At long last, I finally decided on a water filter. I decided on the Aquacera Countertop SS because of its sleek, aesthetically pleasing, space-saving design; its fluoride-filtering capabilities; and its price.
Here are the key points that went into my decision.
To Filter, or Not To Filter?
New Yorkers are proud of their water. Phrases like “the champagne of drinking water” and “an engineering marvel” have made it into The New York Times.
In The Hidden Messages of Water, Masaru Emoto argued that, unlike most modern water, New York's formed beautiful crystals. These crystals, he wrote, “may be the result of efforts to protect water, such as the use of cedar tanks in Manhattan.”
But New York also adds fluoride to its water. My view of the science is likely biased by the fact that fluoride supplementation ruined my teeth in elementary school, but I don't consider fluoride a nutrient, it certainly competes with iodine metabolism, it probably hurts mental function, and it's arguably a toxin. Given my own history of fluoride overexposure, I have always wanted to err on the side of preventing further exposure.
And no matter how good the city's water is before it makes its way to my apartment, I'm not sure how good it is once it comes out of my tap. There's a lot of plumbing in between.
Indecision and Wasting Money on Spring Water
When I first moved here, I started buying spring water just to hold me over while I decided on a water filter. But that decision took forever.
To be more precise, it took two years.
A gallon of Poland Spring costs $1.69 at the C Town on my corner, $0.99 at Fairway, and $2.19 at Whole Foods. At first I was mostly buying it at C Town. When I started using Instacart for productivity, I started having it delivered either from Fairway or from Whole Foods. Usually the other things I'd have delivered were from Whole Foods, so usually I was paying the higher price. That meant paying 50 cents more per gallon than if I were to interrupt my work by going to C Town, and the productivity benefit was worth it.
But it was still a grotesque waste of money. Tap water is free, and home-filtered water costs far less per gallon. And however clean the spring water is, it's stored in plastic, which has its own set of health concerns. Finally, it may not have fluoride added to it, but I would expect the fluoride level to at least be inconsistent.
My Goals: Fluoride Filtration, Cost, Space
These were my top three considerations:
I wanted a good general filter, but my key metric of quality was fluoride filtration, because that's harder to find.
I wanted something that would radically lower the price I was paying for water.
I live in a small Brooklyn apartment that is less than 400 square feet (including closet space), so I wanted something that would take up as little space as possible.
Looking at Pitcher Models
My counter space is more precious to me than my refrigerator space because the inside of my refrigerator usually has room and it's out of sight, so a pitcher filter would work well.
The top fluoride-filtering pitcher models I looked at were ZeroWater and Clearly Filtered. Reading the Amazon reviews was frustrating. They both have a lot of negative reviews, some overwhelmingly rated as “helpful.” One of these argues that Zerowater starts spitting contaminants back into the water once the filter's capacity maxes out, and that this can happen in as short a time as three weeks. Meanwhile, another review levies the exact same accusation at Clearly filtered and goes so far as to say that running tap water through ZeroWater will clean it, but taking the clean water and then running it through Clearly Filtered will re-dirty it.
All of these DIY home experiments were done with ZeroWater's total dissolved solids (TDS) meter. Clearly Filtered argued that the TDS is irrelevant to water quality. But the negative reviews I linked to above contain discussions of the Clearly Filtered response, and to be honest, I don't know enough to make heads or tails out of the arguments.
Considering the Berkey
I spent a long time considering the Berkey. People who use Berkey rave about it. When I asked about water filters in general, it was the Berkey fans who sent me pictures and videos on Snapchat of the Berkey systems they were so proud of at home.
According to Berkey, when used without the addition of fluoride filters, the Big Berkey costs 1.8 cents a gallon. There's no time limit to them, so even someone with a low water usage (like myself) should be able to get the price down that far.
The Berkey fluoride filter lasts 1000 gallons or one year. At $54, it adds 5.4 cents per gallon if you use it to full capacity, bringing the price of Berkey water to 7.2 cents per gallon. I live by myself and am unlikely to use more than 300 gallons of water per year. At that rate, fluoride filtration becomes 18 cents per gallon and the total cost of the water becomes just under 20 cents per gallon.
That's still a great price.
But the problem with Berkey for me is that all of their models are just so damn big. Even the “Travel Berkey” (who travels with something that sits on a counter?!) is 18″ tall, which is the exact distance between the counters and cabinets in my kitchen. With the little knob at the top, there's no way it would fit. I'd have to waste tons of counter space by keeping it at the front of my counter instead of the back.
Outside of New York, I get it. But for a Brooklyn apartment? No.
Finally Deciding on the Aquacera SS
As you can see in the picture below, the Aquacera SS has a sleek, aesthetically pleasing design that takes up very little space.
I ordered this with the CeraMetix filter (it comes with the unit if you order it here), which filters fluoride. The filter life (see the CeraMetix column here) is 1000 gallons or six months. A replacement filter costs $60. If you use it at max capacity, it's six cents per gallon. I doubt I will use more than 150 gallons every six months, however, so for me the price would rise to 40 cents per gallon.
This is not the least expensive way to get top-notch general filtration with good fluoride filtration. At the maximum usage rate, it's slightly less expensive than the Berkey, but at my usage rate, it's twice as expensive. However questionable the pitcher models are, they can compete for price: for example, Clearly Filtered is 27 cents per gallon.
But the Aquacera had several things going for it that outweighed these other considerations for me:
The space-saving design is incomparable, and I love how the steel blends in with my sink.
The actual unit is likely to be far more durable than a pitcher. In a few years time, for all I know, I could have a family and be using the same unit at the maximum rate, bringing the price down to six cents per gallon. Something similar could happen if I had a Berkey, but that could never happen with a pitcher.
If I move into a bigger apartment, I'll probably still love the space-saving design and I won't have to move a Berkey! This thing seems way more packable.
There's one final point that deserves it's own discussion: trust.
I bought the unit through Radiant Life. Over a decade ago I became friends with Christopher Cogswell, who started the company. He's no longer running it, but I trust their authenticity and integrity.
David Getoff, the Vice President of the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, independently analyzed the fluoride filtration results and said they were the best he'd ever seen. I don't know David well, but I trust his authenticity and integrity.
Katherine Morrison, executive director of the Ancestral Health Society and Atlanta-based lactation consultant, helped me think through this in a discussion within the Perfect Health Diet Facebook group (you'd have to join the group to see the discussion). I count Katherine as a friend and supremely trust her authenticity and integrity. She uses a different version of the Aquacera filter and had a friend from the EPA test her water. It showed good results all around and no detectable fluoride.
At the end of the day, it was important to follow through on a decision, and having some people I trusted supporting the Aquacera product gave me a good gut feeling that I couldn't get about any of the fluoride-filtering pitchers.
Between the Berkey and the Aquacera, the size was the deciding factor.
But there's one last difference that's worth noting. As you can see in the video below that I had posted on Instagram, the flow rate of the filter, while good, is slower than the sink, slower than the Berkey, and slower than a pitcher.
A video posted by Chris Masterjohn (@chrismasterjohn) on Aug 7, 2016 at 9:47am PDT
(The video replays, so just click it to turn it off if you're done watching.)
This then becomes the question: would you prefer to fill your glass 20-30% slower than you usually do each time, or would you prefer to fill up the Berkey or to fill up a pitcher each time it empties and wait for a full Berkey's worth or pitcher's worth of water to filter before using it again?
Notably, you can always fill up your own pitcher of water to save for later from the unit I bought, but you can never get water immediately when your Berkey or your pitcher run empty.
It's a minor lifestyle consideration about how you want to distribute your patience, but it's worth thinking about before you make your decision.
I should note also that you can't use the unit I bought with a sink that has a pullout sprayer. I don't have one, so that wasn't an issue for me.
If you do decide to purchase the Aquacera SS, I have one last little tip. When you check out, you get prompted to read the shipping policy. But if you actually do that, the system thinks you are hesitating and gives you a coupon code. Mine was SAVE10, and it saved me $10. I'd recommend entering that to see if it works. If not, stop mid-checkout and do something else for a minute and see if they give you a new code.
Question For You
Do you have a water filter? If so, what do you use? Are you trying to decide on one? If so, does this post affect your decision?