The Big Berkey is a popular gravity-fed water purification system with excellent filtration capabilities. This article gives an in-depth review of its use.
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Determining what the best water purification system is for your home can be overwhelming.
I’ve spent what's felt like an unnecessary amount of time researching the latest innovative technology and perpetually changing sales offers. Between ultraviolet radiation, reverse osmosis membranes, and distillation methods, my understanding of water purification has gone from curious to adventurous, pretty fast.
And while there is always a specific purpose and a specific setting for each of the wonderful purification systems out there, from a practical sense, I still wanted something that was simple and reliable.
Specific qualities I look for in a water filter
I wanted something that would take care of bacteria and viruses but didn’t want to worry about replacing any UV bulbs.
I wanted something that would remove VOCs, heavy metals, and pollutants, but I didn’t want to purchase additional replacement cartridges.
I wanted something that would make the water taste good, but I didn’t want to mess with a post filter.
I had no idea of anything in existence that could meet all the necessary purification requirements while remaining simple, easy, and reliable.
That is until I discovered the Berkey.
The beauty of the Berkey system is in the filter elements themselves. Known as the Black Berkey filters, these carbon-based filters remove all of the contaminants I, or anyone, should be concerned about, and are very long-lasting.
Housed in a simple, sturdy, stainless-steel chamber, the entire design is the perfect drinking water system for you and your family.
This is why I like my Berkey
There are many reasons why the Berkey is one of the most practical water purification devices available, especially for self-sufficiency and off-grid settings.
But what I like most about my Berkey is its simplicity and reliability.
I have my filter on a nice stand in the corner of the kitchen. And whenever my wife or I need clean water for cooking or drinking, we place a glass, pitcher, or pot right underneath the spout, and out it comes like magic.
What makes the Berkey different from the other filtration systems mentioned earlier, is that the Berkey is a manually operated filtration system. Meaning, it doesn’t sit underneath the sink and connect to your water line. It doesn’t use hoses or electricity.
It’s also portable and has very few moving parts.
Over the past two years that I’ve owned the Berkey, I’ve noticed a few changes in my life:
- I no longer buy bottled water.
- I no longer use the refrigerator water filter.
- I only use my under-sink RO system when I need a large amount of purified water, fast. Like, if I'm boiling a large pot of water for soup, for example.
Basically, all of the water my family consumes comes entirely from the Berkey.
The other primary reason for using the Berkey is the effectiveness of its filters.
The manufacturers at Berkey have really struck gold with the design of their filters. The patented design of each filter is capable of handling an incredible 3,000 gallons each.
With my current setup and water usage, I don’t anticipate having to change the filters for at least a few more years at the time of writing this article. Compared to most filters on the market, that’s incredible. Many other gravity filters require replacement within 3 to 6 months.
And aside from its simplistic and durable design, long-lasting filters, and excellent filtration capability, it makes the water taste great.
How does the Berkey work?
The Berkey is a gravity-fed, cylindrical water filter system that consists of two main chambers: the upper chamber and the lower chamber. As the upper chamber is filled with unpurified water, the filters within the upper chamber process the unpurified water, removing contaminants such as heavy metals, VOCs, pathogens, and sediment.
Water is channeled through the filters into the bottom chamber, resulting in clean, great-tasting water.
The clean water can then be accessed through a spout on the bottom chamber.
But the brilliance of the Berkey system lies in the filters themselves. Known as Black Berkey Filter Elements, or BF2s, these devices truly are an amazing invention as we’ll see below.
What contaminants are being filtered out?
The Black Berkey Filter Elements are made up of a proprietary blend of 6 different media types and constructed into a matrix of millions of micro-pores. The design allows for the effective removal of over 200 contaminants including:
- Heavy Metals
Through rigorous testing done at EPA-accredited laboratories, the experts at Berkey Filters have managed to manufacture filtration devices that far exceed other gravity filters of their kind.
Most gravity-fed activated carbon filters are capable of removing heavy metals such as lead and cadmium and even some bacteria. But the pores aren’t typically small enough to block viruses. The Black Berkey Filters do, and they do it well.
View the complete list of contaminants and testing results on the Berkey Filters website.
How fast does the Berkey filter water?
The flow rate of 2 Black Berkey Filter Element is one gallon per hour.
In other words, with 2 filters (which is the minimum for most Berkey Systems), you can expect to have a gallon of clean water of the course of an hour.
The size of the Berkey Filter and the number of filter elements can have an effect on the flow rate.
For example, the Big Berkey (the most popular model and the one I own) holds 2 filter elements and has a flow rate of 1 gallon per hour.
But the Crown Berkey system, which can hold up to 8 filter elements, can have a flow rate of 4 gallons per hour.
Here is a comparison of the different sizes and flow rates:
|Go||1 Quart||1||1 Gallon
|Travel||1.5 Gallons||2||2.75 Gallons
|Big||2.25 Gallons||4||7 Gallons
|Light||2.75 Gallons||4||7.5 Gallons
|Royal||3.25 Gallons||4||8 Gallons
|Imperial||4.5 Gallons||6||21.5 Gallons
|Crown||6.5 Gallons||8||26 Gallons
Cleaning and maintaining your Berkey
How long do Berkey filters last before needing replacement?
Each Black Berkey Filter Element can handle up to 3,000 gallons of water until it needs replacement. So, a Big Berkey containing 2 filter elements should last up to 6,000 gallons before needing replacement. And a Crown Berkey with 8 filters should last 24,000 gallons, and so on.
It may take a bit of calculating to determine the exact amount of water you tend to use each day, but on average, a typical family will use about 5 gallons of water with the Berkey, daily. That includes drinking and cooking purposes.
So, if we take the Big Berkey with 2 filters as an example, a 6,000-gallon filter lifespan multiplied by 5 gallons per day comes out to 1,200 days. That’s a little more than 3 years.
2 (filters) x 3,000 (gallons) = 6,000 gallons filter lifespan.
6,000 ➗ 5 = 1,200 days (a little over 3 years)
A simple formula would look like this: (number of filters x 3,000) ➗ gallons used per day = filter lifespan (in days)
The Red Dye Test
An effective method for testing whether a filter needs to be replaced is to use the red dye method. Food coloring, especially red food coloring, accurately simulates the type of contaminants that the Black Berkey Filter Elements are designed to remove.
To perform the red dye test, pre-mix one drop of red food dye into one gallon of water and pour it into the upper chamber. If the water that filters through the bottom chamber contains any hint of red at all, then it is time to replace the filters.
Always remove the fluoride filters before performing the red dye test.
How to clean your Berkey filters
It is best practice to clean your Black Berkey Filter Elements every 6 months to ensure optimum performance. Clean the filter elements by unscrewing the attachments and completely removing them from the chamber. This would be a great time to also clean the inside of the chambers and all the components.
Always wash your hands and use a very clean environment when handling the components of your Berkey system
To clean your Berkey system:
- Drain all the water from your Berkey system
- Remove the filter elements by unscrewing them from their placement
- Use the rough side of a CLEAN sponge to screw the surface of the Black Berkey Filters. Do not use soap.
- Rinse the inside of the chambers with water.
- Reinstall the filters.
My experience with the Big Berkey
After using my Big Berkey Filter several times a day for the past 2 years, I’ve come to terms with how much I depend on it. Not only is it the main source for my daily water intake (and I drink a LOT of it), it is also the main source for cooking, coffee, tea, and other beverages as well.
I’ll fill the top chamber with about a gallon of tap water from the sink a couple of times per day. And that’s typically enough to meet all the drinking and cooking needs for my wife and I.
Because our home’s water supply comes from the city, I’ve installed the PF-2 Fluoride Filters in order to reduce our fluoride intake. Because I prime them well, I don’t notice an odd taste from the PF-2 filters as others have mentioned. If you prime them properly by allowing pressurized water to pass through them until it comes out clear from the other end, any trace of the unpleasant taste should have been purged.
I’ve replaced my PF-2 filters twice since I’ve owned my Berkey – they are easy to install and fairly inexpensive.
My routine maintenance
I maintain my Berkey system according to the manufacturer’s recommended practices, which is likely why I haven’t run into any problems with it. I clean the inner chamber and scrub the Black Berkey filters every 6 months and I’m very careful with keeping my hands clean. This is likely why I haven’t had any contamination issues at all.
At the one-year mark, I dismantle the entire system and soak the spout and all the fittings in chlorine-treated water to prevent any bacteria from forming. I intend to do this every year.
My family uses about 5 gallons of water for drinking and cooking from the Berkey. I haven’t yet needed to replace the Black Berkey Filters but as soon as the red dye test fails, then I’ll order my next pair.
What I like most about the Big Berkey
What I like most about the Big Berkey is just how simple and effective it is. You would think that a device that could remove over 200 contaminants, has a filtration design small enough to remove viruses, and has the option to remove fluoride, would cost at least a few thousand dollars. Not to mention, I’d assume it would need to attach to your main water line and have a whole host of various attachments and different parts to monitor and replace.
The truth is that my Berkey does remove viruses, fluoride, and all of the contaminants you’d need to worry about, but it doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. In fact, it’s even portable.
From a self-sufficiency standpoint, I couldn’t think of a better water purification device than the Berkey. Because I don’t need to rely on the city’s water line nor do I need electricity to operate it, I can take my Berkey with me anywhere. The Black Berkey Filter Elements are powerful enough to purify surface water from a stream, river, or hand-drilled well.
Fortunately, I haven’t had to resort to surface water or rainwater as my primary source yet, but if the occasion ever arises (and it might), I know my Berkey can handle it.
My final verdict on the Big Berkey is that it is an excellent choice for everyday water purification. The magic really lies in the design of Black Berkey Filter Elements. Capable of removing over 200 contaminants including viruses, it completely outshines most of the other gravity filters in its class. And the fact that you can attach a fluoride filter makes it as effective but less costly than a typical Reverse Osmosis system.
The fact that it is easy to maintain and the fact that the filters last a very long time before needing replacement makes it a definite plus. But the idea that the Berkey is portable and compliments any self-sufficient lifestyle makes it a necessity.
If there were a downside to the Berkey, I’d mention that the flow rate might be a little slower than those who are used to turning on the faucet and getting water directly from the tap. It does take some getting used to having to keep refilling the upper chamber. But to me, it’s a very minor complaint and I can live with it.
Where can I get one myself?
We're affiliated with the following authorized Berkey dealers. You should only purchase Berkey products from Authorized Berkey Dealers as there are many imitation Berkey products out there.
I own the Big Berkey, which is perfect for my family and I.
But there are a variety of Berkey systems designed to fit specific needs and uses. All of them use the same Black Berkey Filter Elements, but vary in the number that they can hold and in volume.
- 2.25 gallon capacity
- Max filter capacity: 4
- Max flow rate: 7 GPH
- Serves 2-4 people
- Dimensions: 8.5"D x 21" H
- 1.5 gallon capacity
- Max filter capacity: 2
- Max flow rate: 2.75 GPH
- Serves 1-2 people
- Dimensions: 7.5"D x 19" H
- 3.25 gallon capacity
- Max filter capacity: 4
- Max flow rate: 8 GPH
- Serves 4-6 people
- Dimensions: 9.5"D x 24" H
- 2.75 gallon capacity
- Max filter capacity: 4
- Max flow rate: 7.5 GPH
- Serves 2-6 people
- Dimensions: 9"D x 28" H
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Filtration specifications and test results. (n.d.). Berkey Filters. https://www.berkeyfilters.com/pages/filtration-specifications
Flow rate for Berkey water filter systems. (n.d.). Berkey Filters. https://www.berkeyfilters.com/pages/flow-rate
How do Berkey filters work? (n.d.). Berkey Filters. https://www.berkeyfilters.com/pages/the-berkey-purification-process
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