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I recently was wondering how good my inherited water softener was performing so I bought some strips and tested the water in my house. The water was very hard, so I wanted to figure out what's up. The drain water from the softener is quite soft, so I'm now suspicious that I've somehow bypassed the softener.

The image in the link below shows the bypass valves configuration (red handles, bottom of image) for the softener on the right. My understanding is that this configuration should not only bypass the softener but also shut off water to my house. However, I've tried every faucet and shower head, all still work fine. I've also tried just hot water and that's also running fine.

Any ideas why I might still have water after these valves are closed?

enter image description here

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Could you possibly label the pipes and valves in this picture? –  Freiheit Aug 16 '13 at 13:23
    
In our house some of the water lines bypass the water softener. (e.g. the outside water faucets and some cold water lines) –  Craig Aug 16 '13 at 15:17
    
Good grief: I am sure glad we don't have hard water! To my uneducated eye, that looks like two kinds of water systems. With the cutoffs in those positions, is there any water faucets which no longer work, like maybe the outdoor faucets? –  wallyk Aug 16 '13 at 15:22
    
I tried pretty much all of the water in the house short of the dishwasher and sprinklers, but including outside faucets. Everything still seems to flow fine. –  Gregable Aug 16 '13 at 15:52
    
Sorry about the mess of pipes in the picture. The thing on top is the tankless water heater. The blue can on the right is the water softener. The painted vertical pipes going to the water heater are hot, cold, and gas. The unpainted pipes heading right out of the picture then run in through the water softener. The softener is definitely getting water when I open these valves and is not getting water when the valves are closed. The house and hot water tank seem to be getting water in either configuration. –  Gregable Aug 16 '13 at 15:59

2 Answers 2

In my experience, quarter-turn ball vales are extremely reliable. I've seen some incredibly rusted out plumbing, including where the valve handle has completely fallen off after rusting through, and you can still reliably shut the valve with a pair of pliers or replacement handle.

It's hard to check if it's faulty 100% (without cutting pipes, anyway), but as a first step:

  1. Disconnect the softener.
    • It looks like you have the right head to be able to do this. Turn the valves off, then turn the handle on the front to drain (may want to do it a couple times until you hear no more water draining) -- if you skip this you will get quite wet, trust me. Unscrew the two metal clips on each side, then the softener should pull straight forward -- there are o-rings providing the seal. enter image description here
    • Alternatively, turn the dial to Drain and listen to the water flowing in the next steps. This might be a bit less reliable but should still help.
  2. Open the supply side valve a bit, you should get water coming out.
  3. Open the service side valve a bit, you should not get any water out (other than maybe what drains out).
    • If you do, SOMETHING is wrong: the bypass valve is faulty OR there is a cross-connection. By operating the bypass valve, you might be able to tell if the pressure increases (indicating cross-connection) or does nothing (faulty valve) but this isn't 100%.
    • If nothing comes out, then with the service side open and supply side closed, open the bypass a bit just to verify that water comes out.
  4. With service side open, and supply and bypass valves closed (there should be no water coming out of the softener connections), check the rest of the taps in the house. Report back here, I can't even really speculate what's happening in this case, other than perhaps your softener is not actually connected at all.
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This is helpful. I figured out another way to tell where water is flowing. The pipes are in the sun in the afternoon. If water is flowing through them, they cool down very noticeably within just a couple seconds. My tests indicate that in the configuration in my photo, water is in fact not flowing as the pipes do not cool down. If I open the middle bypass valve with a faucet running in the house, those pipes immediately cool down. If I open the two softener valves, those cool down too. I guess this means there must be a cross-connection upstream somewhere short-circuiting my softener? –  Gregable Aug 17 '13 at 19:56
    
@Gregable: That demonstrates excellent creativity and insight in non-destructive analysis! –  wallyk Aug 18 '13 at 4:25

With those valve handles in that position, yes, this should shut off the water to your house.

Sounds like you have some misconfigured plumbing somewhere. Trace the plumbing from where it enters your house from the utility and make sure that its first (and only) stop is the water softener.

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Is it plausible that one of the valves might be broken internally and letting water through? Unfortunately it is incredibly difficult to get to this part of the crawl space so I want to eliminate ask other options first. –  Gregable Aug 16 '13 at 15:24
    
It's possible, but unlikely. Do the handles all take approximately the same force to turn? –  longneck Aug 16 '13 at 15:28
    
Pretty much. Out of curiosity though, why would the force required matter? –  Gregable Aug 16 '13 at 15:49
    
Actually on another try, the middle valve does seem a little easier to turn than the other two. I might be imagining things though, it's not completely loose or anything. –  Gregable Aug 16 '13 at 16:10
    
Because if one feels different from the others, that means that valve could be broken. –  longneck Aug 16 '13 at 16:26

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