Things Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Taking Care of Your Home: Water Filters
Unlike air filters, which nearly every house uses, the need for and use of water filters can vary dramatically depending upon your locality. Water filters are the kind of thing you think aren’t important unless you need one, then when you do find yourself in a home or apartment with poor water quality, water filters become extremely important. Water filters can address a wide range of problems from mineral deposits and sediments to odd smells and tastes, and even bacteria and other microorganisms. It’s always a good idea to test your water when buying a new home, but if you find yourself in a place with less than ideal water, investing in a good water filter may be right for you.
If you have a filter, it’s important to change your filters frequently, since a clogged filter will be less effective, slow down water flow, and act as a potential breeding ground for microorganisms. Water softeners can be used alongside some water filter styles, if you have problems with hard water – water with a high mineral content that can leave a residue on your skin, stain tiles, and clog drains.
There are two main variables when considering which water filter(s) may be best for you: 1) the type or technology of the filter, and 2) the location of the filter, namely at what point in your home’s water flow it operates. Make certain that any filter you purchase is properly certified by a reliable organization.
Activated carbon filters (also called carbon filters or pre-filters) remove larger sediment, silt, and some chlorine. They can make water taste better. Activated carbon filters vary widely in quality. Cheap ones need to be rinsed before use or otherwise they’ll leave behind black flecks in the water. Granulated activated carbon filters use fine grains of activated carbon, while carbon block filters use powdered carbon that has been shaped into blocks. Carbon block filters are typically more effective than granulated filters, since they have more surface area.
Mechanical and ceramic filters remove sediments and other large particles, usually by physically blocking them. They don’t remove chemicals or microorganisms from the water.
Reverse osmosis filters push water through a membrane that blocks any particles larger than a water molecule. It does not remove chlorine, trihalomethanes, or volatile organic compounds, so reverse osmosis filters are sometimes used in conjunction with activated carbon filters that can remove those compounds. Reverse osmosis filters produce a significant amount of waste water, generally 3 to 20 times as much wastewater as clean water.
UV or ultraviolet filters kill bacteria and other microorganisms using ultraviolet light. They don’t remove sediment or chemicals, so are best used alongside other filter technologies.
Water softeners lower levels of calcium, magnesium, barium, and some forms of radium in water, to prevent them from building up deposits in the pipes. Most replace calcium and magnesium with sodium. People who need to avoid excess salt should avoid softened water, and it’s best not to water plants or a garden with it.
Many types of filter are point of use – they only filter water in one place, generally at a single tap. These tend to be easier to install and easier to change the filters. However whole-house filters offer a distinct advantage in improving water quality throughout the house not matter how water may be used.
Pitcher or carafe filters are the cheapest and most basic type. Usually they only have activated carbon filters. Pitcher filters can be stored in the fridge to keep water cold. They’re usually best suited for a dorm or apartment situation, since they typically don’t filter enough water for more than one person and have to be refilled frequently.
Refrigerator filters are standard for fridges that have a built-in water dispenser on the door. They only filter the water that passes through the fridge. They usually reduce sediment, chlorine, organic compounds, and some chemicals. However, their small size means they clog up quickly, so they end up needing to be changed fairly frequently.
Faucet or tap filters attach to the faucet, and filter water as it exists the plumbing system. They’re inexpensive and relatively easy to install, typically meant to be able to be screwed on. However they’re of limited effectiveness due to their size and the speed water moved through them, and since they usually use activated carbon filters, they typically do nothing for microorganisms. Faucet filters generally need to be replaced after processing around 100 gallons.
Countertop and undercounter filters connect to the incoming cold water line. The two filter types are fairly similar, differing only in placement. Countertop filters sit beside your sink, while undercounter filters are installed in the cabinetry underneath. They’re usually only installed at one point in the house, typically the kitchen. They have a longer lifespan than faucet filters, generally managing to process 450 to 1,500 gallons (depending on the brand) before needing to be replaced. They remove sediment, chlorine, mercury, lead, and some chemicals, though the majority do not remove microorganisms.
Shower filters reduce sediments, chlorines, and chloramines, which can damage skin and hair. They may also be designed to soften water, removing the oily film that hard water can leave behind.
Whole-house or point of entry filtration systems filter the water as it enters your house, removing the need for separate water filters at every tap or showerhead. Point of entry filters are more expensive than point of use filters like faucet filters, but they’re significantly easier to maintain, protect your plumbing, remove the need for separate filters at every tap and showerhead, and tend to be more comprehensive. Most will filter out sediment, chlorine, and most chemicals, but be sure to research what type of filter you want to meet the needs of your home. Some whole house filters include UV filtration systems to remove microorganisms. These filtration systems work nicely in tandem with water softening systems. While they can be installed by the homeowner, most folks will want to employ a plumber to ensure that all new piping connections are secure and watertight.
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