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Because there are often stories in the news about contaminated drinking water, many people consider installing a point-of-use water filtration system or a whole-house reverse osmosis system, or they buy bottled water to use for drinking and cooking.
In the U.S., we spend about $100 per year per person on bottled water. For a large family, that can really add up!
Choosing any form of whole-house water filtration system instead will pay for itself in a couple of years and save you a lot of worry about your family’s health. One of the higher-end options is a whole-house reverse osmosis system (RO system).
If you're curious about whole-house RO systems, this short guide should help you understand what an RO system is, how it works and whether it might be a good investment for your home.
Most of us want our water supply, whether municipal water or well water, to be clean water. There are several ways to further purify water at home, regardless of your source: boiling, chlorinating, distilling, and filtering. The first two are proven disinfection methods, to a point.
Boiling water kills pathogens but doesn't remove mineral contaminants, such as heavy metals, nitrates, pesticides, sediment, or other total dissolved solids (TDS). For instance, no amount of boiling would have removed the lead in Flint, Michigan's municipal water system.
The same shortcoming holds for chlorination, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition to using chlorine as a primary disinfectant, a secondary process adds ammonia to chlorine to produce chloramine, a longer-lasting disinfectant. Sure, your water company is disinfecting your household H2O, but do you really want all that in your drinking water?
Water distillation removes pathogens and other contaminants from your water supply. However, distilled water lacks some of the essential trace minerals and elements (such as magnesium and manganese) that you get from tap water because the distillation is so effective. Distillation can also give you flat-tasting water because there are no minerals in it.
Water filtration is a proven, cost-effective, and practical water treatment solution. There are several filtration systems that range from point-of-use products, such as countertop dispensers or under-sink systems that may filter water only at your kitchen sink, to whole-house filter solutions.
The answer depends on your priorities and preferences. However, there are some things to consider before you make a final decision.
If there is an immunocompromised person in your home, you may need to consider a filtration system. While 90% of municipal water treatment systems are effective, it takes just one "Boil Water" notice to put your health at risk. In 2017, the EPA identified dangerous levels of lead from thousands of municipal water treatment facilities in the US.
Another reason to invest in a whole-house water filter is if you just don't like the taste of your water. First, though, it's a good idea to get a certified water test (especially recommended if you use well water). If the test results don't indicate any problems, the bad taste may result from chlorination or its mineral content.
What Are the Benefits of a Whole-House Water Filtration System?
Filtering your water is an excellent investment in your family's health. A whole-home water purification system that filters out contaminants means you can drink, cook, and bathe in clean, uncontaminated water.
You'll also save money on all that bottled water and stop contributing to single-use plastic that contaminates the environment. A whole-house water filter will pay for itself in reasonably short order.
Did you know that the chemicals, minerals, and heavy metals in your water can also damage your pipes and home appliances? You can extend the use of your water heater, dishwasher, and washing machine by adding a water softener to your filtration system.
Also, chlorine and chloramine can contribute to skin conditions. Likewise, it can exacerbate allergies and asthma. So, eliminating those and other contaminants from your water is good news for your health.
High-quality reverse osmosis water filtration systems are very effective. They reverse the water flow of naturally occurring osmosis by using a semi-permeable reverse osmosis membrane to filter out contaminants.
A whole-house RO system may just be the answer.
What Is a Reverse Osmosis System, and How Does It Function?
A natural phenomenon, osmosis moves water (sometimes called a solvent because of the dissolved mineral constituents) in a clockwise direction to push water through a semi-permeable membrane.
Reverse osmosis also uses a semi-permeable membrane under pressure to separate total dissolved solids and other contaminants. The water flows in the opposite direction of the osmosis process, which is why it's called reverse osmosis.
With a pore size of 0.0001 micron, a reverse osmosis membrane effectively filters out protozoa such as giardia and cryptosporidium, bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, and viruses such as hepatitis A, norovirus, and rotavirus.
The membrane also removes dissolved solids such as metal ions, and dissolved salts and minerals such as sodium, calcium, chloride, copper, chromium, and lead. As a result, RO may also reduce the levels of arsenic, fluoride, radium, sulfate, magnesium, potassium, nitrate, and phosphorus in your water.
Jean Antoine Nollet, an 18th-century physicist, is credited with inventing reverse osmosis. In 1967, Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering students Dean Spatz and Chris Miller created a prototype for purifying water through reverse osmosis for a water purification assignment. Further developing RO applications, Spatz could be considered the "father" of today's RO water purification industry.
Is It True That RO Water Isn’t Good for You?
Reverse osmosis doesn't distinguish between the health properties of total dissolved solids (TDS); it filters out virtually all of them, organic and inorganic. That has led to largely debunked claims that RO isn't good for you.
On the contrary, the Water Quality Association asserts that plain H2O provides health benefits and not its constituent TDS.
Coconut carbon-based filtration systems are an alternative to RO systems that will target specific contaminants like chlorination and heavy metals without removing good minerals.
Claims that RO water leaches trace minerals and elements from your body are also unfounded. The WQA Technical Fact Sheet cites the EPA's chief of human risk assessment, saying mineralized water supplies only a fraction of trace minerals and elements needed for healthy body function. A balanced diet is the primary source of these healthful minerals and elements.
The bottom line: RO water can be healthier for you because it eliminates harmful TDS
Are Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration Systems Safe?
As with any filtration system, RO water filtration systems are as safe as the quality of the system's equipment, installation, and maintenance. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has responsibility for inspections and technical compliance. In that role, the FDA has published technical guidelines and requirements for the safe installation and maintenance of a reverse osmosis water filter system.
Generally speaking, RO systems require someone with a technical capability to install your system; you'll want to hire an expert to install your whole-house RO system. After all, it is their field of expertise. You can use the company that sells you the RO system, but if the company doesn't service your area, check with your local HVAC or plumbing contractor.
Before you hire someone to install your system, check that they have experience with whole-house reverse osmosis water filtration systems.
Note that because of the complexity of an RO system install, many customers have opted to go with the less expensive, reliable, and easier-to-install option of a simple carbon filter whole-home water filtrations system. We have ranked our top 10 whole home activated carbon filtration systems here.
Do Reverse Osmosis Systems Need Maintenance?
One material downside to the RO system is that they do need regular maintenance.
The first stage of filtration in an RO system protects the semi-permeable RO membranes with a pre-filter (think of it as a water pre-treatment), which functions as a sediment filter. The pre-filter removes dirt, silt, sand, and other sediments from the water before reaching the RO membrane.
It is best to do a filter change every six to nine months to prevent clogs or fouling. If sediments foul or clog the pre-filter, the pre-filter doesn't protect the RO membranes. The typical cost for maintenance and membrane replacement is approximately $80-$90 per year on average, but can range from $60 to $200 depending on your system. The expense is mostly made up of replacement filters.
Sediments are solid materials, such as sand, soil, and minerals, that are held in suspension in water and precipitate out. RO systems remove 90%-99.99% of organic and inorganic minerals and contaminants from water, including salts and minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.
According to the Water Research Center, reverse osmosis doesn't remove most organic compounds, dissolved gases like radon, or bacterial microorganisms. This is why municipal water utilities engage in water treatment. Water treatment is an essential first step in ensuring the best water quality enters your RO system.
If a residential well is your water source, you should consider ultraviolet (UV) disinfection pre-treatment. Ultraviolet light uses ionizing radiation to break down chemical bonds, making it an effective germicide.
If you are on city or municipal water, you likely only need a simple activated carbon filtration system. Activated granular carbon or activated charcoal filters and made out of various organic materials, including oats and coconut shells. They could be a cost-effective way to improve water from municipal treatment facilities, reducing chlorine and improving taste. Carbon-based filters can treat rust and sediment and, depending on the composition, can target reduction of other common municipal contaminants that leech into residential city water after the treatment facilities, such as heavy metals, pesticides and THMs.
It's a good idea to treat your water with a water softener. The minerals in water are what make it "soft;" a whole home RO system results in your home water supply becoming "hard" water.
Hard water up in your appliances and plumbing, leading to a reduced water flow rate at your kitchen sink and showerhead. It also means the pipes and valves in your appliances will experience the same scaling and reduction of water flow rates.
As a result, a water softener installation can save you money by helping you avoid potentially costly repairs.
See our list of top water softeners.
The cost of a whole-house RO water filter system depends on your choices, but on average, in addition to the cost of the unit, which can be as high as $9,000, expect to pay about $2,000-$3,000 for the installation itself. While a storage tank system requires more room and holds gallons of water, a tankless system that requires electricity to operate is more expensive.
Also, pretreatment of your water, such as with UV disinfection, will typically add around $900 to the total cost. Remineralization, a process that reintroduces minerals into your water, is another factor to consider.
The cost of an RO system install is material. This is why many people who live in cities with a municipal water supply have opted for the materially less expensive activated carbon filter option, like a top of the line whole home activated carbon filtration system . If a whole-home unit is more than you need, a high-quality under counter unit can be installed under any sink and can be installed in as little as 15 minutes.
If your water quality is important to you, you can consider any water filtration system a good investment.
An RO system is particularly beneficial if you are not on a budget and have plenty of space to install the system. If an RO system is not right for you, there are plenty of alternatives on the market that serve the same purpose.
A high-quality water supply is essential for all of us. Investing in a whole-house reverse osmosis system could give you peace of mind, knowing that the water in your home is safe.
Ready to save money, be kinder to the environment, and safeguard your home’s water supply? Reach out to Home Water today to find the filtration system and filter subscription that’s right for you,
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