Big Berkey Water Filter System *Review*

We recently were given the chance to do a review of the Big Berkey Water Filter System. How could I say no? I had heard about these systems for years, but had never gotten my hands on one. If you are interested in an system that will remove everything bad (including lots of maintenance), while leaving you with pure great tasting water at an affordable price, then the Big Berkey water filter system is what you are looking for. Lets take a look.

Big Berkey Water Filter Systems are built upon the Doulton tech of the Super Sterasyl Ceramic filter, which was heavily used by military forces, relief organizations, and missionaries who lacked access to clean water. Later these filters were developed into the classic black berkey filters used in Big Berkey Water Filter Systems today.

 

Features & Benefits of Big Berkey Water Systems

These are the features and benefits of Big Berkey Water Filter Systems as stated on their website:

  • Highly polished 304 stainless steel shell
  • Will filter bacteria to a 99.99999% leve land viruses to a 99.9999% level.
  • The black berkeys filter out Chlorine to undetectable levels
  • Removes Lead, MTBE’s, and other heavy metals up to 95% levels.
  • PF-2 filters remove Fluoride and arsenic.
  • Black berkey filters exceed EPA log 7 ANSI / NSF protocols for filtration and are rated as water purifiers.
  • Gravity fed systems that require no plumbing or water hookups for use
  • Black berkey filters have 3,000 gallon life (6,000 used in pairs)
  • Allows red dye testing to know when filters need replacing (no expensive water tests)
  • In emergencies allows use of non-public water (stream, lake, etc.)

Our Review of The Big Berkey Water Filter System

We tested the Royal Berkey Water System, which has a filter capacity that would easily meet the demands of a family of four to six people. The Royal Berkey arrived double boxed, to insure there would be no damage to the water filter system. When I started to unpack the system I realized these units are heavy duty, for years if not decades of use. The housing is polished 304 stainless steel that is not whipy (a real man’s system), but the workmanship is nice enough that you (your wife) will not mind having this water system on your counter in plain view.

Assembly, Use & Specs

Assembly did not take long and easily within less than 30 mins. we were putting the Royal Berkey through the paces of giving us some clean fresh water. Some of that time was used washing the entire system. The only part of assembly that most people will not have experienced before is the charging of the water filters, which is simply done by holding the filter against a water faucet using a gasket supplied while forcing water through the filter. A process that is used to insure the filters are clean and ready to filter water. We disposed on the first 3 batches of water the unit filtered as the instructions recommended. This was done as we had installed the optional PF-2 fluoride and arsenic filters that are simple screwed onto the bottom of the black berkey water filters after both a water primed. The Big Berkey Water Filter Systems website does have a great help section. Our assembly time was so fast because we watched the videos on the website before the unit came, I would suggest doing this as it answers all your questions.

It took less than an hour for the Royal Berkey to filter each batch of around 3 gallons of water. By dinner we were enjoying our first water from the system. The water tasted so clean and good. It was very surprising that this came from a unit that is so simple to assemble and use.

Royal Berkey Water System Specifications (as tested)
Constructed of highly polished 304 stainless steel, the Royal Berkey comes complete with two purification elements and utilizes the latest technological advances.

  • Storage Capacity = 3.25 gallons (12.3 liters)
  • Height = 23″
  • Diameter = 9.5”
  • Portability = The upper chamber nests within the lower chamber for transport and stands only 15.25” in height.
  • Flow Rate
    • Configured with 2 Black Berkey purification elements the system can purify 4.0 Gallons per hour.
  • Fluoride Removal = 2 PF-2 Fluoride and Arsenic Filters installed in the lower chamber of this system
  • Tested with optional Sight Glass Spigot
  • Lid, Washers, Nuts, 2 Blocking Plugs, and Rubber Gasket
  • Cost as tested $275 + $53 for optional sight glass spigot = $328

Taking The Dirt Out

As I researched the Big Berkey Water Filter Systems, the more excited I became at what a well developed unit this system is. This system removes pathogenic bacteria, cysts and parasites entirely and extracts harmful chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, VOCs, organic solvents, radon 222 and trihalomethanes.  It also reduces nitrates, nitrites and unhealthy minerals such as lead and mercury. This system is so powerful it can remove food coloring from water without removing the beneficial minerals your body needs. Also, the red food coloring test can be used at anytime to know that the filters have not exhausted their filtering ability.

The heart of the Big Berkey Water Filter System is its black berkey filters. These black filters are near a foot long and are made from a proprietary combination of approximately 6 different types of media. They exceed EPA log 7 ANSI / NSF protocols for filtration and thus are rated as water purifiers. Water purifiers take water filtering to a whole new level. Units of this level often cost well over a thousand dollars. I was realizing this water purifier was respectably priced well within the reach of many people.

Here is how the Big Berkey Water Filter Systems Work

Without getting too complex, several methodologies are utilized by the Black Berkey purification elements. The elements are composed of a formulation of more than a half dozen different media types constructed into a very fine matrix creating millions of micro-fine pores. The pores are so small that pathogenic bacteria, cysts, parasites, sediment and sedimentary minerals are not able to pass through them. The media formulation both “absorbs” some contaminates and “adsorbs” other contaminates. Next, heavy metals ions (mineral molecules) are extracted through an Ion exchange process where they are essentially electrically bonded to the media. Finally, our filter elements are designed such that each water molecule can take several minutes to pass through the filter elements whereas these molecules passing through other filtration systems pass through those filters in literally microseconds. The longer the water molecules are in contact with any media, the greater the removal of the various contaminates. – BigBerkeyWaterFilters.com

Keeping it simple from a filtration perspective the Black Berkey’s filter out the same chemicals and contaminants that the Super Sterasyl Ceramic Filters do, but go above and beyond by removing up to 95% of the Lead, MTBE’s, and other heavy metals. In addition, since the Black Berkey’s are water purifiers, they will filter bacteria to a 99.99999% level and viruses to a 99.9999% level (e-coli, etc.).  Also, the black berkeys filter out Chlorine to undetectable levels, while the ceramics will only remove > 90% of Chlorine.

PF-2 Fluoride and Arsenic filters came with our testing unit to remove the fluoride that is in our public drinking water in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Activated Alumina is the medium used in these filters to remove fluoride and arsenic. These units can be purchased separately from the unit as their filtering life (1,000 gals) is shorter than the black berkey filters. Read more about Activated Alumina in Fluoride In Drinking Water = Poison

In Summary

Our family is very pleased with the Royal Big Berkey Water Filter System. The taste of the filtered water is simply clean. I know that sounds funny but you once you have experienced it you will know what I mean. When looking at cost the unit is affordable ($225-$350) out of the box and cheap to operate over a 5 year period. The 2 base filters (black berkeys) in the unit tested do not need to be replaced for about 3 years, (family of 4 using 5 gallons water daily). If you opt in for the PF-2 Fluoride and Arsenic filters it will cost you around $55-$110/yr as their filtering capacity around 1,000 gallons. For the quality of water you are getting out of the Big Berkey Water Filter System the costs are cheap. A nice plus is when we take our summer trip to Galveston Beach we can easily bring the water filter unit along.

Big Berkey Water Filter System – Overall Grade A+

  • Filters bacteria to a 99.99999% leve land viruses to a 99.9999% level.
  • Removes Lead, MTBE’s, and other heavy metals up to 95% levels.
  • Removes fluoride and arsenic. (see Is Chlorine In Drinking Water Safe?)
  • Removes chlorine. (see Fluoride In Drinking Water = Poison)
  • Easy to clean, and maintain unit.
  • Long lasting filters, (3,000 gal/black berkey filter).
  • Easy to assemble.
  • No plumbing needed to install.
  • Attractive look on counter.
  • Small footprint about the same as the average coffee maker.
  • Convenience of getting filtered water in the home.
  • Affordable price.

Big Berkey Water Systems are units that once purchased one would keep for a lifetime. I highly recommend them! If you want a water system that is solid, is on the level of a purifier and has low maintenance then Big Berkey Water Filter Systems maybe for you. These units are very popular so don’t waste time if you are thinking of getting one as they sell out quickly. Big Berkey Water Filter Systems does work hard to get them back in stock quickly. Look into trying this water filter system for yourself and recommend it to all your friends and family.

You can purchase Big Berkey Water Filter Systems at: Big Berkey Water Filters

UPDATE: 2 years after first review

It has been a little over two years since we did the review on the Big Berkey Water Filter System and I though it might be good to share what we have experienced. After testing the Big Berkey Water Filter System we decided to get one. As a family we liked the taste of the water from it and enjoyed the knowledge that it was helping to provide us with a clean source of water.

Berkey Water Filter System Filter Life

A few months after running the Big Berkey Water Filter System we noticed that the amount of time it took to produce a full tank of clean water started to increase. After we noticed the slow down, the Berkey seemed to take even longer to clean the water. What used to take less than a couple of hours started taking overnight. I checked with the seller and found that the filters may need to be cleaned, since we had only used maybe a few hundred gallons of water. With an average life use of 6,000 gallons for our setup we were way in the normal use period. The filters that get clogged first are usually the black berkey filters I learned from their website. We were running the PF-2 floride filters with the black filters, so I figured an easy test would be just to remove the PF-2 filters and see if the system was still slow, which it was. Now that we had figured out which filter was clogging we just had to clean it.

Cleaning The Black Berkey Filters

I found there are two methods of cleaning the Big Berkey Black Water Filters the both require removing the filters from the unit. One method called for scrubbing away the clogged surface of the Berkey Black filter using a scotch brite cleaning sponge while holding the filter under running water. Think of just sanding away the outside layer of the filter, the idea being that the filter material that has absorbed the pollutants is removed and fresh unclogged material is uncovered for use. Now I will tell you I was concerned that I was going to wear a hole through the filter, but Dan at Big Berkey Water Filter Systems assured me the filters were thick and I would have to scrub for a long time to wear through it. He was right! I kept scrubbing the filter while rotating it under the running faucet and I got tired of this process before I saw any holes. LOL. After putting the system back together quicker than you can say, “Tom is your uncle.” I had water flowing through the filters again. Don’t ask me why I said that stuff about Tom, guess it is something you say after cleaning your filters.

We ran the system and it was back to its old speed of cleaning the water. Or so we thought! A few weeks later we noticed that the cycle of water cleaning was taking longer again. After checking the Big Berkey Black Water Filters web site again we found an FAQ that dealt with the same issue we were experiencing. From what we understood at different times of the year water quality changes as the quality of the water changes in the reservoirs that hold our drinking water. The article also mentioned a different method of cleaning the filters.

Using a POTATO PEELER, yes you read that right! You use a normal potato peeler to peel away the outside layer holding the contaminates while rotating the filter under running water. I will tell you it sounds a lot more than it is. The layers that came off the filter were very thin, thinner than paper. When I was done with both filters they were reinstalled back into the berkey water system and no they did not look like lopsided cucumbers that were just black. The filters are harder than they look and it is actually quite easy to keep them round looking.

The water was flowing again and all without mention of Tom being someones uncle. Our Big Berkey Water Filter System after that kept running strong.

Berkey PF-2 Heavy Metal Filters

In a few months we noticed that the water was slowing down again, but this time I figured it was the PF-2 floride filters that needed to be changed out. From the useage we had been giving the system we knew it was about time for these filters to be changed. I learned that the amount of water the PF-2s will clean was all dependent on the level of floride, lead, etc. in our drinking water. These filters were easy to unscrew and change out, no cleaning this time.

Taste

We have recommended the Big Berkey Water Filter System to many of our friends and they have all been happy with the system. One or two of our friends have commented on the taste of the water. At first they did not like the water taste, but later enjoyed it. We talked about this with them and found that they were used to drinking bottled water. Now I don’t know about you, but I think bottled water is ghastly as it often has a strong plastic taste, wonder why? Later those same friends thought bottled water tasted bad too, humm.

Feelings So Far…

After about a year we needed to clean the black filters again. I used the peeler method again and everything is going strong. We figure in the two years we have had the system we are somewhere around halfway through the life of the filters, based on the amount of water we consume, 1.500 gallons/year. Not bad at all. We have only had to buy a $50 set of PF-2 filters since we got the berkey water filter system. Other than cleaning the filters all we have done with the water system is to take it apart and clean the tanks with soap and water to keep any water slime away. We are very pleased and have taken the unit on road trips and vacations. When we were in Houston last year teaching classes for a month it was great to know we had drinking water that was healthy and tasted great.

I will follow up with any additional cleaning or issues with our Berkey Water System as they happen….

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Disclaimer: The information in this post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.


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About Jeff

Jeff Pearce is a board certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant and has coached hundreds of people in the Dallas/Fort Worth to help them achieve their health goals. If you would like more information about his services view the Health Consultations section. For those not in the physical area Distance Coaching is an option. A 15 minute "No Cost" informational consult is available, by phone, to chat and answer questions about services. To schedule your no cost informational consultation please contact us .

Comments

  1. Chad Rettew says:

    Has anyone actually had the water that has been filtered tested? Its nice all the testimonials, but if i’m buying something that i could possibly use in a emergency situation, i want to know that it actually does what it is advertised to do. who on here has run some creek water through it and had it tested afterwards? i want to buy one so bad, but don’t want just a glorified britta pitcher sitting around. i see everyone saying it taste so good and clean, but CO2 smells so clean, has anyone gotten actual lab results?

    • Chad, do review the article again. The filter system states that it will clean water to 99.9997% pure of bacteria and land viruses. These values are reported from the 3rd party lab testing. To remove heavy metals the PF-2 filters are needed and testing is noted for these filters. THESE ARE ACTUAL LAB TESTS NOT DONE BY THE SELLER. So rest assured the water is clean. Since these are 3rd party testing labs that are known nationally they are reputable. Thanks — Jeff

  2. Anonymous says:

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a co-worker who waas conducting a little homework
    on this. And he actually ordered me dinner simply because I found it
    for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….

    Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk
    about this topic here on your web site.

  3. Pamela Oatlle says:

    Thank you for writing this post!!! I have lately felt more and more frustrated in trying to figure out the water issue. This is so helpful, as always!

  4. We have had our Berkey Lite for about 4 months now and are very happy with it. However I have noticed small white crystals floating in the bottom chamber. The first time I just dumped them out and refilled it. Now that has occurred again, I took a more serious look inside the bottom chamber after I dumped it out and here it is loaded with thick, 3-dimensional crystals that seem to be calcium deposits. Granted that we have very hard water but did I miss somewhere that the filters do not remove calcium? Note that I did the red coloring test when assembling in initially and it passed with flying colors.

  5. Great review Jeff. The potato peeler idea is genius and will save a lot of time and effort in the future. I am glad you said they won’t come out looking like lopsided cucumbers. I was worried about that when I first read “potato peeler”. Another great thing that Berkey has done in putting these systems together is they have chosen to plasma weld their metal containers. Other welding methods leech harmful substances into the water and are not recommended because of that. After all the water does have a long time in contact with container once its filtered. Its nice to know that Berkey thought of the containers, not just the filter.

  6. Wow, great review! Well organized and specific. I would give it a try using berkey products.
    Thanks for the info.

  7. Good article, Jeff, thanks. Maybe you can help me with a problem I may have. Approx. two years ago I purchased two of the black Berkey filters (just the filters, no ‘system’) to have as a back up in the event of emergency. I intend to construct a simple DIY system utilizing the filters – very simple and functional, especially if a few basic items are procured in advance and stored with the filters – out of two 5 gallon buckets in the event I need to provide my own safe drinking water. About a year ago I began to read reports of one batch of filters that had made it past quality control but were experiencing major problems due to a separation of the filter from it’s base, which would allow un-filtered water to pass into the ‘clean’ reservoir. Of particular concern was the fact that the user would be completely unaware of this (at least until their next dye test) and think that the water was safe. Have you heard of this issue and do you know if some sort of exchange has been worked out with the manufactures? When I called and asked about it they denied the problem existed, but I understand that perhaps this has now been addressed. Any light you could shed would be greatly appreciated.

    • Mac, We did a review on the Royal Berkey and did get one. Having used it for years now we are still using the first black filters, have not experienced issues like you have mentioned. Have not heard anything about the glue issue. Getting ready to do a follow up on what we have experienced with the Berkey. – Jeff

  8. I, like thatcher used a TDS meter and it read higher then tap water after the black and white filter combo. Both had been in use for weeks, and I’d say easily more then 8 cycles. I stopped using the berkey and have received it for emergency water only.

    • Peter, I contacted the owner of BigBerkeyWaterFilters.com and asked him your question as he is the expert. I am surprised that you did not contract the company you bought your system from to get an answer, when I invest this much money in something I want to make sure it is quality. Here is Dan’s answer which applies to Thatcher too.

      A TDS reading will always be higher up to approx 20 cycles as all the carbon dust washes out. This is safe to drink. Once stabilized, the TDS reading will be similar to the source water as the filters do not remove the beneficial minerals that the TDS meter picks up.

      Glad I was able to help you with finding your correct answer. Now you can use your Berkey system to filter water and not just keep it for emergency. :)

  9. Hi. I’m considering getting a Berkey.Any thoughts on stainless steel vs plastic? I’ve read that stainless steel, unless surgical grade stainless steel, can leech nickel and chromium into the water. On the Berkey site, it says the filters are.” high quality, hand buffed 304 stainless steel” which is not the surgical grade steel.
    What to do… ?

    • I would always choose stainless steel plastic. The steel leaches less and is more durable. Yes all stainless leaches, even surgical. Keep in mind the tests usually heat the steel with water in it. The water in the berkey will be room temperature, not heated, so leaching will be very low if any. Also, the water in the berkey will be in constant rotation and never staying in the unit for a log period of time. We take the water out of the berkey and transfer it to a glass jar with a spigot for use, that way we also know how much water we have at anytime. Keep in mind that the toxins removed by the berkey will be tremendously more than what could ever be leached from the unit itself. We don’t live in a perfect world and compromise is always in the mix. Hope that helps. — Jeff

  10. Pat Sheek says:

    I am confused. Do the black filters filter out arsenic and fluoride, or do you have to purchase the PF-2 filters to use in conjunction with the black filters to filter out arsenic an fluoride? And if so, how many of the PF-2 filters do you use with the black ones? The unit only holds 8 black filters. Do you use 7 black filters and 1 PF-2? I understand that the PF-2 filters take longer to filter, so do they filter out the fluoride and arsenic fast enough to keep up with the black filters? Thanks for any info. I want to buy one for each of my kids as well as our own house.

    • Pat, The black filters don’t remove arsenic, heavy metals or fluoride. You would have to purchase the PF-2 filters in addition. From what I understand most of the systems come with 2 black filters, so just get a single pack of 2 PF-2 filters. Having more black filters just filters the water faster. You will need a PF-2 for each black filter. Using the PF-2 filters does slow down the water filters. We use a glass jar which we fill each night from the berkey system, then we refill the berkey system to filter the water overnight. That way each morning we have around 4-6 gallons of water to drink between the two. The only other item we liked on our berkey was the sight glass so we know where our water level is at without opening the unit. Hope this helps. Jeff

    • GrimAbbott says:

      Pat, to answer one of your questions, the PF-2 filters attach on the bottom side of the “supply” canister of the Berkey. In other words, they are downstream of the black filters and actually stick down into the purified water canister.

  11. I finally purchased a Big Berkey after wanting one for many years! Living in NYC is taxing on the body, so as a health conscious Vermonter Temporary “New Yorker” I go to great lengths to reduce the toxins I come in contact with on a daily basis.

    I got the Big Berkey with 2 black filters and 2 PF-2 Fluoride filters.

    Funny enough I did something that I never normally do, I read all the instructions before assembling the pieces. And I’m glad that I did because priming the filter elements was obviously very important as you could see tons of residue material being flushed out of the PF-2 filters. I decided to run the water through them for much longer than the few seconds that the instructions suggested. Then I ran 3 full tanks through before drinking the water, I gave those first batches to my plants.

    As far as the taste of the water goes, I’m not impressed thus far, it has a funny flavor I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it just needs a few more tanks run through to fully clear/prime the filters. Being from Vermont has naturally made me a bit of a “water snob” all water taste different to me good or bad.

    One big question mark that I have yet to figure out is why my TDS meter reads 90 to 140 PPM after the water has been filtered yet reads only 40 PPM from the tap. This can ONLY mean that the Berkey is putting something into my water… Perhaps this is what I’m tasting. I will continue to test PPM after each full tank filtered, and keep track of it. If it does not go down I’m going to have further testing done by a lab, because this has made me very curious.

    One major design flaw that bothers me is that the PF-2 filters are made out of plastic which could likely have BPA in it, and they hang down in the filtered water reservoir. My thinking is what’s the point of spending the money on stainless-steel if you’re going to have big plastic filters soaking in your already filtered water.

    I sure hope that this PPM mystery is resolved. I do love the product, but there is room for improvement… considering that its $300 price tag.

    • Thatcher, I contacted Dan over at BigBerkeyWaterFilters to give us the low down on your questions. Here is what he had to say. I feel he answers your questions very well. — thanks Jeff

      “As for the questions below, all Berkey products are BPA-Free including the PF-2 Filters. The taste is as a result of manufacturing dust being washed away in the initial flushes of the filters. Once primed, the PF-2’s can take up to 8 full flushes before the PF-2 dust washes away. The PPM is simply a measurement of this. Both dust from the PF-2’s and dust from the black berkeys will cause the PPM to increase over the source water baseline; again up until approx 8 full system flushes.”

      • I’m considering buying a system and appreciate that they are BPA free, but plastic is still not safe. There are other things that leach from plastic other than BPA. At least from what I’ve read. Any suggestions? Any way to have a glass system? I’m not an expert here but as a consumer I know what I don’t want and I have found it very difficult to find a filter that I’m happy about spending my money on. I’m almost wondering if digging a well would be more worth my while. Suggestions?

        • Yes – plastic leaches other stuff overtime. Plastic leaches very little when cold, also the water is not in contact for but a few hours. Even less if you remove the filtered water by transferring it to a glass container for use. We every night fill the berkey and in the morning transfer the water to the glass holding jar 3 gals size with spigot, glass is lead free. The only thing plastic in the berkey is the heavy metal filters, so little plastic. Yes it would be better to not have any plastic, but the water unfiltered is worse than the filtered by a lot. It is not a perfect world and we are not perfect, so don’t get lost trying to get perfect.

          A well uses ground water that is contaminated too. You will still have to filter it. I have looked at a lot of systems and I feel the berkey is the best for its price and what it does. I have suggested it to many of my client’s that I do health consulting for and they have been very pleased with the taste and quality of the water.

    • Thatcher-
      How is your system working out? How does the water taste now and what is your TDS meter reading?

  12. Ive had my royal berkey for 3 days now and I love it. I think it was worth every penny. The water tastes so good and clean. Thanks for the review!!

  13. Thanks for this informative review!
    Unfortunately, they can’t ship to California :(

  14. Are you concerned about the aluminum used in the fluoride filter? We’ve been hesitating on purchasing the Big Berkey for this reason.

    • No I am not concerned about aluminum from the fluoride filter because there is no aluminum. Let me explain. The fluoride filters are made up of activated alumina (Al2O3) which is inert and passed by the body. Aluminum is (Al) which is not inert and causes issues in the body. I have seen case studies that show if your water contains Aluminum and you use the fluoride filters there is less Aluminum in the water after passing through the filter, so the activated alumina filter is not adding aluminum to the water, which is where I think your concern is. Hope that helps to understand. – Jeff

  15. We have used our Berkey for about 16 years. We purchased ours while living in the Rocky Mountains to deal with arsenic, cysts, bacteria and such. We love, love, love it and still use it even though we have now become flatlanders for this season of our lives.

  16. I LOVE my berkey

  17. id try it!!!!

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