It’s an important topic for builders to have some basic knowledge about, especially if working in the green building sector. Key questions you might hear from a client include:
- What do you know about the water quality in this area?
- Should my home or business have a water filtration system?
- What is the best way to filter water for my residence or business?
Why a Home or Business Owner Should Filter Water
Better tasting, better smelling, and healthier water is what you get when chemical (e.g., chlorine, lead) and bacterial contaminants are filtered out of water used in a home or business for drinking, bathing, cleaning food or food service items. Filtering also reduces the risk of rectal, colon and bladder cancer, as well as gastrointestinal and autoimmune illness.
How to Determine Water Quality in a Given Location
Before purchasing a filtration system for a construction project or before recommending a system to a customer, check the local water utility’s “Consumer Confidence Report” for that geographic area.
The utility company is required by law to provide this report each year before July 1. It details where the local drinking water comes from, which contaminants have been found in it, and how contaminant levels compare to national standards. You can request the report or search for it at the EPA’s online database.
A great resource that helps explain the report can be found at the NSF website for Home Drinking Water Quality and Treatment.
Even with that report in hand, you can still risk purchasing the wrong equipment if you don’t test the water that will be coming directly out of the tap in the homes you’re building.
Use a state-certified water testing lab, which will charge a nominal fee, to get a custom report on the water quality for a particular property. If the home or business will use well water, that water must be tested annually in the late spring when pesticide runoff is at it’s worst.
Ways to Filter Water
The reports you obtain for a building project can help you make a more informed choice about the type of filtering system to install. The contaminants filtered out will vary by brand and model of filtering system. Determining which filtering system is best depends upon location, test results, the size of the home, health concerns of your client, and budget.
Point-of-entry filters are installed at the main water line to a home. Point-of-use filters are affixed to a faucet or showerhead or at the plumbing line below the sink.
Depending on the system, these can remove a variety of chemicals and other contaminants. Ion Exchange Filters (aka Water Softeners) remove dissolved salts and other minerals that create chemically “hard water.” These filters soften water by exchanging naturally-forming mineral ions with its own ions to neutralize the harmful effect of mineral build-up in pipes, which alters the quality of your household water.
Granular Carbon/ Carbon Block Filters use a chemical or physical bonding process that pulls contaminants to the surface of the filter. Granular systems are best for removing organic chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and industrial chemicals. A caveat with granular filters: loose material can form channels that trap water which then escapes proper filtering.
Carbon block filters compress the carbon medium, eliminating channeling and providing more precision for filtering a wider range of contaminants. Reverse Osmosis (RO) Filters force water through a membrane that draws out organic and inorganic contaminants. RO uses three times as much water as is treated but it is most effective in eliminating all disease-causing organisms and most chemical contaminants.
Minerals are lost during RO so some systems add trace minerals back into the water. This can also be done manually. When shopping for a water filtration system, look for one certified according to ANSI/ISF standards, such as NSF International, Underwriters Laboratories, and Water Quality Association).
Also look for recommendations from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
- EPA.gov “Water Health Series: Filtration Facts.” (PDF)
- University of Nebraska at Lincoln: “NEB Guide: Drinking Water Treatment- Ion Exchange (Water Softening)” (PDF)
- Science.HowStuffWorks.com “Reverse Osmosis.”
- DES.NH.Gov Scientific Fact Sheet: Ion Exchange of Drinking Water. (PDF)
- Home Advisor: Water Filtration Systems.
- WaterandHealth.org. “Water Treatment Fundamentals.” Posted by Water Quality & Health Council. (6 Aug 2013).