Best Well Water Filter System
Clean and safe drinking water is essential for a healthy and happy home. If your home gets its water from a municipal water system, your water is filtered and chemically treated to meet the drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Municipal water agencies test their water multiple times daily to ensure it is safe for drinking. But if you live in a rural area, you likely live too far away to tap into a municipal water system and a well is your only source of water. The only way to ensure you have safe and clean drinking water from a well is to have a well water filter system for your home.
The fixer-upper house we bought a couple of years ago has well water. We were apprehensive about having well water because we had never lived in a house with it before. We were unfamiliar with how well water systems work. The thought of drinking water that came straight from the ground seemed gross. Adding to our apprehension was the fact that the previous owner of our home hadn’t lived in the house for at least a year. We weren’t sure if sediment built up in the system or if harmful bacteria were growing rampant.
We planned on having the water tested, but during the home inspection prior to closing on the property, the well storage tank smelled of bleach. It was clear the seller had just shocked the well, therefore a water test would have been useless. We didn’t know what to do.
Our real estate agent found out that most of the surrounding properties had tapped into the local water system about ten years earlier. If we could connect to the municipal water system like everyone else on the street, we wouldn’t have to worry about the condition of the well. We’d have safe, drinkable water.
Unfortunately, after a few phone calls with the water authority, we learned they wouldn’t let us connect to the system for various reasons. Further, excavating and installing hundreds of feet of water lines in the ground would cost us tens of thousands of dollars.
We loved the house and didn’t want the uncertainty surrounding the water situation to keep us from getting the house. After talking to a number of experts about our options, we found the solution to our problem. We bought a whole house water filtration system, and we’ve been living happily ever after—with great tasting pure water—ever since.
I’ve taken my research and experience from installing our whole-house water filter system and created this guide to provide you with all the information you need to make an informed decision when shopping for a water filter system for your home. From understanding the different types of water filtration systems available to considering the installation process, to learning about the different types of water filters on the market, this guide will help you make the best choice for your home.
What is Well Water?
When someone mentions well water, I immediately think of a well out of an old movie or cartoon. A hole in the ground with a bucket that’s lowered on a long rope down a shaft. Usually someone or something has fallen down the well and needs to be rescued. But that’s not how wells work these days.
Well water is water that comes from deep underground. You probably heard of it referred to as groundwater before. This underground water is found in an aquifer, an underground layer of water-bearing, permeable rock, rock fractures, or other materials such as gravel, sand, or silt. Groundwater found in aquifers can be extracted using a water well. A well is constructed by drilling deep into the aquifer and inserting a pipe. Most household water wells range from 100 to 800 feet deep, but some can be over 1,000 feet deep. An electric pump is then submerged in the water filling the pipe, and the pump pushes the water from the well through another pipe into a storage tank in the house.
The EPA estimates that more than 23 million households rely on private wells for drinking water in the United States. Perhaps the biggest benefit of well water is that it is the cheapest way to deliver water to your home. Over the long term, well water is much cheaper than municipal water and provides long-term cost savings. Once a well has been dug, it can provide a supply of water for a very, very long time.
Benefits of purchasing a water filter system
A water filter system for your home provides a wide variety of benefits for you and your family. First and foremost, a water filter system will remove impurities and contaminants from your water, giving you pure and safe drinking water each and every time you turn on a faucet. This can be especially important for families with young children, elderly parents, or people with health conditions.
It’s important to understand the types of contaminants that can be found in groundwater. This knowledge will help you decide what type of filter system to purchase for your home.
You may think well water contamination is the result of humans or industry, but it often comes from natural sources.
Iron, manganese, aluminum, and nickel occur naturally in sediment, soil and rocks. As groundwater flows through the ground, heavy metals such as iron and manganese are dissolved and may later be found in high concentrations in the water. Both iron and manganese negatively affect the taste of water and discolor laundered clothing and plumbing fixtures. Nickel has been found to damage the heart and liver of laboratory animals exposed to large amounts over their lifetime.
Arsenic can be found in groundwater naturally, although it can also enter the environment through industrial activities and pesticides. Arsenic is a carcinogen and can cause liver and kidney damage.
Mercury enters the environment from industrial waste, mining, pesticides, coal, electrical equipment (batteries, lamps, switches), smelting, and fossil-fuel combustion. Mercury damages the kidneys and can cause nervous system disorders.
Well water is often corrosive and can leach lead from pipes, soldered joints, and plumbing fixtures. Lead can also enter groundwater from industry, mining, plumbing, gasoline, coal, and as a water additive. Lead exposure is most damaging to children. It delays normal physical and mental development in babies and young children. Ingesting lead causes slight deficits in attention span, hearing, and learning in children, and can cause a slight increase in blood pressure in some adults.
Pesticides are substances used to kill weeds, rodents, algae and a host of other pests. In high concentrations, pesticides can cause poisoning, headaches, dizziness, gastrointestinal disturbance, numbness, weakness, and cancer.
Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in soils and plants and in the feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. Their presence in water indicates that disease-causing organisms could be in the water system. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can cause polio, cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and infectious hepatitis.
Top 7 Causes
Drinking Water-associated Disease & Outbreaks in Individual (Private) Water Systems
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Cryptosporidium, Salmonella (tie)
Arsenic, Gasoline, Nitrate, Phenol, Selenium, Yersinia enterocolitica (tie)
Hydrogen Sulfide occurs naturally in groundwater as a consequence of the activities of bacteria that feed on sulfur in the water. The low oxygen environments present in groundwater wells and plumbing systems are ideal for bacteria. The bacteria activities result in an unpleasant rotten egg smell, although they do not cause health concerns for humans.
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile organic compounds are found in a wide range of household products, including paint thinners and insect sprays, and can make their way into water supplies through pollution, spills or with stormwater runoff.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS)
PFOA and PFOS are fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). They have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. They are also used for firefighting and in a number of industrial processes. Because these chemicals have been used in an array of consumer products, most people have been exposed to them. In the early 2000s, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the United States by its primary manufacturer. Scientists have found PFOA and PFOS in the blood of nearly all the people they tested, but these studies show that the levels of PFOA and PFOS in blood have been decreasing. While consumer products and food are a large source of exposure to these chemicals for most people, drinking water can be an additional source in the small percentage of communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies.
High levels of iron and manganese in well water can impart a metallic taste to drinking water. This taste can be detected in certain foods cooked in well water as well. Coffee or tea brewed in water straight from the well can have an off taste and appearance. If you’re a homebrewer, well water may affect the taste of beer made with it, depending on the style of beer and method made.
Chlorine and volatile organic chemicals in well water can evaporate in steam, contaminating the air you breathe.
The health risks these contaminants present, as well as the unpleasant aesthetic characteristics of well water, show the value of a water filter system.
Types of water filter systems
There are different types of filters that whole-house water filtration systems use. Each type works differently, has its own characteristics and has strengths and weaknesses.
Activated Carbon filters are made of a carbon substance, usually from coconut shells or charcoal. They use a process called adsorption (not to be confused with absorption) that causes unwanted substances to stick to the surface of the filter. Adsorption keeps compounds like chlorine, mercury, formaldehyde, pesticides, herbicides, chlorine, and solvents stuck to the carbon filter. They are effective at removing odors, also.
Carbon filters won’t filter out every bad substance, though. They are not good for filtering heavy metals like iron, lead, cadmium, and aluminum; or dissolved solids like sodium, calcium and magnesium. They also have zero impact on bacteria and viruses.
Carbon filters need to be changed every few months because the carbon system wears out.
A ceramic filtration system uses tiny pores on a ceramic surface to filter bacteria and sediment out of drinking water. These pores trap impurities as the water passes through them.
Ceramic filters can rid water of about 99% of pathogenic bacteria, including E. coli, shigella, and salmonella. These filters are also effective at removing sediment such as rust and dirt. Ceramic filters are good at removing cloudiness and restoring water to a crystal clear state.
Ceramic filters have their limitations, also. They do not filter out minerals like calcium and magnesium. They are not effective with reducing water hardness, either.
Reverse osmosis (RO) is one of the most popular and effective methods of water filtration. The process works by forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane, which allows for the removal of impurities and toxins. It’s one of the few filters that can rid water of water-soluble contaminants like fluoride and chromium +6.
RO has its negatives, though. While RO systems are highly effective in removing bad stuff from water, they also remove good stuff such as minerals like calcium and magnesium. These systems use an inordinate amount of water, sometimes up to four times the normal amount, resulting in a lot of wasted water. The process is also slow and can cause water pressure issues. Due to their complexity, reverse osmosis systems are usually harder to install and maintain.
Reverse osmosis filtration comes at a price, also. RO systems are very expensive to purchase and install. Including installation, a whole home reverse osmosis filtration system can cost about $15,000 to $20,000!
UV filters use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and viruses in water. A UV filter is simply an ultraviolet light inside an enclosed chamber, and water is pumped through the chamber. The ultraviolet rays from the bulb pierce the cell walls of any microorganisms in the water, damaging their DNA so they can’t reproduce. This renders dangerous contaminants, such as E.Coli and giardia, completely harmless.
When used properly, UV water filters kill up to 99.99% of the bacteria and viruses in your well water. They do this without using any dangerous chemicals that can have health risks.
The only downside of UV water disinfection is that it does not eliminate contaminants other than microorganisms from water. UV filters do not remove impurities such as dirt, heavy metals, chlorine and fluoride.
Not all water filtration systems have a UV filter, but I personally believe the UV filter is the most important component. I would not have a water filtration system without a UV filter. The peace of mind knowing that skinny bulb is killing 99.99% of bacteria and viruses is invaluable.
Well water is usually described as “hard.” Hard water contains high amounts of dissolved calcium and magnesium.
I think it’s important to emphasize that hard water is not a health hazard. To the contrary, hard drinking water contributes a small amount toward the total calcium and magnesium needed in the human diet according to the National Research Council of the United States National Research Council of the National Academies.
While hard water has no known adverse health effects, it can be a pain in the butt for homeowners. Mineral deposits from hard water can build up in pipes and damage plumbing fixtures. Hard water also makes just about every cleaning task involving water less effective. Bathing, laundering and dishwashing can all require more effort in one way or another.
Hard water does not produce good lather, so it makes cleaning with soap more difficult. It’s not impossible to wash with soap in hard water, but you will need to use more of it to get a good lather going.
The minerals in hard water react with most soaps to create soap scum. Soap scum can temporarily adhere to your skin or the shower walls. Soap scum can build up on shower walls, bath tubs and sinks, and will require a vinegar solution or specialty cleanser to remove it from these surfaces.
While a water filter system has no bearing on water hardness, you should consider including a water softener component to your whole house filter system. The map below can give you an idea of the likelihood of you having hard water based on where you live. If you’re going through the effort and expense to install a water filter system in your home, it is easier to incorporate a water softener into your water filter plans instead of adding it on later.
Water filter system installation Considerations
Installation of a water filter system will vary depending on the type of system. Before purchasing a system for your home, you should consider a few things regarding installation first.
Different whole house filter systems have different requirements. Make sure the system you’ve decided on is a good match for your house and your water source. Check specifications to see if the system can handle the volume of water you and your family uses each day. Make sure there’s adequate physical space for it and there won’t be any issues with connecting the system to the pipe that runs from the well to your house.
Make sure the filtration system can handle the water pressure in your house. If the water pressure is too high, it can damage the water filtration system. You can have the pressure checked by a professional and have a water pressure reducing valve installed if necessary. The water filter system specifications should indicate the water pressure range needed for it to work properly.
This may be obvious, but water filtration systems are designed to filter cold water directly from the source. They are not designed to filter water coming out of a hot water tank. The water should flow from the filtration system to the hot water tank.
Room to Replace Filters
Whole house water filtration systems usually have a pre-filter that filters out sediment from water before it flows to a secondary filter. These pre-filters typically need to be changed regularly, therefore make sure there is sufficient space in the installation area for you to physically get in there to replace filters. You don’t want to install the system and then realize only your eight year old daughter can fit in the space to replace the filter.
Electrical Power Source
If your filtration system includes a UV filter (which I hope it does!), you will need electricity to power the lightbulb in the filter. Make sure there is an electric outlet within a few feet of where you want to locate the filter, or make sure an electrician will be able to install an electric outlet in the space.
The filtration system should be located near your home’s water supply main shutoff valve. Depending on the specific filtration system, you will need a section of wall close to the water inlet to mount its components.
Decide if you have a basic understanding of plumbing before trying to install the water filter yourself. You will need to know how to cut into and connect plumbing pipes. There’s a good chance you’ll need to know how to connect copper pipes to the plastic fittings of the filtration system. You’ll need the right tools, also. If you’re not sure if you have the skills to install the system yourself, hire a professional plumber to do it for you. The added cost will be well worth it.
Water filter system maintenance and upkeep
When purchasing a water filter system, it’s important to consider the maintenance and upkeep required to ensure the system is working at its best. Most systems are easy to maintain and clean but you should learn all that is required before purchasing a specific system.
Most systems will have filters or filter cartridges that need to be changed regularly. The pre-filter that prevents dirt and sediment particles from entering and clogging the main filter unit will need to be changed often. Before changing the filter, the water supply to the filtration system needs to be turned off first.
Make sure you know where replacement filters can be bought and how much they cost. The big box home improvement stores carry some water filters but they may not fit the system you are considering. You may have to mail order replacement filters and plan on keeping a supply on hand to avoid waiting for a filter to be mailed.
Cost considerations for purchasing a water filter system
Like any other purchase, cost is an important consideration when choosing a whole house filtration system. Reverse osmosis systems will typically be most expensive. UV light filters and water softeners will add cost. Replacement filters will be an ongoing expense during the life of your filtration system. Hiring someone to install the system is another potential expense.
If a whole home water filter system is out of your budget, you should consider an under sink unit for the kitchen at least. These systems are less expensive and offer protection against contaminants in your water in the most important room in the house, where water glasses are filled and food is cooked.
The Water Filtration System We Chose
We followed the advice of the man who inspected the well for us when we bought our home and purchased the Aquasana Rhino Well Water with UV whole house water filter system. After living with the system for almost two years, I think we chose the best whole house water filter system for our needs. It was the best option when considering cost and features. It has given us peace of mind that we are drinking clean water.
The sediment pre-filter is the first filter water from the well enters. This filter needs to be changed every couple months because it is the first filter water hits and dirt and sediment build up. A 3-pack of replacement filters costs $29.99 currently. That translates to an annual cost of $59.98.
Water then flows from the pre-filter into the salt free water conditioner. This water softener is not included in the base system and currently adds $750 to the overall purchase price. But it helps reduce mineral deposits which can build up in fixtures, pipes and appliances like coffee makers and ice machines. The water conditioner unit needs to be replaced every six years, so while the cost is relatively high, it lasts a fairly long time.
From the water conditioner, water flows into what they call their “Rhino® Filter.” Both the water conditioner and the Rhino Filter feature a unique dual-chamber design. The Rhino Filter’s top tank contains a blend of copper-zinc oxidation media and crushed mineral stone to reduce chlorine and balance the pH. The bottom tank contains a high-grade activated carbon for final reduction of chlorine and other contaminants such as herbicides, pesticides, PFOA/PFOS, and volatile organic compounds. This gargantuan filter can filter 1,000,000 gallons of water! It needs to be replaced about every ten years. A replacement filter costs $849.00 currently. There are also 600,000- and 300,000-gallon versions of the Rhino replacement filter that cost $649.00 and $449.00 respectively right now. If you live alone and don’t use much water, or if funds are tight, these less expensive filters are nice alternatives. They are interchangeable in the system and you can go from a 1,000,000-gallon tank to a 300,000-gallon filter without modifying the system. Just note that the 600,00- and 300,000-gallon tanks will need to be replaced more frequently than the 1,000,000-gallon filter.
Water flows out of the Rhino filter into a post-filter that further reduces any remaining sediment and organic particles. These filters need to be replaced every six months and cost $29.99, or $59.98 per year.
Finally, the water flows into the UV filter. As water passes through the UV’s stainless-steel chamber, water is purified by various frequencies of ultraviolet light. The DNA of any bacteria and virus cells present absorbs the UV light which then kills these contaminants. The bulb in the UV filter lasts for twelve months, and the unit has a digital indicator that keeps track of the days left until the bulb needs to be replaced. Great feature! Replacement bulbs currently cost $119.99.
Can you see there are 273 days left in the life of the UV bulb?
The annual cost for replacement of these filters and the UV bulb is $239.95 plus sales tax and shipping. That works out to about $20 per month. I think that’s a very reasonable cost to ensure we have safe, clean water.
We feel that the Aquasana system is the best well water filtration system for our needs. Our water filter system has been a wise investment that has provided safety and peace of mind, knowing that the water our family consumes is free of contaminants and impurities.
Have Your Water Tested
The best way to know for sure if contaminants are in your water or to find out if your water filtration system is doing its job is to have your water tested by a lab. That’s what we did. We mailed a water sample to Ward Lab in Nebraska to check our water quality after about ten months of using our water filtration system.
The home test tests for bicarbonate, calcium, carbonate, chloride, fluoride, iron, magnesium, nitrate, potassium, sodium, sulfate, total hardness, total alkalinity, electrical conductivity, pH, and estimated total dissolved solids.
The process is easy. A Household Complete Mineral & Test kit can be ordered from Ward Lab’s web site for $45. That price includes the kit and the water analysis. The kit includes a return label with prepaid postage, sample information sheet, a small plastic bottle for collecting your water sample and packaging material.
Taking the water sample is a simple process. To take the water sample, you need to let your tap run for a few minutes to clear any dormant water from your pipes and fill the provided water bottle with fresh water. Screw on the lid and place a piece of tap over it for good measure to make sure it doesn’t come loose in transit.
Double check the information on the sample submittal form and make any necessary corrections. Use the provided bubble wrap to pack the water bottle, then place the bottle and submittal form back in the box. Tape the box closed for shipping, then place the return address label and return postage over the previous labels on the box. Drop the package off at the shipping company shown on the label and then wait for the results.
Results are emailed approximately one business day after the sample is received.
Here are the results of our water test from Ward Labs.
The water hardness measure of our water is still pretty high, but all other levels of minerals and chemicals is very low which tells us the filtration system is working. Water taste is great and we have the peace of mind knowing our water filtration system is protecting us.