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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Electric Brewing > simple control panel
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Old 05-29-2013, 07:31 AM   #1
mendozer
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Default simple control panel

I am thinking of going into electric brewing as it's more cost efficient. I want a simple control panel:

two elements, on/off switches for each, that's it.

Pump is DC so not needed. I have thermometers and eyes so I don't need electronic controls and alarms.


How simple is this to make and has anyone made one (cost?)?

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Old 05-29-2013, 03:57 PM   #2
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First - it is possible to save money by going to electric, but I think the majority of the folks on this board would agree that the initial startup cost will out shine any savings down the line. Time savings, trips to refill propane savings, and cool-factor savings - yes. But financially - probably not that viable. You could build a SUPER simple panel, but even then it may be a while until you see a savings.

Two elements - both in the BK, or one for a HERMS? You say you don't mind the concept of watching a thermometer, but take the time to think about what that really means - your element will either be running 100% or 0%. If you're trying to maintain a mash temperature - you'll be sitting there switching the thing on and off repeatedly, chasing your tail trying to hold a temperature. If you're boiling, and the element is of a higher-power variety, you're going to have a VERY vigorous boil.

For the relatively cheap price of a PID or PWM, why not cut out all of that headache and thermometer watching?

If you're set on going with the cheapest electric option possible and you don't care about watching temperatures and controlling the elemnts yourself, why not just get two elements and plugs, and then plug them in / unplug them repeatedly? You'll save the cost of the switch and the housing for the switch and you'll get the same end result.

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Old 05-29-2013, 04:43 PM   #3
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Mash temp isn't an issue, I use a cooler and it holds for 90 minutes.

One would be for BK one for HLT. I suppose I could add a PWM to the circuit to control the element's output more carefully. Also, I do 5 gallon batches so maybe even a 120 V element would work yes?

I don't currently have a 220 outlet anyways, so I'd have to make one from the breaker box. I have a (15 or 20) amp outlet for 120V. I could throw two elements into each pot to improve heating abilities. In that case I'd want four switches so 2 can bring to boil and one can maintain it.

I suppose a PID is cheap enough, then I don't need therms on my pots.

Also, will it matter that I have a 15 gallon keg? Will that affect my heating abilities for an element. I thought about cutting it down.

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Old 05-29-2013, 04:48 PM   #4
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and since you mentioned cost, how long would it take to offset? I brew every other month usually, unless I'm making some for a big party. The reason I'm considering the switch is cheaper operating cost for one, but simplicity of never needing gas again.

Currently I have one gas burner, 2 pots, cooler.My BK is my large 40 qt pot outside on the burner while I heat sparge water on the stove in a smaller 16 qt pot. I want to have everything on a brew cart in my garage. So technically it's not too late to go with gas. But with no gas line in my garage, it's going to be via propane tanks.

It would be cheaper to get another burner for sure right now, but how much cheaper?

one good burner (maybe two b/c my burner sucks)
vs
elements and control panel for either low wattage 220V or high wattage 120V.

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Old 05-29-2013, 04:52 PM   #5
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What batch size?
What power source?

Many people are using a single 120v element for 2-3 gallon batches and 2x 120v elements for 5+ gallon batches. This requires 2x 120v @20amps GFCI circuits.

Adding the 220v @30amps power source could be a significant additional cost depending on where you want to brew. If you want to brew in the garage next to the main panel you could get a $50 spa panel w/ GFCI, add a breaker in the main panel, and the wiring. If you end up using a single 4-5kWatt element @ 220v you will need some way to control power to the element during the boil. Full power will be a raging boil.

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Old 05-29-2013, 05:08 PM   #6
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I use two 120v elements in a 12.25g BK and do 9.25g batches. Been doing this for a year now. I have ZERO control panels, just a duplex outlet box with two switched outlets (20A) and each goes to a dedicated 20A breaker in my house's panel box.

Elements are less than $20 shipped each. The locknut and o-ring are cheap from bargainfittings. If you can operate a drill, you can install them. Extension cordage, some PVC couplers, pipe, and end-caps, done. Easily under $100 for two elements installed.

What expensive startup costs?

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Old 05-29-2013, 05:14 PM   #7
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is there a PWM on those BK elements? or you just turn one off once you're boiling.

What kind of wiring does that entail? My dad knows his electricicty well so I guess I'd have to wait until he comes up to do this.

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Old 05-29-2013, 05:23 PM   #8
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Electricity here is dirt dirt dirt cheap. We used electric heaters to supplement our fuel oil heat this past winter.. cut our fuel oil costs in half and barely bumped the electric bill.

Brewing with propane, I could get maybe 3 5-gallon batches per tank.. $25 a pop to refill (plus the initial expenditure of the first full tank). Add to that the cost of the burners and the fact that I have to brew outside or in the garage.

Electricity... Not electrically inclined? Get a ready-made CP. Plug and play. There are several vendors in the forum. Got a buddy who's an electrician? Does he like beer? There's your sub-panel and wiring job.

The cost per batch for me will be negligible. I probably won't spend $25 in electricity all year, brewing a couple times a month. Okay, so the initial outlay for the CP (and/or components) is tough, but I've been slowly amassing the things I need over the past year.. that's eased that pain a little.

And there is the fact that I'll be able to brew year-round in a climate-controlled area... no more freezing my nards off or getting rained on.


Electricity is certainly a very viable option to go if you choose to.

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Old 05-29-2013, 05:31 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mendozer View Post
is there a PWM on those BK elements? or you just turn one off once you're boiling.

What kind of wiring does that entail? My dad knows his electricicty well so I guess I'd have to wait until he comes up to do this.
no PWM. The boil is perfect, even in my tight headspace. I'm using 3150 watts between the two elements.

You want to make sure you have dedicated circuits in the house, that nothing else is using while you brew. I have one that was for an old water softener that's no longer in use, the other is for the washing machine, which I unplug while brewing. I essentially have two long heavy-duty extension cords going to these two outlets, and that feeds my two switched outlets. Ideally I'd just extend the wiring and have fixed outlets "hard wired" to the panel. Your dad sounds like he can help there. If you have room, just make two new breakers and dedicate them to your elements.

If you're going to use a traditional mash tun, ie. cooler or insulated vessel of some sort and not recirculate, you don't need any controls other than on/off for the elements. I look at it as just another method of heating, as opposed to a stove or a propane burner.

Wiring the elements is easy. Two wires and a ground (ground it to the kettle).
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Old 05-29-2013, 05:32 PM   #10
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Say your startup cost is $100, just for a round number. There was a SERIOUS discussion on cost for propane vs. cost for Electric HERE that is a good read, but bottom line was that people got a range of values, and the best value I took from the whole thing was that, per 5gal batch, you could save $2.10 going electric, so let's round to $2 for easy math.

$2 in savings per batch, with $100 startup cost (ignoring the time / effort to build) means you'd break even at 50 batches. Given that you brew every other month, that's 100 months, or just over 8 years to recoup the cost of building your system.

Thus I maintain, if cost savings is your only motivating factor for getting into electric brewing, then it's not really worth it.

Not trying to turn you off from the idea - I love my electric setup. Just being straight forward with the given criteria / design intent you stated at the beginning.

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2014:
5gal Scottish Wee Heavy
5gal Saison
15gal American Pale Ale
20gal Belgian Wit
10gal Oktoberfest
10gal Southern Pecan Ale
5gal Winter Spice Ale

Keg 1: Apfelwein
Keg 2: Oktoberfest
Keg 3: Southern Pecan
Keg 4: Winter Spice Ale
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