Water Filter Systems
The good news about the world of water filter systems is that there are many good choices and options, for varying needs and budgets. The bad news is that there are many choices and you’ve got to sift through all of the information, some of which can be technical in nature. As a civil engineer with some experience in water systems of various types, I’m pleased to offer what I hope will be a concise and helpful introduction that will allow you to make a smart choice and find the best price.
Water quality is important. We don’t want or need pure water; small quantities of the right natural minerals are good for us. But many public water systems or private wells produce water that really needs help and, over time, bad water can take its toll on our health. Everything from rust to dirt to tiny parasites to bacteria to nasty chemicals has the potential to show up, and understanding what needs to be removed will guide your evaluation of various water filter systems.
One thing you might want to do to start off your research, is to obtain a copy of the water quality report prepared by your city or county. Not all do this, but some communities are required to do so. In my city the water is generally pretty good; it comes from a combination of local wells and the state-wide aqueduct system. It really does not need much filtering, but it is hard water (which I’ll describe briefly below) that can leave scale in pipes and on plumbing fixtures, requires greater amounts of soap and has other negative effects. So we have a water softener and use a countertop water filter system for most of our kitchen drinking water. That works great, except for the considerable expense of the water softener salts.
I’m thinking about other ways to reduce the hardness of my water, but this is a website about filtering, not water softeners. The point here is to check the water report for your area; it may tell you of particularly troubling contents in your tap water.
Types of Water Filter Systems. The simplest options are perhaps not really systems, consisting either of a drip filter that you fill from the tap and keep in the refrigerator. The water drips through a filter element that you change say twice a year. There are also units that apply directly to the end of your faucet, although these might not be as effective as a unit where the water is given time to percolate down through the filtering element.
Another type of filter is the individual filter used for say the refrigerator ice maker or dishwasher. It may be a simple inline filter, meaning the pipe connects to each end of the filter, or it may be a larger cartridge filter that is a slightly different configuration but otherwise just a bigger version of the inline filter.
Some of the more sophisticated water filter systems have two or three of the cartridge filters, each one with in interior filter element designed to pull out different substances. These may treat just the kitchen sink, or the whole house, or a portion thereof. If the water is pretty bad overall, you’ll want this installed in the piping system before it Tees off to the bathrooms, but probably after you peel off for outside water faucets and sprinklers.
If the cartridge water filter systems are installed on a water line that handles large volumes, as in much of the house, you’ll find that they won’t keep up with demand and will require more-frequent replacement of the filters. In that case, you might want to consider a whole house filter system. These often consist of large canisters with special filter compounds inside, some of which are flushed clean automatically (the output from flushing can be used to water vegetation) and can go years without replacement. The cost can be a thousand dollars to a few thousand dollars for well-made whole house water filter systems. Speaking of well-made systems, don’t scrimp on cheap plastic systems made exclusively with cost in mind. It’s great to look for a deal, but if you see a system that seems a bit flimsy and is a lot cheaper than all the others, you might want to stay away from it.
The next type of filtration is reverse osmosis. This involves pushing the water molecules through a special screen, or membrane, under pressure. This design forces the water to go through very small openings, thus removing a lot of substances not touched by some other kinds of filters. This is one of the more-expensive water filter systems, as the membrane must be replaced with some regularity and they are sometimes not cheap, especially for a system to handle larger water volumes during peak usage in a busy home. It is common for a reverse osmosis (RO) system to include one or more cartridge filters to pull out the “easy” stuff, leaving the membrane to separate out the smaller criminals. RO systems can run over $1,000.
By the way, there are numerous variations of the filter elements mentioned above. These can include simple disposable carbon elements all the way up to fancy multi-layer products and flushable, long-lasting materials controlled by a computer (usually whole house water filter systems).
Given the choices in design and cost it is worth deciding your clean water objective. If you have substantial health issues, you may need to spend for a whole house water filter system and/or a reverse osmosis unit on your primary faucet. If your water is pretty good overall, but you’d just like to know that the drinking water has been filtered (psychological benefits?) you could consider a $20 filter pitcher that sits in your refrigerator. If your budget does not allow for the more-sophisticated systems and you don’t have serious health issues, go with the cheaper solution and just get all your drinking water from one faucet.
The Next Steps. Once you’ve found a small number of options that fit your needs and budget, you can search online for that product and add the word “reviews” after it. There you can read what other say, but be careful that some review sites are really just clever marketing pitches for water filter systems for which they receive a reward. Finally, some of the larger systems are offered by companies that will take your questions by email or phone; ask them questions and listen to see if they are giving you reasonable answers or hollow sales pitches.
It may be that you’re only buying a filter at the recommendation of your dishwasher or refrigerator, in which case an inline or cartridge filter designed for that product is what you’ll want.