DIY sparge water heater. How hard can it be?

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muppix

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My AG setup is slowly nearing completion, and as my attention turns to sparging I'm wondering if the various dedicated products are really worth the premiums being charged when a cheap tea urn is really all that's needed. Except that cheap tea urns often come with a cheap tap and just an on / off switch, giving you another jubilee clip and thermometer to keep an eye on during brew day.

So I started thinking ... would it be possible to rig up an Inkbird temperature controller to a basic immersion heater and some kind of temperature-resistant vessel of choice? I wouldn't be heating above 75 ℃ which gives me a good choice of containers - provided I keep the element securely fixed. I'd also be able to upgrade to a larger vessel in the event that my initial capacity isn't enough, which I doubt since I can always add a few litres while sparging provided the heater keeps up.

Has anyone gone down this route? I had a quick search before posting this but couldn't find anything.
 

Clint

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Not exactly sure but I think Malt Miller sell something similar.
 

Graz

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Pretty easy I'd have thought, just knock up one of these sorts of jobbys using kettle elements: Build Your Own Brewery for Under £100 ! - STEP 2 - the Boiler

I'd probably use two elements to get it up to temperature quickly then switch over to the Inkbird to control one of the elements to maintain a constant temperature. I'm assuming the Inkbirds can switch 2.4kW though, I have one but only use it in a brew fridge so the currents involved are much lower.

30L polyprop bucket for it can be had for a nominal sum of money e.g. 33 ltr Fermenting Bin & Lid
 

muppix

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Not exactly sure but I think Malt Miller sell something similar.
Yeah, but on this one occasion I'm trying to avoid paying through the nose for what is essentially just a big, cheap thing with a big, expensive badge on it. 😉

Pretty easy I'd have thought, just knock up one of these sorts of jobbys using kettle elements: Build Your Own Brewery for Under £100 ! - STEP 2 - the Boiler
Oh wow. I mean no. Oh no. Using a plastic fermenting bucket crossed my mind too, but I immediately discounted it because the plastic those are made from is not the same plastic that even the cheapest of kettles are made from, and mounting a multi-kilowatt heating element in there directly sounds like a recipe for disaster. Might just be me though - I still over-clench each time I pour in 3 litres of hot wort from a kit brew...

I do like your idea of using two elements for speed and then one for duration, thanks for that. Just need to find a vessel that gives me confidence. Maybe throw a couple of quid at a 20 litre metal jerry can? Hmmm ...
 

jjsh

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Has anyone gone down this route? I had a quick search before posting this but couldn't find anything.
I've done exactly this. 2nd hand Burco Cygnet from flea bay. Changed the tap for a proper ball valve (this was the hardest part, as you need various gubbins to get it to fit into the standard tap hole), and an inkbird.

Works like a charm. I already had the inkbird, so it cost me about £55.
 

Buffers brewery

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the plastic those are made from is not the same plastic that even the cheapest of kettles are made from, and mounting a multi-kilowatt heating element in there directly sounds like a recipe for disaster
I use a plastic waste bin as a HERMS heat exchanger. Has a 2 kW kettle element controlled by an inkbird. Sits at 72C for the duration of the mash and sparge (+2 hours). Not saying you should use a waste bin for sparge water (not food safe) but PP fermentation bucket would handle the temperature fine.... providing you don't run it dry! ashock1
 

ppsmith

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My current HLT is almost exactly what you describe - a blue HDPE drum with 2x cheap kettle elements controlled with an Inkbird ITC-100 PID controller controlling both elements (each running on a separate SSR). Absolutely no problem running this up to 75°C.

Seen here buried in the middle of setting up for a kitchen brew day:



Prior to upgrading to stainless I used to have another of these with 2 uncontrolled elements as my boil kettle - the plastic does soften at 100°C but not enough to rupture. Not recommending that of course, but I'd seen others doing it and it let me get my first 3 vessel setup on the go on a budget.
 

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RichardM

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I use a cheap tea urn with and STC 1000 to control the temperature. The only modification I have done is to drill a hole in the lid so I can dangle the temperature probe in the water.
 

jeg3

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Can't see the point in having two elements for a sparge water heater, put it on when the mash has started and it'll be at temp when the mash is complete....

I can see the need for two elements in a kettle though.
 

ppsmith

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Can't see the point in having two elements for a sparge water heater

I’ve had one element fail mid brew and having the second that day was very handy. Could probably get away with one as you say but as they’re so cheap no harm in throwing a spare in there.
 

Graz

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Yeah, but on this one occasion I'm trying to avoid paying through the nose for what is essentially just a big, cheap thing with a big, expensive badge on it. 😉



Oh wow. I mean no. Oh no. Using a plastic fermenting bucket crossed my mind too, but I immediately discounted it because the plastic those are made from is not the same plastic that even the cheapest of kettles are made from, and mounting a multi-kilowatt heating element in there directly sounds like a recipe for disaster. Might just be me though - I still over-clench each time I pour in 3 litres of hot wort from a kit brew...

I do like your idea of using two elements for speed and then one for duration, thanks for that. Just need to find a vessel that gives me confidence. Maybe throw a couple of quid at a 20 litre metal jerry can? Hmmm ...

It's no different to this commercially available product though: Peco Mashing Bin | Beer Brewing | All Grain - Get Er Brewed

I also didn't suggest using a bog standard plastic fermenting bin rather a polypropylene bucket which can take the heat, it's good to around 160°C (worst case) according to Wikipedia 😉
 

buddsy

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I guess it depends how much you want to spend or save?

I bought a 20L tea ern from ebay for £54 and a £5 thermostat. But the time you messed around how much are you going to save?

Works well. Tap might not be the best in the world but for using to fill a jug with hot water works well for me.







buddsy
 

jeg3

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I’ve had one element fail mid brew and having the second that day was very handy. Could probably get away with one as you say but as they’re so cheap no harm in throwing a spare in there.
I'm too much of an optimitist to put another one in just in case the main one fails. If it did fail I'd just use the hot tap and hope for the best!
 

muppix

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I've done exactly this. 2nd hand Burco Cygnet from flea bay.
That seems to be a running theme, probably for good reason. I'd prefer to buy new rather than second hand but unfortunately I'm not based in mainland UK and always get whacked for postage. Will keep my eyes open though, cheers.

My current HLT is almost exactly what you describe - a blue HDPE drum with 2x cheap kettle elements controlled with an Inkbird ITC-100 PID controller
I like the look of that but I'm still a little concerned at those kettle elements mounted in plastic. Completely accept that's probably my lack of experience talking and I'd probably get over it in time.
Out of interest, what's the purpose of that picnic cooler with the tap towards the left of the first image? If I'm to use a plastic container for heating water then it may as well be an insulated one, and a square box would fit my setup better than a round urn ...

You can cold sparge too, it makes little difference with effeciency.
That had crossed my mind too, and I'm open for experimentation, which is another reason that I don't want to spend too much on a heater. If it turns out that cold sparging is the way for me then my budget water container will still work unpowered, and I'll put the Inkbird to use somewhere else. On the other hand, if I buy an expensive 'badged' heater I'll probably never try cold sparging ... in blatant denial. 😉

I also didn't suggest using a bog standard plastic fermenting bin rather a polypropylene bucket which can take the heat, it's good to around 160°C (worst case) according to Wikipedia 😉
Fair enough, my bad. Is there a material code I should look out for when choosing containers? I really don't know as much as I'd like in this area.

I bought a 20L tea ern from ebay for £54 and a £5 thermostat. But the time you messed around how much are you going to save?
Yeah, that's true. I'm hoping that the constituent parts for this little project will be reused somewhere else if it doesn't work out; the Inkbird may eventually drive a keezer, the bucket could become an in-place dispenser of sanitiser or cleaner. Kettle element? No idea, but there's room yet on my shelf of "good ideas at the time"😁
 

ppsmith

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Out of interest, what's the purpose of that picnic cooler with the tap towards the left of the first image? If I'm to use a plastic container for heating water then it may as well be an insulated one, and a square box would fit my setup better than a round urn ...
That's the mash tun. No elements mounted in it directly, not entirely sure what the material is or what it could stand.

Construction is an inner plastic shell, polystyrene layer, then an outer plastic shell. It comes apart into the three bits easily so I think it would be mechanically possible to fix the elements to the inner shell and cut away the insulation around it if you wanted to try that.

TgignRD.jpg
 

Galena

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I use a cheap plastic insulated water container, heat the total water up to 90C in my kettle and then drain off my sparge water into it.
It takes about 30 seconds with an immersion chiller to get the kettle water back down to mash temperature and the sparge water is about the right temperature when the time comes to use it.
If I ever upgrade my Klarstein Fullhorn then that will become my HLT.

61UngI0feFL._AC_SL1500_.jpg
 

Mash Monster

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Before I moved onto using my Brewzilla I too used a similar system with a Plastic Peco digital boiler and a converted cool box mash tun worked a treat for me.
Infact I have just listed them both for sale !
 
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