Closet Water Chiller

Although I love brewing, I know that it is not the most environmentally-friendly hobby in the world. One of the most obvious of these offenders is the water we waste chilling our boiling wort to pitchable temperatures at the end of a brewday. When I started brewing five gallon batches four-plus years ago, I would try to run the water out of my immersion chiller into 5-gallon buckets to use to clean my gear after the wort was in the fermentor. As I stepped up to ten and then fifteen gallon batches, a new set of issues arose. First, I simply didn’t have enough buckets to capture the quantity of water from my (now) plate chiller. Second, I have a shallow well pump on my property. As a result, I would often run out of water of the way through my chill. Not only did this mean I had 100-degree wort in the fermentor but, more importantly, my family would be without water for the next hour or so. As a result, my father-in-law (Len) and I designed my (semi) eco-friendly wort cooling system.

In addition to (or as a result of) my shallow well pump, our water is fairly hard and sediment-rich. As a result, we have a water softener. As many of you know, the water softener in and of itself produces its own share of waste water each week when it recharges and flushes gallons upon gallons of excess brine water into the septic system. It was Len’s idea to somehow harness this brine waste water and use it as our cooling water.

We set six 55-gallon plastic barrels up in two 3-barrel bays. Each three-barrel stack is plumbed together to give us about 150 gallons of brine water on demand at a time. The idea is simple: when the water softener recharges, I can either direct the brine water to my septic or to one of the 150-gallon bays in my cooling system. If the selected bay is full, the brine will overflow into my sump pump. At the same time, the other bay is kept completely empty. When it’s time to chill the wort, the full bay is pumped through the plate chiller and into the empty bay. In the winter, I can easily get 15 gallons of wort down to under 60 degrees using one pass through the system. In the summer, I usually need two passes through the system to get the wort to about 75 degrees. I then let the wort sit for a few hours in the fermentor in my fermentation freezer until it gets to pitching temperature.

Future ideas include a pre-chiller (I actually have an extra 6-pass cold plate…) and/or insulating the bilco doors just above the water closet. This system works extremely well for me, though. Does anyone do anything similar?

13 Responses to “Closet Water Chiller”

  1. DSorenson on

    Brilliant and a fantastic solution to a not-so-obvious problem.
    I also feel bad as I chill my wort and watch all that water feed the lawn. I have been encouraged to come up with something like this! Granted I don’t own the space I live in so I am limited. Cheers!

    You could consider using a small chest freezer, immersion chiller, bucket and water-glycol solution to make a pre-chiller.

    Make an insulated wooden collar for the freezer and drill for in and out hoses. Place the bucket with the glycol solution in the freezer. Place the immersion chiller in the bucket and run the hoses through the collar. That should help you immensely with your chilling rate, and therefore your water consumption from your tanks!

  2. Minbari on

    that is a great idea!

    you wouldnt have to capture the water into the empty barrels though. if you run the barrels in series and only draw water from the bottom barrels and return water to the top barrels (since the hotter water would rise) you could cycle water through the cooling system indefinitely. it would take a while to heat 300 gals of water up very much.

  3. Eugenio on

    Thats fantastic. Once I buy a house I think I will be doing something similar, but somewhat simpler to use in irrigation.

    Great job.

  4. johngaltsmotor on

    My only question would be why only fill one side? If you need to run a second pass you could just run the other already full bank and it would be cooler. Since you say that if the 1 is full then the recharge water gets dumped anyway it seems like you’d be better off always filling both if possible.

  5. Vaureywwc on

    Very cool! I hook my CFC to my garden sprinkler and water my garden. So I wouldn’t say I’m wasting the water. Especially because I usually let it water for 15-30 minutes anyways.

  6. erikrocks on

    @DSorenson That’s a good idea. I already have four chest freezers in the brewery for dispensing, lagering, and fermentation temperature control, but what’s one more?!

    @Minbari and @johngaltsmotor I’m going to try your idea of filling both bays. Going down to the basement right now to open the valve to the empty bay.

    Thanks for the ideas, guys. This is why I love this place!

  7. FiddlersGreen87 on

    Props brother. This is an awesome idea. Growing up on well water I know the issues that can arise especially in times of low rainfall. If I ever scale my brewing to a larger operation I will definitely keep this sort of efficiency trick in mind.

  8. sablesurfer on

    I am assuming that as the water is going through the chiller and coming out, it has to go somewhere. He is trying not to just flush it all down the drain, so he needs half empty system to put it back into.
    However I am liking the other gravity feed idea of just pump it back in the top as it is coming out the bottom.

    Great idea and cool.

  9. mswebb on

    I have a 1000L tank sunk 10 feet under ground. A pressure pump pulls water from the tank and pushes it through my plate chiller. The output from the chiller returns to the tank. Running 135L batches @ 1.5L chill water/L wort, I use a bit more than 20% of the capacity of the chill tank. I typically brew 2 days back to back and have not had an issue with the tank heating to the point at which it would no longer cool my wort to 16C in a single pass. Not an inexpensive system but it significantly reduces my waste water.

  10. Sihorsky on

    I like this design! How much of the efficiency depends on the brine solution. I’m trying to wrap my head around the effect. I know that brine solutions reduce freezing temperatures, but how does it affect the other side of the equation? I’m absolutely content to hear that the system uses more of a mass of consistently chilled water to cool wort, as opposed to the brine being an additive to the effect. I love that it reduces water waste in the system (I’m on a well too.)

  11. MindenMan on

    I have been noticing lately small commercial setups are using the heat pumps/air conditioners more efficiently. At night when the air is cooler and power is less expensive, there are 100 gallon plus tanks, (at night) that are full of ice. When the buildings come on in the morning,the condensers are in gigantic blocks of ice, super cooling the “freon” before it goes back into the evaporator. They generally have enough ice made to get through the day, so the now pool of water becomes ice again.

  12. cernst151 on

    That’s a pretty brilliant setup. I’ve been using my rain barrels. I plug the barrel into the chiller and let the drainage flow out near (not in) my garden. When I’m no longer getting enough chill off the barrel water I plug in my house water which is colder to chill that last bit and direct the outflow from the chiller into the rain barrel to save for watering my garden or chilling my next batch.

  13. humblehops500 on

    Even if you you used a low flow kitchen faucet head of 1.5 GPM to cool a five gallon batch over a half-hour, you would use about 45 gallons of only “cool water” through an immersion or CCF system, less if you pre chilled; lets say 30 gallons. If you ran the wort through a 50-foot copper coil immersed in a container of ice, jockey box style, with the water draining and adding additional ice as it melts, and assuming you used about 50 lbs. of ice total(which I think is more than truly needed), you would only use about 6 gallons total (6 gal x 8.33#/gal=50#). Now THAT is environmentally friendly.


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