Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Electric heating system

In this post, I'll lay out the details of the electric (heatstick) based system that I have been using.  As I mentioned in my previous post, an electric system was what I settled on after considering a propane system.

There seems to be some trepidation in the brewing community regarding systems that involve water and electricity, and with good reason.  If you don't have your system properly designed and installed it could mean a nasty shock at the least, and death at worst.  Without a good understanding of electricity, putting together an electric heating system is a daunting task, and is probably one reason why propane is more popular, at least for now.

Since my background is in electrical engineering, I was somewhat less intimidated with this approach, although I have to admit that I still had to do a lot of reading to convince myself that I wanted to embark on this path.  I had seen several sites that described a heatstick constructed of a water heater element attached to several standard 1-1/2" drain pipe components.  Most used 120VAC elements which was convenient for plugging into a standard outlet.  I was more interested in a higher wattage element that would be capable of quickly bringing 5-10 gallons of water up to mash temperature (~150 Degrees F) in a reasonable time (10-15minutes).  These higher wattage elements required 220VAC, similar to what your electric clothes dryer needs, meaning that I'd need to have a 220VAC outlet installed where I wanted to brew (my basement shop and my garage).  Also, I wanted a way to vary the heatstick output so I needed a way to either vary the voltage or the duty-cycle.  I chose the latter after reading a thread on Homebrewtalk.com that detailed how a Pulse-Wave Modulator circuit board from Bakatronics could be used to turn on and off a solid-state relay (you'll want this heatsink too) to control the heatstick.  The picture below shows a box from HomeDepot that I used to mount the circuit board and the solid stat relay.

Without going into all the details, I ended up with the system shown below, which (with one exception) has serverd me well in the last 6 months of brewing.
You'll notice that I decided to bend the water heater element 90degress so that it lays on the bottom of my keggle.  I emailed Camco before I did this and got this response:
The element sheath is made from Incoloy 840 and the interior is filled with a highly compacted ceramic powder. Bending an element creates gaps in the ceramic that cause high temperature spots. A tighter bend radius gives larger gaps. The larger the gaps are, the higher the temperature will be. High temperatures will reduce the life of the element. If the bend is too tight the element will crack. Too address the difficulties, we use specialized bending equipment and compression dies that we have developed just for these elements.
I don’t recommend bending the element, but if you can't find a way around it, use the largest bend radius possible.

The heatstick is placed into my keggle as shown below
In order to keep the grain bag from being burned by the heatstick, I settled on a 10" stainless steel vegetable steamer to act as a false bottom in the keg as shown below

As you can see from the photo below, I used some stainless steel bolts to serve as feet that hold the steamer several inches off the bottom of the keggle

I've recently purchased a digital temperature controller that I plan on using to control the heatstick in lieu of the PWM circuit board I now use.  More details on that to follow.

In my next post, I'll discuss a few important tips for beginning homebrewers that I learned about the hard way including temperature control of the fermenter, and proper yeast pitching.

Until then...so long for now.....


I have been always looking for such a nice blog. Thanks for sharing this information and do post frequently so that we can keep ourselves updated.
heating in GTA

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