While the bottlers and distributors of bottled water have done an excellent job of making Americans think that the healthy choice for water comes from a plastic bottle, the reality is that water from your tap is not only cheaper to drink and use for daily tasks, it’s perfectly safe. Municipal water is more highly regulated than bottled water and the fact is that ninety percent of U.S. water systems meet the EPA quality standards for tap water.
Some areas do have issues with water quality, perhaps from an aging municipal water infrastructure. Or maybe it just needs one more filtration or even has a funny taste.
You can read your local water quality report to know for sure about your tap water. You can get this either from the EPA or at your local city or town hall. The EPA can also tell you about water quality for private wells. If you’re still confused, look for the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water which has a helpful explanatory guide. The National Tap Water Quality Data base can provide further information.
But even if your water is completely safe and tastes just fine, you may want to invest in an in home water filter as recommended by the Environmental Working Group. You’ll want to look for a filter that is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation.
No filter is going to be able to remove every contaminant. But here are the most common types of filters to consider as well as what they’re designed to remove from your water.
Carbon filters can come as countertop pitchers, faucet-mounted models, models for under the sink, and point-of-entry systems. Carbon is a porous material that absorbs impurities as the water flows through.
Carbon filters are designed to remove lead, PCBs, chlorine byproducts (chloramines and trihalomethanes), certain parasites, radon, pesticides and herbicides, the gasoline additive MTBE, the dry-cleaning solvent trichloroethylene, some volatile organic compounds, some levels of bacteria (such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia) and a small number of pharmaceuticals.
Reverse-osmosis systems push water through a semipermeable membrane. These are often used in conjunction with carbon filters. The problem though, is that they can waste up to nine gallons for every gallon of water filtered. These filters remove chemicals carbon filters may miss, including perchlorate, sulfates, fluoride, industrial chemicals, heavy metals (including lead), chlorine byproducts, chlorides (which make water taste salty), and pharmaceuticals.
Ultraviolet light units disinfect water and kill bacteria. You can find a counter top version of this for under $100, but if you want a whole-house unit, expect to spend more than $700. Ultraviolet light units remove bacteria. Experts recommend using them with carbon filters to remove other contaminants.
The least practical method for home are distillers which boil and condense water. There are countertop models available, but they use more electricity, generate heat and require cleaning on a regular basis. Distillers remove heavy metals (including lead), particles, total dissolved solids, microbes, fluoride, lead, and mercury.
In addition to the type of filter there are several options in terms of the system itself. For the most part, you should be able to install a system on your own. So look for the system that bests removes the contaminant you are trying to eliminate. While countertop and faucet mounted filters are the easiest to install, they’re bulky and somewhat less convenient than under the sink models which stay hidden out of sight. Your other option is a whole-house filter which is placed on the main water line entering your home. These are designed to remove sediment and rust from the water as it comes into your home.
Having a water filter isn’t a necessity, especially with today’s stricter water quality controls. But it may give you peace of mind and help you and your family to better enjoy the water that comes into your home.