Your average professional water softener installation includes a licensed plumber, customer support, parts and labor warranties and of course, the new water softener itself.
When you total it all up, you’re looking at a total cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000—roughly $2,000 on average in the Minneapolis area—for your new water softener.
That gives you a good idea of the range of pricing for a new water softener. But what factors go into that range?
- The factors that determine your water softener installation cost include:
- The type of water softener system you install
- The capacity of the water softener
- The efficiency of the water softener
We’ll also address a few of the benefits of installing a water softener, and why not installing one also comes at a cost to your home, appliances, clothing, skin and more.
Let’s jump right in!
P.S. We’ve been installing residential water softeners since the invention of residential water softeners. Over 100 years of plumbing experience goes into every one of our installations. If you have a question about a water softener, or just want someone to guide you through the choices out there, we’re the best team for the job.
Factor #1: The type of water softener system you install
Most water softeners you’re going to hear about come in two types:
- Ion exchangers
- Salt-free systems
Note: Other types—such as magnetic systems—are available, but rarely hold up to the level of quality the other two types of systems display.
Both systems (ion exchange and salt-free) cost roughly the same to install. But they have very different maintenance costs.
We’ll explain the costs differences in more detail below. But first, let’s go over a few fast facts about water softeners in general.
Water softeners 101
It’s important to know a few facts about water softeners before we describe the differences in the two systems. The good news: all you need to know can be summed up in 30 seconds.
- The job of a water softener is to “manage” minerals—namely calcium and magnesium—that are found in all potable water, including water in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
- We say manage for a reason: some systems either remove these minerals entirely, or “condition” them and release them back into your home’s water supply.
- Most water softeners require a catalyst agent to manage minerals in a home’s water supply. In most cases this is either salt or potassium. The type of system you purchase determines the type of agent you’ll be using.
- Your basic water softener is comprised of three parts: a mineral tank (or sometimes two mineral tanks) that holds the water while it’s being softened; a brine tank that holds the salt or potassium mixture; and a control valve which determines when it’s time to let your system to rest or “rejuvenate” to maintain functionality.
There you have it! You’re an expert already. And we can move straight ahead into sharing the main differences between ion exchangers and salt-free systems.
In an ion-exchange system, hard water enters the mineral tank, where it interacts with tiny negatively-charged plastic beads. Minerals from the hard water “stick” to these beads, thus removing them from the drinking supply.
For the beads to maintain a negative charge, a saline solution is used. Something to keep in mind with these systems is that traces of salt will enter the home’s potable drinking supply. Not always a bad thing, but something worth noting.
Just as important: salt is a more affordable catalyst agent compared to potassium, which is the agent used in salt-free systems (which we’ll talk about below.)
Salt-free systems rely on potassium as the water softener’s catalyst agent. Potassium costs about .67 cents a pound, while sodium costs about .13 cents a pound. Depending on the system’s gallon capacity and the amount of maintenance it requires, this can add up to quite a bit of operation/maintenance costs over time.
Unlike ion-exchange systems, salt-free systems do not remove minerals from potable water. Rather, the minerals undergo a crystallization process, rendering them harmless while they make their way through your home’s pipes.
Factor #2: The capacity of the water softener
The capacity of a water softener plays an important role in price, for two reasons:
- Water softener capacity is based on the amount of grains of hard minerals a system can remove before the system needs to recharge. The more hard minerals a system can remove in this time, the more the unit will cost up front to purchase. You’ll find water softeners that can remove as little as 25,000 grains and as much as 80,000+ grains.
- The greater the capacity of the water softener, the more salt or potassium it’ll require to run. As we mentioned earlier, this can add up over the life of the system, and should be considered during the buying process.
The question remains: why do some people need larger mineral capacities than others? There are a couple of reasons for this:
- Location: Some areas of the U.S. have harder water than others, making high-capacity tanks a necessity. Minneapolis, for example, gets its main water supply from the Mississippi, which averages around 5 grains per gallon. But go farther out into the suburbs, and you’re looking at groundwater as high as 25 grains per gallon.
- Household size: The more people living in your home, the more water you’ll use, and the more minerals will accrue in your tank. For a 4-person household, we usually suggest between 30,000 to 40,000 capacity systems.
Factor #3: The efficiency of the water softener
When we talk about water softener efficiency, we’re looking at how efficient that water softener is at regenerating the negative charge required to attract the minerals in hard water. Systems that regenerate faster and with fewer resources cost more upfront, but can save homeowners a lot in maintenance costs and materials.
As it happens, there are two methods of regeneration: upflow regeneration and downflow regeneration.
- Upflow regeneration (more efficient) relies on a unique method of regenerating a tank’s negative charge, reducing both the amount of water and the amount of salt/potassium required to complete the process.
- Downflow regeneration (less efficient) has been around for much longer than upflow regeneration. Because downflow regeneration requires up to 75% more salt or potassium to properly regenerate the beads, it’s considered a much less efficient system.
It should be mentioned that downflow regeneration is quickly fading from the scene. And while upflow systems cost slightly more up front, the money they save homeowners in maintenance costs will make up for those upfront costs and then some over time.
That concludes the main cost factors of installing a water softener. But before we close this up, there’s one other cost factor we want to bring your attention to, which doesn’t involve installing a water softener at all.
Bonus hypothetical: how much does it cost to not install that new water softener?
The obvious answer to the question above is “free” since you aren’t installing anything at all! Because in truth, homes that don’t have water softeners will see a cost. And while it’s impossible to determine that cost precisely, we can--after having installed hundreds of these systems in Minneapolis homes--make a few educated assumptions.
- Water softeners keep scale from building up in your pipes. That means fewer calls for pipe repairs or drain clears (hundreds of dollars in expenses you’ll never have to worry about with a water softener).
- That scale buildup in your pipes also corrodes them. That leads to home depreciation or worse: having to shell out thousands for a whole-home repiping project.
- Hard minerals + soap = soap scum. And soap scum, besides being frustrating to clean and unsightly, damages ceramic tile and fixtures over time, further decreasing home value.
- Appliances, dishes and clothes will have to be replaced sooner. The flip side to this is, if you enjoy shopping for clothes and buying new dish sets, you have more reasons to do so.
This is why we consider water softeners to be investments and not costs. Without a water softener, everything must be replaced sooner. And that adds up to a lot over a water softener’s lifetime.
While we’ve got your attention...
MSP has been installing water softeners for over 100 years. So you could say we think pretty highly of them. And we especially like installing them in our customer’s homes because they preserve home value and make your skin look purdier. If you don’t believe us, just look at our plumbers. Impeccably smooth skin. Glowing, in fact. They could be models.
So if you’d like to see some of the excellent water softener systems we have available, give us a call, or schedule an appointment online.