If you just moved into a new place and you notice something going on with the tap water– let's say it tastes or smells funny or leaves behind strange brown/reddish stains, you may be dealing with hard water issues.
At worst, hard water can become a real headache once it leaves mineral deposits in the pipes, causing clogs and other plumbing issues. The U.S. Geological Survey claims 85% of residences in the country have hard water. As such, many homeowners invest in water softener systems since it's the simple answer to all your hard water problems at home.
It begs the question, how much does a water softener system cost?
Homeowners looking to buy a water softener can expect to spend about $1,725 for its initial purchase (unit and installation costs). You will also need to factor in the additional monthly or yearly costs throughout your system's lifespan.
Your preferred type of water softener unit and the installation expenses will significantly influence the total project costs.
Water Softener System Pricing Overview
A water softener system installation costs $575 to $6,900 (or an average of $1,725). These units are designed to effectively neutralize or eliminate the heavy minerals in the hard water. That said, it works wonders for your home's plumbing system.
Water softener units are available in different configurations, primarily based on their mineral removal method and capacity.
As one would expect, water softener system cost doesn't come cheap as it offers sought-after long-term benefits for every homeowner. However, some water softeners brands are relatively more affordable than other options.
Factors Affecting the Cost of a Water Softener System
Now that you've decided on installing a water softener system at home, we advise hiring a professional to help you select the right capacity system for your house size and needs. (Related: How Long Does A Water Heater Last? A Guide For Consumers)
You may want to look into your preferred water softener system type, which is the influential primary factor of the total home water softener system cost.
Water Softener System Type
There are five popular water softener types: ion exchangers that use salt, salt-free conditioners, electronic descalers (magnetic), water distiller, and reverse osmosis.
Each type has its specific associated costs, which will also depend on its total capacity. If you choose large capacity types, it will cost you more accordingly as it will need to treat more water.
Refer to the table below for a quick overview of the five different water softener system types and their average costs:
Type of Softener
Salt-based Ion Exchange
$920 - $2,300
$920 - $4,000
Electronic Descalers (Magnetic)
$200 - $600
$230 - $2,000
$1,000 - $2,800
Salt-Based Ion Exchange
Salt-based ion water softeners are considered the most common and standard type among the five.
True to its name, the system utilizes salt to soften the water. Once well or municipal water passes through the tank, calcium, and magnesium exchange ions– since they are naturally drawn towards plastic and resin beads. This process is known as ion exchange.
Afterward, the beads pass the brine tank (filled with salt) to wash away any hard minerals. Ion exchange is perhaps the most thorough water softening process, entirely removing any hard water minerals.
Expect to pay $920 to $2,000 to install this unit. However, the upkeep can be expensive as it requires regular salt refills– adding to your recurring costs.
Most salt-based softeners also need to undergo frequent water softener regeneration cycles, increasing your power bill. It will also hike your water usage since regenerating gives off water waste.
Similar to an ion exchange system, salt-free water softeners use potassium in place of salt or sodium. Minerals are neutralized before they are suspended inside the tank– as opposed to removing them.
Notably, potassium is milder for septic tank systems and suits those who are following a low-sodium diet. Salt-free water conditioning costs somewhere between $920 and $4,000. It has been gaining popularity in recent years due to its low maintenance and no waste system.
It follows the process of template-assisted crystallization (TAC), using a resin that clings with hard water minerals to transform them into crystal-like substances, effectively preventing scaling.
Salt-free conditioners eliminate the constant need for salt, so it has lower maintenance costs in the long run. Homeowners will not end up wasting water as well. Once the resin bed saturates, regeneration begins even with no water.
For its upkeep, prepare to spend around $10 to $70 for replacement pre-sediment filters. The cost will depend on your chosen brand and its quality.
Electronic Descalers (Magnetic)
The electronic descalers (magnetic) water softener system is entirely new. It's also relatively cheaper compared to other options, at around $200 to $600.
It works after you attach an electrical device to your plumbing system, where magnets use an energy field to reverse the mineral ions and prevent any limescale build-up. It saves you from using salt or resin to soften the waters.
Many homeowners claim that the system works well, but you may not find solid studies to support these claims.
Aside from the lower costs, this water softening system is also virtually maintenance-free. You do not need to do any pre-filter changes throughout the entire course of its operation.
Although less common, water distiller systems separate the water from heavy minerals using water vapor before reaching its boiling point. It will cost you around $230 to $2,000 to install at home.
This system does not use any filters or mineral tanks, so don't expect it to be as effective as the other options at removing all the chemicals entirely.
Since it works relatively slowly, this system suits drinking water needs better than a whole-house system. It also removes any foreign contaminants, including chlorine, lead, or even bacteria and viruses.
A water distiller system is relatively cost-effective since it doesn't require regeneration for maintenance costs. It simply requires electricity to function well. All you need to do is regular, thorough washing to avoid any potential build-up of harmful contaminants.
Several units come with a small carbon filter for self-cleaning purposes, and you may need to replace this once every six weeks at around $10 for a 10-pack.
Some homeowners report that a distiller system makes the water taste rather "flat," considering it removes all the present minerals in it as well.
Homeowners looking to eliminate all heavy chemicals, minerals, and toxins from the water can benefit from a reverse osmosis system. The unit and installation combined will cost you from $1,000 up to $2,800.
This system does mineral removal (water softening) as well as complete water filtration, so you'll get safer, purified water than regular tap water. Some opt to install the system under the kitchen sink, while others have it installed throughout the entire house.
R.O. features several filtration stages for water treatment. For one, the smallest water may only pass through a fine screen– flushing down any left behind contaminants, such as magnesium and calcium hard water minerals.
It means you will need to commit to the extra costs associated with a standard reverse osmosis system. Various filters have to be replaced on a 6-months basis, and the R.O. screen once every two years.
It doesn't need regeneration, but the system requires power to run and tends to waste some water in the process. Expect higher electricity bills when choosing this option.
Water softeners are commonly available in two sizes: for 1 to 3 bathroom houses (32,000 grains) and 4 to 6 bathroom homes (80,000 grains or more)—the price difference between the two ranges between $200 and $300.
Unless your house needs it, there's no need to opt for a much more expensive, higher-capacity system. It saves you from having to pay unnecessarily for a costly water softening method.
Simply put, water softener systems with larger capacities will cost you more. Higher capacity systems are suitable for large homes, providing the entire house with softened water without compromising its usual flow rate and pressure.
Smaller units, which can be installed under the kitchen sink, are more affordable. A system ideal for an R.V. doesn't need to be as complex or as powerful as the ideal capacity system for a 2,500-square-foot house.
If you need some plumbing work or a smart system, the total water softener system installation cost may hike up to $6,900.
Estimating the Capacity/Size of System You Need At Home
You will need to estimate the suitable capacity you need at home to ensure you treat enough water for daily use. It is usually based on the grains per gallon or (GPG). Grain capacity tells you the amount of mineral content that the system can remove.
- 1Take the number of occupants in your home and multiply it by 90, which is the daily number of gallons used by each person on average.
- 2Then, you will need to multiply the result further by the water hardness issued by your locality. Average starts at 10 grains in a day, although it usually ranges from 0 to 17.
If you have three people at home, this results in 2,700 grains per day which fall within the 24,000-grain capacity at the very least. Five-person households need a 32,000-grain water softener system.
Expect to pay between $200 and $300 if you’re planning to hire a professional in installing your water softener system at home.
While it is easy to buy water softener systems at your local hardware store, a professional is needed to install the unit and integrate it with your home’s plumbing correctly, safely, and properly.
We strongly advise against going the DIY route, as you may be at risk of dealing with further damage. You may need to shell out more money on fixing your plumbing system than the average cost of a home water softener system.
If your project is quite complex, actual pricing may be higher than the average water softener system installation cost. For instance, you may need to install new pipes for the system. Labor costs may also depend on the local labor rates in your area and the total estimated duration of the project.
Lastly, in setting the proper budget for your water softener installation project– one key factor to consider is the unit's upkeep or relevant maintenance costs.
After successfully installing the new system, you will pay about 25 to 40 cents daily to maintain an ion exchange water softener. It only covers the upkeep, excluding the price of salt or sodium yet.
Softening salt (sodium) for water softeners is priced at $30 for a 50-pound bag. Note that you will need to frequently refill your salt tank every four to six weeks, depending on the system's capacity. Several systems use potassium for water softening, which can be more expensive at around $200 to $300 per year (a 40-pound bag starts at $35 or more).
In contrast, a salt-free water softener system will have cheaper maintenance fees since it saves you from having to refill the salt consistently. However, you will need to replace its filter at least once a year. Resin beads usually last for up to 6 years of use before you'll be required to replace them with new ones.
Dual-tank water softeners will cost you more in maintenance fees than units with a single tank. However, many homeowners consider it a wise investment, as two brine tanks give you a constant softened water supply at home. The water softener can transfer from one tank to the next during the regeneration phase.
Verdict - Are Water Softener Systems Worth It?
So, is a water softener system an excellent value for its price? If you want to avoid costly repairs due to mineral deposit build-up, corrosion, clogging, and damage– it's a worthy investment to consider for your home.
The average cost of home water softener systems will depend on your existing plumbing, the number of occupants in the household, and unit capacity.
Most homeowners consider the upfront and recurring maintenance costs to be worth it. Having purified water 24/7 is healthier for the hair and skin, tastes better, and ensures a cleaner laundry load.