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If you’ve been considering getting a Berkey Water Filter for your family, you may find yourself confused by the options. After all, they all look the same, but the sizes vary dramatically. What size Berkey Water Filter do you need, exactly? And how can you figure it out?
Our family has been using a Big Berkey water filter since 2018 to make our off-grid cistern water safe to drink. It has saved us tons of money and plastic over buying bottles of water (even the cooler type), and it is safer and more effective than the water filters you can get at the grocery store.
If you’re ready for a Berkey but don’t know what size to get, I’ll break down what the various sizes of Berkey filters are, what they actually mean, and what unit YOU can get to save the most money while still being a good and effective choice for your particular household.
- Berkey Water Filter Sizes
- What the Berkey Sizes Actually Mean
- An Important Note on Filling Your Berkey
- When in doubt, get the smaller Berkey
- Consider larger Berkey units if:
- Consider smaller Berkey units if:
- If you’re single and/or regularly on backwoods excursions
- Save Money with “Scratch and Dent”
- Key Takeways
Berkey Water Filter Sizes
First, Berkey has a detailed at-a-glance of the sizes they offer and how many people they can serve here.
For reference, we own the 2.25 gallon “Big” size. This serves our family of three quite well!
During most of the year, we probably fill our Berkey once a day. We’ll fill it twice a day in the summer, because we’re drinking so much more in the hot weather.
We use this water for not only drinking but for cooking and brushing our teeth as well.
My mom, on the other hand, has the smallest one-quart size “Go Berkey”, which is so small it isn’t even shown in the photo above. She is single so she doesn’t really need a standard-sized Berkey; it’s nice having it though since her city’s tap water tastes abominable.
What the Berkey Sizes Actually Mean
The biggest (and most obvious) difference between the sizes is the holding capacity of the lower chamber. You pour water into the upper chamber, it filters through the black filters, and can then be stored in the lower portion.
Technically, ANY size family could use the smallest Berkey. They all filter at pretty similar rates, assuming the same number of black filter elements are in use. (Note: you can increase the flow rate with additional black filters for all units except the Travel and Go sizes) It’s just that the more people you have filling their cups, the more often you’ll have to refill that top chamber.
So really, your determining factor isn’t so much “how many people are in your family”, it’s “how often you want to fill the Berkey”.
An Important Note on Filling Your Berkey
It’s important to keep your black filter elements wet, which means it’s pretty important to fill it every day. In fact, if you’re going on a trip for more than 4 days, it’s important to prepare your black filters for long-term storage. You can find out more about storing black filters here.
This means that, if you have a smaller family or fewer people to serve on a regular basis, but you get a large Berkey unit, you probably won’t be filling your Berkey quite as often. This means that the filters will dry out more in between fillings, thus reducing their efficacy and probable lifespan.
Not only that, but if you’re letting water just sit in that lower chamber, you have a greater risk of it getting stagnant. Ideally, you’ll be following the cleaning instructions and that lower chamber should never have any issues because, in theory, that water is always super clean. HOWEVER, it will still get sort of “stale” if you just let it sit there for days and days. That’s what happens if you have a large amount of water sitting there and not enough people drinking it.
In this sense, I feel like I would be doing smaller households a disservice by recommending a bigger Berkey than you actually need. You’d basically be spending too much money and getting something that won’t serve you as well in return.
When in doubt, get the smaller Berkey
My aim here is to strike a balance between affordability and what will serve you best. In many cases, a smaller Berkey is actually the better idea. It helps you keep your black filters in the best shape while also giving you as much water as you want. It really just comes down to how often you want to fill it. Consider how that might fit into your daily routine, who the filter will be serving, and your overall budget.
Consider larger Berkey units if:
- You have more than 6 people in your household, or
- You serve more than 6 people on a regular basis (i.e. you have a B&B, you keep a Berkey in a faculty lounge, etc.)
- You will be doing a large amount of cooking, soapmaking, or other activities that require ultra-clean water.
Consider smaller Berkey units if:
- There are fewer than 6 people in your household.
- You don’t serve many people with it regularly.
- You have a small kitchen or limited counterspace.
The Big Berkey is the most popular size, in part because it is the most versatile for most households. It can serve a moderate number of people daily and holds up well if you’re refilling it constantly during a party, for example. We tend to fill our Berkey a few times on days we’re having a cookout; we’ll fill up pitchers of water and keep them chilled for guests instead of buying bottled water.
It also fits pretty well in most kitchen settings. We built a small house with a small kitchen, and the Big size is, well, big. But when you compare it to the largest Berkey units, it looks positively tiny! I would definitely have to plan for where to put a larger filter. The Big fits nicely on our counter with room to spare for other items.
Technically, the Royal Berkey says it is for households with 4-6 people, but based on our usage when we include guests, the dog, etc., you could easily get away with a Big Berkey if you’re being conscious of your budget.
The exception to that is: Sometimes, Berkey will run specials, especially around the holidays, that make the Royal a better budget deal than the Big. It depends on the sales. I update this post yearly with the latest deals and analyze them, so be sure to check that out.
If you’re single and/or regularly on backwoods excursions
If you want a freestanding Berkey and don’t fancy packing it with you everywhere, consider the “Travel” size Berkey.
However, if budget is a big consideration for you and/or you want to be able to take it with you, I highly recommend considering the Go Berkey kit instead of one of the standard filter models. Why?
- It is the least expensive of the bunch.
- Its small size helps it filter super fast.
- It’s portable enough to take to the office, on campouts, hikes, hotels, or wherever.
- It comes with accessories you need to care for your black filters, like the black filter primer, so you don’t have to buy them separately.
- It makes an excellent prep item (as long as you’re taking care of the black filter elements properly)
The Go Berkey may NOT be for you if you ever intend to use the fluoride filters, since it isn’t compatible.
My mom is single and has a Go Berkey for her everyday water use. She purchased a few nice glass pitchers like these (found secondhand for super cheap!) and keeps them filled with water. That way, she always has plenty on hand for herself and the occasional guest.
Save Money with “Scratch and Dent”
Berkey will typically have some “scratch and dent” units available at a discounted price. They aren’t always in stock, but when they are it’s a fantastic way to save money on the size you want. If you’re leaning towards a larger size but worry about your budget, be sure to check those out.
- Look at the specs on the Berkey website and consider the number of people that will be using your Berkey regularly.
- Households of 6+, consider the Royal (3.25 gal), Imperial (4.5 gal), or Crown models (6 gal).
- Households of less than 6, consider include the Big (2.25 gal), Light (2.75 gal), and Travel (1.5 gal).
- Consider your counter and kitchen space.
- Bigger isn’t always better! Go for a smaller filter if you need to.
- Don’t be afraid to consider the smaller Go Berkey.
- Check for sales!
- Don’t forget Scratch and Dent!
We live off the grid and use our Big Berkey to filter the rainwater we catch! Learn more:
- Our No B.S. Berkey Review
- Berkey Black Friday Sales (updated every year!)
- The Basics of Rainwater Harvesting
- Is Harvesting Rainwater Illegal?
- Our Off-Grid Homestead Project
Keep up with the off-grid, green-living goodness!
Learn more about our original cordwood homestead project here. And be sure to join us on Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram for more homesteading goodies that don’t necessarily make it to the blog. Thanks for reading!