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I moved into a house constructed in year 2000 that already has an Ionics Hydro 5000 water softener installed. The old owner never left a manual and I couldn't find a manual online, so I'll voice my concerns here.

The water softener is installed in the garage, which is in the front of the house:

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On the adjacent wall in the front of the house, I see two spigots. I suppose one is for softened water and one is for the original hard water. I should be using the hard water spigot to wash my car so I can reserve the soft water for indoor use. How do I know which one is which?

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In the back of the house, I have a single spigot. Is it serving hard or soft water? In the back yard I have fruit trees that need watering. The salt in the soft water will dehydrate trees, so it is cruicial that I don't use soft water on them.

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As requested by @TDHofstetter, this is a closeup of the shutoff valves going into the head of the water softener:

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  • If it's got a lot of mineral content, hard water leaves mineral spots on paint and glass, I'd recommend going to the local car wash and using their deionized water rinse feature for best life span on your car paint job. Just an idea from experience as the mineral rings that accumulate on glass are easy to prevent that way and hard to remove. – Fiasco Labs Aug 16 '14 at 13:41
  • Before I turned on the softener, I never noticed any white residue on my car, dishes, sinks, etc... But I started getting severe acne after moving in to the house, so I thought if experiment to see if turning on the softener would help. The downfall is that I don't want to kill my plants by watering with salty soft water. – JoJo Aug 16 '14 at 16:29
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    I haven't heard of mineral content causing acne and it sounds like the water is reasonably low mineral if it's not spotting stuff. However I would have the water checked for industrial contaminants and other halogenated organic compounds as they cause a condition called chloroacne. – Fiasco Labs Aug 16 '14 at 17:15
  • @FiascoLabs I looked up photos of chloroacne and I don't look like all bumpy like that. Mine just looks like regular teenage acne. When I searched for "had water acne" on Google, it returned a lot of articles supporting the correlation. Here is my city's 2013 water quality report. I don't know how all those listed chemicals affect health. I don't drink the tap water though - I filter with a Pur water pitcher. – JoJo Aug 16 '14 at 17:28
  • @jojo3, softened water shouldn't be salty. If it is, something's wrong with the process or machine – alt Aug 16 '14 at 20:06
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If that water softener has a shutoff valve (it should, for service purposes), your task is simple - shut off the softener and test each sillcock. If you still get water, it's hard water. If not, you may get a very small flow for a moment (until the plumbing is all depressurized) but it'll stop quickly.

If it does NOT have a shutoff valve, one should really be installed at some point, along with a pair of unions to make water-softener replacement or service easier.

  • I see two knobs where there are two pipes entering the top of the water softener. These knobs are parallel with the tubes, which I assume means the flow is unrestricted. However, unlike the knobs which I've seen in people's YouTube videos, my knobs are plastic and aren't turnable. They look turnable, but I couldn't. – JoJo Aug 16 '14 at 16:34
  • Could you post a picture of the knobs? They may be something we'll recognize as valves or as something else. – TDHofstetter Aug 16 '14 at 16:55
  • Here's the photo of the knobs: pbs.twimg.com/media/BvLYOGsCcAAReKR.jpg:large . Other people's shutoff valves look like handles that you can wrap your whole hand around. Mine look like you just use your fingers, but they don't even turn... – JoJo Aug 16 '14 at 17:50
  • Yep, that's definitely a pair of bypass/shutoff valves. The lower one in the photo is hard water inlet from the source, the upper is soft water outlet to the house. If you can get ONE (but NOT BOTH) of those valves to turn until the top bar is perpendicular to its current position, that should shut off soft water completely to the house. DO NOT turn them BOTH, that will just bypass the water softener completely. It looks like those knobs should turn clockwise from their current position. – TDHofstetter Aug 16 '14 at 17:56
  • FFR, the two knurled knobs around the pipes serve as service unions, and the small grey knob below them appears to be a bleeder. – TDHofstetter Aug 16 '14 at 17:57
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Looking at your second photo, I'd say that the top spigot is soft and the bottom is hard. The bottom is directly connected to the water main, coming up through the concrete, through the pressure regulator (the bell-shaped object) and thus, is connected before the softener.

There is no way to tell from the photos what is coming from the back-yard spigot. Your best bet is to buy a water hardness tester or test kit. I just did a search and currently, you can buy a tester from Amazon for around US$16. If your tap water is hard enough to warrant a softener, it is easy to test if water is direct tap or softened. Try washing your hands with standard hand soap. You should be able to tell the difference after rinsing: if your hands feel slippery, the water is softened. Try this first in the front where you have both so you can tell the difference.

If you decide not to use the softener, there may be a bypass valve on the back of the head of the unit, where the pipes enter.

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    Searching "hard water test" on Amazon turned up results for water testers that aren't specifically labeled as hard water testers. Would I be able to use this affordable and reusable probe? I really only care about my backyard fruit trees - I don't want salt getting into the soil. I couldn't care less if my car got washed with the wrong water. – JoJo Aug 16 '14 at 17:17
  • Please see my edit. – DoxyLover Aug 17 '14 at 17:11

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