than the availability of clean, safe water we can drink to sustain our lives. We take it for granted until we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have it. For most of us, that might just mean an hour or so before we get back to our car from a summer hike. It’s not that we didn’t have water — we just forgot to bring enough.
As far as the water we drink from our homes, we just assume it is safe and that it will never run out. While this is probably true, there are unfortunate exceptions. Communities have been placed under boil advisories when water pipes failed. Others have had their entire supply contaminated by lead poisoning.
How do you know your water is safe? If it is from a municipal water supply, it will most likely be safe, and it will be regularly tested each year. Well water is not as regulated and may require some intervention on your part in order to make you feel confident that it’s safe for you and your family.
Fill a tall, clear glass with water from your sink. Put the glass up to a light and look at it with a magnifying glass. It should be clear, not cloudy, and there should be no particles floating around in it. Now smell the water. You will know if there is sulphur in it, because it will smell like rotten eggs.
If your water looks and smells OK, give it a taste. Whether water tastes good or not is a personal opinion, but be cautious of any unusual or undesired flavors in your water. While this inspection isn’t foolproof, it can lead you to the next step.
If you want to test your water, you can purchase kits online or at home improvement stores. If you’re going to invest the time and money, you may as well enlist the help of a lab accredited by the Department of Environmental Protection. Follow the precise directions of your specific laboratory. They will charge a fee, which will vary by location, and will report back their findings.
What exactly they will be looking for will depend on your concerns and your location. Generally speaking, they will test for harmful chemicals, mineral content and bacteria such as E. coli and coliform. Other dangers include arsenic, nitrate and lead. Don’t be alarmed by trace amounts of these items. There are acceptable levels of these impurities which are still considered safe to drink.
If your water test comes back clean, then you needn’t take any further action. Just have it tested at a regular interval you are comfortable with. For added protection, and for water that simply tastes and smells better, you might consider investing in a water filtration system.
There are many ways to filter water, but it comes down to two choices: whole house filters and point-of-use filters. You probably don’t need whole house explained much further, but it treats the water supply before it enters your home. The water you drink, bathe in or use to wash dishes is filtered and conditioned.
Whole house filters generally use activated carbon filters that remove unhealthy metals such as copper and mercury. They also filter out sediment, chlorine and a number of other impurities that can’t make it past the carbon filter process.
Reverse osmosis filters use a more detailed process and can also remove lead, chlorine and even the fluoride your municipality adds for our dental health. There is no argument that fluoride is useful in preventing tooth decay. However, some experts believe a lifetime of drinking fluoridated water is dangerous to our health.
Point-of-use filters can be as simple as a pitcher of water in your refrigerator that contains a filter. You pour water into the filter, and it strains through into the pitcher for you to drink. Refrigerators with a water supply often come with large plastic filter inserts, which use carbon to remove unwanted impurities and tastes.
Your water being safe to drink is the most important thing. Whether you want to invest $30 or so in a filter pitcher or filter cartridge for your drinking water or you want to go the full water softener route is entirely up to you.
Water softening refers to removing minerals from the water supply coming into your home. You usually can’t see it unless the water dries and leaves a white, scaly residue. The benefits of using a water softener include better tasting and smelling water, and things you can’t see, like less wear on your plumbing and water-consuming appliances.
Mineral deposits can build up and cause clogs, as well as unsightly residue on your pipes and fixtures. If you have never bathed or showered in soft water, you are in for an added treat. Your skin will feel silky, as if it still has soap on it — but your skin will be cleaner without the mineral deposits on it.
Whatever method you choose, keep your filter cartridges clean, and replace them as recommended by the manufacturer. Maintain your water softener or filter as recommended so it can keep giving you the clean, safe water you are paying for.
This is a guest post written by Emily Folk.
Emily is a conservation and sustainability writer.
She is the editor of Conservation Folks, and you can see her latest updates by following her on Twitter.