We were excited to get our new Big Berkey Water Filter two summers ago. We've been using it ever since and even took it camping.
Here’s my Big Berkey Water Filter review, updated for 2023.
Disclosure: the writer received a free Big Berkey Water Filter for home use.
Over the years, we’ve experimented with various water filter systems to purify our lake water. We had heard many good things about the Big Berkey system, so I was happy to try it when the company reached out.
Why We Use a Water Filter
If this is your first visit to An Off Grid Life, welcome. And you might wonder why we use a water filter.
We homestead and live off the grid in Canada’s Northwest Territories. We depend on solar panels and a Tesla Powerwall for power.
We heat with in-floor heating and a massive wood stove. And we pump our water from our lake, the primary water source for the handful of hardy souls living out here.
I’ve written in previous posts about how we pump our water from the lake to our 1100-gallon water tank.
Although many folks who live in cabins around the lake drink it without treating it, I prefer to filter it. Just in case, you know?
Two of our seven children live at home (they’re 13 and 9 when I’m writing this.) So I want to ensure we’re doing what we can to give them clean water and remove heavy metals, pathogenic bacteria, and any other yucky stuff that could harm them.
We Drink Lake Water
(Note: we do NOT add bleach or iodine to our lake water before or after running it through our water purification systems.)
We are not new to using a gravity water filter. In fact, even before we lived off the grid we used fluoride filters for our city water.
We also used a countertop water filter for years before getting our Big Berkey. And last winter, we installed an under-the-sink water filter on our kitchen tap.
I felt a water filter was necessary with at least six and sometimes as many as ten people drinking our raw, untreated lake water.
Also, two summers ago, we had an incredible amount of rain. Unusual for these parts. That might be why we have more algae in the lake, and a fish smell to our tap water, even with the Rainfresh filter.
So the Berkey system arrived just at the right time. We'd been using it for a few weeks when I wrote this Berkey System Water Filter review.
Berkey Water Filter Review
Before I jump in to write this review, here's a quick look at what this actually does.
What is a Berkey Water Filter?
New Millennium Concepts, an American-based company established in 1998, makes Berkey water filter systems.
Although their water filters aren’t NSF/ANSI-certified, they have a solid fan base and are incredibly popular worldwide. Campers, hikers, emergency/preppers, and outdoor adventurers use Berkey water systems and black filters to purify water in various environments.
They make several models of water purifiers.
As of 2023, Berkey water filter systems include
- Travel Berkey
- Big Berkey
- Royal Berkey
- Imperial Berkey
- Crown Berkey
Our Big Berkey water filter system arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s a shiny, stainless steel filter that sits on our countertop. It holds over 2 gallons of water. Although I haven’t tried moving it yet, I suspect it would fit just fine on the counter of our travel trailer.
According to the instruction sheet, “the ease of operation of this unit combined with a proven effectiveness at eliminating waterborne diseases and contaminates, has led to Berkey water purification elements being specified for field operations by many of the world’s major aid and emergency relief organizations.”
How Berkey Produces Clean Water
Berkey produces a gravity-fed water purification filter system. We like this because our home is off the grid. However, we produce our electricity with solar panels and prefer appliances and tools that don’t need power.
Gravity-fed water filter systems have been around for (literally) ages. With a gravity-fed water filter, gravity draws water down through filtering material.
Small pebbles, sand, and charcoal filters are common materials used. Today’s Brita, Pur, and Filtrete, water pitcher-style filters, are examples of gravity-fed water filter systems.
The Big Berkey has two large stainless steel chambers; the upper and lower chambers.
Simply remove the lid, and pour about 2 gallons of water into the top chamber. Then wait for it to seep through the black Berkey water filter and into the lower chamber. And fill up your water bottle or kettle with the spigot.
What to Watch For
So while I like our Berkey for our family and situation, there are a few things to keep in mind. I've been keeping notes on this as I knew I'd write it up as part of the Big Berkey water filter review.
1. Size Matters
Your family size, counter space, and how much water your family consumes daily. The Big Berkey seems to be just right for our large family.
Our Big Berkey is 19 inches high. So it didn’t fit on our counter with the cupboards above.
On the other hand, you too might find the “household” Berkey systems, namely Royal Berkey and Big Berkey, simply too big for your available kitchen space.
I think that’s why I see so many Travel Berkeys used in homes and not just for travel.
2. The Cost of Berkey
Berkeys cost more than many of the other filters out there. And the replacement black Berkeys filters cost more than some entire filter systems.
However, multiple other bloggers have pointed out that you get what you pay for. One long-time user posted Instagram pics of her 15-year-old Berkey water filtration system.
I’ve seen more than one Berkey that’s more than ten years old and still looking and working great.
Also, about those black Berkey filters. They’re not disposable. You clean the filter, purify and prime it, then use it again.
According to the website, one filter could be good for up to 100 cleanings. So if you clean it every six months or twice a year, it should last 50 years.
And honestly, even if it only lasted ten years, I’d be happy. It’s still a heck of a lot cheaper than buying bottled water every week.
3. Priming the Berkey
Ideally, it takes two people to assemble and prime a Big Berkey system.
One of the things we struggled with when putting it together was soaking the Black Berkey purification elements.
According to the instructions, the black charcoal filter should fit directly onto a kitchen faucet. The next step is to force water through the filter. Yet the filter didn't fit our faucet.
Dan instead soaked the filter overnight in a large bowl of water. The next morning, it was thoroughly soaked. The rest of the setup proceeded without issue.
4. Not NSF Certified
The Berkey is not NSF certified and does not meet ansi standard requirements as of the origiinal time of this post (August 2021).
In researching this post, I read a New York Times Berkey water filter review that was very quick to point this out.
However, in that very same article, the author (somewhat reluctantly, it seemed) said that the Berkey filter was very good at removing heavy metals, according to their test results.
The article suggested it could be a good “stopgap measure” for households concerned with removing lead from water. And after doing our own research, we're delighted with the filtration capabilities for filtering our lake water.
Berkey Water Filter Review: Buying Black Berkey Filters
Our Big Berkey came with two black Berkey filters. These are activated charcoal filters infused with ion-exchanged resin.
When it comes to getting Berkey Replacement Filters, if I need to, I'll likely replace the Big Berkey filter through Amazon for the free shipping we get through our Prime membership.
Shipping costs to the north add up quickly, so we’re always looking for ways to save. If you’re in the United States, you’ll get free shipping on orders over $99 when you purchase a Berkey system or accessories directly from the Berkey site.
Cleaning Berkey Filters
As I learned a long time ago, water filters need to get cleaned pretty regularly around here. We love our lake pump and water tank system. Yet sometimes, sand, grit, leaves, algae, and other lake debris find their way through our pipes, out the faucet, and into our water glasses.
So with an off grid home and water system, all of our water purifiers and filters take a beating over the years.
I’ll update the article after the first few cleanings. Based on what I’m reading through, I’ll know it is time for a thorough cleaning when I notice the water trickle from the filter slowing down.
The flow rate gets reduced when the water moves more slowly from the upper chamber to the lower chamber. And a lower flow rate means it’s time for a cleaning.
The folks over at Berkey Water Filters recommend cleaning the stainless steel chambers monthly. That’s easy enough - they’re sturdy and easy to separate.
Their recommendation for cleaning the purification elements makes sense to me too. Either every six months or when you notice a reduction in the flow rate.
Since we’re a big family and we go through a lot of water, I expect I’ll be cleaning the black Berkey water filter elements at three to four months.
The Berkey Clean Water Taste Test
So as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, our drinking water from the lake has a noticeable fishy smell and taste this year. It is even apparent in our washed clothes. It was until I added a few drops of lemon essential oil to my homemade laundry detergent.
The girls and I did a “taste test’ of water that has gone through our Berkey filter and water that has gone through our Rainfresh faucet filter.
The good news? There is no smell or taste of fish from the Berkey water filter system. However, a distinct rubbery scent for the first couple of days has since faded.
Overall, I'm more than satisfied with our Berkey. We now use this water filter system for all our drinking water, including hot drinks like tea and coffee. We're filling our reusable water bottles daily. And as a mother, I'm enjoying peace of mind and happy that we're getting more than enough water for our household needs.
Learn more about Berkey Water here.