Just found this old thread and thought I’d comment and hopefully add a little to it. We built the home-made Berkey with two buckets, and absolutely love it. We’ve drunk nothing but that water for probably close to three years now. About six months ago we added two more filters to the bucket (total of four now), and that gives us 12,000 gallons. I spoke directly with the company and asked just how long the filters will last in years, not gallons, if usage is relatively low (just my wife and me now, generally). Instead of trying to go for more sales by low-balling the estimate, he was very direct – the length of time, he said, does not matter. Remember to mark the outer rim of the top bucket with “old” and “new” corresponding to which filters are the ones you’ve had for a while, if you add two more later, so you know which to replace when you hit your first 6000 gallons.
We’ve found that every once in awhile it’s good to take a scrubber pad and lightly scrub the outsides of the filters. Also, if you don’t use enough to refill frequently, they will tend to dry out and air replaces the water inside the filters. That will eventually slow down the flow dramatically. So occasionally take the filters out when you clean them and re-prime them according to the original instructions (using the little rubber ring provided – KEEP the instructions and the rubber ring).
Also, be sure to occasionally put several drops of red food coloring in the top bucket as you fill it, sufficient to turn the water quite red. That will assure you that you’re not leaking water through to the bottom, unfiltered. There was a brief period where they had some filters that leaked, but fixed that problem a few years ago.
Living in the South (intentional use of the upper case “S”) every couple of months or so – less in he winter – we begin to smell a little bit of a musty odor in the bottom bucket – mildew starting. Berkey recommended thoroughly wiping down the inside of the bottom bucket using white vinegar, then rinse thoroughly. It works great! We just take a paper towel and saturate it with vinegar, and use that for wiping down the entire bottom bucket, making sure to get all the little spaces around the inside of the lid on top of the bottom bucket. That’s could be a good time to clean the outside of the filters in the top bucket, and re-prime them according to instructions to get maximum flow – makes a very big difference. If you also use the fluoride filters in the bottom bucket (we do), don’t forget to wipe those down thoroughly with the vinegar and rinse them too – that’s actually where we begin to notice the very subtle mildew buildup whenever we do actually see it (generally we only see it on the vinegar-soaked paper towel used to wipe the outside of the fluoride/arsenic filters – too slight to actually see until concentrated on the paper towel after wiping). (NOTE: if using the fluoride/arsenic filters, remember that they have a smaller capacity than 6000 gallons per pair for the primary black filters.)
We had some relatives spend the week at Christmas last year, and they could not get over the taste of our water. It’s from the tap in the kitchen before it goes in the Berkey, but they could hardly believe us until they saw us refill the top bucket and drank some of the water directly out of the bottom bucket (we also keep a couple of ½ gallon containers in the fridge so there’s a nice supply of cold water). I have read the specs on both the ceramic and black Berkey filters, and there is no comparison. The black Berkey filter will take out almost everything! I know of a Soldier that built such a filter while deployed in Iraq, and they’d pour scummy ditch water in it at times. No one ever got sick (which is easy to understand once you actually look at the list of what’s removed, and the degree to which it is removed with the black filters, compared to the ceramics). I was told by Berkey that they don’t actually manufacture the ceramics themselves, though they still market them as their own. But the black filters are theirs.
One last hint. We got a cheap 4-wheeled mechanic’s seat with adjustable height on sale at Harbor Freight last year, and now sit the home-made Berkey filter on the round seat (fits almost perfectly). You can raise or lower it at will, making it easy to fill pitchers, pans, pots, or just glasses. And you can roll it out of sight to a storage room, closet, whatever, when not in use. We just roll it into the kitchen to the sink, pull out the extended nozzle on the sink, turn it on, and let it fill the top bucket (we keep a cloth over the top bucket normally, rather than seal it with a plastic lid on the top bucket – good air flow, so far never a mildew problem in the top bucket). We have a large “sticky note” on the side, and just make “tick marks” on the right side of it to keep track of the number of fills. At the end of each line of groups of five tick marks each, we just add the total number of gallons associated with that number of fills, in a running total on the right hand column. Wheeling the heavy, filled system back where it is kept out of the way and out of sight is easy, due to the wheels on the mechanic’s seat. No heavy lifting, and yet the spigot on the bottom is easily accessible for filling containers due to being up on top of the mechanic’s seat.
Combined with a rain water collection and storage system outside (will post that some time in the hopefully near future), and the higher rain totals here than in many parts of the country, we should do just fine in the event of a loss of city water. Currently we use the collected water for the garden.
Remember: only the bottom bucket needs to be food grade, if you can’t find a lot of them easily. The filters take out virtually all harmful chemicals from what’s in the top bucket.
At just barely over $100/pair of black Berkey filters plus $25 or $30 for parts max, 6000 gallons of water will cost out at only about 2¢ per gallon. You can’t drink better (or better tasting) water at any price, and even at Sam’s Club prices for excellent spring water, you pay about 15¢ for a ½ liter bottle of water. Any way you look at it, the Berkey filters clearly the best way to go for normal as well as survival drinking water. You can’t find better specs on what’s filtered out anywhere, as far as I’ve been able to find, and I’ve searched extensively. Just be sure you’re buying the filters directly from Berkey – there is at least one company making it appear that they’re the actual company because they’re authorized to use the name. Deal with the company itself (hint: they’re NOT the folks in Colorado). http://berkeywater.com/ The company name that actually produces the filters is New Millenium Concepts. They take much better care of problems than at least some of the ones licensed to use the Berkey name as they sell Berkey products. We almost quit using them because of very poor customer service in a problem situation last year – until we learned they weren’t really THE Berkey company – they just sold their filters.