Choosing a water softener


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Old 08-21-06, 10:24 AM
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Choosing a water softener

Hi. We are purchasing a new construction home. The builder highly recommends a water softener. We opted to put the water softener in ourselves rather than through the builder, and now we are trying to determine what to choose. The builder would have put in a 40,000 grain capacity water softener. We are deciding between putting in a Kenmore ourselves or paying a service. Can anyone explain the pros and cons? We are quite handy, and have put in hot water heaters so I don't see installation or occasional maintanence being a problem, but we don't want something that will need lots of upkeep. How often do they need to be serviced? Would you recommend installing ourselves. Thanks for the help!
 
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Old 08-21-06, 10:40 AM
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If your water is hard the Kenmore softeners (and Morton, GE, North Star, Water Boss and the other pre-built softeners) will not last for the long haul. They are not designed to be easily repaired and and not made with top quality materials. The parts costs are high and service is expensive. They are not dramatically cheaper than a REAL water softener built with top quality materials.

I'd recommend you call at least three local water treatment companies and get them to come out, test your water and make recomendations. Ask lots of questions about installation, cost of operation, warranty, and service AFTER the sale.Ask for references and check them out.

Ask your neighbors what they do for water treatment and who they use. They may steer you in the right direction or might tell you who to avoid.

If you find a local company that you trust, whoo tells you the truth, and offers top quality hardware at a reasonable price with service AFTER the sale then give them consideration.

If you want to DIY then here's a great place to start ...
www.ohiopurewaterco.com ... really nice people.

Quality water starts with a complete water test. Then you know what concerns with your water need to be addressed.
 
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Old 08-21-06, 08:48 PM
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Defending Big box softeners

Most of the messages on this form are down on big box softeners (Kenmore, GE, Morton, Northstar). After using two of them for 12 years and learned how to take care of them through this forum, here are some of the pros of these units.

These units are reasonably priced, attractive and are easy to program - just set the hardness and regeneration time.

All softeners use more or less the same type resins and tanks. The difference appears to be in the valve mechanism. Autorol, Fleck or Clack type valves appear to be more complicated to set up and service.

The rotary valve used on big box softeners are very simple in principle and easy to take apart and replace parts by average homeowner. There are excellent trouble shooting procedures on their websites and good exploded parts diagrams are with the unit's manual. Yes, they may need replacement parts such s seals and rotors after a few years. If you shop around, they are available from few sources, and priced reasonably.
 
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Old 08-21-06, 09:18 PM
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The negatives regarding the pre-built softeners are ...

Lower quality materials, mostly ABS which ages and becomes brittle. ABS does not do well with really hard water. On 3 gr hardness city water most any softener will give a decent service life BUT harder water than that seperates the pre-built box store softeners from the quality ones.

While all ion exchange water softeners use resin and "tanks" there's a big difference in the resin and resin "tanks". Again, the pre-built softeners do not use the top quality resin from companies like Purolite or Ionac and the materials their resin "tanks" are made of are not the same quality as the Structural brand (10 year warranty) resin tanks the top quality softeners come with.

Most of the parts are proprietary and available from limited sources and they tend to be expensive.

The pre-built softeners are "cabinet" (all-in-one) designs and are much harder to work on. The cabinet design puts the resin tank inside the brine tank. The routine cleaning of the brine tank is more difficult and takes a lot more time than a conventional design softener but the Sears type does take less floor space (the ONLY advantage in it's design).

The greatest falsehhood is that pre-built BOX store softeners are less expensive than the industry standard softeners.

The Sears softeners around 40000 hardness capacity generally run a little under $500. For $466 you can have a Fleck 5600SE electronic on demand metered softener delivered to your home including shipping. You'll need to assemble it (takes less than 30 minutes) and install it. You can have a plumber assemble it and install it (you'd need a plumber to install the Sears softener also or DIY).

You'll get a control valve that has proved it's reliability over 20+ years, is made of state of the art materials (Noryl) which does not turn brittle and is totally inert. You'll get a 5 year warranty on the control valve and ten year warranty on the resin tank. You can buy parts for the Fleck control valve locally or all over the internet. Complete parts and service/repair manuals are available for download and there is always someone everywhere who can service Fleck control valves as they are the long established industry standard AND they are as easy OR easier to program than the pre-built softeners. They tolerate the hardest water with no problem.

Real softeners generally last 20+ years EVEN on ludicrously hard water while the service life on a pre-built softener seems to be under 5 years (if you're lucky) on really hard water and lasting longer than that is a rare exception.

Sears, GE, Waterboss, North Star and the like are the most commonly complained about water softeners on this forum and all over the internet. The Fleck, Autotrol, and Clack water softeners just work and work and work and work and work ...

Why buy a lesser quality water softener for more money?

As far as resin life ... the test is that the water holds soft until the softener regenerates (as long as the softener is working properly and is properly set for the water conditions and that the water conditions have not changed). As the resin loses it's ion exchange capability it will not soften the same amount of water with the salt dose it has been using. If your water goes hard before the softener regenerates the resin is losing it's ion exchange capability, again ... assuming the softener is working properly and is set up properly and that the water conditions have not changed.

With a store bought softener by the time you dissasemble the softener and remove the resin tank and dump the resin and spend around $100 for new resin and then reinstall the resin tank and reassemble the softener and buy a few seals and gaskets for the control valve and make whatever other repairs are needed you'd still get twice the service life, and a more trouble free softener by buying a new Fleck softener for $466

IMO it's a simple choice. Spend uncounted hours cruising the internet reading up on how to fix your box store softener and having to do it often OR just walk over to the sink and have soft water. If you want to take the time to learn how to overcome the many design problems of the "cheap(?)" softeners and spend much more time on them when they need maintainence and repair that's your choice OR you can just have soft water and EZ minimal maintainence with a quality softener. It's really a simple choice.

Either way, quality water begins with a COMPLETE water test so you know what problems the water has and can choose the treatment options accordingly.
 

Last edited by justalurker; 08-22-06 at 09:14 AM.
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Old 08-24-06, 12:14 AM
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Originally Posted by justalurker
Sears, GE, Waterboss, North Star and the like are the most commonly complained about water softeners on this forum and all over the internet.
That may only be part of the story, of course. Let's say Brand A sells 10,000 units and 100 people complain about them. Brand X only sells 500 units and 50 people complain. 100 to 50...twice as many complaints about Brand A. Or is it that Brand A has thousands of completely satisfied customers while Brand X can only claim 90% satisfaction?

We own a Kia Sorento and before that, we had a Kia Sportage. Both great cars as far as we're concerned. I'd buy another. Yet, when I tried to find information online on replacing a switch in the tailgate, I stumbled on a site devoted to Kia bashing. According to the posts there, you would think that no one ever owned a Kia that didn't burst into flames, had wheels fall off at 70 mph, or roll over every time you turn right. I bet it wouldn't be hard to find similar sites for BMW or Mercedes, too.

People look for places to vent when they have problems but don't usually bother to post about products that work as expected.

That said, I agree that if I can buy a system with a better valve and tank for about the same price as a Kenmore or Whirlpool softener, why not? Problem is that most manufacturers (ecowater, kinetico, northstar) want you to call a sales person before they tell you the price. Why? I can price a car online and get quotes emailed to me without sitting down to haggle with a saleman. And I can look up the price of a Kenmore softener on the Sears web site without sitting through a sales pitch.

ohiopurewaterco does have reasonable and competitive prices posted right there for the world to see. Are there other brands I can look for with the same attitude?

Ray
 
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Old 08-24-06, 08:11 AM
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Ray,

Fair enough ... if Sears sold more softeners and their failure rate was the same as the better quality softeners then there would be more people looking to fix their Sears softeners. BUT, I think that Fleck and Autotrol have sold more control valves over the past 40 years or so. Plumbers, builders, and water treatment companies like the local people AND Culligan and Rayne and companies like them have sold LOTS of the better quality softeners.

People don't seem to come here to "vent" but rather get help when their softener is going nuts and there are a lot of very long threads here and other places regarding problems with Sears, GE, Morton, Waterboss, North Star and the other pre-built box store softeners having probems. Sure, there are sites devoted to "bashing" a product or a manufacturer but it seems to me that in order to fire up people to that point the product or manufacturer has had to "earn" the abuse in some (usually not so small) way.

Most of the professional water treatment companies (local and long distance) are selling you the same softener you see listed at ohiopurewaterco.com. They'll have a Fleck or Autotrol or Clack control valve, a Structural brand resin tank, Purolite or Ionac resin, a quality brine tank with float, and in the case of ohiopurewaterco.com complete assembly and installation instructions and all tech info posted on their site for download.

Local water treatment companies will increase the price of the softener for assembling the softener, delivering the softener, installing the softener, providing a warranty on the softener, stocking parts for the softener, and providing service after the sale. You get what you pay for ... pay less for DIY and you're on your own or pay more for the total package. There's no right or wrong or smart or stupid choice to make ... just what is best for you.

They may put a sticker on it that says "my local water treatment company whizbang softener" but it still is a Fleck or Autotrol or Clack. One different company is Kinetico. Their control valve is made in-house and is unique in that it uses NO ELECTRICITY. Kinetico softeners tend to be more expensive but they have an extensive dealer/service network and have built a large loyal following.

I am not affiliated with ohiopurewaterco.com ... I'm simply very impressed with the people and their web site and their prices.

As far as parts ... local Sears don't stock parts for their softeners so getting parts for a quality softener on the net is no different.
 

Last edited by justalurker; 08-24-06 at 01:13 PM.
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Old 08-24-06, 08:59 AM
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One follow up point about the Kinetico (nicely put btw)....... the reason Kinetico requires a visit from a rep is NOT to haggle over prices.......the dealers have set pricing with little haggle room......maybe a discount for preplumbed installation or a cash transaction.........the main purpose for a rep coming to your location is that they are the pros, not you.......there are a hundred things that could be missed, resulting in the an improper equipment spec........this does not mean a more expensive piece of equipment.....in many cases it results in a less expensive unit
 
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Old 08-24-06, 09:29 AM
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jdp38,

As far as Kinetico, I personally know of quite a few people with 20+ year old Kinetico softeners that have needed nothing in the way of service other than an occasional prefilter element change, keeping KCl in the brine tank, and cleaning out the brine tank once in a while. When they had a problem they just called the Kinetico dealer and got prompt service and were back softening in short order. Looks to me like the higher cost of a Kinetico pays itself off in the long run IF you stay in that house.

You're right ... and the most common mistake made by untrained homeowners shopping for a water softener is not knowing how to spec the softener itself.

There's more to water softeners than total grain of hardness. One needs a complete water test, not the quickie hardness test that Sears offers, and one needs to know the SFR (Service Flow Rate) of the house's plumbing and one needs to decide the best and most appropriate place to install the softener.

One's water quality is important and needs to be approached with adequate knowledge of what needs to be treated and how it will be treated before shopping.

That's why I recommend that people get (at least) a couple local water treatment pros to come out and examine the site and the water. That's where the education starts ...
 

Last edited by justalurker; 08-24-06 at 10:34 AM.
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Old 08-25-06, 10:57 AM
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My Kinetico is 23 years old this month......I've replaced one gearing stack and a drive pawl in the last 3 years.....total, $29......but mine was pulled out of my Dad's house and installed at mine, changed the meter disc, went on worrying about other projects!
 
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Old 01-28-09, 06:31 PM
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I believe the best way to figure out what to install is to look at what the vast majority of professional water treatment dealers would install. Admittedly, not all water treatment professionals are created alike, but on the whole, they form a group that is in the best position to evaluate the pros and cons of all the different water softeners on the market.

So, what do they use? Fleck, Clack, Autotrol. As somebody above pointed out - these valves just go & go. Here's a place where you can find a water softener made by one of these companies for less than you'd pay for a Sears or other big box product.
 
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Old 03-25-09, 09:28 AM
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salt v.s. non salt

Hi, I have read the posts thru and thru and was impressed by the knowledge given. I am in a need to know the ups and downs to a salt system v.s. non salt system. i dont know how hard my water is and will need to find out. i was going to buy a softener from lowes or home depot (which seems to be priced pretty low) since they were a thousand dollars lower than an internet purchase. but i like quality and know that not always the more you spend the better quality you get. can you direct in this matter?
 
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Old 03-25-09, 11:51 AM
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I've always like the Fleck 5600 meter demand system and that's ALL I sell. I have serviced just about every water softening valve since 1990 so I have a lot of hands on experience. Get the water test done and post the results so we can advise what size you need.
 
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Old 03-27-09, 03:00 PM
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Brands

Sound advice the 5600 fleckenstien is great for the budget minded ,I also like the 1500 series but it is pricey because of the brass valve,I believe that Lowes sells water boss i believe that is a lidsey or ecowater type valve to me it is ok on city water i had a 1969 fkeck 1500 and it would still be in use if my house had not burned good luck
 
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Old 10-09-09, 01:48 AM
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Know your model, before you spout out dirty water!

Originally Posted by glorybound View Post
Sound advice the 5600 fleckenstien is great for the budget minded ,I also like the 1500 series but it is pricey because of the brass valve,I believe that Lowes sells water boss i believe that is a lidsey or ecowater type valve to me it is ok on city water i had a 1969 fkeck 1500 and it would still be in use if my house had not burned good luck
I promise you... A Water Boss is not made by EcoWater.... Nor by Lindsay. I would trust a Pre- EcoWater softener made by Lindsay (PR Model), before I would trust any other model softener made today. I have serviced PR models from the 50's that only required $4.00 worth of o-rings and they were good to go!
EcoWater Systems sells the "box" or "store" baught valve called the "World Valve". This model was going to be one of EcoWater's exclusive models of softener but when it came down to it, EcoWater needed something better and more reliable. So instead of scratching it off the assembly line they sold billions to local stores. Still today they provide parts and service for these models and parts are fairly lower in price then most would think.
As far as the resin is concerned, it is the same resin used in every model, as used in the much more reliable units. The brine tanks and the resin tanks are also made by EcoWater Systems. The only thing that sets these items apart is how much you are willing to spend.

You pay for warranty more then you pay for product.

Example:

Resin tank "A" from EcoWater ECR 3500 Series, has a Lifetime Warranty.
Resin tank "B" made by EcoWater, but sold by Walmart, Sears, Home Depot, KMart, Lowes, etc. comes with a warranty maybe for 1 year.
These resin tanks in statement above are the same part number from the factory, same thickness on the walls, same number of fiberglass wraps, and even have the same EcoWater Systems trademark stamp on them. Usually made at the factory in my home town of Woodbury, MN.
 
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Old 02-12-10, 03:49 PM
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Water boss is Made By Hague Water, who makes the WaterMax and the Hydroclean among others.
The Waterboss is designed to be as cheap as possible for the box stores to sell.
I agree with the fleck 5600 as far as a reliable valve. although you can do alot better for efficiency. Check out a Hellenbrand unit(clack Valve) with a brine reclaimer unit . It actually re uses the salt water the softener rinses out to make brine.
 
 

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