Reuben's Home Inspection Blog


Water Softener Installation Defects

I'm not sure if it's handy homeowners or negligent contractors that are responsible, but I find the same installation defects on water softeners over and over again.  The installation instructions for water softeners are pretty much the same for all the different manufacturers, so the information I'm giving here should apply to just about any water softener.

Missing ground clamp

All of the metallic water distribution pipes in the home are supposed to be bonded; in other words, they're all supposed to be able to touch each other.  If the water pipes in the home weren't bonded, what would happen if an energized (aka 'hot', aka 'ungrounded') wire came in contact with one of the pipes?  All of the plumbing fixtures and other pipes that were connected would become silently energized.  When everything is properly bonded and there is a proper ground jumper at the water meter, this can't happen.

I find this bonding compromised by a plastic by-pass valve at nearly half of the water softeners I see.  If the water softener manufacturer provides a plastic by-pass valve, they will also provide a ground clamp that needs to be installed on the water pipes coming in to and going out of the water softener.

Ground clamp diagram

If you live in Saint Louis Park and you don't have this installed when it's time to sell your home, the city inspector will require repair of this as part of their Point of Sale inspection program.  If you don't have the clamp, don't worry; you can achieve the same thing with a pair of ground clamps attached to the water pipes and a bare copper wire running between them.

Ground clamp
ground clamp

Improper drain hose

The drain hose that comes from the water softener needs to terminate in a manner that won't create a potential cross-connection between the potable water and anything else... such as sewer water.  This is usually achieved with an air gap; this is just a literal gap between the end of the discharge pipe and the drain receptor, whether it's a floor drain, standpipe, or laundry sink.  The only problem with the diagram below, which is what one of the water softener manufacturers includes in their installation manual, is that water will shoot all over the place.  When water softeners discharge water, the water flows fast.  It doesn't dribble out.

air gap at water softener drain

The photo below is an example of an air gap at the floor drain.  Even if the floor drain were to back up with sewer water, the water wouldn't come in contact with the end of the discharge hose.  Also, note that the cover for the floor drain has been cut out a little bit; if this wasn't done, the discharge from the water softener would probably splash water all over the place.

Water softener discharge at floor drain
Water softener discharge at floor drain

Softened water provided to the outside faucets

While this isn't technically a defect, it's bad practice to run softened water to the outside faucets.  Lawns and plants don't need softened water, and this is a tremendous waste of softened water.  Any time a water softener is installed, the water supply pipes for the outside faucets should be connected upstream of the water softener.

It's also standard practice to connect the cold water for the kitchen sink upstream of the water softener.  The reason for this is that softened water will have a higher sodium content - but probably not enough to make much of a difference, according to the Mayo Clinic web site.

In the photo below, you can see that all the water for the house passes through the water softener; this is a wasteful installation that should be corrected.  Because this was an unfinished room, it would be quite simple to run un-softened water to the outside faucets and kitchen sink.

Softened water to entire house

Powered by an extension cord

This is probably the biggest "no duh" defect that I find with water softeners.  Everyone knows that extension cords aren't supposed to be used as a substitute for permanent wiring.  If an outlet is needed, it should be installed by an electrician.

That concludes my list of the most common water softener installation defects.  While I'm on the topic of water softeners though, here's one more piece of information; this list gives the water hardness for most cities in the Twin Cities metro area.  I keep this list with me, and use it as a reference whenever a clients asks me about the water hardness is their city.   Water Hardness List

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Comment balloon 12 commentsReuben Saltzman • July 19 2011 05:03AM


Even the guy from Sears who installed our softener 13 years ago bonded it, to my surprise.  Of course it has broken so much over the years that I unplugged it and gave up, but it's bonded!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good for the Sears guy!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

We hav'em copper pipes!  And the water main is right there.  That was the best place to install it.  Bummer it always breaks.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Water softeners are only sometimes used in some of the rural areas peripheral to my main service area, Montreal. However this post has alerted me to look for specific details when I do encounter them. Thanks Reuben.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) over 7 years ago


I see missing bonding all the time. I almost should put it as a auto comment then just remove it when I find a home that is properly bonded ;)

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Reuben, great tips, more for me to keep an eye out for, but more importantly to stress why a proper home inspection is vital.

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 7 years ago

Jay - huh?  What always breaks?

Robert - you're lucky; we have a lot of hard water in our area, and a lot of houses just kind of need them.  When I used to live in Minneapolis, I was spoiled with my soft water :)

Donald - same here.  I've been meaning to write up a blog to use as a reference in my inspection reports explaining a few of these issues.

Chris - thanks, and thanks for the re-blog :)

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

The softening device.  It stops softening, or sending out the brine water, or whatever.  The repair guy is expensive and I got tired of it.  It's unplugged now and has been for years.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 7 years ago

Good Morning Reuben, water softners are rare in this area with either public or private water systems.  The few we do have are ofter over looked.  The post is an excellent review that I will remember.  Thanks for the 'heads up'!

Posted by Dan Edward Phillips, Realtor and Broker/Owner (Dan Edward Phillips) over 7 years ago

Jay - I've heard that they don't last for much longer than about five years.  That's been my own experience...

Dan - you're lucky too.  I wish I didn't need one.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) over 7 years ago

Just goes to show that home inspections are vital to the success of the sell of the property.  Thanks for sharing and I am re-blogging to get the word to more readers.

Posted by Rosemary Brooks, The Mother & Daughter Realty Team (BMC Real Estate - 209-910-3706) over 7 years ago

Hi, Reuben -- thanks for the tips -- I always learn a lot through your blog.  Water Softeners are very common in the Phoenix market, due to the high mineralization in our water supply.  But I find that they often convey 'as is' in real estate transactions (much like the landscape watering systems) because of ongoing problems.

Posted by Eric Crane -- Your Full Service, Discount Fee Realtor®, Greater Metro Phoenix Arizona (DPR Realty LLC) over 7 years ago