If you're considering a home water filter system, you probably already know about the many benefits it can have for your health, home, and finances.
You may also know that water filtration technology is constantly changing and getting more exciting. We now have more options and control over the taste and quality of our water.
Unfortunately, too many consumers buy the best, state-of-the-art filtration system when they don't need to. Water filters do not have the same value for every buyer, and more expensive doesn't always equal better performance.
The best filter system is determined by several unique factors that affect your water quality. If you're worried about missing out on the best value for your needs, this article will detail everything you need to consider when choosing a water filtration system.
Where Does Your Water Come From?
Well, water and public water are much different in quality, so the filtration level you need will start here. For many, purified well water is regarded alongside spring water as superior in quality. Its natural, unaffected state comes with a host of beneficial minerals that make for exceptional taste.
The Problems with Well Water
Unfortunately, well water is also open for any environmental hazards to find their way in, from animal feces to agricultural fertilizers and industrial chemicals. There's also the dirt and debris in the earth to contend with before anything.
You'll need a sediment filter to start. This will remove all larger particles like rust, dirt, and silt before the water moves on to the next filter. This helps maintain the flow rate and keeps the finer filters that come later from failing.
There are no EPA regulations on well water quality, so testing your well water is critical to do early and often, at least once every year. It could be exposed to countless contaminants, and you'll need a water filter system that addresses every unique aspect.
The Problems with Public Water
There is public water regulation from the EPA. They set standards for over 90 common water contaminants to ensure the public's safety from disease and other health issues.
That protection doesn't mean you won't have issues with your water. Problems in the pipes leading to your tap could add heavy metals or other toxic elements that need filtering. For most people on public water, the larger concern is the taste.
The disinfection stage of the water treatment process introduces chlorine to kill off microorganisms like bacteria and parasites. Utility companies will also add fluoride to help prevent tooth decay, with is especially beneficial for young children.
Chlorine can ruin the taste of water, so you may want to add a water filter system that removes it before it reaches your lips. Like well water, you should test several factors like hardness and heavy metal exposure before investing in a water filter.
What Contaminants Do You Need to Filter?
The cheapest option to test your water is with a home testing kit. For the most accurate and precise information, you can pay a certified laboratory or send a sample to your state health department.
If you are on well water, sending out to a certified lab is recommended. Despite the expense, you can test for the broadest range of contaminants, including the following:
- Microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and protozoa
- Heavy metals like lead, zinc, copper, chromium, and arsenic
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Herbicides and pesticides
- Dissolved solids like sodium and chloride
- Water hardeners like calcium and magnesium
Once you obtain your results, you'll know exactly what kind of water filter you'll need. You can buy specific filter types or combination filters if they fit your needs.
Read the manufacturer's labels and manuals to find out what contaminants they protect against. For the most clarity, look for the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) label so you can look the product up in the NSF database. The NSF sets the standards for water filtration systems, so they can tell you exactly what a product is certified to treat.
Types of Home Water Filter Systems
Water filters generally fall into point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU) categories. Able to handle large volumes, POE filters attach to your water supply lines for everything in your house, including your bathroom fixtures, kitchen faucet, dishwasher, and washing machine. A sediment filter is a standard POE filter that is usually supplemented by other filters down the line.
A cheaper and more convenient option, a point-of-use filter is used at specific points around the house. An under-counter model is a POU filter that attaches beneath a kitchen sink. More familiar POU filters would be countertop gravity filters or faucet attachments.
Activated Carbon Filters
Activated carbon filters use charged carbon granules or more powerful carbon blocks to absorb different chemicals and organic materials. It's a common water filtration method that shows up in many POE and POU products.
If your water tastes or smells bad, a carbon filter can help. An activated carbon filter is ideal for removing or reducing chlorine, chlorine byproducts, VOCs, and various gases.
Carbon filters can improve taste and remove harmful VOCs, but they can't remove microorganisms. They are also ineffective against heavy metals like lead and copper, as well as nitrates and dissolved minerals that contribute to hard water.
Activated carbon filters are prone to developing bacteria, which, while not necessarily harmful, can still be concerning for some homeowners. To address this, manufacturers add silver to activated carbon and other filter types to reduce their growth.
Depending on where the activated carbon filter falls in your water system, you may be able to go up to 12 months before replacing old filters. Whole house filters, as the first point of attack, absorb the most contaminants, so they only last roughly 2-6 months.
UV filters are usually a part of combination systems because they deal specifically with microorganisms. To be effective, UV filters need clear water to reach all of the bacteria, parasites, and viruses swimming around. The ultraviolet light eliminates these microbes and prevents them from reproducing.
Common water contaminants like E. coli or the parasite Cryptosporidium can be removed with UV, making them ideal for well water. Public water is usually treated for these, but it's not wise to use chlorine to treat personal well water.
Reverse Osmosis Filters
Reverse osmosis filters are among the best filtration options, but they are also one of the most expensive. These filters use high pressure to press water through a membrane to separate water from organic and inorganic contaminants. The holes are so small that they can remove a wide range of materials, including:
- Dissolved solids like sodium
- Bacteria, viruses, and protozoa
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Heavy metals like lead and arsenic
A reverse osmosis filter is a great under-sink option, but it has limited value for whole-house systems in many places. It's not as water-efficient as other filters, as some water goes to the faucet, and the rest washes the filter and drains away. You can find a reverse osmosis filter's efficiency by looking at its efficiency or recovery rating.
Along with delivering the highest-quality clean water, reverse osmosis systems last several years before needing replacement. This is partially thanks to the excess water that regularly washes the membrane.
Reverse osmosis filters often come in three, four, or five-stage filters for various filtering power. If you have high levels of contaminants that you want to remove from your drinking water, a four-stage under-sink option can provide a reasonable flow rate and save you space on your counters.
Ion exchangers help soften hard water. Hard water is defined by high levels of dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium. These can leave water spots on dishes, rusty stains around bathroom drains, and scaly buildup in your appliances.
A water softener uses ion exchange (IX) resin that traps incoming positively charged calcium and magnesium ions and replaces them with positively charged sodium ions. The sodium ions then proceed with the rest of the water through the systems. You'll occasionally need to rinse the system with a salty water solution that releases and drains the built-up calcium and magnesium from the resin.
Softening your water will benefit your health and your wallet. Your skin and hair will be less dry and much softer, and you'll enjoy fresher, brighter clothes that will come out of the wash. If you've ever had trouble with water spots on dishes, they'll disappear with a water softener as well.
The key advantage of a water softener is preventing scale buildup in your water heater, appliances, and plumbing. You'll save in the long run by extending the life of major fixtures.
Who Uses Your Water and How Do They Use It?
Filtering everything under the sun may sound fine, but there are times when it can be useless or even detrimental to do so. It all depends on who is using the water.
You have to filter microorganisms, heavy metals, VOCs, and other synthetic chemicals to prevent illness. You may only need to filter other contaminants in certain situations.
Nitrates should be monitored for high levels, but they are generally only harmful to infants and pregnant women. Fluoride can help prevent tooth decay, but it has also been linked to problems with child development. Meanwhile, sodium from water softeners may not be ideal if you have high blood pressure, and you may need to use harder water.
A whole house filter can be bought in different sizes based on the number of rooms it's supplying. However, they can get expensive, and their filtration power might not match the exact issues you have with your water. They also might be more than you need for the whole house.
For example, you may only have issues with bad-tasting water from chlorine. It makes sense to filter your drinking water from the sink, but it may be overkill to demand it for your toilet and shower. These kinds of considerations will depend on your water test, individual needs, and flow rate.
Filters will have different flow rates measured in gallons per minute (GPM). For a whole house filter, you'll need a higher GPM because it supplies several sources. You can get a lower GPM for single sources, like under-sink or other POU filters.
You can usually find the flow rate for your various appliances and fixtures by looking at the manufacturer's information. Compare that to your water filter to see if it meets your household needs.
Many whole house filters have labels with their estimated capacity. Some may be labeled as "1-3 bathrooms" or a similar measure.
What Is Your Budget for a Home Water Filter System?
Water filters will vary depending on their power and technology. A decent whole house filter will cost a few hundred dollars, but the best combination systems can be several thousands of dollars. Unless you have severely tainted water or specific contaminants that are hazardous, you may want to look elsewhere.
Under-sink options are usually less expensive, but you can still expect to spend over $100 for a quality system. A 3-5 stage reverse osmosis filter will usually run you a few hundred dollars.
Countertop and gravity-fed pitchers are the most economical solution for filtering water, with many coming in under $100. Comparing filter costs, replacing old filters is cheaper, even if you have to do it more often than a whole house filter. You also save on installation because you don't need to integrate them into your plumbing.
Be wary of low-cost models, as their filtration levels often do little to address the real issues with your water.
The Benefits of Berkey
The Berkey line accommodates the water needs of families of all sizes. If you're looking for home water filter systems that deliver top-end filtration at budget-friendly prices, our countertop systems are an exceptional value. The multi-stage filtration power can clear contaminants from all kinds of water, whether from the city or straight from a stream.
If you're ready to get the most out of your water but not blow your budget, try a Berkey system today. Start shopping for the perfect system for you and your family!