Category Archives: Fermentation Chamber

Compact Fermentation Chamber Heater

We all know the importance of temperature on fermentation.  However, often when we put temperature controllers on our fermentation chambers, we only need to worry about cooling.   In this post I’m going to show you how to make a simple compact heater for your fermentation chamber.

Difficulty: level_2

This is a fairly easy project.  It just requires some empty food cans, a small light socket and some lamp cord.  It should also not take any longer than 30 minutes once you have collected all of the parts.  The main cost for this project was the light bulb base, which was only about $5 and whatever you need to spend on bulbs.  The remainder are tools and components you can source from around your home.

Background:

Up until now, I’ve only used my fermentation chambers for lagers and since everything inside my house, I’ve only needed to cool.  Well this WAS ok until I needed to do an ale and my fermentation area in the basement only peaks at a cool 60 degF.

I also use converted dorm fridges and didn’t have space for a full size light bulb fixture and didn’t want to bother with the heating pad type heaters.

Necessity is the mother of invention…

Materials / Parts Needed:

  • Standard size container from canned vegetables
  • Tomato paste can
  • Spare lamp cord
  • Candelabra socket
  • Candelabra bulb
  • Electrical connectors and covering of your choice
    • Wire nuts
    • Butt splices
    • Electrical tape
  • Drill
  • Tin snips
  • Deburring tool
  • Stepper bit (helpful)

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - bulb heater parts needed

Obligatory Disclaimer:

If you are not comfortable working with wiring or electricity, please hire or find someone who is competent.  Also, be sure to place the finished heater in a location that will not get wet.

How to make:

Collect the cans and clean them

I used a can from some green beans and a tomato paste can.  Make sure they are all metal and not plastic lined.  Since you are homebrewers and obviously know how to clean and de-label containers, I won’t go into that.  I will however say that you want to try and get rid of as much of the smell from the original contents as possible.  The first use made my fermentation chamber smell like spaghetti sauce.

Cut the cans

Base / Tomato Paste Can

Drill a hole in the bottom of the tomato paste can as a pass through for the candelabra base.  I pre-drilled with a standard drill bit and then cleaned it up with a step bit.  I also used a deburring tool to clean up the edges.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - hole in bottom of tomato paste can

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - stepper bit drilling in tomato paste can

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - rough hole in bottom of tomato paste can

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - looking into the bottom of tomato paste can rough hole

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - deburring tool

Then to cut it to length, it is easier if you pre-drill a hole to start your cut with the tin snips.  Also, you may need to make another cut up the side to allow you to pull the metal aside as you cut around the can.  BE CAREFUL, THE METAL IS THIN AND SHARP.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - determine height of base

Since the cans are smooth and curved, it was helpful to center punch your hole location to give your drill bit a good place to start.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - center punch

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - housing center punched for drilling

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - housing pre-drilled for cutting

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - vertical cut on can

I also cut a simple pass through for the cord and you’ll want to cover the edges with some electrical tape so you don’t accidentally cut the cord.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - clearance cut on base

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - protective tape on base

Housing / Standard Can

All you need to modify on the housing is to drill a hole for the wire to pass through.  I actually just cut a 1/2″ diameter hole and then used a spare grommet from one of my fermenter lids to protect the cord.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - housing with grommet

Attach the candelabra socket to the base

This is pretty straightforward.  Just take the collar off of the socket, feed the socket through your hole and tighten the collar.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - candelabra base assembly

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - candelabra socket installed in base

Feed the wire through the hole in the housing

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - base installed in housing

Connect your power cord to the light socket

For this, I’m going to direct you to the interwebs to figure out which wire goes where:

Lamp cord polarity

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - crimped butt connectors

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - electrical tape on butt connectors

Install the bulb

I started with a 25W candelabra bulb that we had on hand for our sconces in the basement.  It heated my converted dorm fridge from 55 to 65 in about an hour with nothing in it.  I would suggest trying different wattages until you find something you are comfortable with.

Remember, just like electric heating elements in kettles, the concept of wattage density could matter.  If you go too high on the wattage, you might risk melting some plastic inside your chamber, the bucket or create a focused hot spot in your fermentation vessel.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - finished compact bulb heater

Plug into the heater side of your temperature controller.

020-Fermentation Chamber Heater - testing compact bulb heater

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Fermware DIY’s featured in Zymurgy’s 9th Annual Homebrew Gadgets Issue

I’m honored to have two of my DIY’s featured in Zymurgy’s 9th Annual Homebrew Gadgets Issue!
My two posts featured were:
The very popular Homer Hopper build complete with CAD templates.

Difficulty: level_3

Zymurgy has been kind enough to allow me to post the article on my website, so just read the article and support the AHA!

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Refrigerator Conversion Part 6 – Finishing up and other observations

Here are some final thoughts on my refrigerator conversion and other related observations.
If you missed the first post, start here: Part 1: Introduction
That post has a run down of most of the materials, tools and supplies needed for this project.

Difficulty: level_4

This project requires a few inexpensive special tools, but will most likely take an entire weekend, lots of improvisation, some thorough cleaning and the cost of the fridge takes it to level 4.

Posts for this Project:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Clean up
Part 3: Disassembly
Part 4: Door modification
Part 5: Shelf building
Part 6: Finishing up and other observations (this post)

Pros and Cons of other setups I’ve seen:

A/C units to cool down a fermentation chamber

I had serious reservations about the ability of a window air conditioner to maintain 34 degF in a cabinet of sufficient size in the middle of summer, let alone have enough capacity to lower the temperature of your fermenting beer at any reasonable speed

Dorm fridge powered fermentation chamber

I know this seems to be all the rage with fermentation chambers, but again, I didn’t see how it would be able to handle the cooling needs of a chamber of the size that I needed.

Gutting a full size fridge and re-installing those components in a customer insulated chamber

This was my “ultimate” plan from the beginning, but when I planned out the costs of the wood, the insulation and the FRP panels to line the inside, I was close to double or tripel (see what I did there) the cost of the fridge itself.  I then had the realization that if I found a fridge large enough, the capacity of the freezer alone would be enough to serve my needs.

Temperature Controller:

A temperature controller is a MUST for any fermentation cabinet.  My first controller for my keezer was the Ranco ETC-111000 single stage temperature controller.  I’ll have a post about my wiring at some point.

There are plenty of options out there.  For this lagering fridge as well as my other two converted dorm fridges, I actually made a simple Arduino based temperature controller.  There isn’t really anything novel about them, except that I wanted the challenge of designing my own system.  Below is a picture of the controller setup I’ve got on this lagering cabinet that I just built.  Basically the Arduino controller has a temperature probe inside the fridge to detect temperature and it cycles the fridge on and off through a relay box to maintain temperature.  The display on the box shows 3434.  It’s my simplified way of showing a setpoint of 34 degF and a cabinet temperature of 34 degF.

012 - Temperature Controller

Google search for Arduino Temperature Controller

 

I do however have a Raspberry Pi and am looking at going to the BrewPi setup or some derivative.  I really geek out on that stuff and it gets me really excited when I think about that possibility.  Here are some good links:

Official BrewPi

Home Brew Talk thread on using all the BrewPi code, but a standard Arduino

Small Tip for the Newbie

If you are new to temperature control, note that for best results, you need to set your fridge or freezer to maximum cold and let the temperature controller do the rest.  All of these temperature controllers basically power cycle the fridge/freezer on or off to control the temperature.

How to move a fridge from point A to point B:

You’ll hear many times that you can’t lay a fridge on it’s back or it will ruin the compressor.  This is half-true.  You can lay a fridge on it’s back to transport it, BUT when you get it to your house, you just need to get it upright so that the compressor fluid drains back into the compressor before it is powered on again.  I generally just get it to my garage, get it upright again and let it sit overnight.  I’ve done this 4 times with no dead fridges.

As an FYI, we’ve got a 2005 Honda Odyssey and with the middle seats taken out and the back seats folded into the floor, it has fit all 4 of those fridges inside with the tailgate all the way closed.  If you have a trailer, more power to you.

Oh, another important tip.  Remove all of the shelves from the fridge before laying it on it’s side.  All of those things are meant for gravity to hold them in place and when you put the fridge on it’s back, they all usually fall out of their slots.

What I tried to do with another fridge (drilling FAIL):

I was always under the impression that every important mechanical component was either at the back or underneath.  I was proven wrong one time when attempting to install a draw catch latch to a fridge.  I started drilling the pilot hole in the side of the fridge for the screws and the psssssssshhhhhh of the magic refrigerant come blowing out.  RIP fridge.

Simplified explanation of how a refrigerator works:

A refrigerator is simply a mechanical system that removes heat from an insulated cabinet.  That’s as far as I’m going with that.

You may also hear someone tell you that a refrigerator won’t work in a garage.  The reason behind this is that when the ambient temperature gets below the internal temperature of the freezer or close to it, the temperature difference gets closer to zero (T_ambient – T_freezer).  An A/C compressor or refrigerator compressor system relies on a temperature difference to function, so if you take away this difference, it won’t function properly.

Having said that, we live in central Indiana and have 3 refrigerators and one deep freezer in our garage.  We only have a problem with our primary overflow fridge with the ice maker in deep winter, where it doesn’t produce enough ice.  Except during long cold spells (where it can get close to freezing), our garage is usually about 55 degrees in the areas directly adjacent to a living space and in our bump out (furthest away) it is maybe low 40’s.

The more unknown part is that almost all top and bottom refrigerators are essentially a freezer on top that does all the work and bleeds cold air to the refrigerator compartment.  If you get to tearing one apart, you’ll see this.  Also if you’ve ever had a fridge with weak magnetic seals, you may notice that when you slam one of the doors, the other one pops open.  That’s because they are linked.

That’s all folks…Thanks for reading!

 

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