HOWTO build your own kegerator
I am terrible at DIY. I'm lazy and have terrible tools, so generally when I "fix" something it works for about 20 minutes before going up in smoke. That said, I was able to make one of these kegerators and it's worked flawlessly for years.
Since I brew beer, it's much easier to provide it on tap than via bottles, and I can go from fermenting it to drinking it in a shorter time which is always a plus. When I originally thought up this project I thought I would usually have two beers on tap and use the third tap for carbonating water. It turns out I usually only have one beer on tap as I don't drink as much as I used to (beer has lots of calories, who would have thought!?) but the carbonated water tap gets a ton of use. My family of 4 goes through about 8-10 gallons (40L) of soda water every week!
To make one of these beasts, you will need the following:
- A wine chiller (I'll get to why a wine chiller in a minute)
- A "real" thermostat (details below)
- Kegs (go used, pin lock or ball lock, it doesn't matter)
- A CO2 bottle (I have a 5lb bottle)
- A tap head (single, double, triple, doesn't matter)
- A regulator (I recommend getting a double unit like I have if you will have beer AND soda)
- Gas lines (for CO2)
- A manifold (if you will have more kegs than taps on your regulator)
- 1/4" MFL nuts and stems (these connect lines to components)
- Vinyl tubing (1/4" or so is fine)
- Hose clamps
- Tap and keg tools
The reason I chose a wine chiller over a mini fridge was twofold:
- Wine chillers look nicer usually
- Most minifridges use the cooling "plate" as the bottom of the freezer section. You will need to carefully bend this down out of the way to make space, and I don't trust myself to do this correctly. If you break one of the lines, the fridge is ruined. Wine chillers are basically an empty space with racks you can remove. It's extremely easy to find one on Craigslist for $100 or less.
The second expensive component is the tap head. A triple tap is quite expensive, and it cost more that most of the other components combined. If you plan to have only one or two kegs, or if you're doing the "double water keg" method I outline, you should only need a single or double tap. These can be gotten at a beer supply store or online. As of this writing, a single tap with good reviews is about $60 on amazon.com.
The CO2 bottle is essentially a 1000psi bomb you keep in your house. Luckily, this type of tank is extremely common and are very safe. They are tested much like SCUBA tanks and must be able to hold pressure WAY past what we put them through. The good thing is that a standard 5lb CO2 tank holds a lot more gas than a sodastream tank, and at least around here only costs about $15 to refill. This is the only part I would always recommend to buy new, mine was about $70 at my local brew store. If you're going to build this project, make sure you find somewhere that can fill CO2 bottles, and preferably fills "food grade" CO2 to prevent getting something that smells or tastes terrible.
the regulator steps down the high pressure inside the tank to the appropriate pressures (10-25psi) for the liquid you're carbonating. For beer, I rarely go much past 10psi depending on the style, but for soda water I like it fizzy so I push it up to 25psi. If you can find a used regulator that looks in good shape (no damage or rotted rubber rings) then take it, but I bought mine new as it's on the "high pressure" side of the system and I was a little paranoid. If you plan on having beer and soda, I recommend a two-output unit with individual gauges, that way you can have more than one pressure out of the lines for the different uses.
The Kegs are next in terms of cost. There are generally three types of keg connectors you will deal with in the US: Pin lock (Coke, Ball lock (Pepsi), and Sankey (Commerical Beers). If you want to occasionally buy kegs from the store, you will need to purchase some sankey adapters. If you're just going to keep homebrew or soda water, go with either pin locks or ball locks, whichever are cheaper for you to get at the time. Corny Kegs has a selection for good prices, as well as lots of educational materials.
Whichever keg you get, you will need at least one liquid connector and one gas connector. I use pin lock kegs with MFL connectors to make it easy to connect and disconnect the lines.
Note that Ball lock kegs are generally thinner and taller than Pin lock kegs. Make sure you measure and give yourself 6" or so of space from the top of the keg to the top of the inside of the fridge to make sure you can get your lines and connectors in there.
The standard thermostat on a wine chiller or mini fridge is terrible. For less than $20 you can get an Excellent thermostat so long as you're willing to measure temperature in Celcius. This will replace the thermostat with one you have very fine control over. I keep mine at 5C, which is nice and cold for water and beer.
If you have more kegs than you have taps on your regulator, you will need to get a manifold. These vary widely in terms of size/shape/taps/price, so after you figure out how many kegs you are going to make, purchase a manifold that matches your gas line sizes and connectors.
MFL nuts and stems are a standard connector that are easy to work with. these are very cheap.
You should get gas lines from the same place you get your CO2 tank, most of them will sell them. The liquid lines, you can use normal vinyl lines from the hardware store with no problems. 1/4" internal diameter should work fine with normal MFL adapters.
Most likely you will need a tap wrench to take the taps apart, and you should be able to get one from the same place you get the tap.
Ball lock kegs use a wrench/socket to take them off to clean, so make sure you look up which one you need after you decide on pin or keg logs. Since I use pin locks, I bought a 13/16" deep socket from the hardware store and cut the grooves in it to match the two-prong gas line and three-prong liquid line.
Finally you will need a drill and possible a Dremel-like tool, as well as a sharp knife to cut lines.
- Unplug your wine chiller after you make sure it gets cold
- Find the wiring diagram somewhere near the compressor so you can ID the main AC wires and the compressor wires. You will be ripping out/bypassing the existing thermostat.
- If you get the same thermostat I have, you will need to connect the AC from the compressor to the unit, and the mains to the unit in the right slots. The thermostat fit in the same spot inside as the original, so it was a great looking build there.
- Turn on your wine chiller with a fire extinguisher nearby and make sure the thermostat controls the compressor properly.
- Unplug your chiller again and figure out how big the hole needs to be for the tap. Usually these are 3" or so.
- Cut the hole with a hole saw or a dremel. Be careful of any electrical wires at this point and move them out of the way as you cut through the insulation.
- Drill the bolt holes for the tap mount and mount the tap, with the tap lines hanging inside the fridge
- Drill out a side hole large enough for the gas lines. You can keep the manifold inside the fridge, so you should only need enough space for as many lines as you have gas taps.
- Feed gas tubing through the holes. Drop line clamps over the hoses, then connect the ends to the gas taps. Tighten the clamps well on the lines.
- Place the connectors on the kegs, and lightly screw the MFL stems and caps onto the connectors. Measure the length needed for the gas lines to comfortably be installed and adjusted, and cut the lines with a couple inches of slack. remove the MFL adapters from the kegs, pull the kegs from the fridge and attach the MFL stems with hose clamps.
- Cut the lines from the taps if they have the wrong ends, and install MFL adapters for your liquid lines.
- You are almost done. Fill a keg with water, attach the gas and liquid connectors, connect the liquid line to the connector with the MFL and attach the gas line
- Make sure the regulator is off and both valves are off. Connect the regulator to the CO2 tank tightly and turn on the CO2 gently. You should see pressure on the main gauge but no leaks.
- Gently turn up the pressure to about 10psi then open the valve. You should hear the gas enter the water, and quiet down after a few seconds. If you keep hearing gas escape, look for leaks and tighten connectors.
- Open the tap and make sure water flows. It won't be carbonated yet, but the system is working!
- Turn the CO2 up to 25psi and leave it for a couple days.
- Open the tap and enjoy all the soda water you can drink.
I usually keep two kegs of water and move the liquid line between them as one runs out. Both are connected to the 25psi gas line. This way, by the time the first keg runs out, the second one is carbonated. This way you always have plenty of soda water with no waiting.
You will need to clean out the tap every few weeks to keep the buildup away. There are small brushes designed specifically for this.
- $100 for fridge
- $80 for regulator
- $70 for fridge
- $50 for CO2 tank
- $150 for tap
- $70 for two kegs
- $20 for two liquid and two gas connectors
- $40 for clamps, MFL adapters
- $20 for socket and tap wrench
= $600 dollars. This sounds like a lot until you see that a 3-tap kegerator costs over $1000 new. Also, over time you will save quite a lot as CO2 refills are far cheaper than Sodastream tanks and will make far more soda water.