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Old 04-15-2010, 06:39 PM   #1
Breuckelen
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Default Small space tempurature control

I live and brew in Brooklyn, NY - it goes without saying space for anything is at a premium in NYC. The only place I can keep my carboys is in my windowless office in the middle of the apartment. The only problem? It's always 80ºF in here regardless of season or the temperature of the other rooms in the house. I needed a solution that: 1 doesn't take up a lot of space; 2 doesn't use a lot of electricity; 3 doesn't cost an arm and a leg; 4 requires very little work to maintain a consistent temperature; 5 lets me easily check the progress of fermentation. This ruled out a modified mini-fridge, a brew box with ice and fans (my last solution, too big), a swamp bucket (my first solution, too much work and it started to smell), a dedicated AC unit in the room, etc. I think I came up with an ideal solution that solves most of my problems. Here's what I did:

I made a circulating cold water carboy wrap out of a copper sheet, some copper coil, a small fountain pump, a small cooler, a couple of freezer gel packs, a Johnson Controls regulator, and a couple of other miscellaneous items. The wrap comes off by loosening three pipe clamps I riveted across the seam of the copper sheet.

(This was my first time soldering anything larger than a breadboard - I know it ain't pretty.)

The small cooler holds the fountain pump, two or more medium frozen gel packs, and about a half gallon of water. I added some alcohol to the water to keep it from getting rancid - vodka smells better than bleach and it does the trick.


The pump is plugged into a Johnson Controls A419, the probe is inserted into a thermowell in the stopper. The controller was by far the most expensive component of the system, but necessary to regulate the temperature. I use a cheap indoor/outdoor thermometer with a wired probe to check the difference between the outside temperature of the carboy vs the inside temp of the probe, as well as check the ambient temperature of the room (81.3ºF in the photo).


For insulation I wrap the whole thing in vinyl cloth (from another project) and two Mexican wool blankets. The pump only runs a few times a day and I change the gel packs once in the morning and once at night. I'm brewing a Belgian Blond right now and holding it at 69ºF but with more gel packs I could get it down another 10 degrees at least. Not exactly lager temps, but that might come in version 2.0.


Here's my parts list:
1 20x40" copper sheet - 20oz ($40)
1 20' 3/8" copper coil ($21)
1 Coleman 9 Qt Excursion cooler ($15)
1 Johnson Controls A419 ($76)
1 Stopper thermowell ($25)
1 pound solid core solder and flux ($18)
4' automotive silicone hose ($10)
6 pipe clamps ($5)
4 gel packs ($8)
66 GPH Mini submersible pump ($10)
Rivets
Wool blankets
Indoor/outdoor thermometer

While I'm pretty happy with the results, I have a few complaints. It's not quite as compact as I had hoped. The wrap can be a little challenging to remove easily. This only works with my Mexican 6 gallon carboy with smooth sides, the Italian carboy I have for secondary has ridges on the outside and won't hold the same temps. This solution was more expensive than buying a used mini-fridge, but I'm hoping I will save the difference in electricity. It's also much quieter than a fridge compressor would be.

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Last edited by Breuckelen; 04-15-2010 at 06:42 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 04-15-2010, 07:03 PM   #2
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very interesting concept

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Old 04-15-2010, 07:11 PM   #3
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Although I admire your ingenuity. That is just freaking awesome. I think a mini fridge which fit a carboy would have been 1-cheaper, 2- just as compact, 3- prettier. But yours works, and you got to use some DIY skills. And its already done. Isn't that all that matters.

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Old 04-15-2010, 07:21 PM   #4
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All true, mosquitocontrol. Although I'm hoping in the long term it'll probably cost the same as a fridge - kilowatt hours aren't cheap here either, and the pump uses very little electricity. As far as saving space, I'll probably mount the cooler onto the wall above the carboy, freeing up about 2 square feet. The looks, well, I hope to get a better looking cover, maybe a carboy parka or get wife to sew something.

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Old 04-15-2010, 07:27 PM   #5
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Sure the pump uses very little power. but are you considering the power your regular freezers needs to refreeze the ice packs constantly?

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Old 04-15-2010, 07:59 PM   #6
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Why not a mini-fridge on that A419? That would save electricity and hold both types of carboys. Neat concept though.

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Old 04-15-2010, 08:09 PM   #7
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If it is already wife-approved as is then I anticipate no problems!

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Old 04-15-2010, 08:19 PM   #8
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Just a couple of suggestions if you are looking for some.

You could cut the lid of the cooler on one side and stack the carboy on top. Then just lift up the small cut section to replace the ice packs, thus reducing the footprint in sqft and mount the controller to the side of the cooler.

Also how about some of those soft gel packs that come in plastic bags - you could put those on the inside of teh copper sheeting like an additional liner. They would hold the cooler temps and conform to the ridges of the other carboy.

Take it or leave, just my initial thoughts on it.

Great job though, I like the ingenuity of the copper sheet to hold the cooling tubes.

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Old 04-15-2010, 09:02 PM   #9
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From one brooklynite to another (and thus from one space challenged brewer to another) I have to say this is awesome. I've been going with the modified cooler/ice bottles method and it's working out fairly well, but I'd really like to be able to just punch in the temperature I want on a controller and walk away.

You've already got me thinking about ways I could adapt the concept to my setup. My initial thought is that I could use my existing cooler with the carboy inside it and just drop my immersion chiller in the water next to the carboy and run glycol through it from a second small cooler with ice to maintain my fermentation temp. The cooler is pretty well insulated and if I start at my target temp it shouldn't take too much juice to maintain temp right?

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Old 04-16-2010, 02:27 PM   #10
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Buff that thing up and call it Steam-punk!

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