I just wanted to let everyone know that might read this thread that I have drastically improved my effeciency over the past two batches. I started with effeciencies of 50.5% then 45.1% then 71.1% and my last batch at 90.9%. All of these are brewhouse effeciences. I included/changed multiple things to get the increase in effiency starting after my second batch and therefore I can't pinpoint 1 item but I believe the two biggest factors were using hotter sparge water and crushing the grain much finer. Listed below are the modifications I made.
1. I obtained a much finer crush by adjusting the LHBS mill to the point were I would describe it as looking like raw grits with intact husks and a good deal of powder. (I made sure to reset the mill back to what it was) Prior to this all of my batches were with grain that was barely cracked open and on gross inspection didn't look much different than uncrushed grain. When I would go to mash it alot of the grain would fall out of the husk but I feel grinding it finer provides more surface area for the mash to allow the enzymes to release the sugar from the endosperm.
2. I checked for dough balls after combining the grain and water and found none. I have tried both adding water to the grain and adding grain to the water and I find it much easier to add the water to the grain. Doing it this way has allowed me to hit my mash target temperature much easier and seems less cumbersome. I know some people debate which is the right way to do it.
3. I mashed longer increasing from 60 to 90 minutes. I also allowed the sparge water to sit for 10-15 minutes each time doing a 2 part batch sparge. In addition the sparge water was aimed at hitting a temp of 168F when added to the grist while before I was simply adding sparge water at 168F. Throughout the process I was performing an iodine test which showed to me that the 90 minute mash did not seem to help at all and that after about 40 minutes no detectable starch was present. Therefore, I would assume the 10-15 minutes I allowed the sparge water to sit was also unproductive but I didn't care.
4. I checked the mash pH with litmus strips and found it to be 5.0 at the very start of the mash and I added 1 tablespoon of the product pH 5.2 within the first 5 minutes to bring the pH to 5.2.
5. I checked the Mash tun for cold spots around the periphery of the cooler as I thought this maybe affecting my effeciency and found no relative cold spots.
I included all of these changes into my third AG batch which as you can see increased my effeciency from ~50% to 70%. In my fourth batch I got a great efficiency by including the same points I just discussed but I also crushed the grain slightly finer and I had a smaller grain bill. I realize that by including all of these changes I can't pinpoint what made the difference but I might someday start to exclude some of these changes one by one to try to figure what does make the difference. I do think the finer grain crush, addition of a second batch sparge and increased sparge temperature helped immensly because all of my other changes (pH, increased mash time, increased lauter time, relative cold spots in MLT) did not seem to be far off based on my iodine testing and pH testing.
Unfortunately the bad part about having the increase in efficiency is that I did not believe I was going to get such a change between my second and third batch and so I accounted for it by having a large grain bill which essentially gave me a OG of 1.071. This gravity was too high for the beer I was making and this beer seems to have a hot alcohol taste which is not great. By no means do I think that my next batch is going to have a great efficiency and I may very well hit 50% again but I'll let you guys know what I find. Sorry for my long winded babbling but I find that most of the users that post asking how to increase their efficiency never leave good feedback on what changes they made and if it worked. So if you are struggling with this try these ideas out and let me know how it works for you.