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Water Filter Systems Are Making a Splash


For some, it's the taste that draws them to filtered, treated or bottled water. For others, it's the fact that it has no odor. For Tom Houlihan, it's the clink.

"It's hard to explain unless you've heard it," he said, "but when you drop ice cubes made with filtered water into a glass, they have a different sound than those made with unfiltered water."

Houlihan, who runs Orange County Appliance Parts Supply in Garden Grove, isn't alone in taking an interest in his drinking water. A recent survey by the Water Quality Assn. shows that 32% of American consumers use some type of water-treatment device in their homes.

"The imported bottled water boom has really spoiled us," said Burbank plumber Ed Stahey.

"We'd go out to eat and buy great tasting bottled water. Then we'd come home and drink a glass from the tap and say, 'Yuck!' People decided they wanted to get that bottled-water taste in their homes."

It used to be that to get better-quality water, you either bought it at the store or had it delivered to your home. But advances over the last 10 to 20 years have put effective water treatment devices within the reach of most homeowners and renters.

"There's a wide range of products out there," Stahey said. "You can spend thousands and make every drop of water in your house pure, or you can attach a simple filter to your kitchen faucet to make the coffee taste better.

"It's just based on what you want and what you can afford."

While chic bottled water carries the cachet of being "imported," most of our tap water is imported as well--from the Sierra and the Colorado River.

"Our utilities do a pretty good job at getting safe water to our homes," said John Pantermuehl of Aqua 2000, a water treatment company in North Hollywood.

"But lots of people are finding they want a better water product, one that's softened, pure and without a chlorine taste or smell."

Chlorine protects us from getting pathogens such as bacteria and viruses from our water supply, but it sure doesn't make tap water appetizing.

"It's the thing most of our customers complain about," Pantermuehl said. "It's usually remedied by adding an activated-carbon filter to your system."

Carbon filters are the most common and the least expensive method of treating your home's water.

A good carbon filter will reduce water's cloudiness and give it a better odor and taste, and some can remove lead, mercury and other contaminants.

They can be attached to the waterline just as it enters the house, but many popular carbon systems are hooked up under the sink. These filter water from the cold line that leads to a standard faucet or an auxiliary faucet that produces water just for drinking or cooking.

"What you'll usually find is that the better systems have large canisters of activated carbon, the larger the better," said Gus Villegas of Indiana Plumbing Supply in Carson. "The bigger the filter, the better the water will be cleaned and the longer the filter will last."

Sold at home centers and plumbing stores, a good under-sink carbon filter can be found for $150 to $300. Add $100 to $150 if a plumber will be doing the installation.

"Many of the systems sold today are designed for the homeowner to install, so you don't need special tools or expertise. [The installation instructions] walk you through it," Villegas said.

Maintenance Is Key

Regular maintenance is the key to keeping the water from a carbon filter fresh. "Most of the newer systems have filters that are easy to change," Villegas said. "They just pull right out and you insert a new one. A good filter should last the average family a year. Change the filter more often if you start to notice a bad odor or taste."

One of the best-selling filters in recent years is the pour-through pitcher filter, manufactured by several companies. The owner simply fills the top portion of the pitcher with tap water; then the water passes through a small carbon filter cartridge that drips cleaned water to the bottom of the pitcher.

Also becoming common is the faucet-mounted filter, which is screwed into the sink's main faucet where the aerator is attached. Pressure pushes the water through the filter cartridge.

These easy-to-use carbon filters are the least expensive, from $15 to $30, and can make a difference in your water's appeal.

However, some complain that the water is not the same as that produced by the under-sink units. "That may be because of their size," Pantermuehl said. "The filter is not in contact with the water very long."

If your refrigerator has a built-in water dispenser/ice maker, you can improve the output by installing a carbon filter designed for refrigerators on the line coming out from the wall.

"They vary in quality," Houlihan said. "Some are longer than others. Some just have some activated carbon inside encased by plastic; others have more sophisticated screens and water treatment pellets to reduce scale." These range in price from $5 to $20 each.

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