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Best Practices

Starting on the Path to Better Water Quality

To ensure clean, safe water from your faucets, it must be tested and monitored regularly—just like many other components that go into a healthy home

A whole-house (point of entry) well water filtration system from SpringWell

Many people assume when they take a sip of water from a sink in their home, it is safe to drink. Is it?

Generally, U.S. households get their water either from public water systems (90%) or from private wells (10%). Public water systems are governed by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), while private well owners are not protected by this act. If you are on municipality water, you can use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Tap Water Database to obtain your municipality water testing results. If you have a private well, the onus is on you to test your water. Unfortunately, both scenarios leave homeowners unprotected with regard to their water. Homes may never have been tested, or the water may have become contaminated after it left the water treatment facility.

The variables around good water quality are many, but I will share what I consider to be basic first steps for homeowners to take on the path to better water quality.

Test, test, test

Testing and monitoring our water is imperative to protecting our health. Whether sourced from a municipality or a well, water is subject to many carcinogens including: arsenic, PFAS (perfluorinated alkylated substances, aka forever chemicals), radon, chlorination bi-products (carcinogens that come from the breakdown of chlorine used in water treatment), volatile organic chemicals (benzene, toluene, and xylene, to name a few), and pesticides and chemicals from treatment. Through our water we are constantly exposed to these hidden toxins.

Just because your water is governed by the SDWA, do not assume it is safe to drink. According to the EWG, more than 160 contaminants that pollute tap water go unregulated by the SDWA. In fact, the recommended limits for contaminants are not necessarily levels that are good for human health. Many standards are set for permissible limits based on cost considerations and what is easily accomplished, not what is safe for the public.

Unmonitored water has the potential to impact not only our health but also our buildings. For example, if the water in your home gets too corrosive—not something that will be detected without testing—it can start to wear away at your copper plumbing and other household fixtures. Water from nature naturally contain buffers like calcium and calcium carbonate that allows us to keep our water PH at a neutral—around 6.5-8.5, ideally 7. These buffers help keep our home’s water from being too acidic or base.

Many homeowners apply softening systems to their water for various reasons, such as reducing mineral buildup on appliances and softening hair. If you apply these water softeners without regular monitoring, you may be removing those natural buffers, resulting in low PH (6.5 or below) and a low amount of minerals such as calcium. This can make the water acidic and corrosive.

To further complicate things, there can be buffer minerals and normal PH, but the water is still corrosive. In such cases, a secondary measure for acidity, the Langelier Saturation Index, is needed. In either scenario, acidic water can elevate copper levels in the water and release another common contaminant found in plumbing—lead.

If you have PEX plumbing, you may think you have escaped this problem. Not necessarily. Another naturally occurring compound—silica from sands, rocks, and/or minerals—can end up in your home’s water making it corrosive. In this case, the pipes are more prone to springing a leak.

These are among the many reasons it is imperative to test and monitor your water every year. The value of the resulting information cannot be overstated.

Common Water Contaminants

Chlorination biproducts. Chlorine is used at water treatment facilities. When chlorinated water travels through distribution pipes to get to your home, it passes through organic material. When the water comes into contact with this debris, it causes chlorination biproduct to form. These trihalomethanes and other biproducts are carcinogenic.

Arsenic occurs naturally as a trace component in many rocks and sediments. Whether the arsenic is released from these geologic sources into groundwater depends on the chemical form of the arsenic, the geochemical conditions in the aquifer, and the biogeochemical processes that occur. Arsenic also can be released into groundwater as a result of human activities, such as mining, and from its various uses in industry such as wood preservatives and pesticides. In drinking water supplies, arsenic poses a problem because it is toxic at low levels and is a known carcinogen.

Bacteria. The presence of coliform and E. coli bacteria is indicative of fecal pollution in your water. This can cause infection and intestinal problems and is a threat to immunocompromised people.

Radiologicals. Examples include uranium, gross alpha, gross beta, and radon. Gross alpha radiation is not a hazard outside of the body but can be harmful if digested or inhaled. Over a long period of time and at high levels, radium increases the risk of bone cancer, and uranium increases the risk of kidney damage.

Getting started

Start with a reputable company that will perform the test, or you can DIY it. Both methods offer options for testing well water and for testing municipality water. There are different problems associated with each. For example, homeowners with wells should be aware of Coliform bacterium, while homes with municipality water should be looking at the amounts of chlorine and chlorination biproducts in the water; they can be carcinogenic.

Get the most comprehensive testing your budget can afford. To have safe, healthy water you need to know what, if anything, is wrong with your water before taking any treatment measures—the same way doctors don’t prescribe medication without first identifying the problem.

My recommendations

Once you know what you have in your water, you can use technologies to keep in the good stuff and remove the bad. You can source-treat under sinks (point of use) or employ whole-house water filtration. As the CDC explains: Point of use (POU) water treatment systems typically treat water in batches and deliver it to a single tap, such as a kitchen sink faucet or an auxiliary faucet. Point of entry (POE) or whole-house water treatment systems typically treat most of the water entering a house; these systems are usually installed after the water meter.

My recommendation is usually whole-house filtration (Tip: Design it into your building plans.) Considering our skin is our largest organ and chemicals and contaminants can transfer through the skin in about 26 seconds, this is integral to investing in a healthy home. Arsenic, for example, is a heavy metal and carcinogen found naturally in the earth; it can end up in our water and cause skin pigmentation changes, lesions, and even hyperkeratosis. This is why it’s not only drinking water that should be treated.

Look for NFS-certified water treatment systems. Either whole-house or POU treatments that use catalytic carbon and certified KDF media (finely granulated zinc and copper alloys) work wonderfully at removing most contaminants including chlorine, chloramine, PFOA, PFOS, pesticides, and haloacetic acids (chlorination carcinogenic biproducts).

After years of testing homes, I have found these systems to be highly effective at removing most contaminants, but remember each problem has a unique solution. Sometimes it’s something simple like adding a sedimentation filter or a tannin filter, which removes color left in the water from organic material.

Word of warning

Keeping water in its natural balanced state is always best. I have seen instances where treatment systems add chemicals to the water; some systems are designed with cheap or untested materials, e.g. gaskets and contaminated filter media that can introduce carcinogens like benzene. More treatment is not always better and overtreating can remove beneficial mineral content, making the water more acidic and corrosive; it can also lead to biofilm (slime bacteria) in your system.

Let’s recap

First and foremost, if you want a healthy home environment, water testing is a must. As you would assess and plan for good indoor air quality, you must do the same for water; this means designing a water filtration system into the building plans. There are many contaminants commonly found in residential tap water, whether it comes from a well or a municipality. With testing come results that can inform a treatment plan using either a POU or POE filtration system. From this moment forward, water is on the new construction or remodeling checklist.


Caroline Blazovsky is a residential environmental consultant, public educator and spokesperson, and founder of My Healthy Home.




  1. walta100 | | #1

    Note for people on a well Coliform Bacterium is by far the most likely contaminate and the mail in tests are ill-suited to test for bacteria as the sample must be tested quickly while the bacteria is still alive in the sample. Most states have a low cost ($30) water lab test for bacteria.


  2. QualityMattersJoe | | #2

    In my experience, arsenic testing by your local city water utility is often delayed / deferred / infrequently done, with the complicity of the EPA. My presumption is this is motivated by the following -- if the utility exceeds the limit -- it is very very expensive for the utility to remediate this. Europe has lower limits that USA in general, although a few states have stricter limits than the EPA, comparable to Europe. Arsenic testing is specialized. Be careful of the test specification, both the minimum detectable level as well as the accuracy. There are various forms of arsenic possible in drinking water, I don't know enough about it to understand how this affects test methods, test specifications, and filtering. Removing arsenic requires special purpose filters. If you install such filters and want to measure how far the arsenic level has been reduced, you need to use a more sensitive test appropriate to the anticipated lower levels. When I installed arsenic filter at my city water supplied kitchen tap after measuring 8 ppb, I failed to select an alternate test method, with the result telling me only that the level was now undetectable (the test had a 5 ppb threshhold). The arsenic filter requires prefiltering, else is overwhelmed by high concentration of other particulates.

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