This Berkey Water Filter Has Changed My Life

Photo: Courtesy of Jinnie Lee.
The idea to invest in an "expensive" water filter system came shortly after my two consecutive trips to Los Angeles last fall when I noticed several of my friends had this silver-chrome tubular contraption called the Berkey on their kitchen counters. I'd seen this in a couple of New York pals' apartments as well, which led to a lively debate about how clean NYC city water is (sorry, I don't care how clean the water actually is, I simply don't trust my old apartment pipes). And, not to be outdone, my local dive bar in Brooklyn had also replaced its plastic water cooler with the Berkey for thirsty customers. I was still using my Brita filter pitcher at that point, but I soon started to obsess and spiral at how frequently grimy it got. I bit the bullet over Black Friday weekend and splurged on my own Berkey for about $300. I mean, this is the water I put into my body so I knew it'd be would be worth the coin in the long run.
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Travel Berkey Water Filter (recommended for 1–3 people), $362 $345

What really sold me on the Berkey is how the filters are powerful enough to purify untreated, natural water for outdoor and camping trips — the filters remove over 200 contaminants, bacteria, and viruses "that conventional filters cannot" as well as 100% of harmful pathogens. The package even comes with vials of red dye as a testing measure to see if the filters are primed enough to remove the dye (easily the most satisfying part of the whole set-up process). These filter replacements aren't cheap, but knowing that each filter has a lifespan that can handle 3,000 gallons means that you won't have to replace them every 4–6 years (of course, this is also dependent on how big your system is and how many people use it regularly in your household). As a person who mostly lives alone (with a sometimes occasional housemate), the 1.5 gallon Travel Berkey is a great size for me.

Big Berkey Water Filter (recommended for 2–4 people), $405 $387

How does the Berkey Water Filter System work?

The Berkey package comes with all the appropriate doodads for assembly, the two stackable silver chambers, a lid, a rubber ring base, a spout, and two filters. (If you opt for a larger-sized Berkey, it may also include fluoride filters although the smaller size I ordered doesn't require them.) Once you wash everything thoroughly, prime and test the filters, and assemble everything together, all you have to do is then fill up the upper chamber with regular tap water and then wait for that pure, crisp water to drip into the lower chamber. (The Berkey site says it can take up to an hour or so for the water to purify all the way through, although what I personally do is fill it up at nighttime so that fresh drinking water is ready for me in the AM.) This is not a system that cools or heats water — you'll have to get used to drinking room-temperature water (or become a person who keeps a separate glass pitcher of water in the fridge, which is what I do).
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Photo: Courtesy of Maura M. Lynch.
I'd like you to meet my Travel Berkey Water Filter system.

What size Berkey should I get?

The water system comes in a variety of sizes and the prices increase accordingly. I've got the Travel Berkey, which you can see is about torso-length, uses two filters, holds about 1.5 gallons, and is the Goldilocks size for me. The most popular style ("Everybody's Favorite," the site says) is the Big Berkey which holds a max of four filters, holds 2.25 gallons, and is recommended for a household of 2-4 people. For even larger sizes, you have your pick of the Royal, the Imperial, or the Crown — peruse the whole collection here. For actual travel use, there's the GO Berkey Kit (currently sold out) and the Sport Berkey Water Filter (also sold out) but you can add your email address to the waitlist. Additional accessories you can buy are the Berkey stand, a stainless steel spigot, or this spigot with an attached sight glass that shows you the water level in the chamber.

What are the drawbacks of the Berkey Water Filter system?

Having access to clean drinking water is an immense privilege and I don't take it for granted that I'm able to own such an advanced water filter system. That said, water is life so I don't think there are any true drawbacks to owning a Berkey. And while I've been using mine for about six months now, it's not like I can really say to you, "Oh, the water really tastes different!" TBH, the water just tastes like water (and I'm talking about the NYC water I'm used to), but what I do have is peace of mind knowing I'm putting the cleanest version of H20 into my body — and that's what makes it all worth it to me.
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But, while we're on the topic — and this could be filed under "NYC apartment problems" — I would say that the monthly cleaning of the Berkey chambers can be a hassle depending on your sink size. (Some NYC friends admit to giving their Berkeys a scrub in their tub.) The manual recommends you also scrub the filters every three months, but I end up doing that every month instead.
The most annoying part of all is getting the filters fully primed. It really tested my patience and in a way that almost broke me down. It's a whole process that involves getting your faucet water connected to your filters so all the air from the filters can be sweated out — and neither my sink nor my tub was built for that. For some reason, the priming process had me completely soaked (I know I sound dramatic but that's my truth) and it took a couple of hours and trial-and-errors to figure out what would actually work for my faucet. Honestly, this YouTube video by home vlogger Farmhouse on Boone was a whole lot more helpful than the manual. Luckily, I don't have to prime anything for at least the next presidential cycle.

Would I recommend the Berkey Water Filter system?

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If you're a water drinker, then yes! I feel like owning a Berkey is a beautiful way to invest in your health. And, honestly, having my Travel Berkey near me during this WFH era of my life keeps me steadily hydrated throughout the day as I aim to drink at least a gallon — or one chamber's worth — of water a day.
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