By Bill Schultze, founder of Pure Water Solutions®.
The cost of a whole home water treatment system is not an easy question to answer. There are a multitude of factors that have to be addressed. First and foremost is what end result you are seeking.
The large municipal water suppliers, the rural water providers, and all local water companies have one overriding concern: the safety of the water supply. I believe that is one thing this country can agree on, we all want safe water.
In my 25 years of water treatment experience, I will gladly stand and sing the praises of our country’s water providers. Our water is safe in virtually every location. Safety is not usually the reason homeowners want to improve the quality of their water, quality of life issues tend to drive that decision. Aesthetic problems with water, such as high hardness, bad taste, odors, and discoloration, are major issues in some areas, but have no direct influence on the safety of the water. That is where the process of selecting a water treatment system begins for today's homeowners.
The first, and most common water problem is hardness. Hard water is caused by the natural dissolving of calcium and magnesium into the water. The only medical issues associated with drinking hard water are kidney stones and gallstones. The real issues with hard water are numerous! Dry skin, bathtub/toilet bowl ring, calcium build up on everything the water touches, excessive soap products, appliance destruction, bad hair, the list goes on and on.
Anyone who has seen a soft water demonstration knows how powerful a presentation that is. Right before your eyes you see what a difference soft water makes, and how much a homeowner spends fighting the effects of hard water. Unfortunately, that is why some companies get away with selling water softeners for 5, 6, 7 even $8000. I’ve been there, someone sees that a water softener is going to eliminate, for good, all these headaches, and it pays for itself. Where do I sign? There are all these guarantees that you can’t get a better piece of equipment, or a lower price, and if you do it right now, we’ll even throw in this wonderful soap package!!! Those are the companies to avoid, anyone that says you have to do it right now is overpriced.
The second biggest mistake I see people make when purchasing a water system is buying the wrong equipment off the internet. There are some tricky words in those ads. Conditioned water, softened water, most of this is total BS. Soft water is part of the actual Water Quality Association hardness scale. Water is measured in grains per gallon as well as mg/ltr, and any water testing at less than 1 grain per gallon (gpg) is classified as soft. 1 to 3 gpg is slightly hard, 3 to 6 gpg is moderately hard, 7 to 10 gpg is very hard, and any water with over 10 grains per gallon measures at extreme hardness. The municipal water in my home measures between 23 and 25 grains of hardness, depending on the day. Water Quality Association says that for any water with over 3 grains per gallon, the benefits and savings of a water softener outweigh the investment. Terms like conditioned, and softened are misleading to homeowners. If I ran my 25 gpg hard water through a system and it came out 21gpg they could claim it softened the water but I would still have extreme hardness.
There is only one process available to homeowners that truly provides soft water, the ion exchange process. This process captures the hard destructive calcium and magnesium ions, and exchanges them for soft sodium or potassium ions. There are many companies spending millions of research dollars trying to develop a water softener that doesn’t use salt, but as of yet no one has succeeded. If you live with water that measures in the very hard classification or higher, anything other than an ion exchange system is, in my opinion, a waste of money.
The low end of the water softener price spectrum is what is known in the water treatment industry as disposable equipment. The big box stores sell cheap water softeners, with no installation department, no service department, internet only parts, and a 1 year warranty. Their price, the last I looked, was around $635. I posed as a customer, and called three local plumbing companies, to inquire about the cost of a homeowner supplied water softener installation. The first quote was $625, the second $715, and the third $800. They let me know it wasn’t a priority and they would get to it, when they could. Remember, plumbers sell water softeners also, and taking responsibility for cheap equipment isn’t high on anyone's list. Unless you are a do it yourself, and budget is the main concern, there are better values for your money. The best value in purchasing a water softener is from an independent water treatment system dealer.
A company that provides initial testing, installation, service, and fair pricing. A good quality water softener isn’t a disposable appliance; it should last 20 years or more with relative ease. Most dealerships provide excellent service, done in a timely manner. Beware of the large dealerships with lots of industrial customers, homeowner service isn’t a priority and usually is very expensive. There are a number of good quality water softeners on the market today. None of us can claim that our water will be softer than theirs, because they all provide soft water. There are features that vary within the brands, but the benefits are all similar. Pricing for most dealerships is usually a tier of levels. There is usually a no frills system designed to try and compete with the big box stores prices, in the $1200 to $1500 range. The size of the dealership will determine the overhead costs, and subsequent need for higher prices. However, the installed prices for most premium quality softeners are often under $2500, and it is an appliance that can be relocated along with you. An investment that improves the quality of your life, and pays for itself over time. That is wise.