First Time Buyer - What's this thing called an RO system?

Written by Posted On Thursday, 17 April 2014 07:06


First Time Buyer - The MLS sheet for this house says it has an RO system. What’s that? Do I need that?

Answer - It means that the owner (or some owner before) has installed a Reverse Osmosis (RO) system to take impurities out of the water. RO systems are usually found in houses that are on well water, but may be used in any house. They are usually just hooked up to a special spigot installed next to the sink and/or may be just used to filter the water going to the refrigerator ice-maker.

So, why would someone want to have a special water filtering system and how does it work?

The why is fairly simple to answer – there is something in the water that they don’t want to drink or cook with or that they don’t want screwing up their fridge ice-maker. That something that is in the water could be dissolved minerals, like calcium, or maybe iron; or maybe it is something that is potentially more harmful like Nitrates or Nitrites. Maybe it’s smelly, like sulfur, which is common and can smell like rotten eggs. Whatever it is, the person who installed the RO system decided that they didn’t want to drink or cook with water that has that substance in it or didn’t want it clogging up their ice-maker. Most times there would also be a water filter and a water softener in line already; but they may not do a good job of taking everything out of the water. RO systems do just that.

So, how do they work? If you really want to read about it in greater detail that you’ll probably ever need, here’s a link to the How Stuff Works site that explains it. To summarize their 6 pages of explanations, an Ro system forces the water to flow through what is called a semi-permeable membrane. Think of it as super fine cheesecloth in which the water molecules are small enough to flow through but almost everything else gets blocked. Because it slows done the flow to squeeze through that membrane RO systems that are installed in most houses only flow enough water to allow a single tap for things like cooking or to fed the ice-maker.  If you wanted an RO system with enough capacity to supply your whole house (showers and all) it might take up a good portion of the basement and be very expensive.

RO systems were not originally designed for home use. They were originally designed to be industrial size water purification systems. While they perform a valuable service, there some downsides, too. there are some articles about the downsides of them too. Click here to read one such article. There are costs and other factors that may make you think twice about and RO system. Not everyone needs an RO system and here is a good article about that.

For people who are really paranoid about what’s in the water, even a good RO systems isn’t enough. For those people the only way to be sure is to drink pure H2O that has been distilled. You can buy distilled water at the grocery store and many people do to use in their irons. It is expensive to buy at the store, so some people actually put stills in their homes to distill their water. It’s extreme, but like I said, some people are paranoid about it. To read about how to distill your own water at home, without a costly still, click here. There is still a lot of debate and controversy over the real value of drinking pure, distilled water. Here is an article, albeit from a distillation equipment maker, that claims to dispel the myths about distilled water.  Finally, here’s an article that compares the two processes for water purification and claims to dispel the myths about both.

So, by now, your head is probably spinning with more than you really wanted to know about RO and distillation systems. The bottom line is that it’s up to you whether you feel that it’s important to take absolutely everything out of the water that you drink or that goes into your ice maker. You can turn off and by-pass (or remove) any of the RO systems that you might find in place.

What you might want to do first is get a good water test done to identify what’s really in your water. Most of time, you’ll find that whatever is in the water is harmless; although, it might add a smell or flavor to the water that you’d rather do without. There should be a brand label on the RO system and maybe even a label from whatever company installed it. You can use those to do more homework on the potential costs of keeping it going.

In the meantime, writing all of this has made me thirsty. It’s time for a good drink of water out of the tap. Live dangerously I always say.


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Norm Werner

Norm Werner is a Realtor at the Milford office of Real Estate One serving the southeastern Michigan area of Oakland and Livingston Counties. Norm specializes in residential real estate. Norm lives and works in Milford Michigan and is married to Carolyn Werner. Norm and Carolyn live in a historic home just three blocks from downtown Milford, with their two dogs - Sadie and Skippy. Norm specializes in the historic homes of Milford and the surrounding area and is on the Board of Directors of the Milford Historical Society. Norm especially enjoys working with first time buyers and those at the other end of the real estate spectrum who are downsizing into their retirement home. 

In addition to his web site, Norm also owns and m,aintains web site, the web site. He is also the webmaster for and the web site and the MilfordCar web site, as well as his church web site - In addition to blogging about real eastate, Norm has a personal blog - - on which he shares inspirational messages and the occasions personal observation about life.

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