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If the down time of the water softener is an issue, or if a family is large or lives where water is particularly hard, it may be smart to consider a dual-tank water-softening unit with two resin tanks. With a dual-tank unit, when one tank is in use, the other is regenerating. As a result, softened water is being supplied continuously, without any break in service. And because these units operate on demand, they can be sized smaller than single-tank units.

Several models are available. One popular product, the Fleck 9000, has a fully adjustable valve that is controlled by a meter. When the water softener starts backwashing one tank, its control switches the water supply to the other tank, offering a continuous flow rate of 21 gallons per minute. With this model, you can buy various tank capacities—24,000-, 32,000-, 40,000-, 48,000-, 64,000-, 80,000-, and 110,000-grain capacity per tank. These range in price from $950 to $2,000. Dual-Tank Considerations

When shopping for a dual-tank water softener, keep in mind the space it will require. Install it where it can serve the main inbound water line so it can supply the entire house. It will also require a drain for backwashing. If you choose a model that requires electrical power, be sure a circuit is located nearby. For more about placing your water softener, see How to Install a Water Softener.

Also look for features such as NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) certification and a solid warranty on the control valve and mineral tank such as three years for the valve and 10 years for the mineral tank. A good water softener should last at least 20 years. Magnetic Water Softener or Descaler

In the Salt-Free Water Softeners article, you’ll also find a discussion of a more controversial option—the electronic or magnetic water softener or descaler. According to manufacturers, this plug-in device, which clips onto the incoming pipe, sets up a magnetic field that changes the electromagnetic properties of the calcium-carbonate minerals so they are repelled by pipes and each other. Please see the article for more about this.

If you would like to try out one of these, please check out and read the user reviews for the Eddy Electronic Water Descaler (buy on Amazon) shown here. Note that the manufacturer offers a 12-month money-back guarantee. If you do try it out, please send us your feedback. Water Softener Size & Features

When buying or leasing a new water softener, selecting one that is the right size is important. You’ll want to get one that can handle the demands of your household but is not unnecessarily large (and expensive). Physical size isn’t the issue—the unit’s ability to remove “hardness” minerals from water without frequent regeneration is.

Water softeners are sold in several sizes, each rated by the number of grains of hardness they can remove from water between regenerations. The idea is to get a unit that will go at least three days between recharges. Ideally, the water softener can also handle periods of larger-than-normal water usage.

You can calculate the size of water softener your family needs by multiplying the number of people in your household by 75—the average number of gallons used per person per day—to figure out the total amount of water your household uses daily. Then multiply this number by the number of grains per gallon (GPG) of hardness minerals in your water to figure out the capacity of whole-house water softener you need.

Before leasing or buying a water softener, become acquainted with its features and controls. For example, check out what controls the regeneration cycles, how long each cycle takes, and the amount of water and salt needed for recharging. Be aware that even fully automatic types require occasional refilling with salt. Several different methods are used to control the cycles, but the two main types are:

Water softener timer controls. Clocks or electronic timers automatically recharge the unit at a preset time and day, based on your average usage. This type may fall short if you have unusually large water usage on a particular day. They also waste sodium and water because they regenerate whether or not recharging is necessary. They usually do this in the early morning hours.

Softener DIR controls. A more sophisticated method, called demand-initiated regeneration (DIR), senses when the resin needs recharging, either electronically or with a meter that measures and calculates usage. A demand-initiated regeneration system saves on salt and regeneration water because it does not recharge unless necessary. In addition, it provides for abnormally large water usage. Water Softener Buying & Leasing Tips

Should you buy or lease a water softener? In the short run, leasing is often the most attractive option because there are no significant upfront costs. Depending on the level of service and materials the company offers, you can pay from $15 to $50 per month or more on a lease. If you buy, you will pay about $150 per year for materials. And, of course, you’ll have to pay for the unit. Depending upon the features, prices range from about $400 to $2,500 or more.