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Choosing the right water softener for your home

When selecting a water softener for your home, how do you choose the right one?

In our view, it is incredibly important to choose your softener with tremendous care. If you select very well, this should be a decision you need only make once every 15–20 years, and if you're very lucky, your softener could last you much, much longer.

This customer chose their softener well… purchased nearly 40 years previous for about £1,000 in today's money, it was still giving softened water when we were invited in by the customer to do a FREE Health check on it.​ The customer decided, however, to change it as they wanted the convenience of block salt and the peace of mind of reliability, and so they opted for the Harvey Minimax M3 water softener which was the most advanced non-electric softener on the market at the time. Harvey's now makes the superior Minimax Innova

If you choose your softener well, it could last you many, many years.

A well-chosen softener should give you such incredible water so that every day you have a shower or a bath, or you walk into your sparkling kitchen and bathroom, you remember you have a water softener fitted. Additionally, it is so very important to ensure that the softener is capable of meeting the needs of the property as well as the people who live there.

If your property is over three floors with a bathroom on the top floor, careful consideration needs to be given to the water pressure and flow rates required at the top-level bathroom. Properties designed like this sometimes require a more powerful, larger water softener compared to a standard two-storey home.

The same would apply if you are a larger family – a standard domestic softener in such a circumstance could be expensive to run and maybe inefficient. It would also work so hard that it would last only a few years as it would just burn out. So in these circumstances, it would once again be prudent to choose the softener well, sizing the softener carefully to meet the demands of your growing family.‍

Questions to Think About

Do you need a single or twin cylinder water softener?

Single-cylinder water softener

Not all softeners are the same. A single-cylinder softener can only do one thing at a time. It can either soften the water or regenerate the resin. While it is regenerating, it is giving hard water. If installed into the wrong type of home, we generally tend to find cosmetic watermarks and staining on taps and shower screens.

Twin-cylinder water softener

A twin-cylinder water softener will provide softened water all of the time. But not all twin cylinder softeners are the same. The American Kinetico softener only works on one cylinder at a time, plus the customer has to compromise between high flow rates or high efficiency. The British Harveys Minimax uses both cylinders at the same time, producing softer water, and does both high flow rates and high efficiency – perfect for every plumbing system in the UK.

How efficient do you want your softener, and how soft do you want your water?

Timer Controlled

Old fashioned, cheaper and less efficient.

Some softeners cleanse themselves at the same time of day, every day, even if they don't need to. These TIMER softeners are very wasteful of both salt and water. Because they cleanse themselves every day, they work exceptionally hard, and so require more maintenance and they have a much shorter life span.

Turbine Meter

Old fashioned single-cylinder and Kinetico twin-cylinder.

Most metered water softeners have this older style of meter, but these are prone to letting hard water slip through. This is known as 'slippage' and can leave cosmetic watermarks. These meters are not very accurate, so it's frequently common to fit extra metering in the home if installed on loft tank gravity-fed systems.

Displacement Meter

Most advanced, totally accurate and even used by the water board.

The better the softener, the better the meter. Unfortunately, in almost every softener in the UK market the British manufacturer, except Harveys that use the displacement water meter in the Minimax Water Softeners. This measures even down to a very slow dripping tap, and this helps the softener to give incredibly soft water.

Do you want to use tablet salt or block salt?

Tablet Salt

Tablet salt is better for a water softener than the older form of granular salt and comes in either 25kg bags or easier-to-handle 10kg bags. Most tablet salt softeners are very inefficient, and so I have pulled together for our range those softeners that are the most reliable, the most efficient and have the best performances.

Block Salt

Block salt softeners aren't suitable for every home, but for those where they are, you will find that it is easy-to-handle, convenient and it creates a very pure brine solution – this typically means the softener requires less servicing and maintenance. Block salt is typically no more expensive than tablet salt, enhanced by the savings on water softener servicing.

Water Softener Quality

There are three grades of water softener quality in the UK:

Budget Grade Softeners

Basic, cheaper to buy, short life expectancy, costly to run and requires more maintenance.

These softeners offer cheap, affordable access to some of the benefits of softened water, such as tackling scale, but they're not very good at giving soft water consistently. They always use older technology and work exceptionally hard, using a lot more salt and water (typically between 80–120 litres of water each time they regenerate) which means they will burn themselves out quickly. These softeners require regular servicing, are less efficient and are replaced much more frequently. They will cost more in the long run as they are more expensive to operate.

  • Typical water wastage on a regeneration: 80–120 litres of water
  • Pricing: £500–£650 + fitting + VAT (Typical fully installed price £800–£1,000)
  • Life expectancy: 3–8 years at best

Builder and Plumber Grade Softeners

A bit more expensive, costly to run, older technology, requires more maintenance and 'Lucky Dip' availability

When a customer typically asks their plumber or builder for a water softener, they will generally want to be as helpful as possible and will go down to their local plumber's merchant and ask for whichever softener is on the shelf available for them to order. The merchant staff have so many products that it is impossible for them to know them all well, and will literally just sell the plumber what is on the shelf that month – normally this is the softener that the merchant is getting the best rebate back on from the supplier. Effectively, they are being sold 'a box'. The merchant counter staff know very little about all the products they sell despite all their best intentions, and so it becomes a bit of a lucky dip.

There is, of course, a market for this type of softener as it will enable a plumber or builder to tick the "fit water softener" box when the architect or householder asks for one to be fitted. These machines are typically older generation technology, run on electrics, are marginally better on efficiency than the budget softeners, and require annual regular servicing, but they can offer good limescale protection. They are a good introduction to the benefits of soft water but may not always soften the water completely.

  • Typical water wastage on a regeneration: 80–120 litres of water
  • Pricing: £725–£1,000 + fitting + VAT (Typical fully installed price: £1,200–£1,300)​
  • Life expectancy: 7–15 years at best

Consumer Grade Softeners

Higher cost, best efficiency, advanced engineering, high-end materials, best technology, best flow rates, lowest running costs, best guarantees and longest life expectancies.

When we visit customers with very old water softeners, they are almost always from what we would class the Consumer Range of their day. Regardless of when the softener was purchased, these softeners are the latest generation of technology available at that time, offering the best in performance and efficiency. They are typically built to last twice the life of a quality refrigerator.

There are a variety of softeners that fall within the Consumer Range, some of which will give you soft water some of the time, and others that will give you soft water all of the time. Some will give you both high flow rates and high efficiency, and with others, you'll have to compromise one benefit over the other. So it's very important to be fully aware of all the true features of each softener so that you choose well to make sure the decision you make is one that you'll be delighted for many years to come. However, for the little extra you'll typically pay for a consumer range softener, you'll definitely appreciate the choice you made, day after day, week after week, year after year.

  • Typical water wastage on a regeneration: 17–60 litres of water depending on the softener
  • Pricing: £1,100–£1300 + fitting + VAT (Typical fully installed price: £1,500–£1,800)
  • Life expectancy: 20–25 years typically