Exchange softeners are what we commonly refer to as a water softener unit. They have a chamber inside which contains resin particles which absorb calcium and magnesium from hard water and replace them with sodium which is found in common salt. This resin gradually becomes saturated with the hard water minerals and at this point, the softener runs a backwashing cycle to release the calcium and magnesium and replenish the sodium. This is the reason the unit needs to be topped up regularly with salt which is added to the storage chamber.
Water softeners such as these increase the level of sodium in the water so it is not suitable for drinking. For this reason, a separate non-softened drinking water supply must be drawn off before the softener unit.
Water softeners reduce hardness and this has several benefits. Appliances such as washing machines and hot water cylinders do not get furred up by limescale deposits which shorten their life and leads to breakdowns. Far less detergent will be needed and this obviously saves money. You will also notice that the reduction in limescale means that taps, baths and showers, etc stay cleaner longer. Before installing a water softener, you will need to measure the hardness of your water so that the correct setting can be made. Water hardness kits are usually supplied with the softener.
Buying a Water Softener
Before buying a particular model of water softener, investigate the various ones available. Factors such as reliability, size, maintenance and ease of installation should all be considered. You will also need to test your water supply to find out if the water pressure is suitable. If the pressure is too high, it is possible to fit a pressure reducing valve so that it conforms with the manufacturer’s requirements.
Positioning a Water Softener
Decide where in the house you will install the water softener. It will need to be reasonably close to the rising main otherwise there may be a lot of additional plumbing work. If you intend to fit the unit inside a cupboard – for example, a base cupboard in the kitchen – check that there will be sufficient space for maintenance and for accessing the chamber when topping up with salt. You will also need a suitable nearby socket outlet for plugging in the transformer to power the unit.
You will need a waste standpipe similar to that used for washing machines or a nearby drain to which you can run the waste pipe for the unit
Water Softener Connection Hoses
For indirect water systems where you have a cold water storage cistern, you can use the supplied flexible connection hoses to connect the softener to the water supply. However, if you have a combi or direct hot water system, you will need to use either high flow hoses or hard plumbing to connect the softener. If in doubt, check with the supplier or get advice from a professional plumber.
Plumbing for the Water Softener
Locate the stop valve on your incoming mains water supply and turn it off. Drain down the pipework using the drain valve fitted next to this valve. Locate the position of the pipe branch serving the drinking water to the kitchen tap. The supply for the water softener must be after this to ensure that drinking water is direct from the water main.
Cut into the pipework after this branch and fit a suitable check valve. This is required under the Water Regulations to prevent backflow and possible contamination of the water supply. Next, fit the pressure reducing valve if needed. After this, fit the valve Tee which will be for the supply to the water softener. This Tee fitting has a valve on the outlet side to allow the water to the softener to be isolated and is threaded for connection of a hose. Above this, you must fit the bypass valve and then the second valve Tee fitting for the return of water from the softener.
Lastly, connect from the top of the second valve Tee to the main water supply continuing to the rest of the house.
Connect one of the supplied hoses from the supply Tee to the water softener inlet and the other hose from the return Tee to the water softener outlet.
Connect the supplied waste hose to the waste standpipe or to the nearby drain. If you run the waste to a drain be sure to insulate any part which may be subject to freezing conditions. Failure to do this could result in waste water freezing, blocking the pipe and causing a flood.
The water softener unit will also have an overflow pipe which should now be connected to the unit and run to suitably conspicuous point outside so that problems will be immediately apparent. This too should be insulated wherever it may be subject to freezing conditions.
Commissioning the Water Softener
With all your plumbing work complete, close the bypass valve and open the inlet and outlet Tees. Ensure any drain points opened earlier are closed, turn the mains water back on and inspect your work. Open the kitchen tap and allow water to flow for a few minutes to clear any air in the pipework. Connect the unit with its transformer to the socket outlet
Models vary but typically the commissioning procedure will be as follows:
Load salt into the chamber as detailed in the instructions. Set the unit to regenerate and water will flow to the drain. Leave the unit running like this for half an hour or so – the waste water may be discoloured at this point.
Once the regeneration has been completed the unit can be set to its programmer. This will allow the unit to start delivering softened water and regenerate automatically as required. You’ll know when it is regenerating as you will hear water running to the drain.