At the point you decide to have a water softener installed in your home, it certainly helps if you have some headline knowledge about how the plumbing system works.
I’m not saying you need to have any plumbing qualifications – far from it. But it can be useful to have a handle on the basics. Of course, it’s always important to know where the stopcock is situated if you suddenly spring a leak or there’s a burst pipe. But if you are intending to have a soft water system fitted, a cursory understanding of the plumbing in your property will definitely simplify the whole installation process.
What sort of heating and hot water system is installed?
This is a central question. And it’s likely to be one of three.
Firstly, it could be a traditional gravity-fed system, where you have the tank in the loft and an immersion heater in the airing cupboard. Older properties would be more likely to have this type of system in place.
Secondly, a combi boiler. Combis account for the majority of domestic boilers these days as they are compact, cost effective and reasonably energy efficient. It’s basically a water heater and central heating boiler, combined in a single unit, often installed in a kitchen cupboard.
The boiler heats water directly from the mains on demand, whenever a hot water tap is turned on. There’s no need for hot water cylinders or a water storage tank in the loft, making them ideal for modern houses with one bathroom. For larger houses, however, where there is excessive or constant demand for hot water, this is where combi boilers can fall short, as they can struggle to retain decent water temperature and pressure.
Which brings us onto the third option, often found in larger properties with multiple bathrooms and shower units – a calorifier – of which the most common brand name is Megaflow. This is basically a stainless-steel water tank or cylinder that heats water and sits in your airing cupboard as it doesn’t take up a lot of space, although it can be stored elsewhere in the home.
There are two versions of how it heats water; either via an immersion heater which is the direct unvented version, or via water being fed straight from the mains, known as the indirect unvented system. Each version ensures there is a constant store of hot water maintained at mains pressure.
From our perspective, it is important to know what type of plumbing system you have. This is because certain water softeners are better suited to specific systems, e.g., Megaflows work best with Ecowater water softeners.
Where is my stopcock located?
Whether it is located indoors or outdoors, for many reasons, it’s important to be able to turn off the water supply from the stopcock – especially if you are having a water softener installed.
Nevertheless, it’s surprising how often we carry out an installation where the property owner is unaware as to the location of their stopcock. The best way to track it down is to follow the pipework from the cold tap in the kitchen which should lead you straight to the stopcock.
In new build properties, stopcocks are normally found under the kitchen sink but, in older homes, you’d be amazed at the places where they can lurk – under the stairs, in airing cupboards, larders, hallways. Sometimes they disappear altogether! This can happen where the property has undergone a refurb and, for reasons best known to themselves, the builders have blocked up access to the stopcock – which is not necessarily a good move.
What if my stopcock is located outdoors?
If an internal stopcock is untraceable, the next move is to look externally. A bit of detective work may be needed here but begin at the boundary of your property where the mains feed comes into your home. It should be either in the grass or soil at the end of your garden, on the pavement or on a nearby path. For those who have metered water, the likelihood is that the stopcock will be in close proximity of the meter, normally in the same chamber. Wherever it is situated, it can normally be identified under a small cover with a brass cap.
What is your water usage?
Whether you pay water rates, or you have a metered supply, it is also useful to know how much water you use. Having a water softener may (and we say may advisedly) be an opportunity to reduce your water bills but, apart from anything else, it will give us a good indication of the usage and, therefore, the best type of softener for your home. On average, daily water usage is calculated at 160 litres per person.
Incidentally, the average UK water and sewerage bill for 2019/20 was just over £413. So, in the case of smaller or single occupancy households, having metered water could provide a cost-saving option.
What should the water pressure reading be?
Water pressure varies from location to location. Nevertheless, water softeners can be damaged if pressure levels are either too high or too low. For a water softener to operate satisfactorily, our recommendation is that the highest pressure should not exceed 5 bar (70psi). At the lower end of the scale, the pressure should not go below 1.4 bar (20 psi). You should be able to check what your water pressure level is from the gauge which comes in off the mains before the supply reaches your boiler or Megaflow.
What size pipework is suitable for a water softener?
Pipework normally comes in three standard sizes, geared to the size of the property – typically 15ml, 22ml or 28ml diameter pipes. The larger the property and the number of bathrooms, with heavier demand on water supply and flow rates, the greater the requirement for larger diameter pipework.
Water softeners are designed to be fitted to any of these pipework sizes, although certain models are better suited to smaller properties with fewer bathrooms and less demand on supply. Meanwhile, other softeners are geared to higher demand. In order to connect your water softener to the incumbent pipework, there are three options available to you:
- We supply and fit the water softener (the most popular route)
- We supply but you fit the water softener
- If you move, we can reinstall your water softener in your new home
Scott’s useful tip: If you prefer to take care of the water softener installation yourself – where we supply and you fit – in the belief that this will be a cheaper option, this may turn out to be false economy.
On a number of occasions, we have been called back at a later date by an embarrassed homeowner to reconnect everything up to the pipework. Either they have been unable to make any connection, so that the system doesn’t work at all, or it appears that there has been an issue with the water softener (unlikely). On closer inspection, we discover that the reason the water softener is malfunctioning, is because the pipework hasn’t been connected correctly and, once we’ve rectified everything, we discover that the water softener is actually working as right as rain.
In these situations, notwithstanding the time involved, fruitless visits to B&Q and all that raised blood pressure, it would have been easier (and no more expensive) for us to have taken care of the complete installation in the first place.
In terms of price, our installation charges start from £250.
We hope this crash course in plumbing has proved useful. Without doubt, when you first make contact with us to arrange a soft water system installation, the more information you can provide at the outset about your plumbing system the better. It makes the whole installation process more efficient.
However, if you still feel stumped as to exactly what plumbing configuration you have and you really aren’t sure where everything is or what it’s called, don’t worry. We will always get to the bottom of it on your behalf. For all water softener or soft water system enquiries, call SJ Water Softeners, the No.1 supplier for the south of England. Call us on 01243 607494 or email: email@example.com