HOWTO: Make a Kegerator
In this generic How-To, you will learn how to convert a full-size top-bottom fridge into a Kegerator. After completing this project you will be able to have anywhere from one 1/2 bbl to a few pony kegs. All of these flowing from the tap of your fridge.
Before getting started, there are a few basic tools you will need.
1. A decent drill 2. Measuring tape 3. A hole saw to make shank hole in refrigerator door. 4. Pencil (do not use permenant marker!) 5. Most importantly: Eye protection
VERY USEFUL- a 1/2 barrel keg or any other keg you plan on keeping. This will allow you to do checks on door clearence.
In addition to this, you will need to probably modify your door in order to get the keg clearence. A Recipricating saw works best, though a jigsaw will do as well.
A circular saw may also be needed if your fridges bottom is brittle. You will be placing an excess of 150lbs on it, so make sure you have properly tested it first before proceeding with this project.
A word on safety: Nothing ruins an enjoyable and exciting project more than an injury. If you are unsure of how to operate a tool or do not understand how to proceed, STOP! and ask somebody.
Be smart and wear eye protection to keep bits of metal from injurying you while drilling or cutting. This project does not involve much of either but you don't want to decorate your kegerator with an eye-patch, eh?
Materials Required: 1. Draft Beer System: a. CO2 Tank- These come in 2.5,5,10 and 20 pound varieties. Unless be serving a lot beer in a short time, a 5 lb. tank will usually suffice for about seven 1/2 Barrel Kegs. In addition, you will want your tank to be out of the way of the kegs so a 20lb will usually have to be set outside the fridge. The 5 lb. tank will run around $40, a 10lb. costing around $90.
b. CO2 Gas- Now that you have somewhere to put the gas, you need to get it. Check your local pages for a welding shop. Almost every single shop will fill C02 Tanks. Do not worry about the gas being bad as welders need pure C02 and cannot do with skunked gas. The price will run around $5-$10 to fill, but be sure to pick up some safety glasses if you are not sure.
c. CO2 regulator- The gas in your C02 tank is now around 750-1000 PSI. In order to make that gas into a useable pressure for beer requires a regulator. Thus, a CO2 regularlator needs to be used to adjust the low pressure into the keg. You will find a few regulators out there that will work. However, I would steer clear of the economy ones and get a dual high-pressure port and dual-low pressure port. This will allow you to have a gas tank gauge to determine when it is running low and a keg-pressure to fine-tune your beer flow. In addition, your dual-port can be expanded at a later date and add more regulators to it.
Another key important feature is the blow-back protection on the regulator. If you connect the regulator to a keg that is of a much high pressure than the regulator is set to, a blow back of pressure will occur, sending gas back into the regulator and possibly destroying the regulator and the tank, as well as causing injury.
Lastly, a cut-off valve is very handy when you need to take a keg out to roll it or to clean the beer lines. They can usually be purchased for very cheap and have a barbed-end attached to it for the out-going gas.
Why not just spilt the pressure line?
Pressure reacts differently to different volumes. In order to get the last of the beer out of a keg, more volume of gas is required, meaning you will need to raise the now-low pressure. If you have any other kegs on the same regulator, they will be pressurized in addition to this. Thus for fine tuning, especially if you plan to force-carbonate, I would strongly recommend two regulators.
d. Gauges for regulator- Most gauges will be inserted with the regulator. However, if not, you will need a High-pressure gauge and a low pressure gauge.
e. Gas Line to the Keg Tap- This is usually any rated PVC-tubing although you may need to check and make sure it is gas-grade.
f. Keg Tap Coupler- Ahhh...this is where the magic and confusion happens. This part is what connects to the keg and allows the CO2 gas to flow in and the to flow out. It is VERY VERY important to note WHAT KEG STYLE you will be having. Most American Breweries have converted to the Sanke D system. This allows you to get just about any keg of domestic brew and use one tap for it. However, if you plan on getting Guiness or other types of beer, check with your distributor to see what taps the kegs will use. Nothing sucks more than getting a barrel of beer and no way to get it out.
g. Beerline- Food-grade rated PVC that carries the beer to the shank and faucet. I recommend no more than 3-4 feet of it to keep it from getting in the way.
h. Shank - this is the bulkhead that you will be putting thru the door. The beer travels thru it and connects to the faucet on the other side.
i. A faucet - Most beer facuets come with a brass handle that starts and stops the beer on the flow out. You can get SS as well for a slight premium. A special wrench is needed tighten the faucet. It is usually shipped with the shank or the faucet. An o-ring should be inserted just inside the twist attachment.
j. A handle - a simple twist-on handle. you can build your own or buy a basic one for $2. I would shy away from the big ones as they will block your freezer door from opening if positioned too high.
Of course, you will need connecting pieces and O-rings for the two lines you have. Depending on the barbed-end of your gas line, a 3/8ths PVC line with a SS clamp will attach it to the regulator and a 3/8 barbed swivel nut.
For the beer line, you need another two bared swivel nuts and circle clamps. I would also get two O-rings for the gas line into the keg and the beer line out.
Buying these parts:
That is a lot of parts that may require a few trips to different places. My advice? Unless you have one or more of these parts already, I suggest buying a ready-to-install kit from various online retailers. It will usually be at what you would pay for everything seperately This will allow you to get everything in one place without worrying. However, I still recommend getting SS circle clamps as they work much better than alligator ones.
The other key part is the refridgerator.
Unless you are flush with cash, you are probably doing this project for as cheap as possible. Therefore you probably cannot afford nor want a new fridge. Start calling local appliance repair shops and ask them what their cheapest full-refridgerator will cost. Often, you can find one that has been refurbished or repaired for a fraction of the cost of a new one. However, you will also encounter a energy-effiency hit so bear that in mind before buying the first one you see.
Things to look for:
(add keg measurements here)
Bring these measurements with you when you find a shop that has refurbished fridges as well as a measuring tape. Look for a fridge that has a nice deep compartment and wide enough. If the shelves are sturdy, you may be able to salvage those for latter. The material of the door shelves needs to be considered as well. Once you have found one that will fit your desires,
inspect it for any obvious problems such as cracks or dents. check with the sales or floor manager that it has been refurbished what warranty, if any, the fridge carries its energy efficiency
Once again, if your prospective fridge passes these, you are ready to buy it.
Since the store has bought and serviced the fridges, they are usually free to deal without MSRP. This means you should be able to haggle and offer a straight cash discount. The store will also offer delivery services for a slight charge or you may be able to get a discount for hauling it yourself. Check and do not be afraid of trying to get a good deal.
Quick run-down of how getting a keg works:
Since this may be your first foray into obtaining and drinking from kegs primarily instead of bottles, you may be confused how to get your favorite beer on tap.
Any major grocery and liquor stores that have a beer permit will usually "rent" you a keg. For your typical domestics such as bud and miller, the store will often have a few kegs on hand. However for most beers, you will need to order it in advance before they receive their beer delivery. At grocery stores, you head to the customer service desk and place your order there.
How do you determine what kegs are available to you?
This varies greatly state-to-state, city-to-city. Stores do receive beer directly from the brewer. They instead get them from a beverage distributor, who, in turn, has a bulk-order beer license. This allows them to almost always and only sell to those who have a beer permit( Exceptions occur with Non-profits and other such things.) In turn, they will order the beer from a regional/national distributor, such as Gambrinus for Shiner Bock and Boston Beer Company for Sam Adams.
The quickest way to find out what beer you can get in Kegs is to call your local distributors and request a beer list from them. Just explain that you are ordering them through a grocery store and want to know what is available. I've often found that that stores do not know what exactly they can obtain.
Converting your fridge-
Clean the fridge any sanitizing spray. This will help remove any odors that are lingering in it. Clean the fan and evaporating coils (the things on the back) Go here for more information: http://consumerist.com/339852/
Remove all shelfs that will interfere with the draft system.
Cut or remove any door shelfs to gain clearance. Be sure to brace plastic shelves being cut, as they will chip and crack if too much movement in the shelf is allowed.
Note if your shelves are sturdy enough, you may wish to keep your gas tank on one to keep it above and easy to reach. However, you probably have to develop a custom solution, such as the velcro straps to the right here.
Note: the CO2 tank must remain upright at all times. Do not allow it to sit sideways.
Be careful not to to thru the sides or especially the back of the refrigerator as it the freon lines lie there and nicking one will render the fridge useless.
Once your fridges interior is sized properly, clean out any plastic shards that may remain. It is time to begin the first step of the conversion.
1. Determine where your faucet will be placed. If you plan on using the freezer, it will need to be placed such that the handle of the faucet is low enough to not interfere with movement. Also, be aware of the interior of the door. You want to have the shank to go thru a flat surface on the interior of possible.
2. Now, measure a mark from the top and side of the door. Determine how far down and to the left (it will be right on the interior door) Mark the spot as that is where the center of your hole saw will travel thru.
3. Repeat the same for the interior. Double check and make your marks are in the location.
4. Attach the hole saw bit to your drill. Brace the back of whatever side you choose to drill thru first. Apply pressure and slowly drill thru the mark you have made. Keep the drill as level as possible. Once thru, you will more than likely go straight thru the thermal insulation in the fridge. Once thru, remove the hole saw and cut thru the other side using the same method.
5. Place your shank thru the hole, making sure it is level. Tighten the nut on the interior until the shank is secure.
6. Attach the faucet, using the faucet wrench. Hold the Faucet in place and then turn the wrench counter clockwise.
7. Place the liquid line over the barbed end of the shank and clamp it into place.
8. Attach the liquid line to the TOP of the Tap. Make sure there is an o-ring present in the swivel nut. Tighten with a wrench.
9. place the gas hose over the barbed end of the regulator and clamp it.
10. attach the gas line to the SIDE of the Tap. Make sure an o-ring is present. No need to use Teflon tape.
Also, attach the regulator to the gas tank. Do not over-tighten the nut to the CO2 tank.
11. Place the the tap into the top of the keg. Align the slots of the keg with the sides of the tape.
12. Swivel the tap around. It should make a slight locking sound.
BEFORE TAPPING, make sure your turn off the regulator shut off valve. Also make sure your faucet is closed (pushed away from you)
13. Grab the handle of the tap and pull it away from the keg. While holding it back, put it down. The handle will lock into the tap.
14. Congratulations. You have tapped your first keg.
15. Turn the gas tank back if off. Keep the shut off valve closed. Adjust the regulator to the pressure recommended for your beer. You will fine tune this PSI soon.
16. Open the shut-off valve. You will hear a hissing that indicates the keg is being pressurized under CO2.
17. Fine tune the regulator if needed.
18. Make sure your equipment is stable and in the fridge. Congratulations. You have just finished your kegerator. Didn't I say it was not that hard.
Now, before you start calling everyone you know to get a draft beer, the keg will need to sit for a while and adjust. Many people recommend anywhere from 1-2 hours to overnight. Just do not get discouraged if the beer is very foamy at first, lower the PSI and pour.
Beer is VERY Foamy!
Did you let it sit for a while? Have you checked and made sure the PSI is right? Did you attach the beer line to the TOP of the tap and the gas line to the diagnol side?
I hear a hissing noise after I turn the gas on! That means there is a leak in your gas system.
Double check the hose is securely fastened with a hose clamp and that an o-ring is placed in side the swivel nut of the other. If it is still present, along with beer leaking while tapped, you may have a bad ball valve. Take the keg back.
A note on sanitation. The beer lines need to be cleaned about every 2 weeks in order to keep taste. You can purchase cleaners designed specifically for beer lines as well as equipment designed to ease the process. The Tap and the faucet need to be washed in addition and scrubbed with a bottle brush.
Enjoy your newfound beer drafting system and I hope you look forward to many kegged homebrews. Nothing could beat it.