead of leasing one, especially if you’re going to be in the same home for a while. H2O TO GO offers water softener leases at $40/month for a whole home water softener, $20/month for partial home reverse osmosis filtration, or $50/month if you want both. Serv-All offers a similar pricing model. These prices can vary slightly depending on home size and whether you’d prefer additional filtration stages.

As far as the financial benefits of buying go, if you spend $1,200 purchasing and installing a water softer, it will only cost you $80/year when broken down over the course of the softener’s lifespan (assuming it lasts 15 years). Compared to having a $50/month recurring charge ($600/year), the value here is is self-evident. However, higher upfront costs, worries about the water softener failing sooner than it’s supposed to, or short-term living situations might make leasing a better option for you.

Pro-tip: If you choose to buy a water softener, look for one with a good warranty. If you choose to lease, make sure that the company offers free repairs/replacements.

Common Questions

Can I Install a Water Softener By Myself?

Unless you’re a plumber, DIY water softener installation is probably not a good idea, which is why most people hire a specialist. If you purchase your water softener from a third party, you’ll need to hire a plumber or handyman. Look for a contractor who is certified to install water treatment equipment. In Nevada, such contractors should have a “Primary Classification C30.” The last thing you want is an incompetent plumber putting your water softener on backward.

Many consumers prefer to use a one stop shop like Serv-All Water Conditioning or H20-TO-GO. When your water softener, warranty, installation, and maintenance all come from the same company, it makes things easier and less stressful. It’s a good idea to get multiple quotes before you choose which company to go with. Ask for quotes over the phone first, and make sure they tell you not only the price of the softener, but also the installation fee. Some companies will send out a technician to test your water and give you a quote for free, so it can be worthwhile to be patient and shop around. Make sure you look at online reviews for the company installing the softener, as well as the water softener brand itself. The more you know, the better.

What Size Water Softener Do I Need?

The size of your water softener is dependent on your water usage, which has less to do with the size of your house than it does the number of people living there. You don’t need to worry about how much water you use for landscaping and whether or not you have a pool, since outdoor water is usually plumbed separately from your indoor water. There are tools online to help you calculate your water usage, but you’re better off talking to your chosen water softener specialist about your individual situation.

Water hardness is often measured in grains per gallon, so you’ll encounter water softeners sold in various grain capacities. Grain capacity refers to the number of grains that a water softener is capable of removing with each regeneration. For example, a 48,000 grain water softener removes 48,000 grains every time it regenerates. The grain capacity that you will need depends on the water hardness level in your area, how often the water softener regenerates, and your household water usage. This helpful article explains how to calculate what grain capacity you should look for in a water softener.

How Do I Know if I’m Buying a Quality Water Softener?

Look for water softeners that are certified by the NSF or the WQA. According to hometips.com, “NSF International is an independent testing organization that tests and certifies water-treatment products. The water industry’s trade organization, the Water Quality Association, also certifies equipment, so look for the WQA Gold Seal.” You can also look for Energy Star Certification to see whether your chosen water softener is energy efficient. All of these organizations have websites where you can run a search for certified products and systems.

Hard water can cause problems that run much deeper than dirty dishes or spotty glass. Buying or leasing a water softener might seem unnecessary, but it can prevent a lot of trouble with your plumbing in the long run. Whether you’re considering to invest in a water softener in the near future or not, hopefully this guide has helped you understand the hard water problem prevalent in Las Vegas while also providing some solutions.

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