If you’re dealing with hard water in your home, one of the best solutions is to install a water softener. But if space is tight indoors, you may be wondering – can I put my water softener outside?
The short answer is yes, you can install an outdoor water softener with proper planning and precautions. Water softeners work by removing minerals like calcium and magnesium from the water through a process called ion exchange. This can help prevent scale buildup in pipes and appliances and improve the feel of water for washing and bathing.
Outdoor installation offers several potential advantages but also comes with some drawbacks to weigh. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about installing a water softener outside, including:
- Benefits of an outdoor water softener
- Drawbacks to consider
- Climate and location factors
- Choosing the right outdoor softener
- Installation and maintenance tips
- Cost breakdown
Follow these tips to determine if an outdoor softener is right for your home and situation.
Benefits of an Outdoor Water Softener
Installing your water softener outside offers some key advantages:
More Space Indoors
One of the biggest perks is freeing up room inside your home. Water softeners require a brine tank that can take up substantial floor space. Moving the entire system outside clears this room for other uses.
Easier Access for Maintenance
When your softener is outdoors, it’s simpler to access for necessary maintenance like adding salt, replacing filters, and cleaning. You won’t have to squeeze into a tight indoor spot or move appliances and furniture.
Since water softeners require salt, keeping them in a warmer indoor space can cause the salt to cake or bridge. Positioning the softener outside where temperatures are cooler prevents this issue.
Water softeners make some noise when cycling through the regeneration process. Locating them outside eliminated this noise from inside living spaces.
The brine solution discharged during regeneration needs adequate drainage. This is easier to accommodate with an outdoor softener that can drain directly into the ground rather than taxing your home’s plumbing.
Added Property Value
A professionally installed outdoor water softener can increase your home’s value by improving the water quality and demonstrating upgraded systems.
Drawbacks to Consider
While installing a water softener outside has its perks, there are also some downsides to weigh:
Exposure to Elements
When located outdoors, water softeners are vulnerable to rain, snow, wind, and sunlight. The cabinet needs to be weatherproof and may require insulation to protect components.
Risk of Freezing
In colder climates, an outdoor softener and its plumbing are at risk for freezing in winter. You’ll need to take precautions to prevent pipes from bursting.
With pipes and fittings exposed outside, leaks may be more likely and go unnoticed until they become major problems. Close monitoring is required.
Can Look Unsightly
Some homeowners associations prohibit outdoor water softeners because of their appearance. Even if allowed, careful placement is needed for aesthetics.
While maintenance is easier than with an indoor unit, an outdoor system still requires diligent upkeep to maximize performance and longevity.
Increased Installation Costs
Installing a softener outside typically costs $200-$500 more in parts and labor compared to an indoor unit due to the need for weatherproof materials and excavation.
Important Climate and Location Factors
If you’re considering an outdoor installation, your climate is a key factor in determining feasibility:
- Outdoor water softeners work optimally in warm, temperate climates. Areas that rarely freeze are ideal.
- In climates with moderate freezes, outdoor installation is possible but will require special precautions.
- In cold climates with routine sub-freezing temperatures, outdoor installation is not recommended. The repeated freezing and thawing can damage components.
Beyond climate, these location factors also impact the decision:
- Try to position the softener close to where water enters your home for the shortest pipe run.
- Ensure there’s adequate space for the full system including tanks and drainage.
- Check local codes – some municipalities prohibit outdoor installs or have setback requirements.
- Avoid areas prone to flooding or with poorly draining soil.
- Prevent congestion around electric meters, gas lines, and AC units.
Choosing the Right Outdoor Water Softener
You’ll need to select a softener specially designed for outdoor installation. Key features to look for include:
A sealed cabinet constructed from plastic, fiberglass, or coated aluminum protects the softener from rain, snow, and dirt. Lockable cabinets deter tampering.
Outdoor softeners should have freeze protection, such as foam insulation around the brine tank. Some have heaters to maintain optimal temperatures.
Fittings and connections need to be reinforced to stand up to the elements. Avoid softeners with plastic pipe fittings.
An elevated base lifts the softener off the ground to prevent moisture damage and provide proper drainage.
Opt for a softener with a warranty that remains valid for outdoor installation. Standard warranties often exclude outdoor use.
The leading brands for outdoor water softeners are Fleck, GE, and NuvoH2O. Compare models to find one with the right features and capacity for your household’s water usage.
How to Install an Outdoor Water Softener
Installing an outdoor softener requires some additional steps compared to an indoor unit. Here’s an overview of the process:
Select an Appropriate Location
Choose a level spot with good drainage that meets any required municipal setbacks. Consider aesthetics and access.
Prepare the Site Area
Excavate the soil to create a flat pad. Install gravel and a concrete base for the softener to sit on.
Dig trenches to run pipes from the water source to the softener and back to the home. Use insulated, freeze-resistant piping.
Position the Softener & Connect Plumbing
Place the softener on the prepared pad, level it, and connect all plumbing per manufacturer instructions.
Install Electrical Supply
Connect required power supply to the softener. Use weatherproof conduit and fittings.
Backfill Around System
Refill trenches but avoid burying plumbing for future access. Slope soil away from the softener.
Activate & Test Softener
Add salt to the brine tank. Disinfect pipes, power on the softener, and test for leaks before using.
Most DIYers choose to hire a professional plumber for outdoor softener installation. Your plumber will handle the entire process from start to finish.
Ongoing Maintenance Tips
To keep your outdoor softener running efficiently:
- Inspect regularly: Check for leaks, unusual noises, error codes, and other problems. Catch issues early before they worsen.
- Test water: Periodically run tests to ensure you’re still getting properly softened water.
- Sanitize: Disinfect the system twice per year following manufacturer guidelines. This prevents bacteria growth.
- Clean filters & screens: Replace sediment screens and clean out carbon filters per the manufacturer’s schedule.
- Add salt: Keep the brine tank filled with salt tablets to maintain proper function.
- Seal cabinets: Reseal the cabinet if cracks appear to prevent water intrusion.
- Drain the tank: Drain and clean the brine tank annually to remove sediment buildup.
- Service annually: Have a qualified technician inspect and tune up the system to maximize longevity.
Installing an outdoor water softener typically costs $2,200 to $4,500, including parts, labor and any needed plumbing modifications. Costs depend on:
- Type and size of softener needed
- Required plumbing work
- Power supply modifications
- Excavation costs if hiring a contractor
- Local installation rates
Ongoing costs for salt, maintenance and eventual repairs average $200 to $400 annually. While expensive upfront, a properly installed outdoor softener can last 15-20 years and improve your water for decades to come.
Is an Outdoor Installation Worth It?
The upfront investment for an outdoor water softener is substantial. But for many homeowners, the long-term benefits outweigh the costs. By saving indoor space, reducing noise, and keeping the system cooler, an outdoor softener can be worthwhile.
Carefully weigh whether the advantages match your needs and environment. In warm regions where freezing is not an issue, outdoor softeners present an excellent solution for water quality issues. With smart precautions, they can also work for some colder climates.
Discuss your particular situation with a professional installer. They can assess if an outdoor softener makes sense for your household or if an indoor unit would be preferable. With the right choice and proper maintenance, a water softener positioned outside or in can provide a sound improvement on hard water problems.