The primary function of a reverse osmosis system, or RO system, is to remove dissolved solids from a solution. The solution in this case happens to be water. These types of systems are found in many different applications such as removing chemical elements from solvents for industrial purposes, removing salt and other dissolved solids from seawater to produce fresh water, a process known as desalination, and purifying fresh water to make it more suitable for drinking or cooking.
All of these systems function in more or less the same manner. The systems used in industrial processes naturally tend to be very large and expensive. Those suitable for use in the home are much more affordable and in most cases can be installed in a cabinet under the kitchen sink. There are even smaller, portable RO systems on the market that provide fresh water while on the go. Campers, hikers, explorers, and members of the military make use of these smaller, portable systems. An RO system can usually be counted on to remove whatever is in the water that is bad, down to the size of an ion.
How a Reverse Osmosis System Works
In order to purify water, it is passed through a membrane where the process takes place. Although the process is commonly thought of as filtering, it is not quite the same. Most conventional water filters can remove particles that are 5 microns or micrometers or more in size. Micro filters can remove particles down to 1/100th of a micron. The RO process takes things a step further. An RO system removes particles down to one-thousandth of a micron, in other words a particle that is a nanometer in size or even less. A reverse osmosis membrane not only blocks certain extremely tiny viruses, but it will even remove ions from the water resulting what is for all practical purposes pure drinking water. A complete RO system will consist of filters, a membrane, and the associated plumbing. Water pressure, which would be tap water pressure in the case of a system installed in the home, forces water through the RO membrane. While water can be forced through the membrane, the tiniest of particles cannot pass through it. These particles are routed off to the side and disposed of in the wastewater.
Base Your Choice on what’s Important to You
You may well wonder what the factors are you will need to consider in making a purchase since nearly all of the RO systems you will find on the market that are for domestic use function in basically the same way. Most automobiles also function in the same way in most respects, although there are variations. If you only need a vehicle that will get you from one place to another your choices are virtually unlimited with respect to make or model. When price becomes important, or miles-per-gallon becomes important, or comfort, safety, or even appearance is of importance to you is when you find you have some clear choices that have to be considered, and you’ll base your final choice on what factors or features are most important to you.
It is the same with a reverse osmosis system. Looks may or may not be important unless your system is always in plain view, which is unlikely. Size can be a factor according to where you plan to install your system, but since most systems you’re apt to look at will fit under your kitchen sink, it is not likely to be a driving factor. Ease of installation can be another factor, and often is an important one. If you can install something yourself instead of having a professional do it, it will usually be a definite plus. Usually, it’s the quality of the product will most likely be the driving force behind your decision. There may well be a trade-off to consider between quality and price, where quality in this case is defined as consistent and reliability in performing the task at hand. Quality can be difficult to judge from a reading a product description or advertisement. Neither is likely to dwell on any potentially negative factor. This is where an impartial review can be of significant help in making a decision.
Product Features and Performance Factors to Consider
When you are about to select an RO system for your place of residence, these are the things you should bear in mind as you make your choice:
- Effectiveness in removing pollutants, microorganisms, salts, and odors
- Base price
- Energy consumption
- Cost effectiveness (cost and frequency of filter replacement)
- Ease of installation
- Ease of changing filters
The above are listed more or less in order of importance, but some factors will undoubtedly be of more importance to you than others will. In most cases, what you want is a system that performs well and sells at an affordable price.
Of the above factors, you might want to pay particular importance to ease of installation. You can of course have a unit installed by a professional. In some cases, installation may be included in the price of the unit. On the other hand, if you are a do-it-yourself person you’ll find many units are easy to install, the only complication likely being one of tapping into your cold water system. Working in cramped quarters could prove to be a challenge as well. Most systems on the market come with installation instructions although the quality of some of the manuals is not always the best. If you take your time you will usually do fine.
Another thing worth checking is the ease (or difficulty) in changing the filters as you could save a significant amount of money by doing it yourself. For most systems, changing out the filters is a quick and easy process.
It’s worthwhile checking to see how long the warranty is, and if it’s a limited warranty what the limitations are. You’ll find that the higher priced systems tend to have longer warranty periods, which is probably not to surprising since the higher cost tends to go hand-in-hand with higher quality.
You don’t have to be a master plumber to install most of the models you’ll find on the market. It usually boils down to a matter of how much time you have, and how much confidence you have when working with a plumbing system.
The most important factor to consider if a choice of the make or model is of a secondary consideration is taste. The first decision you should be making is if having an RO system makes sense. You’ll likely be making that decision based on the quality of water you’re presently getting from your tap. You’re almost guaranteed to get better tasting water for drinking and cooking regardless of the system you choose, and if you are spending a lot of money on bottled water your RO system could easily pay for itself within a year or two.