Know About Water Filter Systems Many of us live in areas where the water quality is not as good as we'd like; in some cases long-term exposure to contaminants in public or private water systems can be hazardous to your health. Fortunately there are many different water filter systems on the market, ranging from the relatively inexpensive to the very pricey whole-house systems. Given the importance of the issue and the potential confusion in having so many choices, it is worthwhile to understand better the main options.
In addition to studying the different water filter systems, it might not be a bad idea to obtain a copy of the water quality report issued by your city or county. Not all areas have these, and you might need to make a phone call or visit to your water agency for this information. If your water quality is pretty good, you may not want to spend on a whole-house water filter system, for example, but may just want a filtered pitcher for drinking water.
In short, the main water filter types are summarized below.
Filtered pitchers you can refill from the sink and place in your refrigerator. These usually include a charcoal filter element that you change out a couple of times annually. The cost is probably around $20 to $30 for the pitcher; each replacement filter cartridge is a few bucks.
A variation of the pitcher is the Berkey water filter system, which provides almost four gallons per hour in a setup that looks a bit like a cross between a large coffeemaker and a bottled water dispenser like you'd get from Sparkletts or Arrowhead waters. This system can run up to $300 or more but is amazingly effective at filtering out unwanted contaminants; it reportedly can remove food coloring from water, not that you'd typically be testing it that way. This is better suited for situations where you don't mind manually adding water, especially in rural or camping situations.
Inline filter cartridges are another water filter systems option. Often these come in arrays of different filter elements designed to remove specific substances. The cost might be around a couple hundred dollars, depending on capacity and what types of filtering you need to do (check that water quality report). These may be placed in the water line leading to the kitchen sink, for example, to provide filtered water for cooking and drinking.
Whole house filtering systems can cost multiple thousands of dollars and are installed on the main line coming into the house (some even treat water used for irrigation of landscaping, depending on your water quality) and therefore must handle a higher capacity than the inline cartridge filter assemblies. Some of the whole house systems have the ability to flush the contaminants from the filter material, thereby extending the life of the filter. These might be combined with water softening systems.
The highest level of treatment comes from the reverse osmosis water filter system. Originally used in military vessels to make drinking water from seawater, modern systems are generally affordable, although the cost per gallon can run a lot higher than filtered water (but cheaper than buying bottled water). The water is forced under pressure through a membrane that has extremely small pores. Consequently this filtering method is particularly effective. A typical reverse osmosis system will include conventional filters to remove the easy stuff before the water is run through the membrane. We suggest you not go with the cheapest products in this category; it is a pressure vessel and if production quality is poor, you'll have all manner of problems too soon.
Your choice of water filter system will depend on your needs (health issues?), budget and quality of water before treatment. An organized approach to selecting a filter system is the best way to ensure a wise decision.
J. M. Key is a civil engineer who has written widely about a variety of technical topics over the past 30 years. Key has discovered a lot about some of the clever new water filter systems, including information about reverse osmosis water filter systems.