“I built a fermentation chiller using plans found on Ken Schwartz’s “Index of Stuff.” The quick link to the chiller plans is here.
I’ve not seen any actual pictures of the chiller on the Internet, so I’ve posted pictures of mine for you to see. Sometimes it is hard to get a visual picture of something just from seeing diagrams and plans. Hopefully this page will give a little bit of information that might be useful to the homebrewer thinking about building a chiller. If I had had access to a camera while building the chiller I would have step-by-step instructions. The pictures on this page show the completed chiller, which was built solely based on the plans found on Ken’s page.
This is the completed unit closed up cooling two wines in my closet. Note the masking tape around the seals. This was due, in part, to the fact that I used expanded (or bead) foam instead of extruded. The cutting of the expanded foam left rough edges which don’t seal very well. One of the changes I would make would be to build it of extruded foam because of its strength and ease of cutting. What I have been doing during the summer is covering the unit in all of my sleeping bags to help keep drafts from escaping. This is what the unit normally looks like:
Once the top and front panels are removed you can see how much room is in the chiller:
This is a top shot, showing the three chambers. You can click on this image for a larger version with an airflow diagram.
The unit draws air in from the top, pulls it down and over the ice jugs, cooling it, then back out the top on the other side of the fermenter chamber. I use the large, 1-gallon apple juice jugs with the plastic handle on top.
These jugs are much stronger and can be easily stacked in the chiller, allowing up to four at a time.
I normally only need two jugs at a time to keep the chamber temp at 60 degrees F. I’ve gotten the temp down to a consistent 40 degrees using four jugs, with an outside temp of 78 degrees, so I can ferment any ale or lager I want.
The fermenter chamber is large enough to hold one carboy plus one other small fermenter. In the future I might make the chamber longer so I can keep two carboys going at once. I think I would also like to cut the top of the chiller in two pieces so that I only need remove the piece covering the ice chambers instead of removing the entire thing. This would allow the fermenter chamber to stay cooler longer.
My unit uses a simple thermostat found at Home Depot for around $8. I keep it mounted in the fermenter chamber using a small nail at the top and some Velcro at the bottom. I can level the thermostat and use the Velcro to hold it in place and keep it level while it is running. For convenience sake I just keep my bubble level on the thermostat all the time.
My fan came from an old computer power supply and cost me nothing. I cut the power wires and attached them to a 12 Volt AC-DC converter that I had pulled from a non-working piece of computer equipment.
That is about it. The chiller normally runs about 3 days between ice changes, depending on what temp I keep it at. I use a digital indoor/outdoor thermometer with a remote probe to give me an accurate temperature reading. This also allows me to view the temp without opening the chamber, thus keeping it cooler longer. I don’t remember the cost on all the parts, but they were between $30-$40, not including the power supply and fan. It was well worth the effort, especially during the hot Arkansas summer. It also makes a great aging box for aging beer and wine while saving space in my fridge.