Why a Water Softener Could Save You Money | Ep. 103

Split screen showing, on the left, hands dumping salt pellets into a water softener. And, on the right, water streaming from a faucet.
(©knowlesgallery | stock.adobe.com)

Depending on your water’s quality, and your view, a water softener is a bit of a luxury. But for some homeowners, it’s a necessity that provides peace of mind.

About Hard Water

Calcium and magnesium are essential nutrients, but these and other minerals, mixed with water, can build up and leave troublesome deposits on contact surfaces.

That’s when the problems begin, potentially clogging pipes, damaging water heaters and reducing your soap’s effectiveness, according to the Penn State Extension. Hard-water deposits in washing machines can even damage your clothes.

You might be wondering how to know if you have hard water. Just look for the signs, like limescale, a white, crusty surface on faucets and sinks; freshly washed glassware that’s spotty; and unusually high water heating bills, which indicate a stressed system, according to the EPA.

You can live with hard water and deal with any problems as they arise, and many people do, or you can purchase a water softener that treats the water and reduces the amounts of calcium and magnesium.

About Water Softeners

Water softeners use sodium ions that basically trade places place with calcium and magnesium ions.

“The ion replacement takes place within a tank full of small polystyrene beads, also known as resin or zeolite,” HowStuffWorks states. “The negatively charged beads are bonded to positively charged sodium ions.

“As the water flows past the beads, the sodium ions swap places with the calcium and magnesium ions, which carry a stronger positive charge.”

So, why do many people live with their hard water — and its potential consequences — when a system could prevent it? Because it’s a gamble. The hard water deposits may cause no issues at all. Or they may lead to costly repairs.

Either way, a quality water softener may cost $1,000, and another $200 for installation. Then you have to purchase the salt pellets and add one more regular home maintenance task to your checklist.

But that one-time appliance cost, and the minimal, regular maintenance could provide peace of mind, and save you money, compared to potentially failing plumbing, malfunctioning water heaters, and damaged clothes that need replacement.

Dealing with Water Softeners’ Salt Pellets

The salt pellets aren’t a major expense — $10 or less for a 40-pound bag that should last a month — but they are heavy. And that concerns Laurie in Michigan, a featured caller in the Today’s Homeowner Podcast.

Laurie is building a house with a basement, and wonders whether she could install a water softener on the first floor. She’d like to avoid lugging heavy bags of salt pellets into the basement.

Water usually enters most homes through the basement, the crawlspace, the garage, or a utility closet.

City water or well water — which is used for cooking, cleaning and showering — usually is connected in the basement, for homes that have one, so that’s the typical location of a water softener.

However, in Laurie’s case, the water softener may be able to go directly above the basement. We recommend calling a plumber and asking them to make that determination.

Listen to the Today’s Homeowner Podcast for more home improvement tips!

  • [1:34] Can you keep your water softener upstairs if your well, water heater and the rest of your plumbing is down in the basement?
  • [5:24] What you should know when replacing your air conditioners
  • [9:55] Should you restore or replace an old tile patio?
  • [15:52] Best New Product: EcoSmart ST19 Antique Edison Clear Glass LED Bulb
  • [17:51] The best way to drill through porcelain tile
  • [22:32] The importance of having carbon monoxide detectors in our homes
  • [24:20] The best way to get rid of a mole problem
  • [26:48] Simple Solution– How to reuse paint-thinner / mineral spirits
  • [28:30] Question of the Week: How do you place a new wood threshold to transition the height difference between two floors if the floors are not level?

Simple Solutions 

Upcycled Storage Containers — Baby wipes, those moistened sheets used to clean infants, come in rectangular plastic tubs that are ideal for storing nails, screws, nuts, bolts, and lots of other small fasteners and hand tools. The 4x6x8-inch tubs have attached lids that snap securely closed, and the tubs can be neatly stacked. If you don’t have an infant, ask a friend or neighbor who does to save you their emptied ones. 

Recycling Solvents — Paint thinner, also known as mineral spirits, is commonly used to clean oil-based paints and stains from brushes and tools. Many people dispose of the thinner after just one use, which is wasteful and unnecessary.
Instead, pour thinner into a jar and soak the brushes until they’re clean. Then set the thinner aside and wait overnight. The paint sludge will settle to the bottom of the jar, leaving a layer of clear thinner on top. Gently pour the clear thinner into a second clean jar and reseal it for future use.
Continue to collect the paint sludge in the first jar, and when it’s full, bring it to a hazardous-waste disposal site.

Question of the Week

Q: I was watching the TV episode that you did the remodel of the bathroom. You put in a new tile floor over the old one and showed how to place a new wood threshold to transition the height difference between the two floors. In the episode, the floors are level. 

In my house, the bathroom on the second floor is next to the chimney and the house has settled over the years, and the floor slopes from one side of the door opening to the other with a 1/2-inch height difference. How do I adjust for this?

A: Danny recommends getting pieces of oak wood flooring and using a table saw to create a transition piece. Because there is a 1/2-inch height difference, this project will be a little trickier to do. You can use construction adhesive instead of nails when installing the transition piece. Then, you can paint it.

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