Many people are more than happy sticking their glass under the tap and drinking whatever comes out, provided it’s reasonably clear and odor-free. But if you’re at all like me (an admitted health nut), you don’t want your water to merely meet federal requirements for toxicity; you want it to be healthy, rejuvenating, and delicious. For me, this means buying a water filter.
Here’s what prompted my decision:
- I read my city’s (Houston) drinking water quality report. You can search for your city or town’s annual Consumer Confidence Report online, courtesy of the EPA. I learned the average level of nitrite in my drinking water is three times the recommended level, and as much as 20 times the limit in some samples. Excessive nitrite in water can be deadly for infants and is dangerous for pregnant women.
- The recommended levels themselves are influenced by politics. From the Houston report: “While your drinking water meets EPA’s standard for arsenic, it does contain low levels of arsenic. EPA’s standard balances the current understanding of arsenic’s possible health effects against the costs of removing arsenic from drinking water.” (emphasis added)
- Stories continue to emerge of male fish growing female sex organs due to pharmaceuticals and pesticides in the water supply. The EPA does not require testing for pharmaceuticals.
If you decide to go the water filter route, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Types of Filtration
The majority of filters use on or a combination of these filtering methods.
- Carbon filters: This type of filter uses carbon in either granular activated or powdered block form to remove contaminants. Carbon filters are typically inexpensive and produce great-tasting water, and are most effective at removing organic materials like chlorine and heavy metals. Carbon filters are not good for eliminating contaminants like arsenic, fluoride, or nitrates. These filters also need regular cleaning and/or replacement.
- Reverse osmosis filters: Reverse osmosis filters use pressure to force water through a semi-permeable membrane. They are excellent at removing anything that is smaller than a water molecule, like fluoride, lead, and most notably, arsenic. The problem is that they also remove the good nutrients present in water, like iron, and they waste a significant amount of water in producing drinkable water. They are also expensive, slow to fill, and take up a lot of space.
- Distillers: Distillation filters remove contaminants by boiling water until it evaporates, separating out the water molecules to be condensed back into liquid form and leaving the harmful elements like nitrate and heavy metals that have higher boiling points. But like reverse osmosis, distillation also strips water of the good stuff, produces flat-tasting water, and is not effective against chloroform or ammonia. On top of that, they’re slow, must be cleaned frequently, and usually require electricity to operate, making them useless in a power outage.
Types of Configurations
Filters come in a variety of installation setups. Part of determining which is right for you depends on your living arrangements. If you rent, a temporary filter like a faucet-mounted, countertop, or some undersink filters is advisable. If you own and are short on space, consider an undersink or whole-house filter. And before choosing your product, check to make sure it is NSF certified.
- Faucet-mounted: The cheapest option ($15-$55+), this filter simply screws onto the faucet and can usually be installed by hand in a matter of minutes. Faucet filters allow switching between filtered and unfiltered water at the flick of a switch. These filters generally do not filter contaminants as thoroughly as larger filters. Expect to get somewhere between 100-200 gallons of water before you need to change the filter, which can cost $10-$25.
- Carafes: Carafes are water pitcher filters that can be had for $15-$35. Although the initial cost is low, the filters can clog easily and cost $50-100 to replace annually. They also are not recommended for families with more than two people, as the water runs out quickly.
- Countertop: These filters come with a diverter valve that screws into the faucet and runs a water line to the container that sits on your counter. They’re at a higher price point ($50-$300+), and replacement filters can set you back another $75 or more. But quality filters should last for six months or 500 gallons. Note that some brands will not work with faucets that have sprayers.
- Undersink: In a price range similar to countertops ($30-$250+), undersink filters can filter large amounts of water and last for 500 gallons or more. They also take no sink or counter space. But they do require plumbing changes and are more complicated to install than faucet or countertop filters. Replacement filters average about $100 a year.
- Whole house: A great whole house filter can change your life. It attaches to your home’s main water line and filters everything that goes in, meaning showers, sinks, and fridges all receive the same filtering. You’ll pay for all that filtering though; while the entry-level is about $40, a top-of-the-line runs $700 or more. The installation can also be tricky without plumbing experience.
I rent a townhome, so I can’t install a whole house unit. And my kitchen faucet has an extendable sprayer, so I can’t get the countertop Aquasana AQ-4000 that I intended to get. Instead I’ve ordered the AQ-4600 undersink filter. It’s in my price range at $150 and it filters pharmaceuticals and pesticides. I can also uninstall it when I move out. On the down side, it doesn’t filter nitrites. I guess I will just have to live with those.