Kenmore water softener problem; repair or replace?
We have a Kenmore water softener in the garage that we inherited when we bought the house. It was installed in 1999. We have recently experienced a significant decrease in water pressure. Water company has come out and confirmed pressure is good and no leaks. When we bypass the water softener, water pressure problems go away. We have filled the tank with salt but the tank has water sitting in it that is over the bottom of the salt, which doesn't seem normal. We have already cleaned the valve.
Given the age of the unit, does it make any sense to try to repair it or should we just replace it?
We know that our area has very hard water but we have not had it tested; given that we already know about the hard water, and the fact that many neighbors also have water softeners, is there any benefit to having the water tested?
if we go ahead and replace the unit, recommendations on good, reliable, low/no maintenance units? Fleck, LifeSource, something else?
What is a reasonable cost for installing a new unit?
Can water softeners be installed outside the garage (I'd love to have the extra room in the garage if possible).
Thanks in advance.