Water Softener questions

erikhoeffsMarch 3, 2007

Hi everyone.

I have some questions about water softeners, have searched the forums, but still have some questions.

I live in Orange County, California. My water hardness was tested at 10 grains by a couple of people. Chlorine was tested at 2.5ppm. I have a condo with 2 occupants.

I had three companies come to my house and give me estimates, none of which include an RO-not something I think Id really use. I buy bottled water and enjoy the convenience.

Culligan estimated $2195. The rep never mentioned which model this was, but essentially itÂs the softener unit with intermixed charcoal and the separate brine tank with electronic controls.

Kinetico estimated $4495, less $200 if I paid cash or check, less $100 is I gave him 3 referrals. And if I bought that night, I get a bunch of soap. I hate gimmicks. Anyway, this unit is the twin tank, separate declorinator and brine tank. IÂm sure you all know that there are no electronics on this unit, called the Mach series.

Rayne came up with an estimate of $2275, called the RXD1500. It includes the inter-mixed carbon softener tank and separate brine tank with electronic controls.

Of all the units, I like the Kinetico best for a few reasons. No electronics, separate declorinator, twin tanks for 24/7 soft water and the owner reviews IÂve read, it lasts a long time. It seems that the unit can also be taken with you when moving, with its ability to accept up to 1.5" plumbing (I currently have a 1").

My major concern with Kinetico, although I can afford it, is the price. I mean, is it really THAT good, double the others? IÂd like to think so, but would like some opinions.

Any opinions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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When you overprice a softener unit to the tune of $4500.00, it's easy to give away soap, instant rebates and referral incentives.

Every one of those sleazy offerings would make me toss that salesman's ass out my back door. Look at the facts in front of you. Upon obtaining three quotes, two are very close and the other one is more than the two combined. Doesn't that tell you something?

I can't speak for what they do in Cal but around here, the standard water supply line is 3/4 inch for most homes and only large homes in excess of 6000 sq. feet would have a 1 inch supply.

As for portability, all softeners can be removed and taken to a new home but if it's more than eight to ten years old, what's the point?

Resin beds don't last forever, regardless of the brand of softener. Kinetico can make all the claims that want to but until they give you an ironclad written guarantee for 20 years, it's all hype.

Softeners regenerate during the middle of the night when programmed to do so. The need for twin tanks to ensure 100% availability of soft water is more sales gimmick than anything else.

If you think otherwise, then why not have Culligan put two of their units in? It's about the same money. Softening water isn't magic. Every softener out there uses the same technology and essentially the same design. The hard water flows through the resin bed inside a tank and comes out softened. End of story. If the chlorine troubles you for bathing, then put in a separate whole-house charcoal filter.

Personally, I have never found bottled water to be convenient nor is it inexpensive. You are better off with a decent R/O system. If only takes a few seconds to fill a water bottle from that.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 12:54PM
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Highway robbery!!! All of those are high.

First of all, do not get a softener with the carbon mixed in. There are lots of reasons, which have been detailed very nicely in other posts, but, in a nutshell: The carbon won't do you much good for very long, the fact that it's mixed with the resin means it can't protect the resin from chlorine damage and when the carbon has to be replaced (and it will) you'll have to replace the resin also. Carbon is cheap (relatively) resin is expensive.

A whole house carbon filter is your best bet to eliminate the chlorine in all of your water. However, if it's purely an issue of drinking water flavor/smell, just install a small filter for drinking water.

You do not need 2 softeners, unless you household is showering 24/7. Softeners can be set to regen in the middle of the night. Even demand softeners will wait until a convenient time to regenerate so there should be no time when the regeneration cycle causes you a problem.

Unless you use a lot more water than an average household, you will NEVER need the ability to hook up to 1.5" lines. Even 1" is often too large. 1" is nice for water pressure reasons in new construction, but can actually cause a problem called channeling in your softener. Channeling is when, instead of being dispersed over the whole bed, the water flow is low enough compared to the distributor that it ends up flowing down through only a small portion of the bed, resulting in hard water. If you have a large hookup to the softener, you need to make sure you ask about how the water is distributed evenly over the diameter of the bed. If they say there is not mechanical distributor, run away.

Can around to other softener suppliers (smaller, local companies) and you will get a much better deal. Or, order online and install it yourself or hire a plumber to install for you.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 3:15PM
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Thanks for the info so far. So, if I go with a whole house carbon filter, should it go before or after the softener? I've read both ways and confused as to which is more beneficial. Does anyone here have one of these as is happy with its performance? Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 4:53PM
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Install the carbon filter before the softener so it can protect the softener resin from chlorine damage. As high as your chlorine is, you will want a backwashing unit. It will look much like your softener unit, with a Fleck or equivalent valve on top. It doesn't regenerate like a softener does, just back washes. The purpose of the backwash is to keep the granular carbon from becoming compacted.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 7:35PM
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You seem to have a lot of knowledge about this subject. Do you have any recommendations regarding brand or vendor that I might look to for a system? What type of system do you have? Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 12:44AM
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At 2.5ppm chlorine, it is very important that you manage that for your family. Swimming pools maintain between 1.5 and 3.0ppm, so that concentration is quite high.

Chlorine is is a disinfectant but it can creat DBPs (disinfection by-products) such as trihalomethanes, and some oragnisms such as cryptosporidium are resistant to chlorination.

Chlorine enters the body in three primary ways, by drinking it, absorbing through the skin, and by inhaling it via steam or mist in a shower where it enters the blood stream the quickest. Chlorine is a real mixed bag and I monitor and manage it for my family as best I can.

Removing it prior to the softener is also highly recommended as the effects damage the resins and shorten its life considerably. The higher the ppms the shorter the life and 2.5 can be considered very high. Resins become soft, reduced in size, and have poor ion exchange capacity. They won't die like a light bulb; they die a gradual death and its effects may not be noticed until the damage it done.

The Kinetico model suggested: was that a single valve system with four tanks (2+2) or two valves with two tanks each, or a twin tank softener with a flow through carbon tank? Price will vary, of course, determined by which selection was mentioned. In otherwords, what was the model number of the MACH series?

Carbon can accommplish many tasks. It is generally not a sacrificial (dissolves) by intent, but can breakdown into fine particles and be flushed away during backwash. When in a tank with no other media that affects its condition, the carbon fines are washed out initially but these are from the manfacturing process and are significally reduced to near zero there after.

Carbons do have a shelf-life determined by how hard they work, the conditions of the source water and the quality of the carbon, itself.

I tend to agree that mixing carbon and resin in the same tank is not optimum in design for the purposes you need. Carbon and resin have nearly the same specific gravity and when backwashed, they mix/blend, so the advantage of removing chlorine BEFORE it reaches the resins is considerably reduced, if not nullified.

Furthermore, resins are relatively hard and durable, they are round with rough edges, whereas carbon is brittle with cavities and hollow spaces. During backwashing the mix and the resins will grind the carbon into smaller and smaller particles until the become fines and light enough to backwash right out of the tank. We have open mixed-bed filter/softeners to replace carbon because chlorine was coming through only to find there wasn't any carbon at all left inside. No chlorine removal and no resin protection.

Think of putting into a wire mesh box a handful of marbles and a handful of broken glass. Shake it up and let it rest and have some high pressure air blow through it. Do that about 20 times and see how much broken glass comes out after each cycle and how much remains.

Keep your carbon and resin seperate from resins; it will be more expensive (consider actual volume of carbon when comparing price) but more effective and easier to maintain and monitor.

Andy Christensen, CWS

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 11:08AM
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"Highway robbery"... that's a pretty strong statement and I'm sure is loudly proclaimed based on personal experience, but experiences vary.

Here are some things to consider before buying any water softener, and many other things.

You get what you pay for

There is a huge difference between prebuilt box store softeners and the "real" thing. The design, ease of maintenance, cost of parts, quality of the parts, quality of the materials, efficency, reliability, and service life must all be considered.

Don't think for a second that you are getting the same thing at Sears for $500 that Kinetico, or Culligan, or Rayne, or a local water treatment pro offers, installs, and warranties.

How does it work?

Softeners get blamed for many things and water treatment pros get blamed also. There's a big difference in salt and water efficency between a simple single (resin) tank softener and a dual (resin) tank softener like a Kinetico. Many old timer softener people avoid dual (resin) tanks softenrs that provide 24/7 uninterruopted soft water because "you don't need it". But, maybe you do? You should be making the (informed) choice.

Am I buying the right thing?

How do you know? Are you a water treatment pro? Ok, water softener 101 ...

First, get a complete water test from an independent lab. This is a MUST DO because without it everything is a guess. A quickie water test from Sears or a water softener company won't be complete. They only test for the "profitable" stuff.

Second, hit the Yellow Pages and call at least three local water treatment pros. Make sure you call at least one of the big dogs like Kinetico or Culligan and at least a couple independent pros. DON'T TELL THEM YOU HAD YOUR WATER TESTED.

Give each an opportunity to offer suggestions and provide you with a quote to meet your water treatment needs. IGNORE ANY THAT DON'T TEST YOUR WATER THEMSELVES as they can't speak intelligently to water treatment without knowing what needs to be treated.

Ask lots of questions. Warranty, parts & labor, how long? Install, permits required, licensed plumber? Routine maintenance and costs? Do they stock parts? Response time for emergency (water leak) calls? If they don't explain things to your satisfaction that is a good indicator of how you'll be treated after the sale.

You want them to make a fair profit so they'll still be in business when you need service. Remember, we all like to get paid for what we do and many of us are just trying to make a living, not a killing.

After they've gone use your water test to compare with their's. Are all your treatment needs being addressed?

Ask your neighbors if they have any water treatment experience. They might tell you who's good or who to avoid.

What's the rep and the rap?

Some softeners get a bad rap, and usually from people who have to sell against them. One "self-annointed" water treatment god on the internet decries Kinetico for using "centuries old water power technology" instead of AC power to run the control valve. Is that a bad thing? Water power works great at the Hoover Dam and worked for centuries in the Roman aqueducts. Water power costs nothing, how's that for efficency? Not using electricity allows Kinetico softeners to be installed in situations where it would be very costly, or very difficult, or not possible to install any other softener.

Kinetico softeners seem to go a long time because they are well designed and pretty efficent. There are quite a few posts on these forums from Kinetico owners with 20 year old softeners that have the resin replaced and a few o-rings and seals and they are back softening in short order. Amortize that cost over 20 years and expensive softeners can be very cost effective in hindsight.

Your water quaity is important (especially if you are on a well) and you don't want to trust your health to a lesser quality softener without informed consent.

If you cruise the water treatment self-help forums on the net you'll find that the most commonly complained about softeners are the Sears, Morton, GE, Waterboss, et al and the least frequently mentioned softeners are Kinetico and Culligan. There's a reason these companies have been around a long time.

With real estate it's location, location, location, and with water treatment it's dealer, dealer, dealer.

Who's sorry now?

Companies like Kinetico and Culligan have built up a loyal customer base who rarely complain on these self-help forums because their softeners work. When they have a problem they call their dealers who provide them with timely service, stock parts, and have the technical knowledge and experience to get the unit back up and running in short order.

How's that work with mail order and internet companies? Move it closer to the phone so I can see it? Remember, long distance softener sellers offer no service by definition. Their warranty is only on parts and those warranty replacement parts are always UPS or FedEx away. Some long distance softener sellers are honest, fair, and pleasent to deal with and some are not... you take your chances and usully don't find the jerks until after you sent them the money or have a problem.

Us or them?

Either you diagnose your water problems, formulate the (correct?) solotions, and install the equipment or you bring in a water treatment pro to do the job.

Like Clint said in Dirty Harry, "do you feel lucky"? Because without specific knowledge selecting the right water treatment hardware and installing and setting it up properly can be a matter of luck. Not to mention that when it breaks you fix it while your better half screams "where's my soft water"?

Clint again, "a man (woman) has got to know his (her) limitations". If he (she) doesn't he (she) will be reminded by his (her) better half

When you do it yourself there's no one else to blame.

If you want to DIY and approach the situation with eyes wide open and all the facts then give it a try. If you want it done right and in the shortest amount of time with a warranty and after the sale service then bring in a water treatment pro.

The bottom line

Water treatment ain't magic. It's chemistry, physics, and mechanics. IMO, the real determining factor in getting quality water treatment at a reasonable pice is premeditation. Ask lots of questions, ask lots of sources, and temper what people write on forums with a 40 pound bag of salt.

I have no connection with any water softener seller in any way and am simply relaying what I've learned the hard (and costly) way.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 11:11AM
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Further thoughts... I, like you, needed to install a softener but I have 26-32g hardness water. That hardness made the water undrinkable and I won't mention how bad the coffee was. Initially I was using bottled water but it was not convenient.

After deciding on a softener and getting it installed I installed an RO at the same time. You do have to feed an RO safe and clean (not hard) water for maximum membrane life and that proved to be the smartest thing I did.

More pure water than the two of us can use. Amazingly clear ice cubes (RO feeds a sink faucet and the icemaker) and outstanding coffee. Never had to descale our coffemaker in over 10 years.

After ten plus years with the RO with replacing pre-filters, post-filters, and membranes the cost of a gallon of pure water is so low that it isn't worth the calculater time to figure it out. No running to the bottled water machine (store) and carting gallon jugs back and forth and I have the only icemaker in the neighborhood that works.

Some criticize ROs for water wasted while generating pure water but I submit that my RO wastes less water for the pure water I make than the giant RO running the bottled water machine at WalMart and I don't waste any gas going to and fro to get the bottled water... more environmentally responsible IMO.

While you are deciding on a softener consider a quality RO for under the kitchen sink, you'll thank me later.

Revisiting price... for some people a dollar's worth for a dollar isn't a good enough deal. Some people want to pay 50 cents for 75 cents worth but most times these people end up paying 75 cents and get only 50 cents worth.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 12:06PM
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I know Sears is junk. My Dad replaced his Sears unit twice in 15 years. Then again, he's out only $1000 over 15 years.
His water tests at acceptable levels.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 3:25PM
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"I know Sears is junk. My Dad replaced his Sears unit twice in 15 years. Then again, he's out only $1000 over 15 years".

The greatest falsehhood is that pre-built BOX store softeners are less expensive than the industry standard softeners.

The Sears softeners around 40000 hardness capacity generally run a little under $500. For $466 you could have a Fleck 5600SE electronic on demand metered softener delivered to your home including shipping. You'd need to assemble it (takes less than 30 minutes) and install it. You can have a plumber assemble it and install it (you'd need a plumber to install the Sears softener also or DIY).

A properly sized and setup Fleck based softener would be much more frugal with salt and cost less to operate over that 15 years than the Sears softener and that Fleck based softener would not have had to be replaced.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 3:53PM
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Thanks for all of the advice. What brand/type of equipment did you finally decide on?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 10:49PM
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I bought a industry standard softener from an internet huckster who proved to be a real jerk. The softener works despite him not because of him. I resent having to kiss his a$$ if I need a warranty part so I consider this softener disposable.

All things considered I'd choose a Kinetico. Simple elegant design, extensive dealer/service network, 24/7 uninterrupted softwater, and very reliable. Expensive, yes but in the long run a fair price for an outstanding product. Often Kinetico dealers have trade-in softeners at good prices... I'm keeping my eye out for one of them.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 11:53PM
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FWIW....I've had Kinetico two-tank system for fifteen years. Noticed a difference in household water taste and performance with soap in the shower beginning a couple of weeks ago so had it examined today. Resin was almost shot so replaced it. All other components looked pretty much like new upon disassembly. Replaced a few palls and seals on principal. Bill was $208 of which $68 was labor. Took about 2 1/2 hours and the fellow seemed very thorough and competent. First service since new install in '92.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 7:56PM
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So, another Kinetico nighmare story? It cost too much when you bought it and it only provided soft water for 15 years and then you had to spend $208 on it? What a rip-off those Kineticos are... wish I had one.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 8:19PM
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Was your softener on city water? If not, what unit did you have and what were your water conditions? Just curious.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 9:20PM
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Not exactly city water....several community wells in a rather large community with its own community water organization. Hardness varies between 10-15 grains. We use about 30 lbs. of salt a month -- probably more than is actually needed but the variability in hardness in the supply can't be predicted so the machine is set for max. expected rather than trying to vary it.

I've always been satisfied with the unit until the recent fall-off in performance due to resin failure. However I regard 15 years as excellent service life for the resin and for the rest of the components.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 12:18AM
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Hi, I have a follow-up question. I installed a Kinetico softener with carbon filter on Monday and almost a week later there is still a lot of carbon fines coming through into the sink and tub. Has anyone else had this problem and solved it? Have you installed a post-filter of some kind? Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 4:24AM
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Is your model a 4040sOD or 4060s? They are plumbed in oppositely. There may be a problem if it is plumbed in backwards. IOW, are the carbon tanks on the top or the bottom?

The water should pass through the carbon bed first. The resin bed is fine enough not to allow cabon fines to come through except, possibly, for a very short period of time initially.

Andy Christensen, CWS-II

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 8:08AM
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