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Water Softener question

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Water Softener question

Postby jamesrr » Mon Jun 11, 2007 10:34 am

So here's my confession. We've lived in our Fitchburg house for 6+ years without a water softener. When we moved in there were hookups but no softener... we'd never had to deal with one before while renting, and didn't have one in our first short stint as homeowners. So... we didn't bother.

We've basically lived just fine without one, with one major glaring exception... the dishwasher we bought in early '03 has been complete crap for some time... tons of buildup, dishes don't get clean, inside parts look like hell... just generally looking and working like crap. We tolerated this until it started leaking on the floor a few months ago. This was the last straw, a problem that could no longer be ignored and had to be dealt with before we could proceed with some other plans (like redoing our kitchen).

So I called the GE repairman, on the off-chance that there would be a problem with our dishwasher door liner (which is covered under a 10 year warranty.) There wasn't, and I essentially spent $137 to be told "you need a water softener, you friggin' moron!" (well, I *did* get new racks under warranty, which is no small compensation). But anyway...

We called Culligan for an estimate, and were told that due to our family size (4 kids between 4 and 11), we need a big-ass softener. He quoted us on a 60,000 grain model. Something like $1500 for a timer-based regeneration model, and $1900 for a use-based regeneration model. Or we can rent for like $26 or $32 per month, with option to buy, blah blah blah...

So here's my questions. 1) Is this actually a reasonable model for our family size, or is this guy way overselling us on how much capacity we need. 2) Is this an insane price for the given size, or is it reasonable. 3) Do you all rent or own your softeners, and how do you feel about that? 4) Any recommendations on a D-I-Y approach? By which I do not mean actually doing it myself per-se, but purchasing a more affordable softener from somewhere and hiring a plumbing-capable handyperson to do the install.

Thanks!
Last edited by jamesrr on Mon Jun 11, 2007 12:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Veeder » Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:01 am

Don't have much to offer but I know these guys are local:

http://www.hellenbrandwatercenter.com/

May be cheaper since they're not as 'big' as Culligan...
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Postby supaunknown » Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:07 am

My wife & I had a water softener installed a few monthes back. Our house didn't have one previously so it was a bit more costly for the actual install. Ours is a nifty mid-sized model that regenerates based on use. We bought it at Sears and had an independent guy put it in. I think it cost us around $800 all-in.

I used to work at Culligan. They have nice softeners and great service but they do charge a lot.

Soft water feels sooo good.
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Postby Paco » Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:21 am

I just went shopping for these just yesterday. I live alone, but would buy one for a family of 4--price would be $425 at Sears this saturday extra 15% off (coming up that day only), or $450 at Home Depot. Menards didn't have any prices on theirs, and no one aroudn to ask. I think the bigger models at Sears were about $599 at the most. They are on sale this week.

I'd skip Culligan and buy one this saturday from Sears. Even with install, it'll be way less than Culligan. Not sure what install is, I was going to do it myself since I have one, and it's probably not that hard to switch from an old to a new.
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Postby jamesrr » Mon Jun 11, 2007 12:46 pm

I just looked at Sears online, and the biggest one they have listed is a 42k size, for $699. The one Culligan quoted me was a 60k size.

I think I will give Hellenbrand a call, just to try to get an apples-to-apples comparison if possible.

But the Sears/Home Depot/whereever solution is probably the most cost-effective. I'm just not sure about the capacity question.
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Postby eriedasch » Fri Jun 15, 2007 5:11 pm

When I bought my house in 2000 I started having water problems right away and did the dumb new homeowner thing and called Culligan and bought the best thing they had without any comparing.

If I had to do it over I would do a lot more research. However I will say (and does not seem to apply in your case as you said there are already hookups) that Culligan did do all the install for free. And I did need a lot of water pipes rerouted etc. I'm pretty sure mine is the 60k size and cost $1k back then. I have never had any problems with it.

I don't think the size thing should be an issue. If you did get a smaller one you would just need to run it more often. At least that is the way I understand it.
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Postby mrak » Fri Jun 15, 2007 6:10 pm

Definitely check out Hellenbrand. I can't say whether they currently offer this, but when we bought our house (two years ago), they rented us one, and offered the choice of renting indefinitely, or applying 100% of our first year's rent to the purchase price. And they installed it at no charge.
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Postby frozenCow » Wed Jun 20, 2007 10:29 pm

By now, you've probably purchased a water softener, but for future reference:

Another good local company is Capital Water Softener (phone 241-1511). We bought a "Meter Initiated" (meaning it automatically determines when to cycle) model M-24 from Capital Water Softener in October 2003. It was a replacement for an existing softener, and the cost then was $763, installed.

As you have discovered, you are going to need a water softener in Dane county or else your pipes and water using appliances are going to get clogged with hard water deposits. The water softener that was installed in our house when we bought it wasn't so good to begin with, and the previous owners were not using the correct kind of salt. I suspect they often let the brine tank run out of salt too. After we finally got the new softener we really noticed the difference.

Wherever you get the softener, be sure to ask what kind of salt it uses. Not all softeners use the pellets that are sold in supermarkets. Ours doesn't. It uses dura-cubes (instead of pellets, they're flat chips of salt). We have our salt delivered (about 20 50lb bags at a time) by a company called Kreger Salt Sales (phone 274-6078).
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Postby eriedasch » Mon Jun 25, 2007 3:25 pm

frozenCow wrote:Wherever you get the softener, be sure to ask what kind of salt it uses. Not all softeners use the pellets that are sold in supermarkets. Ours doesn't. It uses dura-cubes (instead of pellets, they're flat chips of salt). We have our salt delivered (about 20 50lb bags at a time) by a company called Kreger Salt Sales (phone 274-6078).

Cow, I'm curious to what you pay for 1 bag of salt, feel free to include your quantity discount if you get one.

I agree to pay special attention to what type of salt. I buy the extra course solar salt in the blue bags at Woodmans, but once picked up what I thought was the same thing from Menards. It was not and certain types will clog up my Culligan softner.

The blue solar salt I buy is around $4 per 40# bag. Just wondering how that compares to specialty salts other systems require that you cannot get at the grocery store?
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Postby Madsci » Mon Jun 25, 2007 8:48 pm

What happens to all the salt? Do water softeners increase the salinity of our lakes in any significant way?
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Postby pulseCzar » Mon Jun 25, 2007 9:35 pm

Try Sears. Seriously. Me & the BF bought a 4 bedroom house and Sears did a free water test (based on the results they told us that we didn't really need to make a water softener a priority). But the system that they recommended for our size house was nowhere near $1500. It was more like $500....installed. Consumer Reports seemed to like Kenmore too.
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Postby frozenCow » Tue Jun 26, 2007 2:22 am

eriedasch wrote:Cow, I'm curious to what you pay for 1 bag of salt, feel free to include your quantity discount if you get one.

I agree to pay special attention to what type of salt. I buy the extra course solar salt in the blue bags at Woodmans, but once picked up what I thought was the same thing from Menards. It was not and certain types will clog up my Culligan softner.

The blue solar salt I buy is around $4 per 40# bag. Just wondering how that compares to specialty salts other systems require that you cannot get at the grocery store?


The price went up last year (probably due to the price of gas, etc). Last October it was $7.57 per 50# bag (it was $6.73 prior to that). I buy it from them simply because it is the type of salt recommended for my softener. They deliver it and haul it down to the basement (which the older I get, the more willing I am to pay somebody to do).

When I rented a house in Pewaukee ten years ago, it had a softener from a local softener company who recommended Solar salt for their softener. That worked fine.

When we bought our current house in Madison eight years ago, it came with a brand called something like "Eco-Water". The previous owners were putting in one small bag of Morton pellets at a time. They said they never put too much in, or it would clog. I found the manual for the thing in the basement, with hand written instructions from the repair man explaining it only worked if they remembered to put salt in the tank. There were no instructions about what kind of salt to use, so I continued with the Morton pellets.

Later when I needed to get it serviced because it wasn't working, I couldn't find an Eco-water rep in town. The company who installed it had gone out of business. I called Culligan and they had a guy who used to service Eco-water softeners. He stopped by, and just happened to have a valve (or gear, or whatever) in his truck that would fix the problem. He also said that it was true that putting a lot of salt in the tank of an Eco-Water would result in clogs, but we were using the wrong kind of salt. He recommended the dura cubes for that model, so I started using those. Unfortunately, the Morton pellets had already started a clogging situation (the salt dissolved into a solid mass at the bottom of the tank).

That softer never really did work very well, and it probably was because of all the abuse. Eventually we replaced it with the Capital, which also came with the recommendation to use the dura cube salt.

I did shop around. I chose Capital because they were comparable to others price-wise, but also because members of my family had used Capital softeners in the past (for years) with good luck.
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Postby dudemeister » Tue Jun 26, 2007 9:58 am

We have an old (gotta be at least 15+ years) one installed by Capital. It's got a mechanical (not electronic) controller which was replaced a year or two ago. It works very well. You can dump a whole lot of salt into the bin (150+ pounds) and not worry about it for a while.

One question I have is that ours only softens our hot water, the cold is routed around it. Should I have all the water run through it? Why would they have installed it that way?
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Postby mrak » Tue Jun 26, 2007 10:33 am

dudemeister wrote:One question I have is that ours only softens our hot water, the cold is routed around it. Should I have all the water run through it? Why would they have installed it that way?

Hmmm. The usual arrangement is like this:

1. Water coming into our house first splits off so you have some hard water. This supplies the water for your garden hose, toilets, and the cold water taps in the kitchen and bathroom sinks. (This gives you hard water for cooking and drinking, and keeps your softener from needlessly softening large volumes of water for toilet and hose.)

2. Remaining water goes through softener, some of which goes to the water heater. As a result, you have both hot and cold soft water for bathing and laundry, and hot soft water for washing dishes.

So it's normal to have some cold water routed around your water softener - just not all of it. Does all the water coming out of your softener really go straight to the water heater, or is it possible you didn't notice a pipe that branches off somewhere between the two?
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Postby Hobo » Fri Jun 29, 2007 10:59 pm

I bought a 27,000 grain softener from Sears for about $275 and installed it myself.

I have all of my water going thru the softener except for the cold water going to the kitchen sink which is used for drinking and cooking.
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