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I’ve never met anyone who liked soft water, myself included. Growing up the Chicago suburbs we always had “high quality H2O” for most of my life. I was a young lad when we started receiving water from Lake Michigan, which was not naturally hard and rather good tasting.

Now on water from our deep, private well, things are different. The taste is still good and I tested the water and it’s healthy too. It’s also harder than a rock. We knew the softener was in a bad way when we moved in over 2 years ago and nursed it along for a while. Then we bypassed it for awhile when it wasn’t working.. then I “fixed” it and it sort of worked again.


The old model. You can see that it was not making brine well and was, well, gross. Keep in mind you don’t drink the brine. It’s just used to recharge the resin in the fiberglass canister. For some reason, cheap systems have the resin canister in the brine tank while more expensive once have them as separate units.

Flash forward to this summer and our toilet was a sight for sore eyes. It had classic hard water stains, among other problems and we knew it would need to be replaced. However, we figured there was no benefit in doing so until we had a working water softener. Here’s what I’ve learned about water softeners.

  • Everything at a big box store is pretty much garbage
  • Everything at the big box stores is the same… regardless of the Brand, it’s all the same OEM; or one of two.
  • Good water softeners cost $1000 and are installed by professionals
  • Big box cost $350-$500 and are a decent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

We have a GE from Home Depot. It’s exactly like the ’03 Kenmore I’m replacing just with a different badge on it. Our family is growing and we’ve discussed one day adding a second bathroom… when that happens we’ll invest in better equipment, but until then we’ll bide our time on the Saturday night special.


The new GE 30,000 grain water softener installed with SharkBite hose. The machine has a built in bypass, so I did not fashion one out of copper.

How to install a water softener in 5 steps:

  1. Buy a water softener
  2. Buy SharkBite hose.
  3. Turn off water
  4. Follow simple instructions in water softener box and turn water back on.
  5. Open beer and enjoy appliance-preserving, crummy-tasting water.

I’m sorry this isn’t more in-depth but there just isn’t much to it if you get the SharkBite hose. I was actually looking forward to sweating some copper pipe, but the water softener is right in front of the circuit breaker box… not a place I wanted to be waving a torch around.

If you clean the copper connection well, SharkBite slips right on and makes a tight, tough seal. It “bites” on the copper end and then fastens to the water softener at the other. To clean copper after cutting it, use a steel brush to clean burs out of the inside and use emery paper to clean the outside. I just took a pipe cutter and reduced the copper pipe and threw on SharkBite. I spent more time lugging the tank to the basement than I did installing it.


No tools needed. This was just pushed on to the cleaned copper. There is a special tool to remove SharkBite. Buy it before starting the project in case you need to make adjustments.


  • If you have hard water, modern homes need a softener; toilets, washing machines  and especially water heaters aren’t designed for heavy minerals.
  • If you have a large water burden (big family, multiple bathrooms) expensive units are worth it.
  • If you don’t use a lot of water, you can get by with cheaper models if money is tight.
  • You CAN install it yourself. I do a lot of DIY around the house and I’d say this was one of the easier projects. I’d install a water softener over sheet-rocking or putting up tile any day.

This Saturday I’ll be putting in the toilet and a new floor in our bathroom. I’ll go a little more in-depth on that as I assume there is more to it. I can at least rest easy knowing the new toilet is protected from hard water for a few years.

I also plan on adding a whole-house water filter up-stream of the water softener to prevent sediment buildup and protect the softener. I’ll post on that too, which should require a sweating a pipe. So, if your interested in that… more to come.