On average nationwide, water softener installation costs $800 to $2,000. The price includes labor and materials, and varies according the type of water softener, size of the home, capacity and grade of the water softener, and the complexity of installation.
As many homeowners know, hard water – tap water that contains minerals like calcium and magnesium – is a pain. Hard water will cause your white laundry to turn gray. It leaves scaly buildups on pots, unsightly white spots on glassware, and stains sinks and bathtubs. Hard water will make your skin dry and itchy and create a buildup in your plumbing and hot water heater that can shorten their lives. Hard water can increase your water bills, too, because your pipes have to work harder to let water through when they are clogged with mineral buildup.
A water softener can remove the calcium and magnesium from the water, extending the life of plumbing and appliances. If you're ready to transform your water supply from hard to soft water, get an estimate of how much a water softener installation will cost before you hire a professional to help.
What's in this guide?
A water softener removes calcium and magnesium from your water supply and replaces them with sodium. Hard water comes in, soft water goes out.
Hard water enters a mineral tank from your home's main water source, passing through plastic beads that, through the magic of chemistry, attract minerals like calcium and magnesium, pulling them from the water. The minerals stick to the beads and the water passes to the brine tank.
The brine tank contains sodium or potassium. Ions of sodium or potassium stick to the water, replacing the calcium and magnesium ions the mineral tank pulled out. This process is a called an ion exchange.
Those plastic beads in the brine tank get covered in calcium and magnesium, so they need a periodic rinse. The control valve determines when it's time to rinse the beads. Most new water softeners have a computer to sense when to clean the beads, based on your water usage. In a family household, the beads usually get rinsed every couple of days. The cleansing process is called regeneration.
There are four different types of whole-house water softeners, each of which come in a different price range.
Ion exchange water softeners cost $400-$1,000 for a basic unit. Also known as a conventional water softener or a salt-based water softener, they're the most common type of system. They work like we described above, and usually use salt as the exchange medium.
As the name implies, a salt-free water softener (technically a conditioner, not a softener) use a medium other than salt – usually potassium – to make soft water. Potassium is safer for septic tanks, which can corrode over time if you use a salt-based softener. People on low-sodium diets prefer salt-free softeners, too.
Salt-free water softeners work a little differently than salt-based ones. Instead of removing calcium and magnesium, a non-salt softener suspends them in the water so the minerals don't build up in your plumbing. Those suspended minerals will end up in your water heater's tank, though, where they can damage the tank.
Dual tank water softeners have two mineral tanks and can soften larger quantities of water, so they're a good choice for large families who use a lot of water. Two tanks means there's no down time while the control valve is cleaning those plastic beads, so you always have access to a softened water supply.
Magnetic water softeners, or electronic, are a controversial and fairly new type of water softening system. It's an electric device that attaches to your pipes and creates a magnetic field to reverse charge mineral ions as they flow through the pipes, which its manufacturers say prevents mineral build-up in plumbing. While many homeowners swear by them, some water-testing associations say magnetic water softeners don't work.
Water softeners are measured by their capacity and the larger the capacity, the more it will cost. Water softener capacity is measured by how many grains of calcium it can remove from water per day. For most homes, a 32,000 grain unit is enough capacity, but you can get water softeners as large as 110,000 grain.
The water softener capacity you need will depend on how much water you use on a daily basis. If you have more than five people in your household, you'll need a larger water softening system. Because more people use more water, and more water usage means you'll need a more powerful water softener system.
The size of your home can also impact the size of the water softener you need. If your home is larger than 4,000-square feet, you'll need to get a 48,000 grain or larger water softener.
The harder your water, the more expensive your water softening cost will be because you'll need a larger and more powerful system. Water hardness is measured in grains per gallon (GPG). One GPG means there's one grain of calcium in a gallon of water. The scale is as follows:
|Soft||0 to 3.5 GPGs|
|Moderate||3.5 to 7.0 GPGs|
|Hard||7.0 to 10.5 GPGs|
|Very Hard||More than 10.5 GPGs|
The larger your home and the more water fixtures and appliances you have, the larger the water softener you'll need to keep the H20 flowing.
Below are example costs of a water softener from two popular water softener manufactures, Fleck and Clack, for homes of various sizes:
- Fleck mechanical valve softener for a townhome-size residence: $780
- Clack digital valve softener for a townhome-size residence: $870
- Clack digital softener for a townhome: $870
- Clack digital softener for 7,000-square-foot home: $1,500
In addition to the cost of the water softening system, you'll also have to include installation in your total costs. The type of water softener you're installing and complexity of job will impact your total installation cost.
A water softener must be installed near a home's water main. This can be a simple task if your house is pre-plumbed for a water softener or your water main is easy to reach, and labor costs will be lower. If you water main isn't easily accessible, or you have to trench a water line across the yard to reach it, the costs go up.
Below are example water softener installation costs from a Thumbtack pro in Chandler, AZ. These prices do not include the price of the system:
- House pre-plumbed for a water softener: $250
- Water main easily accessible with minimal work to drill through walls and access pipes: $350
- Homes that require running French pipes around the house and/or through the attic: up to $750
- Trenching a water line all the way around a 4,000-square-foot house to bypass the water leveler for a pool: $1,200
In addition to installation, there are a few additional costs to consider to check your water quality and maintain your system.
Before you buy a water softener, find out what impurities are in your water. If you get your water from a city supply, ask them for a free copy of their latest water test results. If you're on a private well, you can buy a test kit or hire a water well inspector to measure hardness and test for impurities in your water.
This will help you figure out what type of water softener to buy, and whether it's a good idea to buy one that also does water purification.
You'll need to replace the substance you're using in the brine tank periodically. Salt-based systems need to have the salt replenished regularly. Salt costs an average of $5.50 for a 40-pound bag.
Non-salt systems also need their material replaced. Potassium costs an average of $30 for a 40-pound bag.
The average cost of repairing a water softener that's out of warranty runs $134. Like many mechanical items, softeners need to be cleaned and repaired. Injectors get clogged, control valves malfunction, or brine doesn't mix like it's supposed to.
Water treatment companies sell and install water softeners. You can also buy a water softener off the shelf and hire a plumbing company to install it -- though you'll want to make sure you're purchasing the right type of system for your water supply. Before you hire a professional to install a water softener, be sure to:
- Look at past plumbing projects. Make sure the pro has experience installing whole-house water softeners, and read reviews to check the quality of their work.
- Ask about what's included in the project estimate. For example:
- If they're going to trench the yard to reach the water main, are they charging for site prep?
- Does the quote include cleanup and hauling off debris when the job is done?
- Will they buy the water softener system for you and include that in the total cost, or will you have to purchase it yourself?
- What's the capacity of the water softener included in the quote?
Installing a water softener can remove minerals that damage clothes, dishes, and irritate skin while also extending the lifespan of your plumbing, water heater, and other appliances. To install one, find a water softener contractor in your zip code on Thumbtack to get the job done. To get started, download the Thumbtack Android or iPhone app and submit a cost estimate request.