Water softener install...DIY or call the pro?

ohmmm_gwApril 28, 2010

I have ordered a Fleck 5600 metered water softener with separate brine tank for the house. I think I can handle the installation, but I figured I would post photos and get opinions before I dive into it.

The house is on well water. The utility closet where the water softener would go is in the garage. There is about 4 feet of usable floor space. It is all pex with stainless crimp bands.

The last owner had the water filter put in. I think it may be better to move it to the opposite wall.

There is one receptacle in the room above where the water filter is currently at.

We will be using potassium since the water is already high in sodium.

So looking at the photos below, is this a realistic DIY project, or enough of a potential headache to just call the plumber and let him do it?

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Hopefully whoever you bought your softener from will include a detailed documentation for assembly and install so you'll know the basics. You'll need an AC outlet and a drain which you seem to have.

Hopefully you ordered a correctly sized softener and included a Fleck OEM bypass valve. Along with that bypass you should add a three ball valve bypass at the softener so in the (unlikely) event the OEM bypass leaks or requires service you'll still have (untreated) water to the house while waiting for parts.

All you need to do anything is the knowledge and the tools so a few questions...

Since you're plumbed in Pex have you worked with Pex before?

Do you have access to the crimping tool?

Do you understand plumbing basics like how to tie the softener drain into the drain with a code required air gap?

If not call a plumber.

Do you know the correct information required to set the softener because most plumbers have no real understanding of water treatment.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 11:57PM
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I have worked with copper mainly, no problems with working with that.

Pex I have not used before. But I did look up info online and at the PEX website, and it seems fairly easy.

I picked up some supplies at Lowes the other day, including a crimper for the stainless bands. No doubt will have to make a few more trips.

Size of the softener is 32,000 grain. That was based on the current water hardness and number of people here. I checked a number of websites on that. We are not real heavy water users. So it should be sized ok.

The water softener has not been delivered yet. Yes, did order it with a bypass.

Yes, I understand the air gap requirement.

I also have a new anode rod for the water softener coming. Getting the old one out may be a challenge. But I do have an air impact wrench I can use to try to get it loose. Only thing is, I have to use a standard socket and not the thicker walled impact socket, because that won't fit down the hole where the rod is.

I will be printing out the Fleck manual and reading through it ahead of time today.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 12:19PM
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If your compressor has enough hit then the air impact will work. On that socket use a 6 point not a 12 point. Real easy to round off the corners.

On the softener size 32,000 means little cause that varies based on the salt does. Almost all online sellers quote the softener size at max (least efficient) salt dose. How many cubic feet of resin? Probably 1 cu ft right?

What are your water conditions? Hardness, iron, manganese, PH, TDS?

How many people?

How many bathrooms?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 12:41PM
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Yes, 1 cu foot of resin, the American made upgraded stuff they sell.

Hardness 297mg/L
Iron negligible
Manganese negligible
PH 7.9
TDS 347mg/L

3 Adults
2.5 baths
Jacuzzi tub, but rarely used

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 1:35PM
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You should have ordered a 1.5 cu ft softener for most efficient operation and increased SFR at a minimal increase in cost over the undersized 1 cu ft unit. If you can change your order I HIGHLY recommend that you do. The correctly sized softener will save you lots in wasted regeneration water and salt used over it's lifetime and the increased SFR of the 1.5 cu ft unit is better suited to your Jacuzzi. Even though you said it is rarely used I'm sure it's required SFR will cause hardness to leak through the 1 cu ft softener.

You got caught up on the charts without understanding the math behind the charts and the kinetics of ion exchange softeners.

This happens a lot when buying water treatment equipment long distance and I hate when it does cause customers don't get what they need and won't find out till it's too late.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 2:10PM
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It has already shipped. Due to be delivered Monday. They will call me back to see if they can swap this out for me. I am looking at their info again online at Affordable Water dot us.

The calculator they have lists:
Number of people (I used 5 even though 3 live here)
Hardness in Grains (I input 17)
Iron ppm (left it at 0)
3 days capacity (this auto fills in based on the above numbers input)

I ran the calculator through different iterations, only changing the number of people. The tank size does not change until I get to 6 people. At that point it goes to 1.25 cu ft.

At 8 people, the tank size then goes to 1.5 cu ft.
The 3 day capacity at that point is then listed as 30,600.

The original recommendation, if I just used 3 people, was for a 24,000 grain Fleck unit .75 cu ft. But I went with the one for 5 people, which is the Fleck 32,000 grain, 1 cu ft.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 4:45PM
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OK, let's play ball... batter up

Strike #1: What you don't know is that they are quoting hardness removal capacity at MAXIMUM salt dose which is very inefficient.

Strike #2: You want to size the softener so it regenerates every 7 or 8 if there's no iron NOT every three days. More frequently than that wastes water and salt and costs you money.

Strike #3: The softener also needs to be sized for SFR. The SFR of a 1 cu ft softener is around 9gpm and a 1.5 cu ft around 12gpm. If water use approaches the peak SFR of that volume of resin then hardness leaks through and you get hard water in the system.

The deck is stacked against you when working their calculator because it is based on them offering you the absolute least costly solution at the time you buy but you'll waste money every regeneration on the back end as long as you have that softener.

Take a look at the softening capacities of regular resin:

Do you see that softeners can be claimed to be 4 sizes depending on the salt dose? Your 30k 1 cu ft softener is using 15 lbs of salt to get 30k. That is 2000 grains removed per pound of salt

A 1.5 cu ft softener removing 30k of hardness uses 6 lbs / cu ft (1.5 cu ft x 6 lbs / cu ft = 9 pounds total) of salt. That's 3333 grains removed per pound of salt. WAY more efficient. More than 50% more efficient than the 1 cu ft softener.

With your 1 cu ft softener you'll use about 60 gallons of water to regenerate twice (or more) a week so that's 120 gallons versus the 1.5 cu ft softener regenerating once a week using 60 gallons of water.

This math is Softening 101 but online dealers don't want you to see it.

I have no dog in this fight and am not looking to sell you anything. I'm giving you the info to make an informed decision.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 5:33PM
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Thanks for all the info. Good to know. Certainly a learning experience. Hopefully others here will read this and go into buying a softener better informed.

The cost difference between the 1 cu ft $461 and the 1.5 cu ft $489 is not that much. I don't understand why online dealers don't set the calculators up to properly size these so people are not using as much salt and water.

Kind of makes me think they are sleeping in the same bed with the salt and water suppliers.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 9:10PM
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Because their success depends on their online customers knowing less than they do.

Because online dealers are only concerned with gross sales and they really don't understand water treatment. Many of these companies could be selling any product online and their business model wouldn't change.

Because $461 is less than $489 and many people will just shop for the lowest price.

Because the online dealers are paying the shipping and a 1 cu ft softener weighs less than a 1.5 cu ft softener.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 9:29PM
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I have called the company. Customer service was very good. They will ship out the 1.5 cu ft unit. I will have to refuse delivery on the first unit and pay a return shipping fee. That's the price I pay for not asking here first.

They did ask for my water test info, and interestingly, had no objection to shipping the larger unit. No argument was made by them as to why the originally ordered smaller unit would be fine.

On the salt/potassium issue. When I previously read that potassium was slightly more costly than sodium, I figured a few dollars. I just looked online at Depot, and potassium runs $27 for a 40lb bag! Yikes! Is there a more economical way to buy potassium?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 3:23PM
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Great news.... in the long run you'll recover the return shipping cost in more efficient softener operation.

KCl (potassium chloride) prices have gone through the roof. Best deal I've found is $13.79 / 40 lb bag at our local Costco. Wal-Mart is about $20 and HD can be as high as $28. The interesting thing is that almost all the KCl in the western hemisphere comes from Canada (NA Salt) yet the prices on the shelf vary greatly.

BTW, you realize that you won't need that canister filter anymore, right?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 4:02PM
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Well that is not good on the potassium pricing. Ughh. There are no Costco stores in Oklahoma unfortunately.

How many 40lb bags can I expect to go through over a years time?

No, I did not realize the canister filter can be removed. It is trapping sediment. It has been on there since December with that same filter. So thankfully not getting lots particulates pumped up from the well.

Is it not a good idea to leave it on the line?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 5:24PM
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For modest amounts of sediment the softener will act like a sediment filter and backwash the findings down the drain during regeneration.

The canister filter (with element) may not provide enough SFR to adequately backwash the softener.

A 1.5 cube softener at 30k using 9 lbs/regen once a week you'll use about 12 bags a year.

Now, here's where sizing the softener correctly comes in... a 1 cube softener at 30k using 15 lbs/regen TWICE a week you would have used about 40 bags a year.

That return shipping cost is looking pretty good right about now, huh?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 6:02PM
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I looked on the filter housing and on Ace Hardware's website, but I don't see a flow rate listed for that one. Of course that will decrease as the filter gets plugged. I will have to stop by Ace and see if they list it on the box. There has not been any major degradation in water flow experienced while showering. Though I know, the change would be gradual as the filter fills up.

Looking at the filter with a flashlight, most of the particles seems small, clay like, which we have lots of here.

It's easy enough to add one back into the line if need be.

Yes, that is quite a difference in usage and cost.
12 bags potassium at $20 each = $240
40 bags potassium at $20 each = $800

That definitely covers the return shipping charges many times over.

I forgot to ask, how do I get those stainless crimp bands off the PEX without damaging the tubing?

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 6:43PM
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Regardless of the filter's spec the flow rate will decrease as the element fills. You need a sustained 2.5 gpm (give or take) to adequately backwash the softener so I'd remove the filter altogether and see how that works. 1.5 cu ft of teeny, tiny resin beads makes a dandy sediment filter.

I've never messed with those crimp rings but it looks like a cutting wheel on a Dremel will get the job done and be easy to keep away from the Pex.

I used to buy KCl 12 bags at a time when it was $6.60 a bag. Now I just snag a bag a month as I need it and keep 3 bags in a stash in case the store is out.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 7:00PM
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I will try a couple of methods to see what works best on removing those stainless steel bands.

I was looking at the drain connection. Is there supposed to be a trap on that? They have a hacked off 4" pvc pipe section with some sort of funnel glued into it. It works, but looks like a hack job.

The T fitting that the copper line goes into is also the furnace drain which is in the attic.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 1:41PM
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That seems like it could be neatened up quite a bit. Looks like if the drain backs up the furnace drain would go to the pan under the WH.

I'd think a trap would be required if that is a true drain and not just running outside. The softener has to have an air gap to drain so that must be considered.

There are some interesting air gap options at http://www.airgap.com/productListing.htm

You could run a separate drain for the softener through an outside wall and into a french drain that you'd dig.

You might want to post this separately on the forum and get some input from plumbers or if you deal with one ask him/her.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 2:08PM
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A shame this thread is so old. Many of the illustrations are missing. We're trying to decide what capacity water softener we need but the formula for calculating that is missing from this thread. Reading this article has made me very cautious about using online calculators. Likewise about our local guy who opened his recommendation with "All you need is..."

If this thread is still live, could someone point me in the direction of a formula to use to determine whether we need 1.0 cu. ft. of resin or 1.5?


    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 7:17PM
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Start a new thread and post the results of a comprehensive water test from a certified independent lab. At minimum test for hardness, pH, iron, manganese, TDS, chlorides, sulfides, arsenic, copper, and if on a well nitrates and bacteria.

Include whether well or municipal water system, # of people, # of bathrooms, SFR of the plumbing, and diameter of the plumbing where the softener will be installed.

Are you planning on softening the entire home ot just the hot water?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 7:50PM
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Thanks for the suggestion. The name of the new thread is "Need help sizing new water softener." I really don't know what our SFR is. I'm not really sure what SFR stands for. Is it Service Flow Rate? Whether it is or not, I still don't know. Any advice on how I could find out?

We do soften the entire home. I forgot to note that on the new thread.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 4:39PM
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