DIY Wort Chillers on a Budget

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As every brewer knows, a wort chiller is an essential piece of equipment in your homebrewing inventory. Use of a wort chiller can drastically increase the rate at which you chill and decrease the chance of infection before transferring to your fermenter. It can also create cold break, which will help improve clarity and stability in your homebrew. There are several options when it comes to wort chillers, and all have varying benefits and costs. Through a series of articles we will look at ways to decrease costs by building your own wort chillers. The methods used in these articles are not designed to be the absolute best, but are instead designed to provide you with a highly effective chiller that won't break your wallet.
There are brewers out there that swear by everything Stainless Steel, which is great for ball valves, kettles, etc... but lack effectiveness when it comes to chilling equipment. When it comes to thermal conductivity, Copper will beat out Stainless Steel every time as Copper has a thermal conductivity of 231 and 304 Stainless Steel comes in at 8.09. The other benefit to Copper is cost and availability. Copper can be found at your local big box hardware store for an affordable price, whereas you would normally have to order Stainless Steel. This is why we are going to utilize Copper tubing for the "DIY Wort Chillers on a Budget" series.
We are going to start off by discussing immersion chillers. An immersion chiller is designed to be immersed into your hot wort and it chills by having cool water go through one opening, travel through the coil while absorbing heat from the wort, and exit through the other opening. Immersion chillers have the benefit of not having to be sanitized before use as you can put them in the boil for the last 15 minutes and it will kill any bacteria that may be residing on it. The only downside to an immersion chiller is chilling time. Chilling time is significantly less than other designs as it is attempting to cool the entire batch at one time, while other designs only chill the amount that passes through it.
SOURCE: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...3MWEZ6MJPQ33T7
Now that you have a basic understanding on how an immersion works, we can discuss how to build one that won't break your wallet. Before you go purchase your materials you will need to decide on your tubing length and diameter. As you go up in length and diameter, the amount of water that will be able to travel through the coil increases, and ultimately will decrease your chilling time. We are going to focus on 25' x 3/8" ID tubing for the purposes of this article. Links are provided to the varying parts to ease the ordering process:

Image courtesy of NateG

Tools and Parts

  1. Gather your materials.
  2. Find a cylindrical object roughly 10-12" in diameter. If you have a 5 gallon keg you can use that.
  3. Start wrapping your Copper coil tightly around your round object, being careful not to kink tubing
  4. Unravel top coil layer and straighten
  5. Using tube bender bend top coil layer to a near 90* vertical
  6. Using tube bender measure about 4" down the newly vertical bend and bend tubing at 90* horizontal angle at this point. This will become your water-in opening
  7. Unwind enough of bottom layers to equal total height of chiller plus 4" and straighten
  8. Using tube bender bend new straight piece at 90* vertical angle starting at base of chiller
  9. Using tube bender measure 4" down newly formed vertical piece and bend at 90* horizontal angle. This will become your water-out opening.
  10. Cut 3/8" ID Vinyl tubing into 2 pieces measuring 4' and 6' respectively
  11. Slide 4' section of Vinyl tubing onto the water-in opening and secure with 1 hose clamp
  12. Slide 6' section of Vinyl tubing onto the water-out opening and secure with 1 hose clamp
  13. Slide other end of 4' Vinyl tubing over the Female hose adapter and secure with 1 hose clamp
  14. Spend savings on some homebrew ingredients
  15. Brew and enjoy your new chiller!
About the Author
Joshua Austin is owner of Golden Isles Brew Supply, located in Brunswick, GA. He has been brewing for 3-4 years and has upgraded to a 25 gallon electric system since starting. On his way to becoming a BJCP judge, Joshua has a passion for brewing great beers as well as drinking them.

Is it safe to solder and risk of contamination?
will 50'x1/4" ID copper tubing work better than 25'x3/8"?
is there any science behind cooling efficient of tubing length & diameter?
I made one in a similar way. I found a hint online that dramatically helped with kinking - I filled my tubing with water first, capped both ends, and froze it. You can then bend at will and it won't kink. If you buy straight tubing it will be hard to do this unless you are in a cold climate and in winter, but I bought a cooling coil - already mostly coiled copper - which fit into my freezer.
Safe, yes you put it in the boil kettle at the 10 min mark to sanitize.
Yes there probably is science equation somewhere, but it would be more than just those two things you listed. Like water temp and flow rate thru the tubing and water flow across the tubing.. but I think you pretty much understand that
I do see that copper is much better than stainless for thermal conductivity but the wall thickness of the tubing isn't much. I have a stainless coil and I get rapid chilling of the wort. If I stir I'm usually to pitch temp in under 15 min for a 5 gallon batch.
I don't see how the directions would get you the pictured chiller. Specifically, I don't see an easy way of straighening and bending the water-out part at the bottom so that is stays inside of the coil. Am I missing something?
@wolfej50 The one in the pic has straight pipe soldered to the flex copper. Can't see the detail but I think the water out as you called it (I think it might be a water in because it has a clamp to hold pressure) is a straight piece with an elbow soldered to the bottom of the coil.
Your parts add up to ~$61 without shipping, but you can buy one pre-assembled from amazon for $55 with shipping included here. http://goo.gl/lMvCZb Hmmmm...
I think you got lucky that you didn't split your pipe. Typically you can use sand or even salt to keep a tube from kinking. If you are careful you don't need to fill the tube to prevent kinking.
@Manny_E I don't think there is an easy science behind this as you need to account for water convective heat transfer, transfer in boundary layers, etc. One time I modeled an immersion chiller in SolidWorks using finite element analysis in Flow Simulation, but that is well beyond what a layman homebrewer can or should do, in my opinion.
However, if you know the cooling rate of one copper immersion chiller, I can imagine that by doubling the surface area and flow rate, you're also decreasing the cooling time twofold.
To increase the surface area, you will need a larger diameter to allow for sufficient flow (unless you can boost the pressure) but there is only this large a diameter you can bend to fit into your pot. Pipe stiffness increases as the 4th power of its diameter! Thus a 12mm pipe is 2 times stiffer than 10mm. Science is tricky, go by experience!
Home Depot sells copper tubing thats already coiled and fits nicely inside a boil pot just straighten out both ends and attach some plastic hose.
I have a double sink and I fill both with ice water. In one side I put my boil pot in the other side my water pump. Hook up one of the hoses to the pump and let the other discharge back into the pump water.
Total cost is around $25 and it works fine.
I live on a lake and am constantly rotating out sump pumps. Lower pressure high volume. Sooo, with adapters knocked it down to 3/8" ID tube, connected to 20' or 3/8 OD copper tubing. Put the sump pump in an ice bath (5 dollar bag of ice) and run for 15 minutes. 68 degrees in 16 minutes, 48 seconds. 3.5 gallons of wasted water. 28 dollars total spent (not counting the sump pump.). Great write up!