Berkey systems are well known gravity water filters especially in the SHTF community. In this guide, we are going to outline what their strengths are and where their weaknesses lie.
With so many different Berkey systems and filters to choose from, the wide range of products can be overwhelming at first. However, choosing the setup best suited to your needs couldn’t be any easier. All you have to do is answer the following 2 questions:
Regarding question 1:
There is no difference between the various Berkey models except for their size which determines water filtration speed and holding capacity. Other than that, they all consist of an upper and lower chamber, a spigot at the bottom and a lid on top (and a rubber casket to protect your countertop from scratches).
No difference also means that all Berkey systems work with the same filter elements meaning that no matter which one you choose, you always achieve the same level of water purity.
To get clean water, you simply fill the upper chamber with your feed water and wait while it’s forced through the filters with the help of gravity. The pure H2O is then collected in the lower chamber.
The Big Berkey – Available on Amazon
By the way, New Millennium Concepts, Ltd. (NMCL) is the company behind Berkey. You can find NMCL’s official website here.
There are a couple of things that make Berkey filters stand out from the rest.
First and foremost, they provide a very thorough filtration. Contaminants that will be removed from your water include viruses (most competitor models won’t remove these), bacteria, heavy metals like lead and mercury, VOCs, chlorine – and the list goes on and on.
In fact, Black Berkey purification elements can be classified as water purifiers since they remove 99.9999% of pathogenic bacteria and 99.999% of viruses as tests conducted by an accredited laboratory have shown. The test results exceed NSF Standard 53 requirements.
How is that even possible? Well, turns out that water processed by a Berkey system has an extended contact period with the filter elements, opposed to filtration systems that work based on pressure to force water molecules through their different stages.
Secondly, the filters have high capacities and can last a very long time which not only saves you money – if you do the math, you end up paying about 2 cents for 1 gallon of filtered water – it also saves you time and inconvenience by not having to buy new cartridges and replace old ones every month or so.
What we also like is that beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium will be preserved in your water. Unlike a reverse osmosis system or distiller that may remove all the bad stuff, but also the good.
You can find a full list of all advantages + disadvantage below.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, which are the different Berkey models you can choose from and what are their sizes?
Okay, so there are 7 different systems available. All of them except for the Berkey Light are made from 304 food-grade stainless steel for longevity:
|Model||Serving||Holding Capacity||Fully Expanded||Maximum Flow Rate When Full|
|Go Berkey||1 Person||~ 1 Quart||1 Filt. Element||~ 1.0 Gallon/h|
|Travel Berkey||1-3 People||~ 1.5 Gallons||2 Filt. Elements||~ 2.75 Gallons/h|
|Big||1-4 People||~ 2.25 Gallons||4 Filt. Elements||~ 7.0 Gallons/h|
|Royal||2-6 People||~ 3.25 Gallons||4 Filt. Elements||~ 8.0 Gallons/h|
|Imperial||4-8 People||~ 4.5 Gallons||6 Filt. Elements||~ 16.5 Gallons/h|
|Crown||6-12 People||~ 6.5 Gallons||8 Filt. Elements||~ 26.0 Gallons/h|
|Berkey Light||2-5 People||~ 2.75 Gallons||4 Filt. Elements||~ 7.50 Gallons/h|
As you can see, the larger the system, the higher the number of filtration elements it can employ. Thus the increasing flow rates. However, if you own a Big Berkey for example and you don’t want to use all 4 slots at once, you can use the provided blocking plugs to close unused holes.
FYI: Since Berkey systems rely on gravity, their flow rate also depends on how much water sits in the top reservoir. That’s why in the table it says “Maximum Flow Rate When Full“.
If you were to ask a dealer, he would tell you that bigger is always better. And it makes sense: The larger the system, the more water it can hold and the less often you will need to refill – translates into more convenience.
At the same time, the cost for a Berkey gradually increases with its size so you have to have the budget. But when you consider that you will be using it for many years, hopefully more than a decade, the price gap becomes almost insignificant.
There is only 1 type of standard filter element that you can use with Berkey systems and that is the Black Berkey. Black Berkeys are housed in the upper chamber. One element has a filtration capacity of approx. 3,000 gallons and traps impurities down to a submicron level.
By the way, upping the number of filters that you use side by side will only increase the filtration speed but not the degree of water purity.
If you struggle with toxic fluoride (sodium fluoride, sodium fluorosilicate, fluorosilicic acid) and/or arsenic (arsenic(III) and pre-oxidized arsenic(V)), you would additionally have to install the optional Berkey PF-2 filters in the lower chamber. The PF-2 are matched with the Black Berkey elements on top – easy. They are certified to remove more than 97% of fluoride and last 1,000 gallons per set of 2.
Like we said, the exception to the rule is the Berkey Light which uses Earth ceramic filters. Their advantage is that they cost less than a third of what you pay for Black Berkeys. On the downside, their flow rate is much, much slower. Or as Berkey puts it: “For the price conscious consumer (…) where the speed of water production is not a major consideration.” In addition, submicron filtration is not provided.
Capacity: Up to 3,000 gallons or 3 years.
And of course you also have the option to add a post-filter to Earth ceramic elements in order to get rid of fluoride. In that case, choose the PF-4 which last for 6 months.
According to New Millennium Concepts, their Black Berkeys where designed for the most powerful filtration in the quickest way possible. And we have to say that this is not exaggerated.
The elements which are comprised of different media types such as high grade carbon can take on
and many more contaminants. All this according to NSF Standard 53.
Berkey’s Earth filters combine granular activated carbon and diatomaceous earth a.k.a. kieselgur with other filtration media to reduce contaminants to the bacteria level as well as SOME viruses. That’s the big difference compared to the Black elements.
Chemicals such as chlorine, herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, VOC’s, THM’s, heavy metals and other contaminants are reduced likewise to levels of up to 99.9% and above.
Lab results here.
In the beginning, we already mentioned a couple of advantages that Berkey water systems provide.
For one, while preserving all the healthy essential minerals in your water, the purity they achieve is exceptional. What’s more, their filters last for a long time for added convenience. Other benefits are:
There always is some controversy going on about any topic that’s being discussed online. In this case, it’s the Berkey water filter scam.
As far as we can tell, Berkey opponents claim that the lab reports that Berkey has provided are fake and that the filters don’t remove sh*t. This is also supposedly why not all Berkey systems are available for sale in California and none in Iowa.
Proponents say that this is only because these two states have established their own regulations and procedures for the sale of (indoor) water systems. These rules require certification by an independent third-party testing agency, such as NSF, before any system can be considered eligible for sale.
Furthermore, Berkey stated that their own tests were much more rigorous than those required by the NSF. Not only that, they are also sufficient for all 49 other states in the U.S. After going back and forth, Berkey decided not to offer their products in California (with a few exceptions) nor Iowa to avoid high certification costs.
Since the Big Berkey is the top choice among customers, we wanted to make sure to review it more thoroughly. We are also going to take a detailed look at the Berkey shower filter which uses its own filtration elements.
First of all, the Big Berkey provides enough water for drinking and cooking for up to 4 people. And when making use of all 4 filter slots, its maximum flow rate is about 7 gallons per hour. This way you won’t have to wait for too long if you’ve run out of purified water temporarily.
The system’s size is perfect to be easy to use while fitting on most countertops. Also, there is no reason to hide the Big Berkey in a corner of your kitchen thanks to the classic stainless steel looks.
The stainless steel is also what guarantees longevity even in a SHTF scenario.
As for the downside, we read a couple of reviews where customers complained about a leaking spigot. Another issue is the filter re-priming which can get tiresome after a while.
Included below is an Amazon deal for the Big Berkey with 2 Black Berkey and 2 PF-2 fluoride elements from an authorized seller. This has the advantage that the filters are covered by a manufacturer warranty.
You also get a stainless steel drinking water bottle as a bonus, although its quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Read our full review here or
What most people don’t know is that apart from gravity systems, Berkey also sells a filter for treating shower water. Which can either be used with your own or Berkey’s massage shower head.
The filter itself is mainly used for chlorine reduction (up to 95%). But it will also help with impurities including hydrogen sulfide to get rid of that rotten egg smell, water-soluble heavy metals – think lead – and scale.
By the way, the reason why you want to have chlorine and other contaminants removed is not only because it will make your shower water smell more pleasant, it also reduces the amount of chemicals etc. that can damage your hair and skin.
Another reason is that your skin won’t absorb and your lungs won’t inhale as many potentially harmful substances.
One cartridge has a maximum capacity of 20,000 to 25,000 gallons or 1 year. To prevent premature clogging, a backflush feature allows you to remove any debris that might accumulate over time. However, we still read reviews from users complaining about filters not reaching their claimed capacity.
Read our full review here or
Assembling a Berkey system is a breeze. It can be done without tools in 5 to 10 minutes. Here’s how:
Please note: Remember to wash your hands before proceeding.
Black Berkeys require priming before use. Don’t worry, this sounds more complicated than it really is…
For PF-2 fluoride elements, the priming (or purging) goes like this:
You may need to purge each element more than once in each direction.
And finally, what do you have to do to keep your Berkey system in good shape?
For one, the filter elements need to be cleaned from time to time. How often depends on your feed water quality and how much turbidity and sediment it contains. As soon as you notice that it takes much longer to produce a certain amount of water, it’s probably time for another cleaning round.
Also, the filters that usually get clogged first are the Black elements, so they are what you should be focusing on. Simply remove them from your system and scrub their exterior with a brush or scouring pad. Basically, what you do is rub off the outside layer that has absorbed all the impurities.
The process is not overly complicated and doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes. When done, re-prime each filter before reinstalling it.
Another tip that we stumbled upon in a forum is to use a vegetable peeler and peel away a thin outside layer under running water.
Washing the lower chamber with soapy dishwater about monthly might be a good idea, as well. And if you live in an area with very hard water, it can happen that the spigot will clog up so that you will have to remove it and soak it in vinegar to get off all the scale.
We have many more countertop (gravity) water filter reviews in store for you.
This completes our Berkey water filter reviews guide. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!