As you can see from the comments section of this post, the Big Berkey has a cult following, but there are less expensive water filters out there that do a better job. Here is why I broke up with my Berkey in favor of an Aquasana countertop filter.
When I first moved to Austin, I remember walking into a yoga studio on the east side, seeing a Berkey water filter and being very impressed.
The Berkey water filter, a staple in many health conscious homes, including apparently true wellness gurus like Dr. Ben Lynch, was always the gold standard for me.
Its shiny stainless chambers do an excellent job filtering water and look cool at the same time, or so I thought. I used a Berkey proudly for years, but recently switched to an Aquasana above counter filter system, which is much more effective and much cheaper.
Why did I move away from a Berkey?
First, Leigh, the eco-genius heading up our Leaf Score content, gave mixed reviews after compiling her list of the best water filters. Leigh’s concern is that Berkey hasn’t taken the extra step of proving the efficiency of its filters with the major tests and certifications. The Berkey is not National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certified and there seems to be a discrepancy between some of the company’s claims and independent lab tests.
As a result, Leigh only gave the Berkey 1 leaf in her review.
Frankly, I was surpised to learn from Leigh that she had concerns about the Berkey, but there had been a series of issues that had me doubting my filter as of late for independent reasons.
The downside of Berkey water filters: my experience
#1. The Berkey filter is slow
The Berkey, despite its cult like following in health circles, has some major issues. For starters, it’s slow. For those of you who have never used one, the Berkey is a basic gravity filter. You add water to the top chamber and the water is then pushed through two heavy duty charcoal filters to the bottom chamber. The drip process can take some time, so if you’re in a rush, it could be awhile before your water is ready. The lack of speed forced a reluctant glass of tap more often than I would have liked.
Because of the fact that it’s slow, the Berkey also made me hesitant to use filtered water for cooking (I wanted to reserve my fresh water supply for drinking). But this water rationing kind of defeats the purpose of the filter in the first place. If you believe, or really just know, that there is some bad stuff in the tap water, why cook with it? I’d wake up, and make my buckwheat with a little hesitancy, knowing that the water seeping into the groats was full of chlorine. Same for the water I give to my dog, Ned. I love that damn dog and want him to get good water as well, but with the slow filter speed of the Berkey, I would sometimes give Ned subpar water when laziness or a rushed schedule took over.
#2. The Berkey leaks
Last, and this is a big one, Berkey filters are prone to leaking. My sister’s leaked all the time. Mine developed a leak after a few years of use. Leaks can spring from the actual faucet that attaches to the bottom chamber, or from upper chamber to lower as the metal floor of the top chamber gets dented, prohibiting a tight seal from the upper to the lower. This is what happened to my Berkey, and a leak like this is quite an issue since it prevents the charcoal filters from grabbing all the water that gets to the lower chamber, hence nullifying the filter altogether as water bypasses its intended route.
#3. The Berkey is overpriced and cumbersome to setup
For a company lacking important certifications, the Berkey costs an arm and a leg. A 2.25 gallon Berkey will run you almost $400, and that doesn’t include extras like flouride filters, which are a nightmare to screw on and get working.
My solution was a cheaper water filter that surprisingly beats the Berkey hands down on filtration ability, the Aquasana AQ-4000.
Berkey vs. Aquasana 4,000
For starters, an Aquasana 4,000 will run you about $100 vs. $400 for a Berkey.
Since Berkey has refused to this point to get NSF certification, it’s hard to compare these filters. Really, without certifications, it’s hard to do a meaningful comparison of Berkey vs. any of its competitors. Berkey won’t ship to California, is that because they aren’t prop 65 compliant?
In Leigh’s review, she points out that if Berkey’s claims about removing 99.999% of contaminants are true, Berkey is a great option. It’s easy to install and since it doesn’t require power, could be used in a natural disaster. The problem for Berkey is that competitors like Aquasana are “showing their math” and getting their claims tested to meet NSF standards. There is also testing showing Berkey’s don’t remove much chloroform, so what else might be slipping through the cracks?
So, when my Berkey bit the dust with this leak, I explored other options for my home use.
I filter my shower water as well as my drinking water, so as I mentioned above, a big priority for me was to be able to also filter water I cook with as well as water I give my pup. For the reasons we already discussed, a Berkey wasn’t going to work, so I looked to other above counter water filters.
The first one I ordered, an Aquasana under the sink model (View on Aquasana), wouldn’t fit in my current setup. I sent that bad boy back and instead turned to the above the counter model. Turns out the above the counter model was a cost-effective solution. Rather than fitting under the sink, with a big storage tank taking up space, the model sits right on your countertop, in my case to the left of the sink.
Installing the Aquasana 4,000 Filter
Assembly is pretty straightforward, but there is one issue that can trip you up, and that is the faucet. You need a faucet that has a spigot aerator that can unscrew, see the video below. If you don’t have an aerator that can unscrew, it’s reasonably affordable to buy your own.
As you can see from the video, the Aquasana creates a separate stream of water for the filter, not all the tap water goes through the filter. This allows you to use filtered water for cooking and for pets, but not wear down the life of the filter in the process. At a fraction of the price of even a travel Berkey, the Aquasana is my new go to.
Can it be used with well water?
Bonnie, the Aquasana can be used with well water. The key is the type of faucet you have, not the type of water.
Logic says the more you filter smaller particles the flow becomes much slower. Just take a clay pot for example it uses gravity filtration but it practically cost almost nothing it beats any brand in the market of filtration NFC approved or not!
Is not the above mentioned RO system as slow, or slower than Berkey? During my pre-buy process, I did look at above sink RO systems. But the amount of time, AND the wasted water going down the drain, steered me back to the Berkey. Over 2 gallons an hour for Berkey. At least I don’t have to sit there for 10 minutes to get a glassful with counter RO system. Understand your worries about NSF certified. But, to be perfectly frank, California is crazy, so would never use them in a comparison. And my new Berkey does not leak, unless I am an idiot and over fill it.
I posted this comment on Leigh’s article which you referenced:
“The filter life of the Aquasana AQ-4000, according to the description in the Walmart product page to which you linked, is only 6 months. You have to replace the filter after 6 months.
On the company’s website – https://cdn.aquasana.com/assets/AQ-4000_Performance_Data.pdf?_ga=2.173600611.1365584554.1600885741-1590062951.1600885741 – it says that it has a 450 gallon capacity. That’s 75 gallons/month, or roughly 2.5 gallons/day.
One Black Berkey filter element has a 3,000 gallon capacity. At 2.5 gallons/day, that’s 40 months before you have to replace it. 40 months for the Berkey is better than 6 months for the Aquasana.
I agree that it would be nice if Berkey had some of the chemicals, even all of them, rated at NSF standards. But that’s extremely expensive – http://berkeywaterkb.com/are-the-black-berkey-purification-elements-nsf-certified/ – even as much as $1,000,000 – https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/big-berkey-water-filter-system/
Also, note that Aquasana doesn’t test to NSF standards all the contaminants it claims to filter – https://cdn.aquasana.com/assets/AQ-4000_Performance_Data.pdf?_ga=2.173600611.1365584554.1600885741-1590062951.1600885741
Those listed on the right side of the document are not tested to NSF standards, only those on the left.”
Good defense of the Berkey RB. I still don’t love the Berkey, but the brand definitely has a passionate and loyal following.
But you do have to buy additional fluoride filters in order to address fluoride. Those filters have to be replaced every 6 months as well.
RB, do you really believe that the Berkey filters will keep a steady performance during all of their claimed lifespan?
I certainly do not and I have reasons not to. Concerning lead the N.Y. Times article revealed: “However, he said that they stopped meeting the NSF removal standard after approximately 1,100 gallons of filtering—barely more than a third of the 3,000-gallon lifespan New Millennium claims for the Black Berkey filters.”
RB, the NSF International did certify the Aquasana for VOC reduction. The list of contaminants on the right side (in the pdf you linked to) are VOCs. They are listed on the NSF webpage (go to the bottom):
The model you’re talking about and showing here is not reverse osmosis. It’s a great filter but it’s not as effective as an RO. Aquasana does have an RO system but it’s much more expensive and a bigger setup with more filters to change. Thank you for your article. It’s helpful to know more about the Berkey.
Thanks for the comment Alicia, I updated the article.
We always put filtered water in pitchers in fridge or counter so available for quick refill of our glass,cooking or dogs bowl. Easy to do when you have down time and then readily available. Should help with your issue…even with new set up you can fill pitchers to have ahead of time!
I’m for the best fact-based/proven filter. Yes, Berkey does not ship to/sell to Californians because of the (proof of) “lead free” law. Berkey DID get NSF certified, but NSF requires recertification each, which, as RB notes, is costly considering how complex Berkey’s system is. And even Aquasans doesn’t NSF test for every possible contaminant. But then, you already knew this, John O’Connor, before you wrote this article. Also, you say, “There is also testing showing Berkeys don’t remove much chloroform…” Unless these studies are cited it is just heresay/your opinion, which doesnt count in my home. Critical thinking demands facts. Smart thinkers want to make smart choiced – not to be influenced based on what you are/are not paid to think or say in media. I don’t own a water filter system yet; I am doing the research and due diligence…as you should do.
I used the Aquasana for years until I couldn’t justify how much plastic we were throwing in the landfill. You can’t recycle the filters or the container. If for any reason you can’t get the filters out when trying to change them, Aquasana sent us a complete plastic housing and told us to throw away the used plastic housing + used filters… you cannot recycle them. That right there is why no one should be using them. I did buy a Big Berkey last year and it’s okay… lots of maintenance when we travel and it is slow occasionally. The black filters can be recycled and last so much longer than other filters. The fluoride filters last 1 year and cannot be recycled that I know of. I like the Berkey so much better than the Aquasana for our water needs and for the environment.
Shar, how do you know that the Berkey filters last “so much longer than other filters”?
The Berkey filters won’t necessarily clog up and then you know that they have reached end of life. Instead the filters may silently allow e.g. VOCs to pass right through. Don’t believe the Berkey marketing.
So, because you neglect to manage your on hand water supply purified with the Berkeley, it is “slow”? Because you dented the unit in a critical spot the Berkey “leaks”?
Bahahaha, love it! Thanks for the comment, Bob. The Berkey brand loyalty is something to behold.
Don’t own a Berkey. Just don’t care for sloppy conclusions ,based on operator error ,presented as product deficiencies.
There is a negative about RO Reverse Osmosis to consider. They much of the Minerals. That makes the water acidic. When you drink it the water will actually pull minerals out of you body as it tries to balance itself out [or get to equilibrium]. You body needs Minerals. There are droppers you can get to offset this by adding a drop or two to each full cup of water. [using “cup” in a loose sense]. Full disclosure – I don’t have a Big Berkey but have thought about getting one and have recommended it after doing bunch of research few years ago. Charcoal block filters are very good but need some silver in them to keep bacteria down. Recommended a friend put some real silver coins in her Big Berkey so water could sit in there longer as it will keep the bacteria down. We have a pool and have to keep PH near 7.2 or just a bit higher so the acidic water doesn’t leach out the pool materials. If PH is to high will leave scale in the pipes and gum up the works. Our bodies are not as negatively impacted by higher PH to a point and may benefit. Would have to research that. Regarding researching – Google has modified their search results so you don’t see alternative medical information. They partner with GlaxoSmithKline a Pharmaceutical company and started some of their own pharma companies under their mother ship company Alphabet.
RO Removes most of the minerals I mean.
Yeah but does this reverse osmosis machine replace the minerals it strips out because the reason I will never use reverse osmosis is because it turns water into dead water that can be very toxic over long periods of time you can’t strip the water of all of its minerals I don’t never use a Berkey I use an Alexa pure. I love my Alexa beer I’ve been using it for 10 years I have two of them. It’s the greatest porcelain filter on the market gravity fed is the only way to go for me my two units serves my household hold of six it’s efficiently and tastes so great with the minerals that it adds back to it.
There’s a simple fix to your complaint of the Berkey being slow; buy a model that you can use 4 filters, make sure to top it off, and if the filtration slows, clean the filters…VOILA! Problem rectified! In addition, using 4 filters increases the time between filter changes from 6,000 gallons to 12,000 gallons.
I have a Royal Berkey and it does just fine. It is also portable and Berkey offers a carry bag if you want to take it with you, in bug out situations. Berkey offers a variety of sizes, including a travel size option, as well.
Speaking to one of the other comments about bacteria, Berkey sells drops and a test kit that combats bacteria/biofilm. 4 drops treat a gallon of water. Pretty simple and if you store water for emergency situations, you can use them in your potable water containers as well as having the ability to test the water prior to use.
As you can see, Berkey has loyal customers for a variety of reasons.
I couldn’t resonate more with this review.
The gravity filtration is a huge problem. I bought the the Big Berkey w Black Filters + PF2 (Fluoride removal) stage. The first, lets say, 6 months (1.5-2 gallons filtered/day), It would filter the entire top chamber overnight.
After about 6 months, only about 75% of top chamber gets filtered. 1 year in and I’m lucky if 50% of the top chamber gets filtered. I removed the fluoride filter to see if it would improve the flow rate – No observable improvement.
Note: I conservatively estimate I’ve filtered about 1,500 gallons of city water since I initially purchased the filters….WAYYYY under the 6000 gallon mark referenced on the Berkey website.
Berkey’s Response: Stop being a cheap pr*ck and pay up the $250 + shipping for new filters.
I regret not having gone with an RO.