Brita filter photo via gocarts via Flickr CC; whole house filter system photo via tanais via Flickr CC
Head to your kitchen sink, turn on the tap and fill a glass with water. Now drink it. Did you have any reservations before taking that first sip? If you worry about water, you might find yourself wondering if you need a whole-house filtration system, or will a Brita filter suffice? Or will you end up going through so many Brita filters that a whole-house system is justified? Which is the greener choice? If you're concerned about the quality of your tap water, but are also concerned about the eco-impact of filtration systems, we have some answers for you.
Selecting a Water Filtration System: First, Determine Your Water Quality
Tap Water Is Usually Perfectly Safe
To understand whether you should be in the market for a simple faucet filter or a whole-house filter system, you'll want to know a few facts about your drinking water. More than 90 percent of US water systems meet EPA's standards for tap water quality. In fact, municipal water is more regulated than bottled water in terms of safety and testing. We've been carefully trained by bottled water companies and others who have an interest in consumers mistrusting the tap to think that water from the faucet is bad for us. However, for the most part, tap water is perfectly safe -- and cheaper -- to drink and use for daily tasks.
Tap Water May Be Safe, But Still Taste Funny
Safe water, however, doesn't always mean tasty water. And some people want to rid their water of any lingering minerals and improve the taste of tap water by filtering it. Others live in an area with drinkable but less-than-excellent-quality water or an aging municipal water infrastructure, and so want to improve it. Still others use well water that could use one last filtration before making it into glasses and cooking pots. All of these situations are when filtration systems come in handy.
Read Your Local Water Quality Report
If you aren't sure about your local water quality, you can get a water quality report through the EPA's website or your local city or town hall. For well water, you can check out EPA's website to determine the quality of private wells. Since water quality reports can be somewhat difficult to interpret, check out the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water, which has put together a helpful, explanatory guide. The National Tap Water Quality Database also provide further info on understanding water quality and how it affects our health. Finally, Food and Water Watch is another good resource for information about understanding water quality and returning to the tap.
Which Type of Water Filtration System Should You Choose?Do You Even Need A Filter? If your water quality turns out to be fine, you may decide that you don't need a filtration system. This would leave you with the greenest possible decision - skip buying one at all. Alternatively, you might consider the age-old method of distilling your own water. It's slightly more arduous than doing nothing or using a tap-mounted filter, but since it requires very little equipment, it's a very low-impact choice.
The Right Filter for the Right Contaminants
If you do decide some sort of filter is a must, there are some eco-factors to consider. The type of filter you pick will also be determined in part by the type of contaminants you want to remove from the water. When you read your city's water quality report or have your water tested, you'll see which contaminants you're dealing with, and which type of filtration system you need.
Whole-house filtration generally works better for removing things like sediment, rust, and scale. Tap-based water filters or pitcher filters work better for removing things like remove organic chemicals, industrial solvents and chlorine byproducts, which make your water taste better. So, in some cases, a whole-house filtration system will need to be supplemented with a tap- or pitcher-filter for better taste. Unfortunately, that would be a less eco-friendly scenario in terms of materials required to get your water cleaned up, but it still would be far better than the alternative of bottled water.
Whatever you choose, you'll want to lean towards systems that are National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) tested, as the NSF certifies filters based on the particular contaminants it reduces.