water softeners--why a company vs. basic one at a home depot?

jimnyoJuly 9, 2011

hi,

i did a quick search and didn't see this discussion, so please forgive me if it's already been discussed, but why does it seem everybody uses one of the franchise-based water softening systems, like culligan? the house we bought a few years ago came with a culligan system that requires us to have maintenanced every year (and also happens to be 25 years old, so it flushes a ton of water every night, no matter what our usage).

it has finally died and culligan wants thousands of dollars to replace it w/an updated system. home depot has several for under a thousand bucks. is there anything wrong with these water softeners?

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justalurker

There are more choices...

1. Buy a pre-built box store softener from Sears, Lowes, Home Depot, or the like. You'll get no substantive assistance from the sales person in correctly selecting the proper size and setting it up to operate efficiently. They have shorter lives, parts can be expensive and somewhat exclusive, and they are hard to work on. Warranty service is iffy and never timely. They can work OK on city water that is low in hardness but they have problems on high hardness water and water with iron. The most complained about softeners on the internet and they are not really much less expensive than an industry standard softener.

2. Buy from Culligan or Kinetico or another of the brand name companies. Cost more. Better quality parts. Well trained service people. Warranties that are worth having. Parts are proprietary and more costly but these companies support their products for a long time. It is common to see posts from the owners of these brands that have softeners that are running for 15 to 20 years and then they have them rebuilt. Kinetico owners are particularly loyal and there is a reason.

3. Local Independent Water Treatment Professionals offer an anonymous industry standard softener assembled from quantity components like Fleck control valves and Structural resin tanks. They have no allegiance to any brand and offer a lot of softener for the money. They service what they sell. They are found in the Yellow Pages under water treatment and are worth looking into.

4. Buy online... for the competent DIYer. Best price on an industry standard softener. No service by definition. Known to recommend the wrong size softener so you think your getting an even better deal. Replacement part under warranty is always UPS or FedEx away. A good online softener seller can work out fine IF the buyer knows what they are doing.

Avoid buying a softener from a plumber. Plumbers are great at plumbing but rarely really know, or care to know, anything about water treatment including how to correctly size and set up a softener. Plumbers often just sell whatever the plumbing supply sells and you don't want whatever softener.

Since you presently have a soften installed I would hit the Yellow Pages and call an Independent Water Treatment Pro and have them come out and give you a quote to replace your ancient and inefficient timer based softener with a contemporary demand initiated model. It will save you a lot of money in wasted water and should be sized to regenerate once a week.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 10:36AM
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jimnyo

thanks so much for the info--this is really helpful! another question. so if i went w/option #!, i SHOULDN'T have a plumber install it (referring to your last two paragraphs)?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 11:57AM
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justalurker

My best advice was already given... "since you presently have a softener installed I would hit the Yellow Pages and call an Independent Water Treatment Pro and have them come out and give you a quote to replace your ancient and inefficient timer based softener with a contemporary demand initiated model. It will save you a lot of money in wasted water and should be sized to regenerate once a week".

Having a plumber hook up the softener is at your own risk. I have seen (with my own eyes), and people have reported, plumbers hooking up the softener backwards. If that is done resin from the softener will get into all your plumbing and fixtures, and appliances if the softener lacks a top basket and that is a real PITA to correct. In fairness plumbers hook up softeners every day correctly, but I have NEVER seen (with my own eyes) a plumber set up a softener correctly and and for efficient operation.

IMO choice #1 is penny wise and dollar foolish... especially if you haven't investigated choice #3 which will cost you nothing to do. You will not pay much more to get a real softener, sized and set up correctly, that will last you a decade plus, and will save you money in operating costs rather than a disposable one.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 12:31PM
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justalurker

I skipped right over this point... are you unhappy that with recommended maintenance your Culligan only lasted 25 years?

With an industry standard softener, from a local independent pro, parts are cheap and available locally and all over the internet, and service manuals are FREE for the download.

Until you post the results of a recent water test and answer the following questions we don't know that the box stores even have the correct size softener for what you need...

Water: hardness, PH, iron, manganese, well or water system? If well, also nitrates and bacteria.

Water use: # of people, # of bathrooms, any high water use appliances like a Jacuzzi?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 1:12PM
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jimnyo

hello again,

well, honestly, we've only had the house for 3.5 years, so i don't know how culligan was the first 22 years, but i don't like that they ask you pay them a pretty penny to come out every year. i was kind of hoping for something lower maintenance and less expensive. thus my consideration of the big box softener.

also, i'm glad for the previous owners that it lasted so long, but as you can see that's not always a good thing, b/c the thing is a DINOSAUR. it is clearly wasting thousands of gallons of water and if culligan wasn't so expensive, i am pretty sure we would have a more updated model. i think the previous owners were just waiting until it broke to replace it, but i kind of wonder if the money they "saved" not replacing it wasn't made up by all the money they washed down the brine tank every night. i'm not saying we probably wouldn't have made the same decision, i'm just saying.

anyway, we live with city water and i know the water here is very hard. the report says the treated surface water has
*"hardness as CaCO3 (mg/l): 203" w/the min/max range being 84-300.
*ph: 7.9
*iron, manganese, nitrates, bacteria: not listed on the report. i think they said that due to rainfall, nitrates can exceed the required limit of 45mg/l temporarily

you can see full report here: http://www.ci.glendora.ca.us/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=4691

i assume water system b/c it's thru a city? we don't have wells.

we do have a reverse osmosis from culligan as well that's for drinking water, which is a spigot in the kitchen sink.

we have 4 people (2 kids under 7 and 2 adults), 2.5 baths and no jacuzzi. we have a front loader washer, dishwasher, a bath/shower and shower. thanks again for the help!

Here is a link that might be useful: city water report

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 7:58PM
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justalurker

Yup, water system. Better to get test results at the home than at the treatment plant because there is a difference.

"I don't like that they ask you pay them a pretty penny to come out every year"

Any interested and mechanically inclined homeowner can do the routine maintenance on any softener and some even undertake repairs on their own. No need to pay the dealer IF you can do the job as well.

"I was kind of hoping for something lower maintenance and less expensive. thus my consideration of the big box softener"

Maintenance schedules are set by the water flow through the softener. Your water usage will be the same regardless of what softener you have or none at all. Lower quality and design compromised box store softeners will generally require more maintenance more often then an industry standard or brand name softener like a Kinetico or Culligan.

Google around and see how many posts you find that my Sears softener has problems. You pay less, you get less, and shorter service life.

Based on what you posted, rating hardness at 300ppm (max level) which is 18 gpg and with your family and SFR requirements a 2 cu ft softener is right on the money. With a salt dose of 8 lbs it will regenerate every seven days or sooner if demand initiates the regeneration.

As far as I know there is no box store offering a 2 cu ft softener for sale. They will sell you a smaller unit and tell you it will do the job except that hardness will leak through at peak SFR. Then it will regenerate more often wasting water and salt and then die an early death from doing so.

You are making life very hard on your RO if there is no softener ahead of it. With 18 gpg water the membrane (most expensive part) in the RO will foul and will need to be replaced.

I've given you the info you need to make an informed decision and have made my recommendation.

Let us know what you decide and how it works out so others can learn from your experience.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 8:51PM
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