As Americans, we are very fortunate to have some of the cleanest tap water in the world. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get our share of water-contamination problems. One of the main water-quality issues affecting American homeowners is “hard water.” Yes, the common culprit behind our plumbing and cleaning problems and crunchy hair, and dry skin.
While water softening systems can be very effective against hard water and its devastating effects, we recommend choosing a good-quality unit with low-maintenance. Water softeners can cost anywhere between $300 to $4,000, on average. However, ion-exchange softeners (those that use salt or potassium) have recurring maintenance fees that can add up over time.
The ongoing expenses for an ion-exchange water softener usually include salt or potassium refills, water and sewer, electricity, and routine servicing and maintenance. In most cases, these running costs help keep the system operating efficiently and prolong its life. But if you choose the wrong type or model, your pockets could feel the pinch. For instance, conventional water softeners often carry high running costs, requiring large volumes of water and salt or potassium for regeneration processes.
If you are curious about the monetary costs of having a home water softener, this article breaks down how much you can expect to spend each year. Let’s run the numbers!
What are the upfront costs of a water softener?
Many different types and models of water softening systems are available to consumers like yourself. When shopping for one of these devices, it’s vital to know its final price and the specific factors that influence the system’s initial cost. Also, do not forget about installation and transport costs. Factoring in these costs makes it easier for you to stay within budget when choosing your ideal unit.
As we mentioned earlier, the average price range for a water softening system is $300 to $4,000. On top of that, you’ll probably have to spend between $1,000 and $3000 on average for a full professional installation. If you’re wondering why you’ll have to pay such a high cost for professional installation, it is because professional water softener installation typically includes a licensed plumber, customer support, parts, labor warranties, etc. Also, ion-exchange systems require a discharge pipe and a source of electricity, which the plumber has to set up during installation. Otherwise, it’d be almost impossible to regenerate the unit (and will, therefore, be ineffective). That’s why, if you’d like to cut back on installation costs, it’s best to look for a salt-free water softening system, like the Springwell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Softener.
In contrast, DIY installation can run as low as $50 (for a basic DIY kit), as long as you have the necessary tools (or you can borrow them from someone).
That said, here are the core factors influencing a water softener’s final cost: Type: The most common water softeners are salt-based ion-exchange water softeners and salt-free water softening systems (this article explains the difference between both kinds). Usually, salt-based softeners are more expensive and have higher maintenance costs. We’ll explain the price differences in detail below.
Size: The higher your water’s hardness level and your home’s daily water usage, the larger and more powerful your softener should be. And the bigger and more powerful the softener, the more it usually costs. It’s also essential to have a system with a decent service flow rate. After all, you want to be able to use your water machine, shower, and kitchen faucet all at the same time without noticeable decreases in water pressure. But of course, sometimes, the larger the system and (or) higher service flow rate it has, the more expensive it is.
Brand: Some brands charge outrageous prices for their products – not because their systems are better than what the competition has to offer, but sometimes because of their steep marketing budgets. Please don’t fall for it. Instead, we recommend going with a popular and credible brand that has proven itself with quality and reliable products and services.
Features: It’s no secret that some features that come with expensive water softeners are unnecessary. Sometimes, they are extras that make the system seem more advanced to the average consumer. But, in reality, they don’t do much (or anything) for the system’s overall performance and efficiency. You should look out for softeners with a digital control head that allows for easy configuration and monitoring (that’s if you’re looking for a salt-based system). You also want an intelligent automated metered system that regenerates based on previous water usage over a timer-based one. The problem with units that use timer-based regeneration is that they use the same amount of water and salt to recharge the resin bed, despite how saturated it is. While timer systems may cost a bit less than metered systems, they will cost more to operate over time.
When choosing a water softener, you might be tempted to select a cheaper one since not all expensive models are high-performers. However, keep in mind that a product with a lower price tag may wear out quickly, thus incurring more frequent and higher maintenance costs and requiring costly repairs. Also, bear in mind that the same model prices can vary significantly from one retailer to the next.
Annual Maintenance Costs by Type
No matter which type of water softener you purchase, whether ion-exchange or salt-free, there’s going to be some maintenance cost. The costs associated with ion-exchange units, however, are more expensive than salt-based systems.
Yearly Maintenance Costs for Ion-Exchange Water Softeners
An ion-exchange water softener costs $400 to $3,000 to purchase and about $10 to $20 per month to operate, on average. These costs include monthly salt or potassium refills and annual maintenance and cleaning. Salt refills are usually the most considerable expense.
Here’s a breakdown of the annual expenses for a salt-based water softener:
With an ion-exchange water softener, you’re going to have to buy salt or potassium for proper regeneration to occur (and for your system to continue working). The salt is needed to recharge the resin beads in the resin tank once they are saturated with hard water ions. Every month, a 40-pound bag of salt will run you anywhere from $7 to $12 (or $84 to $144 per year), depending on the brand you choose and the purity grade. But if you’d like to avoid the consequences of sodium consumption, you could buy a 40-pound bag of potassium every month, which will probably cost you anywhere from $20 to $35 (or $240 to $420 annually). Most households with four members use one to two bags per month, depending on the water hardness, household size, tank capacity, type of salt, brand, and purity level. Other factors affecting salt usage include running frequent regeneration cycles, high TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) and iron content, and having an outdated system. You’re also going to have to change out the resin once it expires. But thankfully, this is only required every five years or so.
2. Water and Sewer
Salt-using water softeners produce wastewater when regenerating. While some units waste no more than 20 gallons per cycle, others can waste up to 50 gallons. Because of this, your water and sewer bill will increase slightly. But by how much? Well, since many different factors can contribute to an increase in your water and sewer expenses, we can’t say for sure how much your water softener will play a role. But an average of $150 to $200 per year seems realistic.
All modern ion-exchange softeners require electricity to power their digital control head and to drive motors. However, the draw is so small that it’s negligible. A salt-based water softener uses about 70 kWh of electricity per year, about the same as an alarm clock, which costs less than $10 annually.
4. Servicing and Maintenance
Most manufacturers recommend having your softening system inspected by an expert once every one or two years to ensure it’s working correctly. Annual all-inclusive maintenance contracts usually cost $100 to $300 and include yearly system inspection, repairs, flushing, cleaning and sanitizing, and salt refills and delivery. You can expect to spend $150 to $600 on average without a contract, should something go wrong with the system and isn’t covered by the warranty. Also, if you prefer to maintain the system yourself, in addition to salt or potassium refills, consider these upkeep costs:
Resin: $90 to $130 per bag
Cleaner: $8 to $20 per container
Rust remover: $5 to $10 per container
We recommend inspecting the brine tank every three to four months. That’s because salt can begin to build up and cause “bridging.” Salt bridges in the tank prevent salt from dissolving in the water to form a brine. Break up the salt bridges with a broom handle or other suitable object, and empty, clean and refill the tank.
Annual Maintenance Costs for Salt-Free Water Softeners
Salt-free water softeners cost an average of $400 to $4,000 to purchase. With these systems, you’re only going to have to replace the filter media ($100 on average) once every one to three years, depending on how often they’re used. Unlike ion-exchange softeners, salt-free systems require nowhere near the same level of maintenance. There’s no discharge, wastewater, drain or electricity, and salt refills. Thank goodness!
To wrap it up, let’s compare the annual theoretical costs for a standard mid-sized DIY-installed ion-exchange softener and a salt-free softener, both with no paid servicing agreement.
|Cost Factor (First Year)||Ion-Exchange Softener||Salt-Free Softener|
|Water and Sewer||$175|
|Servicing and Maintenance||$375||$100 (Filter change)|
Year Two and Onwards
|Cost Factor (for 12 months)||Ion-Exchange Softener||Salt-Free Softener|
|Water and Sewer||$175|
|Servicing and Maintenance||$375||$100 (Filter change)|
* Each cost factor’s price is given as the average of the lowest price and highest price for each one. For example, salt refills costing $84 to $144 annually is [($84 + $144)/2], equaling $114.
** Some companies may require you to have a licensed plumber do the install—otherwise, you risk voiding the system’s warranty.
When buying a water softener, you need to know the hidden costs associated with each type. Ion-exchange softeners accumulate a lot of maintenance costs (as well as installation). Since the plumber will need to install a discharge line and find an electricity source, the installation fees will be significantly more expensive. Unless you have adequate plumbing experience, it’s not a job you want to do independently. You can also expect to spend between $84 to $420 a year in total for monthly salt or potassium refills.
If you’re looking for excellent value, go with a high-quality salt-free softening system like the Springwell FutureSoft FS1. It’s an affordable and efficient high-performance system that doesn’t require salt or electricity to work. Overall, it’s genuinely a set-it-and-forget-it system. As a result, your annual water softening expenses will be a fraction of what you would have to pay for an ion-exchange system. You also won’t have to worry about wasting gallons of wastewater per year.