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Time to declare war on bad drinking water

You’ve decided that you’re tired of your water supply. You may hate how it tastes, that weird color that comes out when you turn on the tap, or the funny smell that lingers when you’ve filled your glass. You know something needs to be done, but it’s taken you a while to figure out what. Calling your water supplier is like digging a hole in dry sand — many parts of the problem will fall back in; it will be hard to get a solution from them. You need pure water technology. You need a home filtration system, and you need it now.

Good water is more than the sum of its parts. You won’t be able to see the chlorine that makes the ice you’ve added to your soda taste like a swimming pool, but it’s there. You won’t have seen the crack in your water pipe out in the street that widened earlier this year, but it’s there.

There are plenty of things that you won’t see before your water comes out of your faucet. The distance to your district’s main supply could be a mile… or many miles if it’s coming from a reservoir. Think of all the things that can wrong along that piping. Things die and fall in; farmers’ chemicals seep through cracks; the chlorine your city adds to kill bacteria may be making cancer-causing particles called trihalomethanes. Whichever way you slice it, the only person who can save your water supply by making it a safe water supply is you. That’s why you’re looking at RO water systems now.

Congratulations! You’ve declared war on bad water.

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It's time to declare war on bad drinking water...

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Getting Started

The first thing you need to ask yourself is where to start. You’ve figured out the problem, but you’ve just heard this new term “reverse osmosis filtration system”. You need to act quickly to learn how to purify water with an RO water system. Your family’s health depends on it, so the sooner you start the better. First, let’s ask ourselves a few questions to make a checklist.

  • What’s wrong with sticking with using a filter jug or using purification tablets?
  • Is my water supply potable (drinkable)?
  • What do I want to remove from my tap water?
  • Does my tap water contain chlorine?
  • Can I get sick from a chlorine-treated supply?
  • Can my own well make me ill?
  • What are the advantages of Reverse Osmosis water in my home?
  • How many stages of filtration do I really need?
  • How many gallons per day (GPD) of purified water do I need?
  • How does water flow through a RO system?
  • What type of membrane and filters do I need? How often must I replace them?

In your quest to find the RO system that’s right for you, we’ll answer these questions now.

What’s wrong with sticking with a filter jug or using purification tablets?

Filtration jugs, such as Brita’s, can do a great job of purifying your water. It’s also great to have the filtered water stored cold in the fridge. However, let’s look at volume here. A jug is all very well, but you have to keep refilling it, and changing the filter on a fairly regular basis. If you like your water cold, it’ll take time to cool in there.

Also, is there anything really smelly in your fridge? The slight tang of a leftover curry that isn’t sealed in Tupperware might even linger in your water if you haven’t put the lid on tightly. Also, although you’ve poured it on the day, it’s not coming straight from the faucet. You can get fresher than that.

As for purification tablets, come on; we’re talking about your home here, not a weekend away camping. Happily, there is such a thing as a portable water filter RO system, anyway — not expensive, either.

Is my water supply potable (drinkable)?

Did you know that a recent study by the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) found that the water systems of 19 US cities were issuing water that was at risk? Almost unbelievably, many cities throughout the US are still served by infrastructure and treatment technology built over a century ago.

is water drinkable

That means that ancient, deteriorating pipes might be channeling all sorts of particles and who knows what into your home. Their old metal and brickwork may well be crumbling, rusting away underground with nobody the wiser until there’s a major leak. When a pipe finally breaks, you may see a flood at street level… but what about a small series of cracks? Do you have any idea what might be trickling down through those cracks from the earth (soil, mud, dirt, etc.) above? What about the old metal bits of the pipes themselves?

Bacteria in the mud (including all the nasties, such as listeria) can seep through those gaps in the pipes. Worse (if you can imagine anything worse), bits of arsenic and lead (among other heavy metals) can fall in, too. On top of these worries, herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals can join them. The neighbor you’ve seen adding fertilizers to make his bushes grow may be unintentionally poisoning his and your water supply. You could even have sewage or mining waste turning up in your water.

City councils and similar authorities have been aware of the problems for a long time. This is why they add chlorine to knock out the pathogens. But even that can combine with organic intruders and waste to make something that can hurt you, something carcinogenic. Unless your area’s water supplier has done the following, you’re going to want to move quickly to add a whole house filtration system.

  • Are lakes, reservoirs, and other mass water storage banks protected from pollution?
  • Are pipes intact and well-maintained?
  • Is the treatment system modern?

If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, then it’s time to look at your supply with extra urgency. Get a measuring kit now. You’ll be checking the TDS (total dissolved solids) count of your water. The average tap water in America carries 350 ppm (parts per million) of TDS; going over 500 ppm means that you’re exposing yourself to risk. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) also noted that “threats to drinking water are increasing” back in 2009.

What do I want to remove from my tap water?

You want to remove toxins from water in general. Chiefly, you want to remove arsenic, asbestos, lead, chromium, other heavy metals, chlorine, chloramines, and fluoride. You need to make bad water good and make healthier drinking water by using the best water filtration that’s right for you and your household.

This also involves keeping out the bacteria and viruses that might otherwise flow straight into any cup of water you pour. Add to this the manmade hazards of chemicals, mine waste and other industrial runoff finding their way through cracked pipes and your home could already be facing quite a risk at any given moment.

Bear in mind that more than 120 million people in America may be getting unsafe water, with estimates of almost a million each year becoming ill from waterborne diseases.

Does my tap water contain chlorine?

Generally, water suppliers in the US have been adding chlorine for decades. It’s standard practice. To be fair, you can’t blame them. After all, chlorine has been found to be highly effective in destroying bacteria that would otherwise make end users ill.

chlorine warning

Can I get sick from a chlorine-treated supply?

It’s a balancing act to maintain the right amounts of chlorine in water supplies. In recent years, more is being understood about the ironic perils of consuming water that was once thought to be “hazard-proofed” with chlorine. A study in 1992 at the Medical College of Wisconsin discovered that people drinking higher levels of chlorine by-products face bigger risks of developing bladder and rectal cancers.

Can my own well make me ill?

About 15% of Americans get well or spring water as their primary source. Because the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 omits enforcement in private wells, it’s your responsibility to check your well water with a kit. It could have a higher TDS count than a municipal, chlorinated supply.

Also, look around your well. Where is it? Does water from it taste funny? What do your neighbors say? Is any part of it open to the air and elements? Is there a vermin shield to prevent animals, etc. from falling in and drowning/decomposing?

What are the Advantages/Benefits of Reverse Osmosis water in my home and Why?*

​* (Note, this is just a general guideline and not to be treated as medical advice.)

Reverse osmosis filtration will provide benefits that you’ll notice with your very first sip of new water. Most systems will basically purify your water, cleansing your supply in the following ways, to:

  • Make water taste better
  • Make water healthier
  • Remove chemicals from water
  • Reduce TDS count in water

Note — some systems perform at different levels than others. Note also that some RO systems offer remineralization options. That means that the good minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, are kept in or returned to your supply. RO really means “smart water” because only the good stuff gets through!

Drinking water that’s been treated by reverse osmosis means that you’re missing out on all the impurities. The food equivalent of that would be like ordering a meal that was prepared in a “laboratory kitchen”, where pretty much all the junk would have been cleared out of your dinner. If you’re thinking no hairs in your soup, it would be far more thorough than that. We’re talking around 99% purity of everything that goes in your mouth. It would be next to impossible to work all the impurities out of food, unless you made it into soup and RO-ed it…and then, you might only get some water back!

If your local water supply has been tasting funny for some time, it’s probably a dead giveaway that you need to do something about it and fast. If you’re attached to a mains water supply that comes from the city or a private company, you can at least put your faith in the point that they’ll be conducting regular checks on the system. If you have a private well, then it’s time to act and test a sample’s make-up.

Even if you can’t taste anything out of place, it doesn’t mean that nothing’s wrong. You may get your water from a well and think that it’s the best-tasting H2O you’ve ever had; it’s special because it’s your well water. Be that as it may, you may be in for a shock. Do you really know what’s down inside your well? Maybe the walls are falling away and dropping all sorts of things into the supply. What about animals? Can you really be sure that nothing’s crawled in there to die? An RO system is your first and last stop to sort out all that junk.

Or, do you have water that’s so chlorinated that the tang is too much to take? Does it seem to you that the city was being cruel to be kind? Is that “chemically zing” that should actually be making everything nice and safe a bit too much for your taste buds? Is it worth putting up with it? Maybe not. Not only does your water taste funny, you may well be exposed to nasty little things called trihalomethanes: the carcinogenic results of when chlorine attacks organisms in the water supply. The good news there is that the chlorine does its job—the bad news? Sometimes, what’s left is a zombie—a potentially cancer-causing substance that can end up being served in your home. But, to get back to the good news: an RO system can nicely sort that problem out for you.

Overall, the benefits of drinking RO water are too powerful to ignore. Anyone who’s ever got sick and thought it was food poisoning might need to think this: “Was it something I drank?” as well. The US military uses this system to safeguard troops’ health, and disaster-relief agencies swear by RO to crank out safe water in crisis zones. Whether you’re camping or just want to enjoy super-tasting water, tasting the difference in RO can make you wonder why it took you this long to buy a system…it’s that good.

How many stages of filtration do I really need?

This is really a matter of personal taste. Ideally, you want to get a system that operates at the fourth stage of RO (reverse osmosis) or higher. Using filters and carbon block filters, the first three stages perform the basic blocking of particles, odors and tastes. The key to the RO enterprise is in the fourth stage, in the way the water is forced through an ultra-fine membrane and in the way it’s strained through, usually, a coconut-fiber filter.

You can have up to seven stages. Stage five means that your water is polished, so that it stays fresh in the storage tank. Stage six alkalinizes your water, so that the pH level is more neutral balanced (7.0). Low pH water can corrode your tank, and you’ll taste that in time. The highest stage — seven — incorporates a UV water purifier.

It might be a matter of taste, peace of mind, or both. Drinking (re)mineralized water that’s been treated at the seventh stage of RO is going to taste better, be cleaner and healthier for you than drinking stage-four or stage-five water. However, if you consider that even there we’re talking about bottled-water-company quality and purity, you’ll realize just how bad your original, untreated supply tasted and very probably was in other ways, too.

How many gallons per day (GPD) of purified water do I need?

A home water filter can treat anywhere up to 100 GPD. The average American family of four uses about 8 GPD for drinking and cooking; however, this may mask the reality that they’re relying on bottled water. A good insurance for a thirsty, average-sized household is 50 GPD-capacity or more for your new RO system.

How does water flow through a RO system?

Water from your home supply flows into the RO system that has been installed under your kitchen sink (unless you’re getting a countertop model). In that sense, it is an under sink water filter. First, it goes through a carbon pre-filter, which takes out larger particles, including organic contaminants, as well as the chlorine taste, chlorine by-products, odors and the like.

water flow through RO membrane pore

Then, the water goes through the reverse osmosis membrane. This is a very finely perforated sheet-like filter. It’s so tight that dissolved solids such as sodium (yes, salts), arsenic and lead are caught right there. What does get through is purified water, although note that some of the water going into the unit cleans the membranes and becomes waste water.

water flow through RO systems

Finally, what goes into the tank of your very own home water treatment plant is virtually TDS contaminant free. Up to 99% of the dissolved particles, including the nasties that could have otherwise made anyone in your household sick, have been stopped dead in their tracks.

What type of filters and membrane do I need? How often must I replace them?

Of course, any filtration process means that your RO system’s filters will eventually need changing. The good news is that you can get up to a year’s use out of them on average. The best water filter systems generally tend to have the best water filters. In nearly all RO systems, replacing is a simple matter, and some even offer even-easer-to-replace integrated filter-canisters.

You want to pay close attention to the quality of your water. With an RO system, you’ll want a membrane (the semi-permeable filter that squeezes pure water through) with a pore size of 0.0001 microns. Membranes tend to last longer. Depending on the amount of use and the quality of the water entering your home in the first place, you can get between 2-5 years’ wear out of an RO membrane.

The “How” and “What” of Reverse Osmosis Systems

How big is your home? Do you live alone, with a partner, children, elderly parents, tenants, lodgers, etc.?

There is the right RO system out there for you as a user. Your UX (user experience) is going to be influenced by the RO water system you pick. There’s no sense in getting a large system if you live alone. Conversely, if you have a big household, you’ll need to aim for 75 GPD or larger. For example, APEC’s RO-90 is a sure bet to cover a very big home. You can get even larger systems; know your needs first.

You may also want to consider a countertop model for your motor-home. You’ll be that impressed with RO-quality water. Is someone heading off to college or leaving home? Portable RO systems are ultra-easy to connect and can reassure everyone that healthy, clean, better-tasting water will follow you or that loved one wherever.

How often will I have to change or upgrade?

You can expect you RO system to last for years and years. Some systems can go for upwards of a decade. Factors such as care and maintenance, frequency of use and conditions of initial water supply will influence this. You’ll change the filters and membrane more often than you’ll need to change your RO system.

Cost

You can access a decent RO system for as little as $160. Your budget might take you through the mid-range offerings ($200) up to the premium level ($300+), but you’re buying an investment here, not a consumable. Also remember that the running costs will be low.

Apart from filters and the point that there will be some water wastage owing to the process, it’s unlikely that you’ll actually need to drink 50 gallons of water a day, unless your household is very large and very thirsty!

General types of RO Systems

RO systems come in all shapes and sizes, in addition to filter types. Most are under-sink (going in your kitchen cabinet). Many operate at the fourth or fifth stage of filtration. Premium features, such as stage six and stage seven, are available.

The membrane and filters decide that its “true reverse osmosis”. RO’s process to make contaminated water safe is unquestionably based on the fact that your water supply is going through many filters (including the membrane). Familiarize yourself with the models, and don’t forget to read the technical specifications.

Five Facts that will Change/Decide Your Choice

Know exactly what RO does.

You’ve turned to RO because you are sick and tired of dealing with bad water. Now that you know what reverse osmosis does (and how it differs from simpler mechanisms like a filter jug), you’re in a good place to apply that to your own home’s situation.

Does your water taste like rotten eggs? Are you concerned about asbestos and arsenic turning up, or how about the newly discovered risks of trihalomethanes? Yes, an RO system will knock out pretty much all of that and give you fresh filtered water while blocking poisons from your water supply, but that’s on the first step in deciding.

Know the different brands.

Obviously, there are industry giants and not-so-large brand players. In the US, APEC and iSpring seem to be market leaders, although other brands have their flagship pieces and gems that shouldn’t be overlooked. Express water is a good example of this.

Do your research and check out who does what, how long they’ve been in business, and, most importantly, what reviewers and customers are saying. See who ranks where on contests for the year’s best model. A few minutes of Googling can help you make a shortlist fast.

Choose the right product model or design for your home’s needs.

As ever, think out your household’s needs. How much water do you use? Are you on the city main supply, or do you have your own private well?

Take especial note of your present water quality (this is very important — you need to know what you’ll be purifying) as well as the water pressure. Most city-supplied homes have a normal water pressure (40-85 psi). If yours is lower than that, usually if you’ve got a well, you’re going to want to get a booster pump. The temperature of your water is also a factor. If your water is very cold, the air charge in the tank might need increasing.

Go through the reviews.

Amazon offer a thorough feedback-review system. The 5-star feedback and comments will give you precious insights into pinpointing the best filter system for your home.

As you’re asking “Which RO system?” or “What is the best filter system?” based on your household size, budget, needs regarding water purity, you’ll find that plenty of other folks have nicely put their observations and thoughts down already.

Look out for the percentage of people who give 5-star reviews (or lower); that will give you a better idea of the performance of the system in question. Are there any benefits or problems that keep getting mentioned, from review to review? Of course, the term ‘bestseller’ is always a useful marker.

Top 10 Reverse Osmosis System Reviews​

Go for a warranty-based product.

As with any investment (and, although it’s not really a lot of money, this is a big one because your family’s health matters, right?), find the product that carries a good warranty. While most RO systems are sturdily built pieces (they have to be to offer crisp filtered water after processing dirty mains water!), you need to look ahead.

Some warranties are for one year; others are for longer. Which brands are more reputable and have better faith in their high-quality products? Have a look; it won’t take long, and it’ll be worth it.

More FAQs for Reverse Osmosis System

​How many different types of reverse osmosis are there?

​The science behind reverse osmosis is simple and direct. Yes, the system puts pressure on the raw side of the water supply, forcing it through the semi-permeable membrane so that it’s only the good water that gets through.

However, there are different varieties of reverse osmosis. To be sure, a home drinking water system can change your life by improving the quality of your supply, where the RO unit is installed close to your faucet, usually in your kitchen. From that, it’s easy to see how it’s a key part in the process that bottled water companies use. Outside the home drinking-water consumer market, RO-treated water is needed in medical environments, industrial contexts and in laboratories, because it produces such pure water.

What determines the difference in RO type is the number of and/or types of membranes and/or filters that need to be used. Many under-sink varieties use upwards of four levels (or stages) of filtration, with reverse osmosis happening at the fourth stage. Prefiltered water (that has been treated by a series of filters) takes out the cruder particles and tastes before the RO membrane squeezes it out as purified water. It takes a little time for the tank to fill, but when it does, the water quality is amazing! Countertop models likewise give a great supply of pure water and have the advantage of being portable—ideal for temporary accommodation, office settings or camping. Some RO systems offer a constant flow of filtered water. They do this by bypassing the need for a storage tank. Installed beneath the sink, they filter water as it comes “live” through the tap. This is the sort of system that’s good if you’re in an area where you existing water supply is more trustworthy.

The membranes that treat the water can be split into three types:

  1. Cellulosic — formed with thin layers of substances that are both porous and dense.
  2. Aromatic polyamide — these are related to cellulosic structures; however, they typically are more durable and handle organic substances better.
  3. Film-composite—a layer overlying a porous material deflects solutes.

Which one you select will almost certainly depend on the condition of water that’s in your existing supply. For instance, an aromatic polyamide membrane would be ideal to tackle the organic issues that can creep into wells.

Remember that RO systems have been specifically designed for the context in which they are used. You’ll only need a residential system for your home. A commercial one would suit a large office setting. As for industrial-grade RO, unless you’re actually in industry, don’t worry about it. Remember, a home unit with pre-filtration and post-RO filtration (to polish the water) can give you truly excellent drinking water. You can add more “bells and whistles” by getting one with an alkalinizing feature, for instance.

​What are the Disadvantages of a Reverse Osmosis System and Why?*

​* (Note, this is just a general guideline and not to be treated as medical advice.)

On the down side, reverse osmosis can arguably do too good a job. If you consider that the system keeps back anywhere between 95%-99% of total dissolved solids (TDS), you may want to ask yourself if all of these are necessarily bad substances. Unfortunately, the thoroughgoing nature of hyperfiltration that RO provides tends to make the “good guy” substances suffer along with the baddies.

In other words, yes, an RO system will keep that lead and arsenic away from you, bacteria too, but many systems will also catch and remove beneficial minerals such as calcium, iron, and manganese. This is where you have to ask yourself how healthy your diet is. Are you getting enough minerals and vitamins?

The truth is that many Americans don’t eat foods that are rich in these; therefore, if those good minerals that are coming into their homes through their existing water supply stop coming through, even fewer minerals will get into their bodies.

Luckily, we tend to get most of our minerals from food, not drinking water, anyway. There again, though, RO can present a problem. Studies have also found that demineralized water can remove elements from vegetables when used in cooking. These deficiencies can mean that over half of the calcium and magnesium that would have otherwise turned up in those potatoes, cabbage, or what have you are lost. This could be a concern if you’re not taking vitamin supplements, if there’s someone in the house with bone problems, or if you have growing kids. It’s easy to forget that your pure drinking water is also your pure cooking water.

Remember that many municipalities add fluoride to water for a good reason. It’s to prevent cavities. Happily, this probably won’t matter (unless people brush their teeth in the kitchen sink) if your home only has one RO system.

While it’s true that more basic forms of filtration, such as filter jugs, leave in many good minerals, many RO systems have a wonderful feature called remineralization. That is to say that such minerals as calcium and magnesium get put back into your water supply after the RO process. Watch out for these models, if mineral restoration is important to you.

All in all, the disadvantages of RO need to be taken with a grain of salt, no pun intended. If you consider that it’s far more important to have arsenic, radium and chromium knocked out of your drinking water than missing out on a fraction of your daily calcium intake then you’re on the right track. It’s far, far better to miss out on so many ppms (parts per million) of magnesium than to be exposed to one too many ppms of something really toxic.

​Does Reverse Osmosis treat seawater?

​Yes, in the strictest sense, but no for you as a home user with an incoming water supply. Given that the TDS level for seawater is about 40,000, that would clog up your system really quickly. As with anything, use common sense. Only filtrate water that is generally considered potable. Never try to filtrate other liquids.

​Does Reverse Osmosis really waste a lot of water?

​There is more water used in your RO system than you’ll get to drink. The good news is that it won’t be enough really to chart on your water bill. If you take on board the point that, like flushing a toilet, the RO system is maintaining itself, then you can see that the water isn’t wasted; it’s being used.

Also, when the tank fills, the flushing system stops. Given the size of your house, it’s probably going to be like two or three cistern-fulls of water a day.

​Can I tap the Waste water and use it in my garden?

​It’s up to you where you route the waste water. Sure, most people let it run down the drain. However, you can channel it elsewhere if you like, that includes watering your garden. Just remember that it’s not the clean, clean water you’ll be drinking.

​Do I need to run my RO system off electricity?

​Water pressure is what powers reverse osmosis, so you won’t need a power connection unless you buy a unit that has a booster pump or a UV sterilizing lamp, or both

​How much does it cost to run an RO system?

​Considering that you only really need to replace the pre- and post-filters about once a year or so, and the membrane can last anywhere from two to five years, you’re spending very little, but exactly how much you spend or save ultimately will depend on which RO model you have installed and working for you. It’s mere pennies a day – a monster saving if you consider how much bottled water costs at the store.

​I live in a two-person household or live alone. Does it matter if I get a larger system?

​You should stay small here. Get a membrane that produces less, because it’s hardly likely that your household will drink three gallons or more of RO water a day (be careful, because you can drink too much water, a potentially fatal action!). Also, as the RO system is running for longer, it won’t be sitting doing nothing and letting your water get old. On top of that, if it’s working longer to fill the tank, it’ll be doing a good job of keeping the membrane clean.

​I get my water and ice from my refrigerator; how can this help me?

​If you can extend the tube (usually a quarter-inch tube) from under your sink, look into how you can connect it up to your fridge and icemaker. There’s nothing to stop your having RO ice and fridge-embedded tap water, but one factor you should consider here is the pressure involved. The mains water supply is bound to more forceful.

​How quickly does the water Refill?

​A 24-gallon-a-day system membrane can replace a gallon of water in about an hour.

​What can UV Treatment do for my water?

​This happens as one of the late stages in RO. The ultraviolet light destroys any viruses in the water. It’s interesting to know that UV is also a form of wastewater treatment, useful for killing algae in ponds.

Okay, I’m ready to get better-tasting water now!

Well done! You have successfully got to the level where you’re armed with the know-how to make critical judgments and narrow your shortlist.

The sooner you work out which variety, make and model of RO system suits your house, the closer you’ll be to winning your war on bad water. You’ve probably heard the expression of how an item you buy can “pay for itself”. Well, that’s true here.

Your water is probably so awful that you’ve had to turn to store-bought water from bottles, jugs and flagons. How many gallons of that have you gone through over the course of the past year? How many times have you had to lug 12- or 24- packs of water into your house?The best news is that all that work and expense will be a thing of the past. In fact, as you get used to the awesome taste of safe, crisp filtered water, you’ll find you won’t be able to go back to “the old way” anytime you have to drink water away from home. You’ll be bottling your own!

A RO system is the key to a future of health and happiness with your drinking water. Anyone who’ll taste water at your house is going to want to know about it. You’ll be able to tell them the bad news, that every sip from their own faucet is a leap of blind faith; but then, you’ll be able to tell them how much you spent.

The short-term proof of the benefits is in the taste. The long-term will be better health for all….

So, how much do you care about your family’s water supply now?

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