Water is safe to drink in the United States because public water systems are required to meet strict standards to ensure the water is drinkable. The Consumer Confidence Report makes clear the number of contaminants found in local water supplies and reports how it matches up to the EPA’s standards for drinking water. All water suppliers must provide a water quality report to each home and apartment building every July confirming the findings of local water surveys.
The local testing and the level of contaminants when turning on your water faucet and filling up a glass with water is two entirely different things. Lead-free pipes only became law in 1986 which means that some of the pipes feeding water to the home could be adding extra lead and other unwanted particles into the water source.
Water filter systems can re-process the water supply using an under-the-counter, countertop or other type of system that removes the contaminants before the water flows through the faucet. No system is perfect, though, with each type offering a different number of contaminants that it is capable of extracting successfully. The best water filtering system can remove over 60 pollutants that remain in the water supply which is plenty.
Depending on the filtering product, water is processed through between three and six filtering stages. Each stage is effective at processing and removing certain pollutants, but not others, and over the course of the complete cycle, its total isolatable pollutants get removed.
Filtering systems are not small and take up considerable space under the sink or on the countertop. Space must be made to accommodate the fitting and equipment needed. Rather than requiring a qualified professional to fit this type of home equipment, filtering systems are sometimes ones that a homeowner will find relatively easy to setup within a couple of hours.
Types of Water Filter System
There are several types of water filter systems available. The water filter systems include:
- Carafe Filter
- Faucet-mounted Filter
- Countertop Filter
- Reverse osmosis Filter
- Under-the-counter Filter
- Whole House Filter
One good rule of thumb with water filters is its ability to detect and remove the presence of chloroform from the water supply. When a filtering system is able to do that, then it’s usually also effective at expunging other organic elements like atrazine or benzene too.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of the types of water filtering systems available to appreciate the differences and their suitability for your home.
The carafe filter, which fits inside a bottle or a water pitcher, is a portable filtering system. Conveniently filling up water straight from the kitchen faucet, the bottle or water pitcher contains the filter that removes some impurities. Often the leading contaminants removed with carafe filters are chloroform and lead, plus a few other elements but it is far less efficient than full filtering systems. Their convenience is that the pitcher or water bottle sits in the refrigerator ready to supply some ice-cold filtered water for drinking.
The negative to this type of the manual fill-up is most certainly the slow filtering process where one needs to think in ounces or liters, not gallons. The filter also tends to clogging up with these types of products. The average family consumes over 6 gallons of water a day, so the carafe solution is usually best for one or 2 people only.
The second water filtering system is one that fits between the water faucet. The water feeds through to the filter, gets cleaned of some impurities, and then leaves the filtering system and runs through the faucet. This is a simple system for the kitchen, but it is often limited to the volume of water that it can filter per minute and the water pressure leaves something to be desired.
The faucet-mounted solution is the easiest to install of all the water filtering systems. The aerator only needs to be unscrewed from the threaded part of the faucet and then screw the new filter onto it. This type of filter also permits easy switching from filtered and non-filtered water. It is worth noting that not all faucet filtering systems fit all sink faucets, with the sprayer that stretches across the sink being the problematic issue most of the time. Getting clogged up is also possible with faucet filters.
The countertop filter is a separate system that works from the counter rather than under the sink. The usual reason for using this type of system is when there isn’t the space under the counter to fit an under-the-counter water filter system.
The water filter setup involves removing the faucet aerator (like with the faucet-mounted filter option) and screwing the filter into position on the faucet. While clogging is less likely than with either the carafe or faucet-mounted filtering options, the added clutter of the filtering system on the countertop severely restricts available counter space for preparing and cooking food. It’s also an eye-sore where people will quickly ignore their requirement for clean water and increasingly find issue with the added clutter.
Reverse Osmosis Filter
Reverse osmosis filters use the existing water pressure to project water through a membrane and then a filtering system. The two-step approach does well to remove solids and a selection of contaminants. It is, however, the slowest filtering option for the running tap. The cabinet space required to fit such a system is no less substantial than the under-the-counter varieties. A professional installer is needed with all reverse osmosis water filtering systems which adds additional expense.
Regarding waste, for every gallon of water filtered, there are 3+ gallons of waste product generated too. The system also requires regular sanitization using bleach which then must be thoroughly flushed out to protect human health. The membrane and filters must regularly be replaced too, increasing the operating costs of this type of filtering system.
Under-the-Counter Water Filter
The under-the-counter water filtering system is the best type and the most advanced of the three options. The multi-stage or reverse osmosis filtering process can filter out many contaminants from the water supply. The list of contaminants varies from filtering system to filtering system, but often includes lead, asbestos, chlorine, mercury, and various herbicides and pesticides.
The water flow rate is often up to half a gallon per minute, with ample 80 psi of water pressure too. Many of these systems filter between 600 and 1,000 gallons of water before needing to replace the main filter. Some systems also carry an NSF certification confirming that the product was tested and met approved safety standards for clean water production.
Whole House Filter
A whole house filtration system supports between 500,000 and 1,000,000 gallons of filtered water that’re safe to drink, brush your teeth with, or bathe in. The filters last between 6-10 years depending on their capacity. Installation kits are available with many top whole house filtration brands.
Add-ons like a UV light filter that removes up to 99% of known bacteria and eco-friendly water softeners further extend the usefulness of a whole house approach to water filtration.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a Water Filter System
There are a few factors to mull over when looking to purchase a water filtering system for your home. Here we run through them to help explain some of the less obvious information more clearly.
Space Under the Sink
The space required to fit a water filter system varies depending on the make and model. As a broad rule of thumb, the height is anywhere from 9 inches to 17 inches, width from 6 inches to 16 inches, and depth from 4 inches to 16 inches. Because the size of a water filtering system varies so much from product to product, it is important to check exactly what space is available under the sink to determine which products will fit the space and which will not.
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Some systems allow the homeowner to complete the setup and installation themselves whereas others are too advanced and require a qualified plumber to install the water filtering system for you. One should factor in the additional expense of a professional fitting to the total cost of the purchase when comparing products that support DIY fitting and those that require a trained professional to complete it.
Contaminants in the water supply are either reduced or eliminated. Every product offers different levels of success when it comes to their filtering method. On the low end, 13 contaminants get filtered away and in the top products as many as 66 contaminants are reduced or removed entirely. Some of the contaminants include asbestos, various metals, organics, bacteria, and chlorine too. The success of the filtration system is mostly a factor of product sophistication, filtration methodology, and price.
A few filtering systems are good enough to qualify for the NSF certification. The certification confirms that both safety and health standards are strictly met with the product. A performance sheet is provided confirming which contaminants get reduced and those that are eliminated entirely using the water filtering system.
Other than NSF certification, several other bodies also certify standards at various levels. When purchasing a water filtering system, it’s common to see logos for UL, CSA or WQA which are all standards for checking water systems for safety, purity, and more.
Filtering systems either use reverse osmosis or a multi-stage filtering system. The number of stages varies from product to product with 2-3 being the most common. The benefit of a product that uses multiple filtering stages is its ability to screen out more contaminants with each pass because some contaminants cannot be removed together and require separation to filter them out successfully.
If you’re someone who believes that water pressure at the faucet matters greatly, then you’ll need to look at the pressure per square inch (psi), that the system delivers. It doesn’t matter what the natural water pressure is because the water must flow through the series of filters which affect the final water pressure that’s delivered. Pressure levels of 60-70 psi are not uncommon, with some advanced filtering system reaching as high as 100 psi or greater.
Cost of Ownership
The cost of ownership is not only the price of the filtering system and possibly the cost to have it fitted professionally but also the filter cartridges themselves. Depending on the system, cartridges last a different amount of time with 6 or 12 months being the most common lifespan. Replacements are also not the same price with each system, so those costs must be factored in too.
Manual Inspection vs. Automatic Notification
Filters for each water filter system don’t last forever. In most cases, the filters have a duration of 6-12 months only. Depending on the product, an automatic notification provides an indication that either the filter must be changed over immediately or that it’s coming up to that point. With filter systems that lack this notification period, the homeowner only really knows by removing the filters and checking them out or tasting the water to see if it tastes different compared to usually or weird.
Not all filter cartridges are easy to access once the system has been fitted under the sink. Indeed, it can often be a right pain to contort oneself into a suitable position to access the cartridge to remove it and then replace it. With better-designed products, they intentionally make it easier to access the filter system to remove parts from it without any difficulty.
Some products are mostly made of hard plastics and other durable components that stand up to continual proximity to water and damp surroundings. With a few models, they step things up by using stainless steel not only with the faucet, but also with under-the-counter filtering systems too. It may add something to the weight of the system once installed, but most fall into a relatively narrow weight range. A few systems do weight over 30 pounds, but this is usually the exception with the majority in the 10 to 20-pound range.
While most systems only include a single faucet, others offer 2 or 3 faucet choices to allow the homeowner to pick one that better matches the décor of the rest of the kitchen fixtures and fittings. Either the design of the faucet or the color is different within the varied selection with manufacturers who think to vary things up.
The warranty period with water filter systems is surprisingly short. A one year warranty is not uncommon to see, and a few filter systems barely come with a full 90-day protection for buyers. One needs to look careful at the warranty to see what protection there is for faulty products either out of the box, or 6 months or longer after purchase and first use.
Features of Water Filter Systems
There are a few functions that are interesting to focus on with water filter systems.
Where will your water filtration system be fitted? Will it be under the sink, on the countertop, to the faucet itself, or directly mounted inside a portable bottle or pitcher? Depending on what options suits you best, this narrows down the product choices.
Not every water filtering system allows homeowners to fit it themselves. Some are too complicated and other systems, like reverse osmosis ones, typically require a professional installation. Hiring a professional increases the total cost of the product.
Filters Out How Many Contaminants?
Some of the cheaper products only filter out 10-13 contaminants. The more expensive products use multi-stage filtering to reduce or eliminate up to 60 contaminants. Which would you rather have?
The list of contaminants includes various metals, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other unwanted extras within the water supply. NSF certification is also something to look out for as it independently confirms the safety of the filtering system.
One Stage or Many
Filtration systems cannot always filter out many contaminants using a single stage system because what filters out one metal may not filter out a chemical too. For this reason, multi-stage systems allow for the extraction of a greater number of unwanted elements from the water than single stage systems permit.
The flow rate is important because it confirms how many filtered gallons of water are produced per minute. A home with a water flow problem won’t get fixed with a water filtering system, but a property that receives sufficient water flow rate won’t get slowed down significantly by using a high flow rate water filtration system.
It is not a good idea to buy a filter system from a tiny company that may not be in business next year. You’ll need to change filter cartridges every 6 to 12 months. Filters do dry out and expire, so it’s not a good idea to try to stockpile several years’ worth of supply either.
Don’t Lose Water Pressure
The pressure per square inch (psi) matters when requiring a high-pressure system in the kitchen, bathroom or throughout the whole house. Water pressure levels of 60-70 psi are easily achieved with under-the-counter and countertop systems, with rates up to 100-120 psi often available with the best equipment. Be sure that your internal pipes can handle the pressure level that a filtering system delivers to avoid a problem with bursting water pipes.
Some water filters have a built-in notification system to make homeowners aware when the cartridge must be changed. The alert is often with an audible sound or illuminated LED lights attached to the side of the faucet with countertop and under-the-counter systems. Systems that lack a warning system need to be checked periodically, or the first sign that the cartridge must be replaced is an unpleasant change in the taste of the water.
Easy Cartridge Changes
It depends on the type of system and how it is designed whether swapping out a spent filter cartridge for a replacement will be an easy or difficult task. Certainly, crawling around on your back trying to access the cartridge to unscrew it from its housing with an under-the-counter filtering system is no fun.
Stainless Steel or Plastic
The fixed design of filtration systems focuses on features rather than appearance. Certainly, this is less of a concern with under-the-counter systems, but with ones that attach to the faucet or sit on the countertop, it becomes more relevant. A few products are offered with a stainless steel outer shell. However, most are made of sturdy plastic and similar durable components that water won’t erode over time.
One Faucet or Many
Most water filtering systems include a sink faucet to fit which is part of the complete package. Occasionally, more than one faucet is supplied to offer homeowners a choice of ascetics for their kitchen. Faucets come in brushed nickel, stainless steel, and other durable materials.
Best Water Filter System Brands
The water filtration industry is quite broad with many companies competing in the space. Below we look at a few brands that offer superior products in the marketplace.
O. Smith Corporation, the company behind the Aquasana brand, is focused on wellness through clean water filtration technologies. Their water filtering systems have won several awards for their ability to remove more harmful contaminants that other competing products. Useful minerals like calcium and potassium are left in the water while dangerous contaminants like solvents, chloramines, and pesticides are removed. Their product range includes portable filter bottles, under-the-counter filters, shower filters, whole house filters, and reverse osmosis systems.
Kinetico Water Systems
With over 1.2 million water systems from Kinetico in daily use today, the company has considerable experience in the field. Kinetico, part of the Axel Johnson company, produces a full range of drinking water filtering systems, water softening systems, and specialized filtering products, like their sulfur guard and scale reduction items, within their product line.
Haier uses the GE Appliances brand under license from General Electric. Haier is well-known in its right for a broad range of consumer equipment like refrigerators and kitchen cooking ranges. The company makes a large variety of exciting water filtration systems. Single and dual stage carbon filtration are perhaps the most familiar, but their reverse osmosis and kitchen, bath, and shower filtration systems are also useful. Both refrigerators and ice makers benefit from filtered water, and GE Appliances has product lines for these too.
Following a complex multi-company merger in 1988, EcoWater Systems came to life. In 1994, the company expanded its residential and commercial footprint into Canada and European markets. That same year, phone update systems were put in place to allow alerts relating to their softening and water filtration systems. In 2007, the company was the first to use wireless remote systems to control water systems. In 2014, their HydroLink mobile software allowed access to water filtering information, salt levels, and water usage via alerts over Wi-Fi. EcoWater Systems and its predecessors have been involved with water filtration for over 90 years.
The company has been producing water filtration systems since 1974. Its first filtering system used their signature solid carbon block filters. The business offers products for residential and commercial purposes across the United States and Canada. Their filtering systems now include under-the-counter, whole house, and filtered water bottles.
WaterChef is an online brand of the Water Safety Corporation. The latter company has been involved with creating and distributing excellent water filtration products for over three decades across a global network of distributors. Situated at the bottom of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, the people who work there have a clear goal to provide clear water through filtration. NSF International is tasked with approving their entire product line which includes countertop water filters, under-the-counter water filters, and shower water filters.
Advanced Purification Engineering Corporation (APEC)
APEC is a leading producer of reverse osmosis water filtration systems in the United States. Their laboratories put together water filtering systems and create bespoke solutions for a broad range of residential and commercial customers. The product line is extensive with reverse osmosis, UV disinfection, water filtration, food filtration, salt-free, and whole house water filtration systems. They also produce water bottles and pitchers with built-in filters too.
Kenmore is involved with almost every aspect of home and consumer goods. Their product range includes air and water treatment, refrigeration, dishwasher, cooking, laundry, grills, and smart appliances.
Pelican Water Systems
Pelican Water Systems have been producing water filtration systems since 2007. Their range of filtering systems includes reverse osmosis, high-flow, sediment, salt-free softeners, and whole house versions. They also have products specifically for well-water purification, and water softeners.
What Consumers Say
Battery-powered LED Lights
There is no power system usually required for water filtration systems. Small batteries supply the electrical power necessary for the LED notification lights when it’s time to change the filter.
Only reverse osmosis systems can remove fluoride from the water supply in most cases.
Two Faucets and Setup
When the sink already has one faucet, and the filtration product comes with its own faucet, then the homeowner has a choice. They can either remove their modern faucet to make space for the replacement, use an extra cutout hole in the sink that already exists for a second faucet, or create a new faucet cutout. With complicated fitting, an expert should be hired.