Perhaps you've seen ads for Berkey water filtering systems and wondered why they're so darn expensive? More than $600 for a water filter? Do they do something that no other filter can do? Can they turn water into, uh, gold?
Curious to find out the deal with them (and if the price is justified), I did some homework and called experts from major testing labs. Here's the story.
How do Berkey systems work?
Berkey systems use a very fine filter that the company claims can not only remove chlorine, lead, and other heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and VOCs, but also actually purify water by removing viruses and bacteria. They also use a so-called gravity system, which means the water drops down and there's no mechanism to help push it through the microfilter.
It doesn't need any electricity or a plumbing hookup (you just pour in water and let it — and gravity — do its thing), so it's particularly advantageous in, say, a cabin or beach house. Just note that, because the water is not kept refrigerated, it is particularly important to empty out any unused water after about a week and clean the unit thoroughly.
Do they really work?
While the company does have independent lab tests to back up its claims, its products do not have the widely-trusted NSF certification that other filter systems have. For this reason, many media outlets don't review Berkey units, never mind recommend them, and many stores don't carry them.
Everyone I spoke to stressed the importance of that certification from NSF or another accreditation like the Gold Seal from the Water Quality Association. (These approvals offer the assurance that a water filtering system is safe to use and actually does what it says it does.) However, an expert from the National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. reviewed the test results provided by Berkey on its website and felt it does meet the EPA's protocol for water purification.
So, why are Berkey systems so expensive?
With prices ranging from $35 for a 22-ounce water bottle to $630 for a six-gallon countertop system, Berkey products are considerably more expensive than the water filter pitchers so many of us use in our homes. This is because they're made of stainless steel and other high-quality materials. The filters themselves, the company says, are made of more than six different materials including high-grade coconut shell carbon. In addition, the high cost of independent testing for water purification may add to the price.
Would you pay this much for a water filter system? Why or why not? Discuss in the comments below.