Woodbrew's Electric BIAB Build

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Woodbrews

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Electric BIAB Build

After lots of careful research on the HBT forum, I settled on a plan to build an electric kettle for 5 gallon batches using the BIAB (brew in a bag) process. I opted to go electric for several reasons. First, I liked the self-contained nature of brewing in a single vessel. I also like being able to brew in a dedicated space without having to take over the kitchen. Third, even with limiting myself to 5 gallon brews, there is barely enough room on our stove-top to heat my 11-gallon kettle. Fourth, with a sufficiently high-powered heating element, I can achieve mash and boil temperatures more quickly than on the stove-top. Fifth, an electric element controlled by a PID (progressive, integrative, derivative) temperature controller will maintain mash temperatures much more precisely than on the stove-top. It’s not quite set it and forget it, but close. Finally, I like the DIY nature of building the controller with the help of my dad, a retired electrical engineer. We used to build Heathkits together when I was a kid, so it’s kind of nostalgic.

Here's the Bayou Classic kettle on my stove top -- not much room!


Installing GFCI Protection

Ground fault protection is mandatory for any application that involves both water and electricity. Given the frequency of boil-overs and spills during brewing, and given the presence of 4500 watt/240v heating element, the need for ground fault protection is obvious.

I’m planning on setting up the e-brewery next to our washer/dryer and directly in front of an exterior window. There’s already a countertop there and it’s right next to the 240v dryer outlet. Although we don’t have an utility stink, the spot is right next to our basement bathroom. The spot should work well for ventilation and convenience.

We wired a separate 4-prong outlet directly from the dryer outlet and will replace the 30-amp breaker on that circuit with a GFCI breaker. Of course, this means that I cannot operate the dryer and brew at the same time, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff when compared to the price of running a new, dedicated circuit.

Here's the spot:

Brew location and 4-prong plug.jpg
 
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Woodbrews

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Modifying The Kettle

Once I decided to go electric, I started to piece together the parts needed for the build. After much research, I settled on the Bayou Classic 11-gallon kettle. The kettle is recommended by many on HBT and was well-priced on Amazon. To prep the kettle, I went with fittings from Brewhardware, including a 3-piece ball valve with an elbow barb to drain the kettle, a sight glass with 1/4” T for the temperature probe, and BobbyM’s weldless element housing for the heating element.

So far, I’ve only installed drain valve. The install was fairly easy. I used an inexpensive step drill bit to attempt to drill a hole large enough for the knock-out punch, but had a hard time getting the drill to start the hole (even with an indentation). Finally, I used one of my carbide tipped masonry bits to start the hole and then used the step bit to enlarge it. Once it was big enough, I inserted the knockout punch and cranked it home. Awesome - knockout punches are the way to go. Completely clean hole, just the right size.

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nutty_gnome

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Very nice! I'm curious about where you will get a 30 amp gfci breaker for your box.
 
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Woodbrews

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Very nice! I'm curious about where you will get a 30 amp gfci breaker for your box.
I found one for ~ $65 on eBay. My box is made by Cutler Hammer and I had to be careful to buy the right product line. Cutler Hammer (Eaton) makes two product lines: BR and CH. Of course, I needed the more expensive CH version!

In hindsight, the spa panel box may have been both cheaper and easier, but I have such limited room in my brew space that the outlet made sense.
 
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Woodbrews

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Installing the Element

My experience with the element installation is a cautionary tale. Rather than spend $85 on the proper size Greenlee hole punch, I bought a used Greenlee set on eBay. The punches work fine, but it turns out that they are CONDUIT punches rather than CHASSIS punches. The difference is that conduit is sized according the INNER DIAMETER of the conduit, so that a 1.5” conduit punch will make a hole closer to 1.75” inches in diameter. Not realizing this, I punched a 1.75” hole for the element using the 1.5” conduit punch, resulting in a hole that was WAY too large. Unless I could find a way to use the kettle with a 1.75” diameter hole in it, I’d be stuck with buying a new kettle and starting over.

After some research here on HBT, I learned that it would be possible to solder a 1” NPT welding spud in the hole and screw the element into that. I would still be able to use the housing kit purchased from BrewHardware. Maybe my pot could be saved after all! If I could solve the problem for less than $85, I would simply return the $85 replacement pot I bought.

So, I ordered the spud and silver solder kit from Brewhardware ($22 total), bought a MAPP propane torch and gas ($45 total), and tried my hand at soldering stainless steel. My first attempt was a disaster - the spud just fell off. The second attempt went better -- the spud was firmly soldered in place, but there was a gap between the spud flange and kettle wall. I’m planning on trying one more time to see if I can get a solid bead of solder around the entire perimeter of the spud. I’ll have to use much more solder this time, especially since the curvature of the pot creates a natural gap on either side of the spud.

Since my failed attempt, I've read a good bit of the silver soldering thread and watched all of BobbyM's videos. With practice, I'm sure I can get a solid, leak-proof joint.

spud welding-001.jpg
 
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Woodbrews

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Building The Controller Box

Next up was deciding on a schematic for the controller and spec’ing out the parts for the build. Complicating the process was my indecision about whether to include a recirculating pump. I eventually decided to build the pump control circuit into the controller, but to hold off (for now) on buying the pump and associated hardware. I want to get a few brews under my belt before adding the cost and complexity of the pump.

For the wiring schematic, I went with the same one used by aubiecat in his build. Taking his advice, I went with selector switches and indicator lamps rather than lighted switches. I ordered the pre-cut wall-mount panel from Auber and will use my knockout punches to make holes for the 22mm switches. I also purchased an e-stop button and a 4” RTD temp probe. I will work with my dad, an electrical engineer, to assemble the panel and make sure everything is correctly wired.

The Auber Instruments box is a good one. Solid steel construction, a gasketed hinged lid, a separate backplate for mounting internal components, optional brackets for wall-mounting, and a locking door. When laying out the components, I was careful to provide sufficient clearance behind the surface mount components to allow for the gasketed lid.

I purchased all of the major components, save one, at Auber Instruments. There are cheaper eBay sellers out there for many items, but I wanted to be sure I had the proper part numbers specified in PJ’s diagrams for the switches, etc. IMO, it was worth the extra few dollars to go with a reliable vendor.

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Woodbrews

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The two large holes in the bottom are where the power cable and element cable will go. Instead of using flanged outlets, which are expensive, require large holes, and protrude deep into the box, I decided to use a pigtail for the element plug (a short cable with a female receptacle on the end). For the power plug, I will a 6’ dryer cable with a four-prong plug. Both cables will need to be secured with water-tight strain relief cable glands.

Of all the parts for the build, the cable glands were the most problematic to source. First, I had to figure out how they were sized. After consulting the fine folks at HBT, who sent me to Wikipedia, I learned that cable glands are sized using either National Pipe Thread (NPT) conventions or Panzergerwerde (PG) conventions. For the large cables used for the power and element, I'd need PG29 or NPT 3/4". I ended up purchasing the glands from eBrewSupply, where I also ordered an alarm buzzer and some label tags for the element and pump.

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nutty_gnome

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I found one for ~ $65 on eBay. My box is made by Cutler Hammer and I had to be careful to buy the right product line. Cutler Hammer (Eaton) makes two product lines: BR and CH. Of course, I needed the more expensive CH version!

In hindsight, the spa panel box may have been both cheaper and easier, but I have such limited room in my brew space that the outlet made sense.
If you are so inclined... could you link the BR version of the 30 amp GFCI? That is the style box I have... I will look myself, but I'd like to see if I am looking in the right places. Thanks! - N_G
 
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Woodbrews

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N_G:

Here's one on eBay; I paid much less than this. Not sure why the price is so high.

Ken
 
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Woodbrews

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Update: We had a snow day here, so I tried re-soldering the spud to fill in the gaps and make it leak-proof. I worked it for quite awhile, flowing a lot of extra solder into the joints. I also clamped the spud in place with a jig made from a toggle bolt, as suggested by the stainless soldering thread. Bottom line - I filled up the kettle with ~ 10 gallons and a few minutes later it started to leak. Bummer. I suspect the problem is that the hole I accidentally punched is too big for the spud b/c there is too much of a gap between the spud and the kettle to reliably fill with solder. So, now I'm on to Plan B, which involves punching a new kettle with weldless fittings. The good news is that I have a kettle on hand and I'm pretty confident with the weldless fittings given the success of the fittings in the first kettle (both the drain valve and the sight glass were leak-free). If we have another snow day tomorrow, I'll tackle the project then.

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Woodbrews

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I received the cable glands from eBrewSupply -- really fast shipping! But the PG29 glands are simply too big for my 10/3 and 10/4 wire. So I've ordered some PG21 and NPT 1/2 glands from another supplier. Hopefully, the smaller glands will fit properly.
 

dougp

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How far up did you put the center of the element from the base of the kettle?
 
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Woodbrews

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How far up did you put the center of the element from the base of the kettle?
The element is very close to the bottom of the kettle; maybe 3/4" of clearance between the element coils and the kettle bottom. I was able to mount it closely because it is a straight element rather than a ripple element. With a ripple element, you'd need to provide more clearance to be able to rotate the element without hitting the bottom of the kettle.

Ken
 
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Woodbrews

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My Dad and I started wiring the panel today. PJ's diagram is easy to follow, but the difficulties lie in getting all of the wires to fit, especially the 10 AWG and places where multiple spade and ring connectors come together. it's not the prettiest wiring job, but there is very little extra room in the panel. I've also had some difficulty sourcing the right size cable glands and a few other odds and ends. We're mostly done and hope to be brewing by next weekend.

Wiring door.jpg


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Woodbrews

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Another big tip: invest in a good crimp tool. We went through countless spade connectors trying to use the cutting edge of pliers to crimp. We also had multiple wires pop off as we tried to tighten them down. I likely will move the terminal strip a little bit down the backplate to make it easier to access the top row of terminal screws. It's location was fine until I had to move the contactor down to avoid hitting the PID; moving the contactor reduced the clearance for the terminal strip. Finally, I may decide to add a second terminal strip to facilitate tying together the neutrals - there just isn't enough room to home-run them to a single terminal strip.
 
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Woodbrews

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Short update. I moved the terminal strip a few millimeters down and it made it much easier to attach the connectors. I also figured out that I could prop the backplate on the edge of the box while making all of the connections with the components on the door (lights, switches, etc.). Once everything is connected, I'll slide the backplate in and bolt it in place. It is just too hard to access the terminal strip with the backplate inside the box. I also tracked down a good crimp tool and I've re-crimped most of the connections for added security. I hit Radio Shack for some inline fuse holders and fuses; these were better than the automotive ones I'd found at Home Depot. As for the resistors, I'll probably solder them together and cover them with heatshrink tubing. When it's all said and done, the wiring will be functional but not pretty. Perhaps with a bigger enclosure there would be more room for DIN rails and nice wire tie-downs, but this box is too small for that. I have used tie-downs to take the strain off wires, particularly where the wires might move when the lid is opened and closed, but they don't necessarily improve the aesthetics. At least it will look good when the door is closed!
 

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Hey as long as it's not too messy to rework something or trace problems. Honestly that box doesn't look that small for what you have in it, I think if you planned your wire-runs well (not too long or short, good pathing) you'd have been able to make it nice. Zip-ties and the sticky zip-tie mounts are a godsend.
 
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Woodbrews

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I've rewired some of it already, mostly for strain relief, but I've made it neater too. In hindsight, it would have made sense to sketch out the wire runs beforehand once I had decided on the component placement.


Sent from my iPad using Home Brew
 
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Woodbrews

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Hey as long as it's not too messy to rework something or trace problems. Honestly that box doesn't look that small for what you have in it, I think if you planned your wire-runs well (not too long or short, good pathing) you'd have been able to make it nice. Zip-ties and the sticky zip-tie mounts are a godsend.
I just saw how your wired a similar box in this thread -- I certainly can try to run my wires around the perimeter like you did.
 
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Woodbrews

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Made some progress this weekend but, alas, no pictures. Completed wiring the box, including installing two cable glands for the power cord and element cord. Also soldered together the two resistors and covered them with shrink wrap and zip tied the wires out of the way so that the door closes without hindrance. I'll double-check the wiring with my EE Dad before powering everything up. In the meantime, I'll finish up installing the element in the kettle and then work on calibrating the sight glass. The goal is to be brewing this weekend!
 
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Woodbrews

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Major milestone this week -- elements are on and heating water!
After checking all the wiring against the schematic, and then again with a continuity tester, we fired up the box. The first time we did it the e-stop was on, so it immediately tripped the GFCI, exactly as it is designed to do. After disengaging the e-stop, we fired up the PID, then the element, and then tested the pump receptacle. Everything worked exactly as designed. That was cool. The kettle also survived its leak test, and the element heated water exactly as designed.

There are still a few tasks to be accomplished, but this was a major milestone. Still to do:
- calibrate sight glass and install decals
- tune PID
- install labels on box
- conduct boil test to measure boil-off rate and determine best manual setting for PID to hold boil
- test ventilation during boil
- install eyebolt in ceiling for bag pulley
- make cork trivet to protect countertop

I'm also in the midst of a project on the "cold side" to control fermentation temperature. It involves a Cool Zone water-cooled jacket for my carboy with a small pond pump, cooler of ice water, and heating band, all controlled by a thermowell connected to a DIY STC-1000 controller. I'd like to get it up-and-running before my first brew, but I may not be able to wait!

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Woodbrews

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I've encountered some rust on the element fact after my first wet test (admittedly, the water was in there overnight). I've read that a layer of food-grade silicone over the element face will prevent rust; I've also read about folks using a sacrificial anode. What is the latest thinking? Can anyone provide a link to food-grade silicone? Or to an anode? Thanks!
 
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Woodbrews

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After a few missteps, I started the auto-tuning process this afternoon. I’m tuning around a mash temperature of 155 degrees with the lid on, since that’s is how I’ll be mashing. If I end up getting a pump and re-circulating, I likely will need to run auto-tuning again. I’m using 7.5 gallons of water during the auto-tune -- again, close to what I’ll be mashing with. I started at 3:30pm with the water in the kettle at 145 degrees. Acc’d to Kal’s instructions, the PID will fire the element until the temp goes past the set value, allow it to drop, then raise it again. So far, the temp has simply dropped without the element coming on. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong.

A couple of hours later, I did finally get it to work. I went back through every setting and either set it to default or to Kal’s recommended settings. I also let the temperature drop nearly 20 degrees below the set point before starting the auto-tune. Of all the things I did, I suspect that’s the one that made the difference.

On another note, I had one problem with BobbyM’s element mounting assembly. The outer portion of the assembly is designed to screw into the portion that’s attached to the kettle. My problem was that the tension on the ground wire, which is fastened to the inside of the assembly, was causing the assembly to unscrew. I suspect it could be prevented with more slack on the ground wire, but I decided to drill a hole through the assembly and insert a sheet metal screw through it to hold it in place. Sshhh, don’t tell BobbyM.

I also calibrated my sight glass using BobbyM's excellent instructions in his video. I'm pretty close to being ready to brew!
 
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Woodbrews

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Starting my first brew today -- a SMASH ale using Simcoe hops. Used BIAB Calculator to determine total water volume and strike temperature. Just guessed as to boil off rate of 1.25 gallons/hour. I'll try to take SG readings pre-and post-boil and take note of volumes to begin to get a handle on how the system works. First up is determining how long it takes to reach strike temp of 155 from starting water temp of 47 degrees - brrr!
 
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Woodbrews

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Not sure yet. I used the Northern Brewer all-grain kit. I didn't hit the target OG and I ended up with a little too much wort into the fermenter (nearly 6 gallons instead of 5 1/4). We'll see how much is lost to trub. This is my first time with the system, so I could have easily over-estimated my boil off and the amount of starting water.
 
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Woodbrews

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Well, the first brew is happily fermenting. I'll give it a least a week before dry hopping. So far, so good! I can't wait to brew again.

Fermenting 1.JPG
 
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Woodbrews

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Plan: There are two independent reasons to recirculate wort in the BIAB process, each requiring slightly different techniques.

The first reason is to eliminate temperature stratification during the mash. This is done by returning the wort to the top of the vessel during the mash. Some setups simply attach the return hose to the top of the kettle, while others attach the hose to a fitting in the lid and spray the wort through some sort of nozzle arrangement. In my case, I plan to route the wort through a fitting in the lid without any kind of spray pattern. I may revisit this decision eventually, but it should be relatively easy to add something like a Loc-Line to the fitting on the lid.

The second reason is to set up a whirlpool after the boil. The whirlpool helps to clarify the wort before transferring it to the fermenter by collecting the trub and hop residue in the center of the boil kettle. The whirlpool also helps to more rapidly cool the wort after the boil by stirring the wort and increasing contact with the immersion chiller. In my case, I plan to add a short copper tube to my IC with a fitting for my wort hose. This technique was popularized by Jamil at MoreBeer and the pre-bent tubing can be found there as an add-on kit for your IC. I added a 1/2” NPT compression fitting so that I can attach a male camlock fitting onto the end and quickly attach the recirculation hose.

By using an attachment to the immersion chiller, I’ll be able to use the pump both to recirculate during mash and after the boil. I will attach male camlock fittings onto the lid and the IC so that I can easily move the hose

I bought a Topsflow 15PV 12v solar pump from an eBay seller. I also bought a used 12v, 5 amp power supply (from an old laptop or monitor). To test the pump, I cut the plug off the power supply and soldered it directly to the pump leads. I attached the pump (it has brass 1/2” NPT fittings) directly to the kettle’s ball valve and attached a male camlock fitting onto the pump output. The hose (approximately 6’) will have female camlock fittings on both ends. The pump worked great, sending a healthy flow of water back into the pot. I can regulate the flow using the ball valve, but reducing the flow by too much seems to put some strain on the pump. I’ve ordered a 12v PWM voltage controller that I eventually will wire up so that I can control the pump speed directly, but this is a low priority given that the pump works so well at full speed.

This week I was able to add the fittings to the lid and to the immersion chiller, so that I can brew tomorrow. I'm planning a Dogfish Head 60min clone based on Yooper's recipe. We are really enjoying the Simcoe SMaSH ale, so I suspect it will be gone before the next beer is ready. Maybe it’s time to consider having more than one beer on tap at a time . . . .

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Woodbrews

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I've made a few improvements to my eBIAB setup since my last post. First, I installed screws to mount my control box on the cabinet next to my brew pot, getting it off the countertop where it was vulnerable to drips or spills. Second, I added a water filter so that I can use filtered water for my brews. Although our Northern Virginia water is pretty good, I wanted to see whether carbon filtration could improve my brew quality. Third, I tweaked the fittings on my lid to make recirculation smoother by adding an elbow fitting.





I'm also working on adding a plate chiller and re-purposing my immersion chiller as a pre-chiller for the plate chiller. This was my first brew session in hot, humid summer conditions, and with a tap water temperature of 73 degrees, it was hard to get down to pitching temperature. As it was, the best I could do was 86F, so I went ahead and transferred the wort to my fermenter and used my fermentation cooling system (CoolZone) to bring the temp down to 75F. It took overnight to get there, so I pitched my starter in the morning. By later that evening, the fermenter was down to my target fermentation temp of 68F and has been holding there. From what I can tell, the yeasties are happy! Next time, I'll use the pre-chiller in an ice bath to bring down the wort to pitching temp more quickly.
 
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Woodbrews

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I set up and used my plate chiller for the first time, but I need some more practice with it. I set it up to make one pass through the chiller and then drain directly into the fermenter. Unfortunately, with 75F tap water, the best I could do was cool it to 90F. Because the wort was already in the fermenter, I left it there and hooked the fermenter up to the Cool Zone jacket. By morning it was ready to pitch at 70F.

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Woodbrews

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Another improvement this last brew is the addition of a window fan. With both fans on high, I saw little or no condensation buildup on the ceiling above the window. Essential for brewing in summer humidity in the basement.

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Most folks that use a plate chiller, mount them vertically, as there is less chance for them to get an "air lock" in them, and thereby not utilize all the heat transfer surface.
Me thinks : Wort in the bottom, and out the top.
Cooling medium: In at the top, and out the bottom.
 
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Woodbrews

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Most folks that use a plate chiller, mount them vertically, as there is less chance for them to get an "air lock" in them, and thereby not utilize all the heat transfer surface.
Me thinks : Wort in the bottom, and out the top.
Cooling medium: In at the top, and out the bottom.
That's an excellent suggestion and exactly what I plan to do. I'm hitting the home store tomorrow to buy some lumber to create a stand for the chiller. I'll probably clamp the stand to the countertop while I'm using it, and place it at the edge of the counter so that I can catch drips with a bucket on the floor. The chiller has mounting bolts on the back, so I'll get some wing nuts to hold it to the stand and make it removable for cleaning, etc. It seems I'm always tweaking my process, which is a fun thing about this hobby.
 
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Woodbrews

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Another brew, a few more improvements. As recommended by others, I built a stand for my plate chiller so that it could be used vertically. I also elected to circulate the wort through the chiller and back into the brew kettle until I reached near pitching temp, and then drained it from the chiller into the fermenter. I was able to bring it down from boiling to 80F in 20 minutes with 73F tap water. The bulk of the chiller time was spent getting from 100F to 80F; next time, I'll attached a pre-chiller when I reach 100F. It will shave 10 minutes off the chill time at the cost of a few pounds of ice. Probably necessary in the summer, but not in the winter - it all depends on the tap water temperature.

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How do you guys clean a plate.chiller? I plan on doing a similar setup after I buy my first home, hopefully soon.
 

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Looks like a small 12v solar like you see so often on ebay, etc...
 

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I set up and used my plate chiller for the first time, but I need some more practice with it. I set it up to make one pass through the chiller and then drain directly into the fermenter. Unfortunately, with 75F tap water, the best I could do was cool it to 90F. Because the wort was already in the fermenter, I left it there and hooked the fermenter up to the Cool Zone jacket. By morning it was ready to pitch at 70F.
What plate chiller are you using?
 
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