Small space tempurature control

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Breuckelen

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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.
IMG_9633.jpg

(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.
IMG_9631.jpg


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).
IMG_9634.jpg


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.:)
IMG_9630.jpg


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.
 

mosquitocontrol

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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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Breuckelen

Breuckelen

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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.
 

Special Hops

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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?
 

gunner65

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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.
 

BrewSpook

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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.
 

chrispykid

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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?
 

kenc_zymurgy

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Very cool. I've had some ideas like this, but have not tested them out yet. I bought some parts, and will do a trial 'soon', but I thought I'd get these ideas out there, you can probably run with it.

My general idea #1 is similar to yours, but INTERNAL to the fermentor. Pump chilling fluid into a thermowell inserted into the fermentor. Put your temperature probe on the outside of the carboy, well insulated from ambient (tape it and tape foam over it).

For a carboy, use a carboy cap and stick a SS thermowell device (buy, or make from SS or a chrome water supply tube - plug one end) in through the large hole, use a hose on the smaller one (or cut it open) to connect your airlock. Run a 1/4" OD vinyl hose from the pump down to the bottom of the thermowell. Now (and a drawing/pictures would help here, I'll try to post one later) you just need to rig up a PVC Tee and caps, and run the vinyl hose through one end, and the chill fluid would 'return' through the open end of the thermowell - a hose on the Tee would return this to your cooler. So it would be a co-axial setup, just break out the two streams for in/out, if that makes sense. This is all low pressure, so some silicon caulk should be good enough to seal it all up.

True, this would not be much surface area, but you have chilled metal in direct contact with the beer. I bet that is better than the larger surface area going through glass. And you don't lose any cold to ambient, it almost all goes right into the beer. It also makes it really easy to insulate. I'd wrap that carboy with as much scrap bubble wrap as I could scrounge, and wrap the hoses. It should also reduce any condensation problems, the coldest parts are inside the fermentor, not exposed to outside air/humidity.

With a bucket fermentor, you have added options. You can get annealed SS tubing that is easily bent into a loop, and drill two added holes for grommets and just run the loop inside the bucket. I got some SS tubing on amazon from a company called 'small parts'.

My idea #2, would be to try some tire inner-tubes around those carboys. Add a tire stem on the opposite side, and pump the chill water through the tube. Certainly not as good as metal for transfer, but it might be good enough, and certainly easier.


BTW, your pump looks pretty small - and that is a GOOD thing. Most people want to put a big pump in there, but the pump creates heat and is counter-productive. The carboy can only transfer the heat at a fairly low rate, pumping the chill water faster than it can absorb heat really does almost nothing to speed the process, and the pump just melts the ice. Do you have a link for that pump?

Here is the pump I bought to play with:

http://www.jebao.com/english/displayproduct.php?proid=50965

It doesn't detail this out there, but it is a 12V DC pump, .8A xfmr, so it could be hooked directly to a cheap home thermostat, avoiding the cost of the controller (though you probably need to extend the thermistor to create a 'probe'), and also all low voltage around that water.

Hope these ideas help, I will try to get pics up later, but I hope the description was enough to get the ideas flowing.

-kenc
 

kenc_zymurgy

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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?

Don't bother with the immersion coil, just pump the cold water from the cooler with ice packs to the carboy cooler. Only trick is, you need to get the water to return so it does not spill over. There was another thread on that where the guy used an overflow tube setup going down to the tap on the cooler. Lots of ways to skin that cat.

-kenc
 
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Breuckelen

Breuckelen

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kenc: I thought about this too, but with thin diameter copper coil to make basically an immersion chiller that goes into the carboy. The only problem I discovered was getting the tight bend necessary at the end of the coil to get the whole thing into the carboy opening. It might take soldering or a bend of vinyl tubing silicone glued to the ends. Not sure about this direction though, as sanitation would be my main concern.

One thing you point out about my small pump is the size - it was the smallest I could find for reasons of heat like you mention, as well as electricity use. The flow of water through the jacket is quite slow because I flattened the copper coil to make more surface area contact with the copper sheet. This had the added benefit of restricting the flow of water. I got the pump here:
http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=45303
 

Beernik

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It looks like you spent roughly $220. I just picked up a large used minifridge for $60. I figure I'll spend another $60 max making a controller. And my estimated utility cost is $34/year, if the fridge is running all the time.

Good idea. But I'm not sure you came out ahead.
 
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Breuckelen

Breuckelen

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Beernik: I'm ok with that. I actually had some of the items on hand from other projects and I figure when my square footage increases (move to suburbs or bigger apartment), I'll have the controller and thermowell to use with a dedicated fridge. The point was to take up less space than a minifridge, and because my desk is a foot from my carboys, maintain temperature without the added heat and noise that a compressor driven refrigerator gives off. It's already 80º in here - run a compressor a few times a day and it would definitely get hotter. I could have just used the swamp bucket I was using and not spent another dollar, but where's the fun in that?
 

Beernik

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Maybe I've lost too much high range hearing from construction, but I don't think the compressor on this this is that loud.

I'm sorry for being a bit of a dick earlier. I can understan not wanting to make your office hotter. I'm just prejudiced against tge evap systems because I live in the desert and solutions that use more water generally aren't cheaper for me.
 

kenc_zymurgy

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kenc: I thought about this too, but with thin diameter copper coil to make basically an immersion chiller that goes into the carboy. The only problem I discovered was getting the tight bend necessary at the end of the coil to get the whole thing into the carboy opening.
...

I got the pump here:
http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=45303

I don't think you want to use copper in wort/beer for long periods - the low pH will eat at it. I guess it's OK for boil times, but I'd go SS beyond that. I think there is some info here somewhere on toxicity of copper in wort/beer.

I bought "Stainless Steel 304L Seamless Annealed Tubing 3/16" OD x .132" ID x .028" Wall 36" Length"; $7.98 on Amazon from "Small Parts". I was able to very easily bend this around a coffee can, I don't know how tight you could go, I don't want to kink this as I may need it all, but I was impressed how easily it formed and I bet I could go much tighter than that. Small enough to get in a carboy neck with a bigger OD tube - I dunno? But I still think a single tube with co-axial feed will do the job. One of these days I'll get it set up and test it.

Thanks for the pump link. I feel better with the 12V one around all that water, but obviously these are used all the time in water, so it's just me being nervous I guess. Mine was about 2x the cost though, that looks like a good deal.

-kenc
 

chrispykid

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Don't bother with the immersion coil, just pump the cold water from the cooler with ice packs to the carboy cooler. Only trick is, you need to get the water to return so it does not spill over. There was another thread on that where the guy used an overflow tube setup going down to the tap on the cooler. Lots of ways to skin that cat.

-kenc

Good call - you just saved me about $65 on copper. I did some googling and found the thread you were referring to. Some great ideas there and they've definitely influenced my thinking.

Glad I came back to this thread.
 

StAnthonyB

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Great idea!!! I love this do-it-yourselfer stuff.

Although, I think I like brewing so much that I'd move to Indiana or something just to get a little elbow room.
 
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