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General Category => Equipment and Software => Topic started by: darkmorford on April 15, 2011, 12:57:19 AM

Title: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: darkmorford on April 15, 2011, 12:57:19 AM
I'm in the midst of fermenting my first-ever beer, and I've found that there isn't any place in my apartment that's cool enough to adequately ferment. The best place I've managed to find still hovers around 70F, and when you take the extra heat generated by fermentation into account, it's just barely cool enough to ferment an ale. I don't have air conditioning at my place, so in a month or two it's going to be too hot for me to realistically brew anything at all! Clearly, if I want to continue this hobby, I'm going to need some way to keep my fermenter(s) cool. The catch is that I'm on a very limited budget: ideally I want to do this for $50 or less, but I can go up to around $100 if I need to.

I've got some basic experience with most power tools, and I'd be willing to build something if it can be done better/cheaper than what I could buy. What do you guys recommend for a low-budget chiller?
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: theDarkSide on April 15, 2011, 01:06:13 AM
A tub of water with frozen bottle of water work.  Keep some in the freezer and swap out when the ones in the tub thaw out and rotate.

Other methods include putting the fermenter in a little bit of water and covering it with a t-shirt.  You can also put a fan on it to help keep the temp low.

Also, keep an eye on Craiglist and if you have room for a small fridge, you can get one cheap and spend the money left over on a temperature controller.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: jamminbrew on April 15, 2011, 01:40:31 AM
You could try belgian ales, most of them ferment a little higher than your average ale...
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on April 15, 2011, 05:33:59 AM
These huge 30 gallon totes with lids are $10 at walmart. I insulated mine with some extra Reflectix. Holds two 7.9 gallon fermenters. Swap out icepacks or frozen bottles and it stays easily in the mid 60's.

I've since upgraded to a freezmenter but the totes worked really well. Swapped out the frozen bottles twice a day.

(https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_BGa2L64KQdY/TC4yiwFY7kI/AAAAAAAAALA/s6GuVtR5eaQ/s720/100_0117.jpg)
(https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_BGa2L64KQdY/TC4yidZChUI/AAAAAAAAAK8/6hJWaFRkWR0/s720/100_0115.jpg)

Cheap and easy.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on April 15, 2011, 05:35:45 AM
fantastic idea euge, where did you get the dolly?
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: darkmorford on April 15, 2011, 07:00:30 AM
That looks just about perfect. I might see if I can find a smaller one, since I don't see myself having more than one batch going at a time in the near future.

Where do you get the Reflectix? Does Home Depot/Lowe's sell it?
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on April 15, 2011, 07:15:38 AM
fantastic idea euge, where did you get the dolly?

This place:Harbor freight (http://www.harborfreight.com/movers-dolly-39757.html)

That looks just about perfect. I might see if I can find a smaller one, since I don't see myself having more than one batch going at a time in the near future.

Where do you get the Reflectix? Does Home Depot/Lowe's sell it?

They both do. You could use some other insulating material if you need to. Be creative. :) What you don't see is the 2" thick piece of Styrofoam that is the base that I scavenged from the job.

Another $11 on the Acurite indoor/outdoor digital thermometer also found at the above hardware supply stores.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: darkmorford on April 18, 2011, 05:25:55 PM
I put one of these together yesterday. Unfortunately, the tub I got isn't tall enough to put the lid on with the fermenter inside, but throwing a blanket over the whole thing seems to work well. I stuck two half-gallon milk cartons full of ice in there overnight, and when I checked this morning the air temperature was about 60 degrees and the fermenter itself had cooled to 64! If only I'd had this a week ago...
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on April 18, 2011, 05:37:27 PM
Awesome! You should see an immediate improvement in your beer quality. Is this a new batch you're fermenting?
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: darkmorford on April 18, 2011, 05:41:11 PM
No, same batch. I'm just trying to keep it cool for this second week to prevent any further heat-related "damage." I'm going to bottle it this weekend. Next batch I do, it's going in here the whole time.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: morticaixavier on April 18, 2011, 07:15:12 PM
No, same batch. I'm just trying to keep it cool for this second week to prevent any further heat-related "damage." I'm going to bottle it this weekend. Next batch I do, it's going in here the whole time.

you might think about giving it another week. Even though the bulk of the fermentation is over leaving it on the yeast for a while might help clean up some of the yeast byproducts from a high fermentation temp. I generally leave things in primary for 3 or 4 weeks mainly out of time presure but I think it helps.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: darkmorford on April 19, 2011, 04:02:32 PM
Holy crap. I just checked it before swapping out the ice for the day, and the fermenter's down to 55 degrees! One of the ice cartons was still only half-melted, so I left that one in and just changed the other one.

This thing works almost too well! :D
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on April 19, 2011, 05:48:27 PM
Holy crap. I just checked it before swapping out the ice for the day, and the fermenter's down to 55 degrees! One of the ice cartons was still only half-melted, so I left that one in and just changed the other one.

This thing works almost too well! :D

Muahahaha.....

Try experimenting with different size bottles to keep the temps in the range you want. Used this approach for years. Whatever you do- avoid using a water bath with this method. It keeps the temps from fluctuating, but the cool moist enclosed environment encourages growth of mildew on the sides of the fermenter(s). Never got into my beer but the thought of mold being that close gives me the heeby-jeebies.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: JKL on April 19, 2011, 07:24:57 PM
How's this for cheap?  When I 1st started brewing years ago, I lived in an older house with the air registers in the floor.  I figured out that during the Summer I could sit a carboy next to the register and put a cardboard box over the top of both, I could get fermentation temps in the low 60's pretty consistently.   
-J.K.L.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on April 27, 2011, 05:38:48 PM
These huge 30 gallon totes with lids are $10 at walmart. I insulated mine with some extra Reflectix. Holds two 7.9 gallon fermenters. Swap out icepacks or frozen bottles and it stays easily in the mid 60's.

I've since upgraded to a freezmenter but the totes worked really well. Swapped out the frozen bottles twice a day.

(https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_BGa2L64KQdY/TC4yiwFY7kI/AAAAAAAAALA/s6GuVtR5eaQ/s720/100_0117.jpg)
(https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/_BGa2L64KQdY/TC4yidZChUI/AAAAAAAAAK8/6hJWaFRkWR0/s720/100_0115.jpg)

Cheap and easy.

Euge,

Went to lowes and walmart yesterday to pick up the materials to make your fermenter tote. I bought two 30-gal Sterilite Totes for $8 each (the biggest they had) and the Acu-Rite thermometer for $7! woot!

I only have one problem, my 7-gal fermentation buckets don't fit! I knew I should've measured before I left but like an idiot i didn't think about it until i got there. My buckets are 17 3/8" tall x 11 7/8" wide, can you measure your buckets for me if you have the chance?

I'm going to the LHBS this weekend to pickup ingredients, maybe they have shorter/wider buckets.

I also picked up the Reflectix but the dolly was on backorder...

I'm almost there!

Tony
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on April 27, 2011, 06:00:35 PM
Ummm. My Beer and Wine buckets (or Biere et Vin) are 16" tall with lid and a tad over 14" across at the lid. Sounds like you got the tall fermenters, but they should still fit. My totes are 18" deep.

Bear in mind I don't use fermentation locks- especially during primary fermentation. Really they are redundant during this phase. If you go this route just lay the lid on top of the fermenter with a piece of tape over the hole.

Another thing you might consider is wiring up a case fan and placing that inside the chamber. It'll gently convect the air around making the system a bit more responsive. I use an old phone charger as the power source.

Good luck! Let us know how it works out for ya!
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on April 27, 2011, 08:11:08 PM
Luckily my wife had another 48-Gal tote in the garage and after checking it, the buckets I have fit in it perfectly. We swapped and I just got done wrapping it in the reflectix. I didn't have any foam so I fit another piece of insulation on the bottom and it slightly reaches up the walls. The reflectix that i bought was too tall for the tote without cutting it so instead I wrapped the excess around the bottom leaving only a small gap which I covered with another loose piece. The cover is the only part that isn't insulated atm but I figured that wouldn't be a huge deal. I have more than enough reflectix left over to cover the top if need be.

Harbor freight was out of the dollies but i got a rain check for the sale price of $13.

I ordered a weldless SS ball-valve  kit with the mash screen and thermal hoses from northern brewer so  I should be ready to go all-grain sometime this weekend! woot!

Thanks for help Euge!

Oh, i forgot to take pictures, i'll do it tomorrow.

Thanks!
Tony

Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on April 27, 2011, 10:11:47 PM
Took some picts:

(http://the.whole.net/~tand/fermtote/Tote-01.jpg)

(http://the.whole.net/~tand/fermtote/Tote-02.jpg)

(http://the.whole.net/~tand/fermtote/Tote-03.jpg)

Cheers!
Tony
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on April 30, 2011, 05:56:54 AM
Lookin good there Tony! You'll get the hang of when you need to swap out the ice packs.

Was listening to Brew Strong about this subject. Had some ideas about placing extra water bottles in there.  The more liquid there is the greater the thermal mass. Then you could still swap the icepacks but the fluctuations will be less. Get the idea?  That would negate any mildew problems.

Anyway if you are interested we could hash the idea out a bit more. The chamber looks well made. Bet you are excited to try it out!
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on April 30, 2011, 03:01:27 PM
Absolutely excited to try it! I had an empty gallon milk jug so i froze it overnight and placed it inside just to see what would happen and it got down to 54deg and stayed there for hours even after the ice melted. I'm super psyched.

Hopefully I can get to the LHBS today and by ingredients for my first AG batch!

Tony
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: Will's Swill on May 01, 2011, 01:13:50 AM

Was listening to Brew Strong about this subject. Had some ideas about placing extra water bottles in there.  The more liquid there is the greater the thermal mass. Then you could still swap the icepacks but the fluctuations will be less. Get the idea?  That would negate any mildew problems.


The thermal mass is only important if you're lifting the lid, if I'm understanding what you mean.  So don't open it!  But the bit about mildew problems escapes me...
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on May 01, 2011, 02:01:08 AM

Was listening to Brew Strong about this subject. Had some ideas about placing extra water bottles in there.  The more liquid there is the greater the thermal mass. Then you could still swap the icepacks but the fluctuations will be less. Get the idea?  That would negate any mildew problems.


The thermal mass is only important if you're lifting the lid, if I'm understanding what you mean.  So don't open it!  But the bit about mildew problems escapes me...

I experimented with about 4 inches of water in the tote with the buckets to keep the temps more stable. It worked but the cool, dark humid atmosphere in the chamber promoted mildew growth on the fermenter's outsides within a couple weeks.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: Will's Swill on May 01, 2011, 04:53:17 AM
Ah, right.  And now I see why you like the thermal mass, too.  It seems from both a space and an expense prespective, you're getting pretty close to a used beer fridge or freezer, and you wouldn't have the PITA of keeping up with the ice packs.  But you should do what's best for your process, of course.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on May 01, 2011, 05:19:27 AM
The tote approach is low cost and effective but after three years of doing this type of fermentation I bought a freezer and Johnson controller.



Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: kgs on May 01, 2011, 02:12:36 PM
Ah, right.  And now I see why you like the thermal mass, too.  It seems from both a space and an expense prespective, you're getting pretty close to a used beer fridge or freezer, and you wouldn't have the PITA of keeping up with the ice packs.  But you should do what's best for your process, of course.

On the used fridge/freezer, keep in mind that old refrigeration equipment can consume energy lavishly. See the Energy Star calculator: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=refrig.calculator

I did the tote/cooling thing when we lived in Florida; it has the advantage of a cheap startup cost. It definitely improved my beer.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on May 03, 2011, 05:25:59 PM

Since the fermentation tote doesn't allow the use of an airlock i was looking for other options and ran across this:

(http://www.williamsbrewing.com/Assets/images/Product_Images/L50.jpg)

I'll have to increase the size of the hole in the fermentation bucket lid for the #7 stopper to fit, but it looks like a great solution. I ordered 2 of them, I'll report back once i get them.

Here's the link:
Vented Silicone Stopper (http://www.williamsbrewing.com/7-VENTED-SILICONE-STOPPER-P2666C94.aspx)

cheers!
Tony
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tschmidlin on May 03, 2011, 07:34:27 PM
I'll have to increase the size of the hole in the fermentation bucket lid for the #7 stopper to fit, but it looks like a great solution. I ordered 2 of them, I'll report back once i get them.
Let us know how it goes.  I've found they don't work that well for primary fermentation, they tend to get pushed out by the pressure rather than release it through the holes.  But hopefully they work better for you, I haven't tried the ones from Williams.

As far as increasing the size of the hole, that's never worked out for me either.  At least, not a smooth round hole in plastic.  I think you're better off plugging the existing hole and drilling a new one with the right sized spade bit.  But that's me.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tonyp on May 03, 2011, 07:44:15 PM
As far as increasing the size of the hole, that's never worked out for me either.  At least, not a smooth round hole in plastic.  I think you're better off plugging the existing hole and drilling a new one with the right sized spade bit.  But that's me.

Thanks for the suggestion Tom, I think I'll do just that. And you think a spade bit would work better than a stepper for plastic? I've never really drilled thru plastic before. I might take the lid to Home Depot and ask them the best way to do it. The only other way I can think of is maybe a hole punch, heat up the lid and hit it hard.

I'll let ya know how it works out.

Thanks!
Tony

Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: tschmidlin on May 03, 2011, 07:54:11 PM
I don't know if a step bit would work better, I just normally use spade bits for plastic.  I'm guessing either would work.  With a step bit you might be able to widen the existing hole.  They do a lot of them at my LHBS but I don't know what they use, so if you have one you can call you might ask them before anyone at the depot. :-\
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: denny on May 03, 2011, 08:10:01 PM
They use a punch for lid holes at my LHBS.  I think that's the best solution in terms of a clean hole.
Title: Re: Cheap Fermentation Temp Control?
Post by: euge on May 03, 2011, 08:37:15 PM
There's really no need for an air-lock. I just lay the lid on. Since it's in an enclosed space anyway I don't worry- this has never been an issue.