Why Is Reverse Osmosis Expensive?

Why Is Reverse Osmosis Expensive?

Pure drinking water is still considered a luxury in many parts of the world. With water consumption increasing day by day, it’s no secret that our drinking water supply and its quality are diminishing to record lows. Those concerned about water quality and safety find reverse osmosis (RO) systems to be the best way to ensure pure high-quality water. But why are these RO systems so expensive?

Reverse osmosis is more expensive than other forms of filtration systems due to its higher operational cost and the additional components they require. The average cost of a whole-house reverse osmosis system with installation is approximately $1000, whereas maintenance and filter costs can be an additional $50 to $100 a month.

Although it is expensive, an RO purification system offers high durability and can last up to 15 years with proper maintenance and care. These systems also provide the cleanest water removing up to 99% of contaminants and total dissolved solids (TDS). However, do these advantages make it worth the cost? Let’s find out!

Read my comprehensive article about reverse osmosis.

Added Costs That Make Reverse Osmosis Expensive

Reverse osmosis technology was initially designed for military, government, and commercial applications. However, today you can easily find RO units that are designed to meet the needs of the average household.

As such, you can get a whole-house system installed for as little as $750; with higher-end units being much higher ($7000 or more).

However, this isn’t what makes an RO unit expensive. The real costs add up when you account for everything else it takes to keep the unit running smoothly. The cost of replacement filters, membrane replacement, as well as servicing and maintenance costs, can add up quickly.

So, let’s take a look at some of these added costs that are the real culprits behind RO systems being considered expensive.

1. Pretreatment cost

Just like proper maintenance of a reverse osmosis system ensures its durability, pretreatment or pre-filtration sets it up for success. Making a few adjustments in the system before running it protects your reverse osmosis system from long-term damage. However, these pretreatments require parts and, in some cases, professionals to install them, both of which increase the overall cost of the system.

These pretreatment costs include:

  1. TSS and particle filter: This pretreatment is highly recommended for filtering sands and other micro-particles before they get into the RO membrane and cause permanent damage to it. Even in small amounts, suspended solids that get in the membrane impact the effectiveness of the permeate. While RO membrane can effectively filter out suspended organic and inorganic matter, it is fragile and easily damaged. People on the receiving end of highly contaminated water cannot skip this cost. The price of this filter can range from $20 to $500.
  2. Activated carbon filter: All residential reverse osmosis units include a carbon pre-filter. This filter absorbs chlorine and is an essential component because the RO membrane is degraded by chlorine, especially if the concentration is greater than 2 ppm. This filter also removes organic compounds that may be in raw water and could potentially break down the membrane filter. The price of this filter starts from $13.
  3. Green sand filter: This is an optional item that is only necessary if your water is high in iron or manganese. A green sand filter catches iron and manganese and ensures a smooth flow of water. These two elements are commonly found in well water and water delivered through a mild steel pipe.
  4. Water softener: Adding a water softener system filters out calcium and magnesium from the water and prevents scaling from occurring in the membrane. The materials and the installation costs for adding the water softener can range from $500 to $6000. You only need a water softener with your RO system if your water is very hard.

2. System cost

There are two types of RO systems. The cost of the unit depends on the type you choose for your property. One system is called the ‘point of entry (POE) system’, which treats the water at the point where it enters your house from the main line. With this system, RO water is supplied in the entire house. The price for a point-of-entry system ranges from $750 to $7000, depending on the size of the house.

The second system is called the ‘point of use (POU) system’ and is installed only at that faucet where RO water is used most frequently, such as the sink faucet. This system can cost anywhere between $150 to $1500.

3. Reverse Osmosis installation cost

A reverse osmosis unit is multifaceted and includes the installation of a feed pump, booster pump, membrane vessel, conductivity meter, skid, etc. For such an intricate installation process, the labor cost can be anywhere between $100 to $800. However, it can go much higher depending on the type of system and the size of the installation site.

4. Operational cost

The operational cost for an RO system at home includes water that is wasted by the process and monthly upkeep and cleaning expenses that can range from $20 to $100. Whereas, the operational costs of an industrial system can go much higher.

Watch this video on the costs of reverse osmosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q) How can I reduce the maintenance costs of an RO system?

The best way to bring down the cost of maintenance of a reverse osmosis system is to protect the RO membrane from damage. The membrane is much more costly than any of the pretreatment filters. It is also essential to sanitize and service the unit as frequently as possible to avoid higher maintenance and repair costs in the long run.

Q) Is a reverse osmosis system worth it?

Reverse osmosis might be one of the more expensive filtration systems available in the market, but for those seeking safe, healthy, and pure water it is definitely worth it! With the quality of unfiltered tap water being questionable at best, many rely on RO systems to ensure that the water they consume is as safe and pure as possible.

Q) Does a RO system remove all minerals as well?

An RO purification system completely removes all the most common contaminants present in domestic water including but not limited to sodium, chloride, copper, chromium, and lead. However, it doesn’t completely eliminate sulfate, fluoride, phosphorus, arsenic, calcium, nitrate, magnesium, potassium, and radium. Certain RO systems also re-mineralize filtered water to make it healthier and tastier for drinking.

Final Thoughts

The science behind reverse osmosis technology offers many advantages but it cannot be denied that it is an expensive system. On top of the unit and installation cost, the system also includes the cost of maintenance, pretreatments, and operation. None of these additional costs can be ignored or the system will expire way before its time.

That said, the RO system purifies water much more effectively than any other system available on the market. This is why it is so popular and adopted by more and more households every day.

Boch Richard

Richard Boch is a chemical engineer responsible for designing water filtration systems for industrial and residential customers. He has more than 20 years of experience with ion exchange, activated carbon, and reverse osmosis. Richard's expertise has made him a go-to source for municipalities and businesses looking to improve their water quality. When he's not working, Richard enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children.

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