Water softener newbie questions
I've noticed lots of experts on this forum don't have a high opinion of pre-assembled box store water softeners. I bought one anyway, a Kenmore UltraSoft 400 with close to 40,000 grain capacity. Having done this, my question is, what should I now expect as a consequence of not having bought one of the more favored models (such as one from Gary's web site or the Fleck 5600 that I was considering from another web site)? In your experience (either owning or repairing) Kenmore softeners:
1) How long should I expect it to last?
2) When it does fail, what sorts of things are most likely to fail first?
3) How will I know? I.e., what are the symptoms for the most likely kinds of failure? (If it starts spilling water on the floor I think I'll notice. If it just gradually quits softening, that might be a more subtle change. I guess I'll eventually notice the spots reappearing on the shower stall. Is there a more sure-fire telltale sign?)
I wanted to cut to the chase and put my questions up front, but you are bound to be wondering why, having read your advice, I didn't take it. I don't want you to think I don't value your advice, so here's the story. First, I have now read lots of posts on water softeners at this site, and also looked at Gary's web site and others. I am impressed with the knowledge and helpfulness of Gary_PA, justalurker, and others. However, I didn't find this site before my purchase. So you see, I didn't read first and then ignore it.
I DID do a certain amount of research beforehand, and I did not set out to buy a Kenmore softener. I was going to buy a Fleck 5600 40,000 grain system at ~$500 from another web site and get someone to install it for me. The trouble was, nearly every plumber that I called in my local area was uninterested in installing a water softener! (This remains a real puzzle to me. I can understand that they may not have much call for that sort of work. Most folks in my county use municipally treated river water for their water supply. It is probably much softer than the water in my town, which uses a town well system, hardness about 15 grains/gallon. Still, what's the big deal? Don't these guys need work? I can't explain it. I just tell you what happened.)
Since this was to be a first time installation in a house not originally plumbed for a softener, a certain amount of re-routing of the main water line was needed. (The line was cut before it branched upstairs, about 15 ft of new 1" pipe was inserted to bring the supply line into my utility room, and the remaining cut end was capped. The rest of the job was a standard installation in the utility room.) I was only able to get two estimates. One, from the local plumber, was for $1245 for installation only--so about $1800 once I supply the softener. The other was from Sears, $675 for installation plus less than $300 for the above mentioned softener, a new but discontinued floor model on clearance.
So the bottom line was, the Sears softener was in effect "free." They did the plumbing and the softener for a few hundred $ less than the other guy would have done only the plumbing. I could just throw this brand new softener away, buy and install my own (now that the major plumbing is done I think I could DIY it), and still be way ahead...
...but I don't see any reason to do that. I might as well get as much use out of this softener as I can. This is the reason for my questions above. Why are folks down on the box store water softeners? What should I expect my experience to be like? How will I know when it's time to junk it and buy the one I'd have bought if I didn't have to buy the package deal?