Millions of Americans are taking charge of their water quality with a home filtration system. If you’re ready to join their ranks, you have choices to make.
Join us as we explore the pros and cons of whole house water filters and why they may — or may not — be the solution you’re looking for.
What Is a Whole House Water Filter?
A whole house, or point-of-entry water filter, is plumbed into your main water line, usually in a basement or garage near the service entry. Unlike point-of-use systems that connect to a single faucet — undersink and countertop filters — it delivers clean water throughout your home from kitchen to bath.
Types of Whole House Water Filters
Whole house water filters can target a single contaminant or hundreds. You can mix and match individual filters based on your water chemistry or choose a single, multi-stage system that eliminates most hazardous substances.
Here’s a list of top rated home water filtration systems
Common types of filters include:
Sediment filters reduce visible particles of dirt, rust, and other organic matter that make your water look and taste bad. Made of pleated paper or wound string, they eliminate all but the smallest particles, clarifying cloudy water while protecting the other filters in a multi-stage system from damage.
Carbon has a large surface area. Added to a water filter, contaminants cling to it in a process known as adsorption. It’s particularly effective for eliminating chlorine and chemical toxins.
Reverse Osmosis Filters
Reverse osmosis filters make water virtually pure. They rely on a semi-permeable membrane to remove 99-percent or more of harmful contaminants. Among the slowest methods of filtration, however, they’re rare in whole home systems.
KDF, or Kinetic Degradation Fluxion, is a granular filtration media that neutralizes contaminants through a chemical reaction. Bacteriostatic, it’s often added to carbon filters to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. It can remove up to 98 percent of lead.
Activated Alumina Filters
Like carbon filters, activate alumina filters work by adsorption. Alumina filters are designed to remove arsenic and fluoride.
Ultraviolet light kills bacteria, viruses and parasites, including the e. Coli and coliform bacteria often found in wells. UV filters are a good choice for emergency water treatment.
Ion Exchange Filters
Ion exchange filters use positively charged resin beads to trap negatively charged contaminants. They’re ideal for removing iron, fluoride and other unwanted minerals.
Water softeners are a type of ion exchange filter that removes hard minerals — calcium and magnesium. Classified as secondary contaminants, they’re not harmful to your health. But they can cause corrosive limescale buildup in your plumbing and appliances.
Advantages of a Whole House Water Filter
Whole house water filters offer:
Whole Home Benefits
Point-of-use filters purify water from one faucet. Typically installed in the kitchen, they treat the most significant source of contaminant exposure — your drinking and cooking water.
But what about the rest of your home? Do your kids get a drink from the bathroom at night? Could unexpected toxins be lurking in your shower?
Hard water affects your plumbing system, appliances and bathroom fixtures — you won’t fix that with a point-of-use filter. Only a whole house water filtration system offers whole home benefits.
A whole house water filtration system require less maintenance than point-of-use models. Because undersink and countertop systems are designed for small spaces, the cartridges are proportionally smaller to the number of gallons they filter. They’re effective, but you’ll have to change them more often. The time and money add up.
Whole house filters also produce limitless quantities of water on demand — most point-of-use systems are limited to a few gallons per day. If you’re trying to cut back on bottled water, a whole home filter will save you a small fortune and never leave you dry.
As long as you have the space, whole home filtration systems can be expanded. If your town decides to build a landfill next to your property, you can add additional filters to address the risks. Point-of-use systems are limited by size, so what you see is what you get — there’s little flexibility.
Whole home systems are constructed with durable materials. Cartridge housings are reusable and will last a lifetime with care. Some systems have only a single filtration tank with refillable media. There are fewer disposable parts to send to the new landfill.
Higher Home Resale Value
Industry insiders rank whole house water filtration systems among the most sought-after features for home buyers. A bad water test can scuttle a sale unless a filtration system is already in place. Buyers are more likely to get loans while sellers enjoy a higher resale value.
Disadvantages of Whole Home Water Filters
Nothing is perfect. Whole home filtration systems have advantages, but they’re not without drawbacks.
Whole house water filters:
Cost More to Buy Upfront
You can buy a top-quality undersink filter for as little as $300. Whole home systems start around $400 with better models nearing $800 and the best units approaching thousands.
We recommend being investment-minded when it comes to filtration — it pays in the long run to buy the best system you can afford. But if you’re on a strict budget with no relief in sight, a smaller, more affordable point-of-use system can help protect your family now.
Need More Space
Point-of-use filters fit anywhere, but whole house filtration systems have a substantial footprint — up to 20 square feet for a salt-based water softener. Some are up to five feet tall and won’t fit in a crawlspace. If you live in a warm climate year-round, select models can be installed outdoors without voiding the warranty. But if you live anywhere snow falls, you’re out of luck.
Require Changes to Your Plumbing
Whole filters are integrated into the plumbing system. You have to cut into your main water line to install them. Homeowners with plumbing skills can do it, but if you don’t know the difference between a pressure regulator and a diverter valve, you’ll have to pay a plumber for installation.
Some systems are so large that they require structural changes to your home while others require adding a drain or power supply — something a landlord may not allow you to do. And once installed, they’re essentially permanent. Unlike a countertop or undersink filter, you can’t take it with you if you move.
May Reduce Water Pressure
Whole house filters have water pressure and flow rate requirements. If you have a well that doesn’t put out enough water per minute, adding a filter will reduce tap pressure to a drip. While any filter can affect water pressure, point-of-use models only affect one tap. In drought-prone areas, they may be a better solution.
Could Be Less Effective Than Point-of-Use Filters
Reverse osmosis filters — the most effective money can buy — are slow. Water can’t flow through them fast enough to maintain water pressure, so they’re rare in whole house systems. If your water is seriously contaminated, an undersink RO filter with greater filtration capability may a better choice than a whole home system. Whole house filters also can’t address contaminants coming from your home’s plumbing and fixtures.
Which type of filter do you need? The answer lies in water testing.
Testing Your Water
Water can harbor hundreds of hazardous toxins, but chances are yours doesn’t. It more likely contains contaminants common to your water source and geographical area. Arsenic, for example, is ubiquitous in Maine wells but rare in Missouri, while fluoride is added to city water but not wells. The only way to know what’s in your water is to have it tested.
This is where some homeowners go wrong, opting to purchase a top-of-the-line, NASA-ready filtration system when an inexpensive carbon filter will do. Or taking their best guess as to what’s causing their water to taste bad, only to discover their new filtration system “doesn’t work.”
Doing a water test not only saves you money, but it also protects you from the unknown. The most devastating toxins, like lead, are tasteless, colorless and odorless. And if you’re purchasing a water softener, high levels of iron, chlorine or tannins could ruin it. Knowing more about your water chemistry not only helps you choose the right filter, but it also preserves your investment.
Having your water tested is easy. You can bring a sample to a local lab or buy a DIY home test kit — SimpleLab’s TapScore is a good choice. Stick with certified drinking water laboratories for the sake of accuracy. Or contact a reputable water filter dealer, like SpringWell or Pelican. They’ll guide you through the testing process and help you select equipment without a hard sell.
Check out a list of water testing kits for well water and city.
Whether you just want your water to taste better, or you want to safeguard your family from chemical contaminants, the benefits of choosing the right water filter can’t be ignored. For your health, convenience and safety, protect your whole home.