Installing a water softener in a hard water area

Millions of people in the UK live in hard water areas, and most of them put up with the issues it causes. Plumbing pipes and central heating systems can block up with limescale deposits, and skin can feel dry and itchy after a shower or bath. But what’s the solution? If you live in a hard water area, it’s worth considering a water softener.

These devices can run for over a decade with very little maintenance and can help reduce limescale build-up in showers, washing machines, dishwashers, boilers and pipework.

Here’s everything you need to know about salt-based water softeners. You’ll learn how they work, the benefits of having one, how much they cost to install, and more.

Tip: You might see salt-based and electronic models advertised. However, only the salt-based ones are proven to work, so our experts wouldn’t usually recommend any other type of water softener.

A water softener deals with hard water for a better shower

What is ‘hard’ water?

When water passes through rocks and soil, it collects minerals like calcium and magnesium that then dissolve. The more minerals that dissolve in the water, the harder it becomes. This water then enters your mains supply and deposits traces of these minerals that then harden. Around 60% of the population live in hard water areas, but it’s most prevalent in the South East.

What does a water softener do?

A water softener removes the calcium and magnesium from hard water. It does this through a process known as ion exchange. As your water enters the system, it passes through a tank filled with resin beads. These beads attract the calcium and magnesium found in hard water, and replaces them with sodium ions. This prevents the mineral deposits from building up inside your pipes and appliances, meaning fewer blockages, better flow rates and less need for maintenance.

Once the resin beads have collected as much calcium and magnesium as they can, the system has to clean with them via regeneration. A water softener ‘regenerates’ by mixing salt and water to form a brine solution that cleans the resin beads. This brine detaches the minerals that the beads have collected before the regeneration process, so that they’re ready to collect more. The calcium and magnesium mix then exits the system through the drain hose.

Most softeners should regenerate once every two weeks, but you can also set the frequency manually.

What are the benefits of a water softener?

If you live in a hard water area, you can expect to enjoy the following:

1. Reduced scale

The minerals in hard water can build within pipes to reduce flow and eventually even cause a blockage. This can affect your taps, dishwasher and washing machine. It can also cause your radiators to heat up slowly and cause problems inside your gas boiler. Softened water reduces the amount of scale present, for fewer blockages and other plumbing issues, and a more efficient central heating system.

2. Cleaner shower doors

Everyone knows the frustration of cleaning away the marks left after a shower. A water softener won’t mean you never clean the bathroom, but it will help to cut down on the amount of cleaning chemicals you use to get the job done. Fewer marks on your shower door means less elbow grease and fewer products needed to tackle the build-up of scale.

3. Kinder on skin and hair

Showering in hard water can leave your hair feeling rough and lifeless. Your skin could also get irritated, especially if you suffer from eczema or another skin condition. There’s science behind this; hard water affects the tiny scales in your hair, and it generates more soap scum as the minerals react with the soap itself. Soft water means smoother skin and hair, and less irritation as a result.

4. Better results from your dishwasher

Living with hard water can mean your dishes look streaky the moment you pull them out of the dishwasher. They might also have a cloudy appearance – not exactly the sparkling results you want! Softened water will leave far fewer marks, for clearer (and cleaner looking) glasses and cutlery. You’re already paying for the water, energy and dishwasher tabs, so why settle for poor results?

5. More comfortable clothes

If you’ve ever felt like your clothes chafe after washing them, a water softener may help. After all, softer water can naturally make for softer clothes. This can have a big impact on your day; making you feel much more comfortable and more confident in what you wear.

6. You could save on your heating bills

Limescale can cut the efficiency of your central heating by 30-40%, and the only way to get that efficiency back is with a system power flush. If you have a water softener, you reduce the amount of scale that develops. Fewer deposits makes for better circulation, and your boiler won’t have to work so hard to heat your property.

Can I drink softened water?

You certainly can! Some people prefer to drink softened water because it doesn’t have the ‘chalky’ or ‘sulfuric’ taste that some people associate with hard water. However, it’s not advisable for everyone. Because water softener systems replace minerals with salt, it can upset the delicate balance of baby formula. You should avoid drinking softened water if you’re on a low-sodium diet or suffer from high blood pressure.

When our expert plumbers fit a water softener, they usually install a bypass tap too. That way you can drink unsoftened water from the mains supply, while also having softened water available from the main kitchen sink tap. Appliances such as kettles and coffee machines can be filled with softened water to reduce the need for descaling.

Where should I install a water softener?

Water softeners are usually installed under the kitchen sink. This is where the main water usually enters a property. It means that the water fed throughout the property will be “softened”. You can also install them in basements and garages. When you book an expert plumber for installation, such as one from Aspect, they’ll check your mains water supply and assess your water usage and advise on the best place for the device before installing it for you.

Which brand is best? Harvey water softeners come highly recommended, but there are many other brands and models to choose from. One of our plumbers can recommend a particular make and model to suit your budget and water usage needs.

How do I maintain my water softener?

Most modern softeners are maintenance-free. All you’ll have to do is keep the water softener salt topped up, checking the system on average once a month. This applies to the majority of water softeners, but you may have to top the salt up more often if the water’s very hard, or if you have a large family that uses a lot of water. Most of the popular brands say their latest water softeners work efficiently for up to 15 years without any servicing at all.

How much is a water softener?

The price of the water softener depends on whether you choose a single or twin tank. Single tanks regenerate over night when you’re less likely to use the system. If you do run a tap while it regenerates, it’s worth noting that you won’t be getting softened water.

Twin tank systems tend to cost more because they’re able to soften water while they regenerate. Pricing can also vary depending on brand, size and features of the system. We suggest customers allow for at least four hours of a plumber’s time for the installation work to be carried out.

Installing a water softener isn’t something many people can do themselves, so it’s worth using an expert plumber for the job. They’ll install your softener in the right location, and with a bypass tap if required.

You’ll also need to pay for the water softening salt tablets. Options include tablet salt, crystal salt, granular salt and block salt.

Why not book with us for installation? We provide a 12-month workmanship guarantee, so you can trust that your new water softener will be fitted correctly by an industry expert.

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