It can be incredibly challenging to find the best whole house water filter systems on the market. Looking at pricing cost and through reviews, rating and trying to compare one filter with another is next to impossible when you don’t know a lot about how whole house water filters work. How are you supposed to know which model is the right fit for you?
Still, purchasing a whole house water filter is a great idea for homeowners who are concerned about their water quality. There are a lot of options and brands to choose from, so we created a comprehensive buyer’s guide to help you along the way.
Practically every whole house water filter uses activated carbon (or “charcoal”) for water filtration. Activated carbon, whether it’s in a granular form or in a block, is the most widely used filtering media – and for good reason. Carbon has an amazing ability to remove impurities and chemical-based compounds from water supplies. Most the carbon used today is made from all-natural coconut shells, replacing the bituminous coal that was common for so long.
Benefits of Whole Water Filtration
Whole house water filtration systems are installed at the point-of-entry (POE) has many benefits over a point-of-use (POU) water filter. Point-of-entry filters every tap in your entire home. There’s no need for separate shower filters and drinking water filters. Generally, point-of-entry filters are more cost effective because you don’t have to replace them often and they last a long time.
Larger whole house water filters that have media inside a mineral tank will also have much better filtration than a smaller sink or shower filter. A longer contact time in larger mineral tanks means better filtration and better water than the quick “pass through” shower or facet filters.
Things to Look For
Generally there are a few things to consider when shopping for a new whole house water filter system. These can help narrow down your search when comparing brands.
Capacity is how long the water filter media (or cartridge) will last before you need to replace it. All water filters will need to be replaced once the media cannot reduce contaminants anymore. Most of the time, filters are given a monthly, yearly, or gallons capacity rating. Because carbon is like a sponge, it can’t soak up or remove impurities if it sits for too long in water or if too much water passes through it.
You should replace your filter if the time capacity or flow capacity is reached. If you go past the manufacturer’s recommendation, you may experience a drop in the contaminants that can be removed. There’s generally no way to tell unless you test the water to see if the filter is still working. A simple chlorine test strip, in this case, is exactly what you need.
Gallons per Minute (Flow Rate)
How large your home is, the number of people living there, and/or the number of bathrooms you have – all of these will determine your flow rate. Proper sizing of a whole house water filter will ensure that there’s no reduction in water flow during peak-use hours (like the early morning) when you may be using the kitchen faucet and a couple of showers while doing laundry. Look for the flow rate to properly size the water system you’re interested in buying.
Is there a lot of sediment in your water? If so, a sediment filter is generally a good idea. A good sediment filter can filter particles down to a size smaller than a human hair. These are generally listed as microns. A five micron filter (what we use at Filtersmart) is good enough to capture particles while keeping steady and strong water pressure.
Next, you want to determine if the filter is a carbon block or a granular media. We explain later why we think granular media are the better choice over blocks. Also, check to see if the media uses a standard carbon for chloramine removal or a catalytic carbon for chloramine removal for what you need for your water.
What Do Whole House Water Filters Remove?
If you’re looking for cleaner, healthier drinking water, then you have to consider what’s in your water. There are a lot of options on the market, and if you recently started looking at whole house water filters then you’ve probably poured through a number of reviews and comparison articles already. This guide is to help you decide what kind of whole house system you will need. The first thing you want to know is what kind of disinfectant your municipal water district uses. Water districts use chlorine and, more recently, chloramine – which is a chemical compound of chlorine andammonia.
Why is this important? Because if your city water contains chlorine then it can be removed by standard activated carbon. If your city water contains chloramines, on the other hand, then you will need to make sure the carbon is a catalytic carbon, which is made specifically for chloramine removal. You can’t taste or smell the difference, so you have to check with your local water district and ask them which disinfectant they use. You can also try to Google your city and zip code, along with the words, “water quality report.” Usually, you’ll pull up the report with the listed disinfectant. You can also call us at 866-455-9989 and one of our technicians can help you find this information out whether you decide to purchase from us or not.
Installation of Whole House Water Filters
Generally, there are a few options for whole house filtration that you would need to consider.
Comparing In-Line Whole House Water Cartridge
An in-line filter is generally a carbon block inside a housing unit. The in-line filter systems are one of the cheapest upfront cost options for homeowners. The issue with in-line filters is water capacity. Most have a 1 year or 100,000 gallon warranty. So, to maximize filtration, you would be replacing these carbon blocks just about every year or even sooner if you do any outside irrigation. 3M, the most popular inline filter, costs $220 on Amazon. A replacement is $285.50. That’s a little over $500 for the first year of use and $285 every year after.
The biggest problem with in-line filters is their quick ability to create channeling. Water takes the path of least resistance so, after a while, the water creates its own “channels” and greatly affects the carbon’s ability to reduce contaminants. With a mineral tank system, you get longer contact time for better removal and there’s no channeling that can reduce reduction rates. There’s also about a 10-20 times longer filtering capacity.
In short, in-line filters do a great job as a low priced introductory whole house water filter, but the yearly replacements almost defeat any initial savings a homeowner might get.
Downflow Whole House Water Filter Systems
Lifesource is one of the most popular and widely used downflow granular activated carbon water filtration systems out there, but local companies offer similar models or variations. They all operate in a downflow direction. That means the water flows into the tank to the bottom screen, up the distributor, and to the water supply. These systems require a regular weekly backwashing cycle to reset the bed and prevent channeling, thus requiring electricity and a water drain to flush water.
The other downside with these systems is theenormous up-front cost. For whatever reason, these standard granular activated carbon filters are often sold for three to four thousand dollars across America. That’s a massive markup considering our FS-1000 is just 700 dollars, including free shipping. Add in a basic 3-4 hour installation by a local plumber and the cost for these systems is nowhere near justified to homeowners.
Up-Flow Whole House Water Filter Systems
FilterSmart water systems use up-flow granulated activated carbon filters. They go in an up-flow direction and require no electricity and waste no water. The other great benefit of this design is that when the carbon media is expired you can simply exchange the carbon for new media and continue using the existing tank.
Our tanks come with a lifetime warranty. You can simply replace the carbon inside the tank and keep reusing you existing tank when the media expires after five years or one million gallons. We sell a replacement bag of carbon for $149. That’s just $149 every 5 years. Up-flow whole house water filters are by far the most economical and best filtering system on the market. At FilterSmart, we supply the very best.
With our up-flow systems, you can choose between a standard carbon filter for chlorine removal or our chloramine PRO for chloramine removal.
In-line and downflow systems are not an option for those with chloramines in their water or those on a modest budget.
Where are Whole House Water Filters Installed?
Whole house water filters are considered point-of-entry (POE) systems. They’re generally installed outside your home or inside your garage on the main water line. Some homes will have a water softener or filter loop in their garage to make for a quick installation. Generally, whole house water filters can be installed by anyone with basic plumbing knowledge or, of course, a certified plumber. It’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer warranty to see if there is any void in warranty for a non-certified plumber installation.
If you don’t have a filter loop, then you can either make your own or simply plumb it in on the main line close to the water shut-off valve. It’s a good idea to make a bypass loop around the water system for any maintenance or replacements down the road.
You also want to check to make sure that there is no split in the line prior to the installation spot. If the water line splits off before the whole house water filter, then you might be left with only half of the house getting the treated water.
Do I Need to Soften the Water Before I Filter It?
If you’re looking for whole house water filters, you may be wondering if you need to treat the hardness as well. Most whole house carbon filters do not have any options to treat the hardness in your water. Hard water is not considered a contaminant; it’s more of a nuisance for your plumbing, appliances, and faucets. Hard water stains or limescale deposits are corrosive and can increase water heating costs and blocking in your water pipes or lines. If you experience these problems, installing a whole house carbon filter will not mitigate these issues.
For those with hard water issues, you may want to have a filterand water softener combination system. These “combination” systems have an added softener tank to treat the hardness.
Best Whole House Water Filters and Water Softener Combination
The most popular systems on the market are the combination systems that have a whole house water filter and a second tank for the water softener. The combo systems are very popular because they’re perfect for most homes in America that suffer from poor water quality and water hardness. As far as water treatment goes, the combo can’t be beat. The vast majority of homes in America have some degree of hard water and all city water will have a disinfectant – not too mention any number of other contaminants that might find their way into your water.
The northeast and northwest of the US don’t have a high level of water hardness. These areas are generally soft, which is why we mainly sell our whole house water filter to these regions. Our filter and softener combo is our most popular system across the US – and it’s truly the best bet when looking for total whole home water treatment solutions. If you’re not sure if you need a softener, you can always get a whole house filter and add on the softener later.
Final Thoughts on Whole House Water Filters
A whole house water filter is a great option for those looking to enjoy the benefits of filtered water at every tap in your home. Make sure to check reviews and compare product specs to know exactly what the water capacity rating is and the filtering media that’s being used.
If you’re shopping locally, make sure you compare prices to the ones you can find online. We’ve heard over and over again from homeowners that local water dealers give insane quotes. As long as you stay informed, you can avoid those same problems. Local water dealers have gotten a bad rap over the years for high-pressure sales tactics and price gouging. They’ll often include installation with the price of their product and charge an exorbitant amount for it. If you buy online manufacturer direct and contract for a local plumber on installation, you can save a bundle.
Make sure to do your proper research and check with your local water district on the water quality. More and more homes are being treated with chloramine and most whole house water filter systems do not use any catalytic carbon for the filtration media, which is what you need to get rid of chloramine.
Make sure to call the brands or local water softener dealers to ask for specifics on filtering media or specifications. You need to know exactly what you’re getting.
Also be wary of online “review” or “comparison” sites that look like an unbiased reviewer but really affiliate looking to make a quick buck. They just want people to click on the links and purchase the products. They generally will only review or compare products on Amazon because it has the most popular referral network. If you click on the “About Us” tab at the very bottom of the site, it will (or at leastshould) mention they are compensated for products.
We know you have a lot of options, so if you have any questions about anything you see give us a call for more information and let us help you with your water needs.