In some homes, the water in the domestic water system may be safe but not the best water for drinking, washing, and cleaning. Hard water or water filled with heavy metal like iron can stain the fixtures in your home and leave behind a terrible taste when consuming it.
Testing the Water
Before moving forward with the water softener installation, have the water tested for contaminants by an independent testing facility. There are many places you can take the water sample to have it checked and get an unbias report of what might be in the water and how best to treat it. Some of the large home centers offer water testing, and if you don't have someplace local, a quick web search will turn up places you can send a sample for testing.
Fixing Hard Water
If you have hard water in your home, you can install a water softening system to reduce the amount of iron or other minerals in the water. The system can filter and soften all the water coming into the home, or it can just filter specific areas.
You have to choose if you want to treat all the water or not, and while the cost of consumables for whole-house treatment might be a little higher, the saving in damage to things like showers, tubs, and toilets can make the added cost of filtration a little more palatable.
The softener sits in the basement of the home or can be outside the house in warm climates, and all the water coming in runs through the tank and filter. The system uses salts and charcoal to remove the minerals and other contaminants as the water passes through it, cleaning the water.
One system can handle the entire house, and when it is properly maintained, the system will keep working for years. If you are not comfortable changing the salt and media in the system, you can get a maintenance contract with the company that installs your system, having them come and check the system a couple of times a year.
Installing a smaller water softener on the water line that feeds a specific part of the home is fine, but keep in mind, the damage in the pipes and fixtures may not be visible, but it is happening inside the pipes of the areas not running through the system.
These smaller systems are sometimes used only on the drinking water coming into a home or maybe just where the faucets are so that the water looks great. Still, the amount of upkeep is higher on smaller systems, and they do not adequately protect the entire house.