Not sure if you need a water filter? Or if drinking water from the tap is ok?
This guide to water filters will walk you through the tell-tale signs you need to watch out for when deciding to switch to tap water and everything that goes into the installation and maintenance of a filter.
You may be happy with drinking bottled water but switching to filtered tap water can be so much more rewarding – both financially and environmentally.
By all accounts, bottled water is more expensive than filtering tap water and the plastic waste that bottles produce has become one of the biggest pollutants of oceans and rivers, endangering wildlife and even our health.
One way to stop plastic pollution is to stop buying bottled water and switch to alternative drinking water options like filtered tap water.
Filtered tap water is the single most convenient way to ditch the cap and get fresh drinking water straight out of the tap.
If you’re not sure you need to install a water filter in your home, read our article to get up to date with the situations in which a water filter is a must.
Before we delve into the things you need to look out for before installing a water filter, let’s see what are some of the biggest advantages of drinking filtered tap water?
Why Drink Filtered Tap Water?
Tap water can be a convenient source of drinking water and compared to bottled water its advantages are many:
- Tap water is significantly cheaper than bottled water;
- Tap water is fresher than bottled water that’s stored months on end on the shelf of supermarkets;
- Tap water has a lower environmental footprint compared to bottled water, which goes through a production cycle and a distribution cycle that are both a strain on the environment;
- By drinking filtered tap water, you’ll never run out of drinking water;
- Filtered tap water is excellent for cooking, making coffee, tea and fixing drinks.
If you’re worried about tap water containing certain contaminants that may be harmful to your health, you needn’t worry. Even if that’s the case with your tap water, today’s water filtering systems are so advanced that they can get rid of all sorts of tap water contaminants.
Filtering tap water is not always necessary, but its quality is influenced by many factors including the area you live in as well as the water cleaning systems used by the water provider.
Water providers go to great lengths to provide clean wholesome water to their customers.
However, for all their benefits, some water sanitation techniques that we use today do come with certain disadvantages.
For example, chlorine is used to kill of pathogenic bacteria and to prevent water-borne diseases. It also makes sure that as water passes through the water distribution network, it stays clean and healthy all the way.
Chlorine is used worldwide in water sanitation, but many argue against it.
Research suggests that long-term exposure to chlorine comes with a series of harmful health implications including an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
In some categories, even short-term exposure to chlorine can cause respiratory health issues and skin problems.
In people with pre-existing conditions chlorine can exacerbate existing symptoms. Affected categories include those suffering from asthma, psoriasis or eczema.
Another issue with chlorine is that some bacteria can develop chlorine-resistance and end up in your drinking water despite eradication efforts.
Not to mention that chlorine gives off a strange smell and taste that most people dislike.
In this context, some water providers are seeking out other water sanitation systems like reverse osmosis systems and ultraviolet water purification.
However, compared to chlorination, these systems are significantly more expensive and slower than chlorination.
Therefore, residential water filters are an easier solution to the problem.
Which are the Signs that You Need a Filter?
Chlorination is a good reason to install a basic tap water filter that removes chlorine from water. Usually, a simple sediment + activated carbon filter will do the trick.
The sediment filter removes small particles that cause water turbidity, while the activated carbon absorbs chlorine and other chemical compounds attracted to carbon.
Complications arise when other problems appear with your tap water not related to chlorine.
The best way to discover what’s in your tap water is to take a sample a get it tested against common tap water contaminants.
If the test reveals that your tap water contains heavy metals, viruses or bacteria, fluoride and other industrial or agricultural contaminants it’s high time to consider installing a high-performance water filter.
Although these results may be disheartening, modern water purifiers are excellent at solving these contamination issues.
Sometimes, even before you test your water, some signs might suggest that there’s something off with your tap water.
These signs include:
- Foul smelling tap water, whether from chlorine or other contaminants;
- Changes in the appearance and colour of tap water;
- Bad-tasting tap water;
- Getting gastrointestinal problems after drinking tap water (diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, etc.).
If you notice any of these signs, stop drinking tap water, get it tested as soon as possible, and find a filter that can remove the contaminants that are disrupting your enjoyment of tap water.
This last point is key: only by knowing what’s wrong with your drinking water source can you find a suitable filter to solve these issues.
For the most part, multi-stage filters are the best at removing various undesirable water ingredients, because with more filter cartridges targeting more contaminants a more superior filtration can be achieved.
So, if possible, don’t install just any filter before actually knowing what needs to be targeted. Not all filters are created with the same capabilities, so the best course of action is to find the best match for you.
This is the only way to ensure that you can switch to drinking tap water without running into any problems.
How difficult is it to Install a Filter?
The installation difficulty of a water system depends on the type of filter you want to install. Some filters you can install yourself, others are a tougher nut to crack and you may need the help of an experienced plumber.
However, since it’s a one-time event, filter installation difficulty should not discourage you from installing one in the first place.
As far as installation goes, we distinguish between the following types of filters:
- Zero installation filters;
- Filters that can be DIY installed;
- Filters that can be only installed by people with good plumbing skills or plumbers.
Zero installation filters are usually filters that require no plumbing or which don’t operate with water pressure. These are stand-alone units and they either need a source of electricity or rely on gravity to do their job.
One example of a zero-installation filter is a filter pitcher, which is just that — a pitcher with a built-in filter. These are good for filtering tap water with minimal contamination issues like sediments and chlorine.
Another example of zero installation filter would be gravity water filters, which work as a result of the pulling force of gravity that forces water through the microscopic pores of the ceramic candles within these filters.
These filters are excellent for any situations, even filtering water in emergencies, which means you can use them with virtually any natural source of water. They’re so powerful that they can remove viruses, cysts and pathogenic bacteria, as well as a host of industrial and agricultural pollutants.
Another type of filter that’s sometimes advertised as a zero-installation filter are countertop filters that are attached to the kitchen tap with a snap-on filter tube. While technically you don’t need any plumbing skills to carry out this task, we usually categorize these filters as DIY installation filters.
Filters that require plumbing skills include reverse osmosis filters, whole house filters, and in-line filters.
If you don’t have any plumbing skills, but you absolutely need a filter that’s difficult to install, we recommend calling a plumber or asking a friend for help.
Unless there’s something very wrong with your plumbing system, installing a water filter does not take up a long time, and you can start using the filter the same day it is installed.
What Else Do You Need to Install a Filter?
Some filter kits include all the tools you need for installation, while more complex projects may need some extra tools. If you’re calling a plumber to install a filter, you needn’t worry about any tools.
However, there is one thing that you need when you install a filter and that’s a filter tap.
Again, some filter kits will include this too, but in most cases, you’ll have to buy one yourself.
Single dispensing filter taps are added to your kitchen sink by drilling another hole in it. With this set-up, you’ll have two kitchen sinks — one dedicated to filtered water and your old kitchen sink.
Filter taps are not optional, they’re a must with any water filter, except for inline filters and whole house filters.
If you’re not happy with the idea of drilling a hole in your kitchen sink, there is one other type of filter tap you can buy — 3-way kitchen taps.
These taps replace your old kitchen tap and can be used to dispense filtered water in addition to regular hot and cold tap water.
These taps are more expensive than single dispensing filter taps, but the extra costs is worth the convenience of not having to deal with drilling a hole in an expensive kitchen sink.
Both single dispensing taps and tri-flow taps are available in a variety of designs and finish options, so they can be purchased in any model that matches your sink or current kitchen tap.
How Difficult is it to Replace Cartridges?
After your filter is installed, you can use the cartridges dispatched with your system until the cartridges reach the end of their service life.
The durability of a filter cartridge depends on many factors like the level of sediments in your water (if it’s too high, it can cause clogging issues in your filter) and the level of contaminants (the higher the level of contaminants, the quicker your cartridges become saturated).
When this happens, you’ll start to notice changes in the operation of the filter system and changes in the quality of filtered water.
When filters become too saturated with contaminants, the first thing you’ll notice is a drop in flow rates.
Next, filtered water may start to smell and taste bad.
When this happens, it’s crucial that you refrain from using filtered water and replace cartridges as soon as possible.
Ideally, you should be able to use the cartridges until the end of the recommended service life, which can be 3 to 12 months, depending on the brand and model.
If you notice that you need to replace cartridges too often, you should switch to high-performance cartridges that can deal with the levels of contaminants in your tap water.
Replacing filters in a residential water filter is easy and it can be done by anyone. Most filters feature quick-change technology cartridges that come out with a simple twist. There’s no contact with used filter material, and changing filters – even in a multi-stage system — takes only a few minutes of your time.
It’s important to schedule your cartridge replacements so you won’t forget.
Failing to replace cartridges can lead to system malfunctions, but you also run the risk of contamination as the filter cartridge can harbour bacteria.
Don’t attempt to clean filters or reuse old filters, especially if they’re not cleanable or reusable. Always discard old filters and use new ones.
Are Water Filter Always Safe?
If you’ve purchased the right filter that’s designed to target the contamination issues you’re dealing with, you shouldn’t encounter any safety issues.
Water filter safety concerns can arise in the following cases:
- If the filter you purchased is not suitable to remove the contaminants found in your tap water;
- If you fail to replace cartridges on time;
- If you reuse old cartridges or attempt to clean cartridges that are not cleanable;
- If there’s a contamination issue that occurs at your water provider and your filter is not equipped to handle it.
A water filter is a good line of defence against common contamination issues, but situations may arise when higher levels of contaminants may end up in municipal water supplies as a result of a malfunction or error on the water provider’s side.
Whenever this happens, the water provider will issue a notice instructing customers to refrain from using tap water or boil water before use.
Even if you have a filter installed in your home, we recommend following the instructions of the water provider, especially that you don’t know the levels of contaminants that are in municipal water and you don’t know if your filter is built to handle it.
When the water notice is revoked, you should replace your filter cartridges with new ones.
What Filter Should You Install?
Despite the many filters that are advertised on the market, there are only a few categories of filters that you can install in your home.
Based on filtration technology, these are:
- Activated carbon filters;
- Reverse osmosis filter systems;
- Ceramic filters;
- Ultraviolet water purifiers.
Of the four categories, reverse osmosis filters are the most complex, because they combine several filter cartridges in addition to the reverse osmosis membrane that lends its name to the entire system.
Reverse osmosis filters are the best for a complex filtration when several types of contaminants need removing. These filters are suitable to tackle heavy metals, fluoride, arsenic, bacteria, viruses, and hundreds of other contamination issues.
Activated carbon filters are perhaps the most popular and nearly every filter system uses activated carbon filter cartridges in one form or another.
These filters are excellent for targeting chlorine, volatile organic compounds and some bacteria like Giardia.
Ceramic filters are used in shower filters, gravity water filters, multi-stage under-sink or whole house filters.
On their own, ceramic filters remove cysts, bacteria, viruses, and small particulates and organic matter. If they contain activated carbon inserts, ceramic filters also remove all contaminants that are removed by activated carbon filters.
Ultraviolet water purifiers are used exclusively to eradicate bacteria, viruses and any other microorganism from water. Unless combined with other filtration technologies, UV filters don’t remove anything else.
Depending on where they’re installed, we distinguish:
- Countertop water filters;
- Undersink water filters;
- Inline filters;
- Whole house water filters.
Of these, all filters filter water at the point of use they are installed at, except for whole house water filters, which are installed at water’s point of entry in your home and filters your entire water supply.
When you’re choosing a water filter, one of the first things to consider is contaminant removal ability. If you find the filter that can do the job, next you can consider size, filtered water output, costs, maintenance, installation, and other aspects that are specific to your need.
One thing is certain, however, if you buy a point of use filter, don’t expect to have filtered water at every water outlet in your home. To have filtered water throughout your home, choose a whole house water filter.
Another thing to remember is that water filters may reduce some of the lime-scale in you water, but unless they contain scale-inhibiting filter media, you’ll still need to address hard water problems as well.
Water filters are one of the simplest ways to reduce your reliance on bottled water and save money in the process. Regardless of the type of water filter you get, you’ll be helping your environment, and you’ll be saving money on bottled water.
If you’re considering switching to bottled water, it’s important to test your water and see what kind of water filter is best for you.
You should install a water filter in any of the following cases:
- You’re pregnant or nursing;
- If there are any children in your household;
- If you’re immunocompromised;
- If there are any old people in your household;
- If you have asthma or suffering from any skin condition that can be made worse by exposure to chlorine. In this case it’s advisable to also install a shower or bath filter or go for a whole house water filter system.
Water filters are a worthwhile investment that come with the excellent convenience of having drinking water on tap. Whether you’re looking to do away with bottled water or you’re looking to improve the quality of your entire water supply, water filters are the best choice you can make for you and the environment.