Kinetico water conditioner installation (C) Daniel FriedmanWater Softener Installation Procedures
How to hook up plumbing, wiring, drains for a water conditioner

  • INSTALLATION of WATER SOFTENERS - CONTENTS: How Water Softeners Are Hooked Up to Building Plumbing Pipes & Electrical Wiring. How to Connect Water Softener Water Piping Input & Output Water Lines & how to route & connect water conditioner regeneration cycle drain, salt tank, controls.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how water softeners are installed: location, plumbing, wiring connections, drain connections & where to obtain installation & operation manuals
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How to install or "hook up" a water softener:

How to connect a water softener to building water piping, drain piping, & electrical power; where to locate the water softener. This article explains how to hook up a water softener or water conditioner.

We describe the piping connections for water in and out of the water softener, water softener bypass valves for maintenance, and water softener drain hookups.

This article series explains how water softeners and similar water conditioners work, types of water softeners, and the basics of what water softener controls are present and what they do, how water softeners should be installed, maintained, cleaned, and adjusted.

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How Water Softeners or Water Conditioners are Hooked Up to Building Plumbing

Kinetico water conditioner installation (C) Daniel FriedmanIt is conceptually simple to install and connect-up a water conditioner or water softener.

You need to find physical space where the resin or treatment tank and controls will fit, and where the salt or brine tank will fit. Usually these two pieces are separate (except in some older manually operated water softeners), but they are installed side-by-side.

Our photo of a water conditioner installation at left shows a Kinetico Mach Series water conditioner system installed in a Dutchess County New York home.

Where space is really tight, we sometimes see the larger brine tank installed somewhere else not right next to the water softener, but of course connected to it by its flexible plastic tubing.

Article Contents

Guide to Connecting A Water Softener Water Piping or Input and Output Water Lines

Water sofener hookup - CulliganSince it's usually preferable to treat all of the building water supply with a water conditioner (this helps protect pipes from mineral-clogging by hard water), the water conditioner is usually placed as close as possible to where water enters the building.

Most installers place the water softener near other water equipment in the building such as close to an indoor pump and water pressure tank, or where municipal water is supplied, close to where the water supply enters the building.

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

The water softener hookup layout sketch shown at left is from a 1989 Culligan System 19 or 23 Water Conditioner installation manual. Be sure to consult the specific manual for your own water softener brand and model for correct hookup details for your own equipment.

The water softener is piped "in line" on the main cold water pipe entering the structure so that incoming water is treated before passing on to the building water heater, and to hot and cold water distribution piping.

If other water treatment or water sterilizing or potability system is installed (such as a chlorinator or UV light), that equipment is best placed ahead of or before the water softener to help avoid the chances of unwanted bacterial growth in the water conditioner.

If a water filter is installed, we like that to also be ahead of all other water treatment in the building to help avoid debris clogging that interferes with proper operation of other water treatment equipment. For example, dirt or silt in a water supply can quickly coat the bulb in a UV light bacterial treatment device on a private water supply system.

Incoming water is connected to the "input" side of the water softener/water conditioner, and the conditioner's output side is connected to the building water supply piping feeding the building's plumbing fixtures.

For watering gardens and lawns the installer may provide a direct connection to that building water piping taken off before the water softener so that we don't waste water softener salt treating water being used to wash a car or water the lawn.

How & Where to Connect the Water Softener Drain Line

Water softener drain line length and psi - CulliganPeriodically, depending on the water hardness and the amount of water used, the water softener or water conditioner needs to clean itself of minerals accumulated as they were removed from the water supply, and to recharge the salt used in the softener's resin chamber where water is treated.

[Click to enlarge any image or table]

On an automatic water softener the regeneration and cleaning cycle for the water softener is controlled by a simple timer or clock, or on more sophisticated systems a computer chip may monitor the amount of water used and even the hardness of water leaving the system, deciding based on that data when a backwash-regeneration cycle is needed.

Shown at left is a chart indicating the water softener drain line length limitations in feet based on an installation in which the brine tank and water softener are installed together on the same building level. This specific chart is from a Culligan System 19/23 Water Conditioner installation manual. Be sure to check your own equipment's installation manual.

When the water softener goes through a regeneration cycle it will bypass the building water supply, often automatically, so that water stops passing through the equipment's treatment system pump water into the separate brine tank (salt tank) where it dissolves salt pump new salty water backwards through the resin tank or treatment tank where the process removes other minerals from the treatment tank, sending this product out through a (usually plastic) drain tube to a building drain.

Other water conditioner manufacturers such as Autotrol specify other drain line connection details

Water conditioner drain to an improper location (C) Daniel Friedman
  • The ideal water conditioner location is above (higher than) and not more than 20 feet from the drain. Use 1/2-inch plastic tubing between the water conditioner drain hookup on the equipment and the drain. The ideal location for a water conditioner (or softener) is also in an area protected from freezing, protected from mechanical damage (don't run into it when pulling a car into the garage), and at a location convenient for connection to building water supply piping and electrical hookups. Usually we locate the water conditioner as close as possible to the point of water entry into the building so that we protect as much of the building plumbing system as possible from mineral clogging.
  • Increase the water softener drain line diameter from 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch diameter for runs of more than 20 feet in length and less than 40 feet.
  • For elevated water conditioner drain lines, provided that incoming water pressure is at least 40 psi, you can elevate the drain up to six feet as long as the total drain line length is less than fifteen feet. You can elevate the water conditioner drain line another two feet for every 10 psi increase in water pressure. For example if your water pressure is always 50 psi or higher, the drain line for the water softener can be eight feet above the unit.

    Watch out: Use a Siphon Trap: for elevated water conditioner drain lines emptying into a drain below the level of the control valve (that's where the drain line connects to the water softener), make a 7-inch loop in the plastic drain line such that the bottom of the drain line loop is level with the drain line connection point (at the water softener). The loop should provide an adequate anti-siphon trap. Without this detail, after a water softener regen cycle when the drain line is filled, the drain can continue to siphon-drain water out of the water softener.

Warnings: Avoid These Water Conditioner Drain Connection Mistakes

  • Connect your water conditioner drain line to a building drain or to a separate graywater drain feeding drywell, but do not simply spill water conditioner drainage onto the ground surface such as is shown in our photo shown above - a water softener drain hose simply spurts out through the building exterior wall and onto the ground surface.

    Doing so violates plumbing and sanitary code in most jurisdictions (and invites basement or crawl space leakage too).

Plumbing cross connection (C) Daniel Friedman
  • Watch out: be sure that the water softener drain connection is made following the manufacturer's instructions [usually including an air-gap rather than an air-tight/water-tight connection at the drain standpipe] so that you avoid a possibly unsanitary CROSS CONNECTIONS, PLUMBING.

    Our photo of a cross connection (left) shows a water conditioner drain line (using a garden hose) connected to a sewer pipe - inviting sewage and bacteria to enter the building's water supply.
  • Also, where the softener is emptying its drain product into an onsite private septic system and drainfield, the salts in the wastewater may shorten the drainfield life, so take a look at REDUCE IMPACT of SOFTENER on SEPTIC.
  • Watch out also for crimped water softener drain line tubing. If you are using soft flexible tubing to connect your water conditioner to a drain line it's easy to crimp the line at a sharp bend or where it is stapled to a building support.
    A crimped water conditioner drain will interfere with proper backwash/regeneration cycling of your equipment.

Cross connection of water softener to sewer line (C) Daniel Friedman

Watch out: Use an air gap: for elevated water conditioner drain lines that empty into an overhead sewer pipe or waste pipe you should use a sink-type trap for the connection (that is provide an air gap to avoid back-contamination of the equipment).

Watch out: Never connect the water softener drain line directly to a sewer drain (that is by an air-tight connection such as shown at left).

Doing so invites sewage and bacterial back-contamination into the building water supply system, especially if a sewer line backup occurs. See CROSS CONNECTIONS, PLUMBING.

Connecting Water Softener Electrical Power

The water softener also needs to be plugged-in to an electrical outlet to power the equipment control. See Steps in Starting Up A New or Newly-Installed Water Softener for details.

Setting up the Water Softener & Setting Its Controls

You'll need to set the water conditioner's clock to the proper time (and day on some models) and you may need to set the water softener controls that determine the frequency of regeneration and the salt dose. See SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS.

Steps in Starting Up A New or Newly-Installed Water Softener

The following advice is adapted from water softener installation manuals from Culligan and other water conditioner manufacturers.

For new water conditioners: The water conditioner start-up procedure here is appropriate when you are installing a new water conditioner system or a new water conditioner media tank.

Watch out: as Culligan's manuals point out about new water conditioners,

A sanitizing agent has been added to the conditioner tank [the media tank or resin tank] at the factory. This sanitizing agent must be flushed out before the unit is placed into service, by initiating a recharge cycle using the steps outlined below.

  1. Plug in the power cord: Check that the water conditioner timer or control is in the "service" position, then plug in the water conditioner's power cord to an electrical outlet.

    You should use a grounded outlet that will accept a grounded electrical cord plug (a three-prong plug). If necessary you can use a three-prong to two-prong adapter to connect to a two-prong electrical receptacle, but be sure that that receptacle is itself grounded. In general, a three-prong to two-prong electrical outlet adapter includes a green metal tab with a hole in it that is used to make a proper connection to the electrical grounding system.

    The screw in the center of the cover plate for the electrical receptacle is removed and reinserted through the green tab so that the adapter is secured in place and a ground connection is made. We recommend that you ask your electrician to install a grounded, three-prong electrical receptacle in that location as soon as convenient.
  2. Set the water conditioner controls: set the timer to the correct time of day, time of recharge, recharge frequency, and set the "salt dose" or refill regulator to the proper number. See SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS for details.
  3. Open the bypass valve: with the controls set for normal service, slowly open the water inlet valve or slowly open the bypass valve if it was in the closed or "bypass" position. On a Culligan water softener this means push slowly on the blue knob on the bypass valve to put the unit into service.
  4. Allow water to fill the resin tank.
  5. Perform a water softener regeneration cycle. On a typical Culligan model this may mean rotating the cam that carries the "salt dosage" dial 1/3 turn, or pushing a red "regen" button on the water conditioner timer.

    Note: more detailed instructions in your water conditioner installation or user's manual may explain the need to move the salt dosage cam to start a regen cycle or to return the cam to a normal between-cycle position.
  6. Drain and refill the hot water tank? If hard, untreated water entered the building's hot water tank while the water softener was on bypass or turned off, then you should drain and refill the hot water tank.

    Watch out: Be sure that the water heater is turned off before and during drainage and refill.

List of Free Water Softener & Water Conditioner Installation Manuals

Watch out: because water softener and other water conditioner equipment models vary in features and functions, they also vary in their exact installation requirements. You should have or obtain the installation, operation, and maintenance manual for your own brand and model of water softener.

Most water softener owners manuals include detailed installation instructions and also a table of recommended settings. If you don't have an owner's manual call the manufacturer's tech service and give them the model number and ask for a manual as well as their setting advice.

Also see SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS where we provide details about water softener setting and salt dose adjustments


Continue reading at SOFTENER ADJUSTMENT & CONTROLS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.


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