If your tap water quality is not all it’s cracked up to be, installing a whole-house water filter could be the answer. Whether you want to reduce chlorine taste or eliminate toxic heavy metals, there’s no more convenient and cost-effective way to do it.
But how does a whole-house water filter work? If whole-house water filters are more of a mystery than a miracle, stay tuned, because we’re going to explain what they are, how they work and why you need one. The answers may surprise you.
What Is a Whole-House Water Filter?
A whole-house filtration system is like any other water filter except it treats your home’s entire water supply. Plumbed into your main water line, it filters every gallon as it enters your home so that every drop is clean and crystal clear — see our best picks here.
While whole-house filters supply clean water throughout your home. An under-sink or countertop filter purifies small amounts of drinking and cooking water from a single tap — usually in the kitchen.
Which Contaminants Do Whole-House Water Filtration Systems Remove?
A whole-house water filter removes a wide range of harmful contaminants, including:
- Industrial solvents
- Pharmaceutical residue and more
But each type of whole-house filter removes different substances depending on how they’re equipped. You can choose from single-stage filters that remove limited contaminants or multi-stage filtration systems that tackle them all as water passes through each filter. In fact, whole-house water filters work so well because they combine several types of filtration methods for the ultimate contaminant removal.
What Are the Different Types of Whole-House Water Filters?
Every whole-house water filter has its strengths and weakness. Let’s take a closer look at the different types and how they’re combined to make a comprehensive whole-house filtration system.
Sediment Water Filter
Sediment filters remove suspended solids —the visible particles of rust, dirt and silt that make water look hazy and unappetizing. How do they work? Made of thick fibrous paper or wound string, sediment filters work by straining debris through microscopic pores.
Sediment filters can be used alone to make dirty water clear, but they’re also used as pre-filters to protect the more sensitive filters in a multi-stage filtration system. Large particles or organic debris, for example, can ruin water softener resin.
Whole-house systems last longer and require less maintenance if they’re equipped with a sediment pre-filter. If your water is particularly dirty, consider a system with a polishing filter — a post-filter that removes the last bits of remaining sediment.
Carbon Water Filter
Carbon water filters remove chlorine and a whole host of chemical and organic contaminants from your water supply. There are two types — activated and catalytic carbon.
Activated carbon filters use granular or block carbon to trap contaminants by adsorption. Block carbon is more effective, but granular activated carbon media is popular because it’s less expensive and filters drinking water without reducing water pressure. Refrigerator filters, for example, contain activated carbon.
Some whole-house filtration systems rely on carbon alone to remove contaminants, while others use an activated carbon stage to remove the chlorine that can affect other filters. Like sediment, it can damage ion exchange resin. Some whole-home systems include a second carbon filter to remove any residual chemicals for water that tastes as good as bottled.
Catalytic carbon is enhanced with iron-hydroxide to remove chloramine, a chlorine-alternative some water districts are using. As part of a whole house water filter system, it also removes hydrogen sulfide, the gas responsible for the rotten egg odor that reduces indoor air quality.
KDF Water Filter
KDF, or Kinetic Degradation Fluxion filters, remove chlorine and neutralize tough contaminants from heavy metals to hydrogen sulfide through a chemical reaction. Bacteriostatic, KDF media is added to other filters to prevent the growth of algae and microorganism within the filtration system.
Activated Alumina Filter
Activated alumina filters are among the few that remove arsenic and fluoride. Different than elemental aluminum, the media won’t add toxic metal ions to you water.
Alkalizing Water Filters
Acidic water has a metallic taste, and it can be corrosive to plumbing fixtures. Alkalizing filters raise the pH of acidic water by adding a touch of natural minerals to your water supply.
Reverse Osmosis Water Filter
Reverse osmosis filters are among the most effective, eliminating 99-percent of more of contaminants from your drinking water, including healthy minerals. But the RO process is slow and reduces water flow, so RO filters are found less often in whole-house filtration systems than in undersink filters.
Because it’s virtually mineral-free, RO-purified drinking water tastes flat. So better whole-house RO systems have a carbon pre-filter to remove damaging sediment and alkalizing postfilters to restore the mineral balance.
Ultrafiltration is as effective as the RO process, but it doesn’t require a pump. An advanced filtration process It relies on your home’s water pressure to push water through a highly efficient fiber membrane. More suitable in whole house water filters, they remove almost as many contaminants.
Iron Water Filter
Iron is best removed through oxidation with air or chemicals. We like air injection filters because they’re non-toxic, but whole house water chlorinating systems are also effective, and the chlorine can be removed with a carbon post filter. You won’t taste a thing.
UV Water Filter
RO and ultrafiltration can both remove bacteria, parasites and most viruses, but so can UV light. UV light filters are inexpensive and have no impact on water pressure. Added to any whole-house filter, it’s an extra layer of protection.
Water softeners remove hard minerals through the ion exchange process. Negatively charged resin in the softening tank attract positively charged minerals, keeping them out of your water. During the regeneration cycle, salt solution from the brine tank breaks the electrical bonds, restoring the resins. It’s a self-cleaning filtration system but it requires a sediment pre-filter to safeguard the resin.
While hard minerals aren’t harmful, they leave corrosive limescale buildup in your water heater, dishwasher and washing machine. Soft water is also gentler on your skin and hair. Softeners are compatible with all whole-house filters.
Do I Need a Whole-House Water Filter?
Anyone with poor water quality can benefit from a whole-house filter, but type of filter depends on your water treatment goals. Not all filter media removes all contaminants.
Undersink and countertop filters are a good choice for some people, but whole-house water filters are a better choice because they offer home-wide benefits. Why should you enjoy clean water only in the kitchen?
How Do I Choose a Whole-House Water Filter?
Whether you just need to remove sediment or reduce chemicals that make your water taste bad, the most important criterion for choosing a water filter is which contaminants it removes. You may only need only a single-stage carbon filter or a multistage system with a sediment pre-filter and a carbon post-filter.
All water supplies are vulnerable to contamination. So, whether you have well or city water, the only way to know for sure what’s in it is to test it. Here’s how.
Testing Your Water
If you drink city water, you have an advantage. Your annual water quality report spells out which contaminants are the most problematic. You’ll also get a breakdown of your water chemistry, crucial for selecting the right equipment. However, if you get your water source from well water, you’re on your own.
Did you know that some iron filters won’t work if there are tannins in your water? Or that a water softener is more effective for alkaline water? Most whole-house filters have some limitations.
But testing your drinking water is easy. Just bring a sample to a certified drinking water laboratory or buy a DIY test kit online. Products like SimpleLab’s Tap Score are affordable, accurate and easy to use.
How Much Does a Whole-House Water Filtration System Cost?
Not all filters are created equal. The cost of a whole-house water system depends on the types of filters it has and the installation price. Features also matter. Expect to pay more for a well-appointed whole-house filter.
Installed where your main water line enters your home, whole-house water filter systems require some plumbing know-how to set up. If you have the skills, you can do it yourself and save money. If you don’t, it’s better to be safe than sorry and hire a plumber.
Whole-house filters cost range from simple to complex. A simple sediment filter costs as little $30 while a top-quality, multistage whole-house system could set you back $400-$2000 plus installation costs ranging from $300-$1500.
Ultimately, the best whole-house water filter is one that removes target contaminants but that you can also afford. But for a modest price, filtered water is just a step away.
Contaminated water is no joke. It’s hard on your home and bad for your health. When your water supply is questionable, filtered water is a safer bet, and there’s no better way to get that than with a whole house water filtration system.