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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Equipment/Sanitation > Poor Man's Fermentation Heater
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Old 01-31-2012, 12:49 AM   #1
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Default Poor Man's Fermentation Heater

Problem: I'm hot natured and I hate having it warm around my house. Even further, I'm a tightwad and got a high speed programmable thermostat that effectively turns the heat off at night, knocking that house down to the upper 50's while I sleep. Cold is not good for fermenting beer.

I'm new to brewing, so I didn't want to make a big investment in a heating system. Plus, I'm enjoying brewing, and want to have multiple batches fermenting at any time. I've recently expanded to allow for three consecutive batches. Three fermentation heaters with temperature controllers would be too expensive.

Solution: My platoon had a snake named Osama that we found in our office one day. He was recently decapitated by a rogue mouse, prompting the dismantling of his aquarium. The concept of reptile heating made sense, and it is cheap. So off to Petsmart I went.

My problem is temperature at specific times. I'm not looking for exact science here, so I just need to keep it in the zone.

First, I picked up a stick on thermometer for $2. Granted it only shows down to 64 degrees, it is already telling me that when my house is 67, my beer is below 64. This is a no-go.



Now I found this on sale for $12. It's a 23ft heat wrap. The cable is round, so it is not ideal, but as long as I keep it in contact with the fermenting bucket I should be good.



I made a few laps around the bucket and secured it with a little electrical tape.


Now, since my temperature problems occur directly opposite of my thermostat settings, I needed a timer to offset it. A quick trip to Home Depot netted me this timer for $9.



As seen, I was testing the programming with a light. I plugged the heater directly into the wall and it elevated my fermenting ale about 5 degrees in an hour. So what I'll do is run it in a couple two hour bursts throughout the night to start things off. I'm a light sleeper, so I'll keep an eye on it the first few nights and see how it works.

Total investment: $21.

Progress report to follow.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:00 AM   #2
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I like it, those reptile lamps that don't give off more than a glow aren't too bad if you have a box to hold it all in as well.

My only concern is the beer climbing 10* on these cycles. Did you happen to check if it dropped back to ambient temps in the downtime? If not then you would just be steadily raising in temp.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:03 AM   #3
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Cool idea. I have a feeling you might have too many temperature fluctuations with this set up. When the beer first starts to ferment and the heater kicks on and heats it, then turns off and the beer drops a few degrees this will cause your yeast to flocculate and could lead to under attenuated beer. This would work better if you put your fermenter in a large tote filled with water and controlled the water. The increased mass of the large amount of water would hold temperature more evenly.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:06 AM   #4
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Have you thought about an aquarium style ferm chamber. With the digital controller, I spent roughly 100 bucks....but thats 66 deg ferm temps 100% of the time...no fluctuating. It'd a better way to go. Spend the extra money and make those yeast happy.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:18 AM   #5
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Temperature fluctuations, this was something I was concerned with. My goal is to dial the timer in so that it doesn't fluctuate much. Perhaps two hours is a bit too much run time. I just finished a two hour run and took temp readings with an infrared thermometer at various points on the bucket. Since plastic doesn't conduct well, I'm going to assume that temperatures taken far away from the coils are fairly accurate readings of the fluid inside. This shows a solid 74 degrees. The coils themselves show about 85 degrees on the surface.

The beauty of the simple timer is that I can make every peg an on or off, so I can have multiple on off times in a 24 hour period. So I think I need to have shorter runs. I'm thinking 1 hour on to 1.5-2 hours off might be more appropriate.

Water tub might be the ticket, but that creates even more clutter for SWMBO to complain about. While she loves beer, she hates clutter.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:34 AM   #6
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I used to put my fermenter over the AC duct in the summer. The temperature would go up and down three or four degrees when the AC ran. It took me about 20 gallons of bad beer to figure out this was a bad idea. All of the beer I fermented this way only got down to 1.022 - 1.020. BTW lower 60's is not a bad place to start ales. When it starts to ferment it will create is own heat for a day or two. Then it is important to not let it go down in temperature. At this point I will heat it up to around 72 to help the yeast finish up.

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Old 01-31-2012, 01:40 AM   #7
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its not clutter...just get a rubbermaid container that will fit your corboy.....it wont take up any more space than the carboy itself....then you can store your "clutter" inside of it when your not fermenting....double win.

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Old 02-02-2012, 11:55 AM   #8
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The heater is working well. My initial time settings were too robust. It turns out that I only need four 30 minutes runs spaced 2.5 hours apart during the hours of darkness. This keeps my beer at a rock solid 68 degrees farenheit.

In hindsight, the adjustment phase could screw up a beer with fluctuating temperatures. Thus, I should have dialed it in using just a bucket of water. I never got my beer over 72 though, so this batch should be good. I'm bottling it tomorrow, so I'll let everyone know in a few weeks.

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