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HOWTO: Make a Kegerator

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Revision as of 15:33, 15 January 2008 by ClutchDude (Talk | contribs)
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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, a great resource to read would be http://waylandworks.com/draftbeer.htm to understand how the system works.

Contents

Before Starting

Tools Needed:

* A Drill
* Measuring tape
* A hole saw
* Pencil 
**Do not use permanent marker
* 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 these the following would be useful

  • you will need to probably modify your door in order to get the keg clearance. A Reciprocating saw works best, though a jigsaw will do as well.
  • A platform built to size for your refrigerators floor. 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 injuring 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

Draft Beer System

A Draft System
  1. 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 a few 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.
  2. CO2 Gas
    • Now that you have somewhere to put the gas, you need to get it. Check your local pages for a welding supply shop.
    • 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
  3. CO2 regulator
    • The gas in your C02 tank is now around 750-1000 PSI. In order to make that gas into a usable pressure for beer requires a regulator.
    • CO2 regulators needs to be used to adjust the low pressure into the keg. You will find a few regulators out there that will work.
    • Steer clear of the economy ones and get a dual high-pressure port and dual-low pressure port.
      • This will allow having 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Keg Tap Coupler
    • This part is what connects to the keg and allows the CO2 gas to flow in and the beer to flow out.
    • It is VERY VERY important to note WHAT KEG STYLE you will be having.
      • Most American Breweries have converted to the Sankey D system. This allows you to get just about any keg of domestic brew and use one tap for it.
      • If you plan on getting Guinness 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. Also, read the section on beer gas and special faucets
  7. Beerline
    • Food-grade rated PVC that carries the beer to the shank and faucet. Get no more than 4-5 feet of it to keep it from getting in the way.
  8. 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.
  9. Faucet
    • Most beer faucets 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.
  10. A handle
    • A simple twist-on handle. you can build your own or buy a basic one for $2.
    • 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 3/8" hose 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 barbed swivel nuts and circle clamps. I would also get two 3/8" Outer Diameter 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 separately 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.

A refrigerator to convert with internal shelves already removed.

Refrigerator

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, such as Maytag or Sears, and ask them what their cheapest full-refrigerator will cost. Often, you can find one that has been refurbished or repaired for a fraction of the cost of a new one. However, older models are not as energy-efficient so bear in mind the wattage cost before buying.

Things to look for

A half barrel keg is 23.3 inches and has a diameter of keg 16.0–17.0 <ref>http://waylandworks.com/draftbeer.htm,2005</ref> Pony Kegs will be the same height but have a diameter of 5.5" while half kegs will be shorter but the same diameter.

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 for the type of keg(s) you are getting. If the shelves are sturdy, you may be able to salvage those for later. 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
  • price

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 not typically 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 a keg 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

After obtaining all of the above materials, you will first need to prepare the fridge for placing the draft system in.

Preparation:

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/

Removing shelves to make room for the keg

Remove all shelves that will interfere with the draft system.

Cut or remove any door shelves to gain clearance for the keg placement. Be sure to brace plastic shelves being cut, as they will chip and crack cut too harshly.

Shelves Removed

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.

If your gas tank will not fit with the keg(s) in the refrigerator, you will need to run a gas line(s) into the keg. Be careful when drilling sides or especially the back of the refrigerator as it the freon lines lie there and nicking one will render the fridge useless. Afterwards, seal the hole(s) with insulation material. I strongly recommend keeping it in the fridge though, as it keeps the tank safe and helps keep the appearance cleaner.

Once your fridges interior is sized properly, clean out any plastic or metal shards that may remain. Failing to do so may puncture the gas line. It is time to begin the first step of the conversion.

Converting the Refrigerator

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.
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.
Repeat the same for the interior. Double check and make your marks are in the location.
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.
Use pressure to hold the drill against the refrigerator door
Place your shank thru the hole, making sure it is level. Tighten the nut on the interior until the shank is secure.
Attach the faucet, using the faucet wrench. Hold the Faucet in place and then turn the wrench counter clockwise.
Place the liquid line over the barbed end of the shank and clamp it into place.
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.
Place the gas hose over the barbed end of the regulator and clamp it.
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.
Place the the tap into the top of the keg. Align the slots of the keg with the sides of the tape.
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)
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.
Congratulations. You have tapped your first keg.
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.
Open the shut-off valve. You will hear a hissing that indicates the keg is being pressurized under CO2.
Fine tune the regulator to the desired PSI if needed.
Make sure your equipment is stable and in the fridge. Congratulations. You have just finished your kegerator. Didn't I say it was easy?

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. The beer and the gas need to cool and the proper temperature of at least 42F degrees reached.

Sanitation

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.

Beer must also be maintained at 36-42F degrees. At least at that temperature, depending widely on the type of beer and pasteurization, the keg may last anywhere between 30 days to 90 days.

Safety

As with anything under pressure, a draft system is no exception to safety rules. Almost all Keg taps and CO2 Regulators carry a safety blowout device to keep the pressure from rupturing a keg at 60PSI. If your tap or regulator does not carry a safety blowout, it is HIGHLY suggested you discard it or obtain one that does.

Your keg tap will have a relief valve on it that will allow you to remove any excess CO2 in it. This will allow you to de-pressurize a keg before removing it or cleaning without having beer spray out. Keep in mind that the tap will need to be cleaned.

Always remember to de-pressurize a keg before opening it.

Troubleshooting

  • 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.
  • My beer is not getting cold!
    • Make sure you have set the temperature properly
    • Check and make sure your fridge is not "froze over". This means that the air vent are covered in ice. Let the fridge defrost and then plug it back in. Afterwards, make sure your fridge is sealed properly.
    • Fill in any vent or holes with thermal covering, especially if you cut anything up.

References

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