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Fermentation Closet Project

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AZMDTed

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This is a quick half day project I did this weekend to provide me with a consistent temperature fermentation area. My basement is staying about 65-66 degrees now which makes degassing nearly impossible. The last two winters I’ve used a tub and aquarium heater to keep my primary and secondary fermentation going at 75 degrees. While that works well for keeping it warm, it also takes heat away from my Reds which want to go into the 80s during fermentation and from what I’ve learned the higher temp helps extract everything from the skins. I’ve looked at heating belts and other things but for one reason or another they didn’t seem like they would do all that I wanted.

Saturday night I opened a bottle of one year old Lodi Cab and it was gassy. Enough is enough. I’ve eliminated all other variables that I think contributed to it still being gassy, so I’m left with temperature control. I’m thinking that if I had a heat controlled area that I can keep my wine at 75 degrees from primary through degassing I can eliminate that variable too. So Saturday night I planned on converting one of my closet spaces, conveniently located next to my wine area, into a fermentation closet. Here’s what I did.

The former owners had a ‘craft closet’ with a swing down table. Fortunately for me it also had an electrical plug in it. I ripped out the table and then lined the room with Reflectix (basically bubble wrap encased in tin foil). I thought of using 1” rigid foam insulation, but I was concerned about having an open primary in a confined space with whatever outgassing the insulation might do. I decided to use a roll of Reflectix instead. Reflectix is not a traditional insulation but it is a very good radiant heat barrier. That means that the heat from my heat source will be contained in the room pretty well. First step was lining the entire room with Reflectix and then taping the seams using aluminum venting tape. I also build a base out of 2x3 lumber faced on both sides with Reflectix. This does create an insulation effect which is necessary to mitigate the cold basement floor.

Second step was building a wooden shelf unit to go inside the closet. I put in two shelves, for two fermenters or carboys. My heat source will go on the bottom and I want a little separation from it and the bottom rack. For the door I used a piece of leftover aluminum faced ½ inch rigid foam. I couldn’t think of anything else to use in short order and one side of foam is better than all six, so I went with it. It also made it look pretty good. Keep in mind that this was a down and dirty quick project. With more time and thought I’m sure that I could have done something more professional but I chose to use the old adage that better is the enemy of good. Therefore, I have good enough.

The fun part was building a heat source. Google found someone who built a beer fermentation heater out of a light bulb and a gallon paint can. I thought it was a great idea. For less than $20 I got a can, ceiling light mounting plate, plastic light fixture, 3 prong cord and an electrical NM/SE Connector. The plan is very simple, cut a hole in the lid of the can and attach the light plate with the NM/SE Connector and one screw. Take the three prong cord, cut off the female end, strip the wires, connect black to brass and white to chrome on the light fixture, and the ground to the plate and you are wired up. Tighten up the NM/SE connector on the cord so that it won’t pull out, screw in a 60w light bulb, loosely set the lid with the bulb attached back on the can and voila, you have a 60w heater. The can idea seems ideal for this as it protects the bulb and ensures that the room stays dark.

CAUTION: If you google this set up I recommend that you make two modifications I mention above. USE a 3 wire cord so that you can ground the fixture and can, AND use the NM/SE Connector to prevent the cord from both pulling out and getting cut on the can. To me these are essential safety features that aren’t in the plans on the internet.

Finally, I ordered a Ink Bird temperature controller which came in yesterday. I’m using the heating plug with the temp set at 75 and a 2 degree differential. This will control when the light is on and off so that it doesn’t overheat the room. I also put down a couple tiles on the racks. This helps distribute the weight as well as keeping the heater from directly heating the bottom of a carboy or fermenter on the bottom shelf.

I like to design and tinker and this kept me busy for a day. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work but we will see. Even if the light runs 24 hrs a day during the cool months, at 60w that’s only $.14 a day for electricity. I realize that no one needs something like this, but I thought I’d give it try and maybe give someone else an idea to help them keep fermenting, and degassing, in the winter.

1 Old Closet.jpg

2 Reflectix Walls.jpg

3 Shelves in.jpg

4 Door on.jpg

5 From outside.jpg
 

Redbird1

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Looks great! Love the idea.

Any concerns about a temperature gradient between the top and bottom? It looks like there is a fair amount of space between the slats for the shelves, but the tile on top of the can might keep a lot of the heat towards the bottom and it doesn't sound like you have a fan. Where do you have the thermocouple for the inkbird? I think you might end up with a warmer bottom section and cooler top section, but maybe I'm overthinking it.

Edit to add: I know some people use something as small as a computer cooling fan to help circulate the air a little.

Edit 2: I might offset the can and the tile/carboy on the first shelf. That would eliminate any concern about direct heating and allow the heat the more easily reach the top portion. Offsetting it and adding a small fan positioned at the bottom and facing up should help if there is indeed a big difference between the temperature at the top and bottom.
 
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dcbrown73

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Very nice.

When I was a kid, I had a neighbor who heated their doghouse with an incandescent bulb and lined the inside of the doghouse with heavy blankets. The only issue was really that it got very warm (close to 90F) inside the doghouse.

I have no idea what size bulb they had, I just remember thinking that was cool for them to do for their dog.
 

AZMDTed

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Looks great! Love the idea.

Any concerns about a temperature gradient between the top and bottom? It looks like there is a fair amount of space between the slats for the shelves, but the tile on top of the can might keep a lot of the heat towards the bottom and it doesn't sound like you have a fan. Where do you have the thermocouple for the inkbird? I think you might end up with a warmer bottom section and cooler top section, but maybe I'm overthinking it.

Edit to add: I know some people use something as small as a computer cooling fan to help circulate the air a little.

Edit 2: I might offset the can and the tile/carboy on the first shelf. That would eliminate any concern about direct heating and allow the heat the more easily reach the top portion. Offsetting it and adding a small fan positioned at the bottom and facing up should help if there is indeed a big difference between the temperature at the top and bottom.
Thanks, good comments/suggestions. Right now there are some small air gaps at both the top and bottom of the door. I'm thinking this should act as a natural cold air return and maintain a small flow of air. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for the temps on each shelf. The gauge for the Ink Bird is presently on the second shelf next to the unit itself. Separately I put in an indoor/outdoor temperature unit so that I can check on it without opening the door. My working theory is that the heat from the can will rise to the top so hopefully being a small space the temperature differential shouldn't be huge.

The 60W bulb certainly warms up the can but I wouldn't call it hot to the touch. The shelves are open to promote air flow as well. I will probably move the move can away from dead center under the bottom shelf to limit direct heating of the tile.

I also will be checking to get a sense of how often the bulb is on. I don't think it will be on more than half the time, if that but we will see.
 

AZMDTed

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Very nice.

When I was a kid, I had a neighbor who heated their doghouse with an incandescent bulb and lined the inside of the doghouse with heavy blankets. The only issue was really that it got very warm (close to 90F) inside the doghouse.

I have no idea what size bulb they had, I just remember thinking that was cool for them to do for their dog.
When I was a kid my little sister got an easy bake oven which would cook small cakes using a 100w bulb. Pretty powerful. Though I'd chuckle if someone grabbed an LED bulb and tried this. Time to stock up while I can.

When I checked on it this morning, the temp was 75 and the bulb was off. I used the Ink Bird in my wine cellar for cooling and have come to really appreciate them.
 

dcbrown73

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When I was a kid my little sister got an easy bake oven which would cook small cakes using a 100w bulb. Pretty powerful. Though I'd chuckle if someone grabbed an LED bulb and tried this. Time to stock up while I can.

When I checked on it this morning, the temp was 75 and the bulb was off. I used the Ink Bird in my wine cellar for cooling and have come to really appreciate them.
When I was reading your post, I was thinking Raspberry Pi and a temperature sensor to control a power socket, but a low cost (probably cheaper) ready built device works just as well without any work to put it together!

I've still probably have a year before I purchase my next house. I'm so ready to start some great projects like this also.
 

Mismost

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Nice build Ted!

I just bought a small chest type freezer, an InkBird, and I already had one of those small cube heaters....I don't think the heater has even turned on yet here in South Texas. Works great. I like this set up because I can still use the freezer as a freezer during hunting season, a cooler during gardening season, aging "cellar", fermentation chamber, or a warming chamber....makes the chest freezer multi functional. That and I have ZERO extra room in the house, no spare closets here!

If I could change one thing...I would have spent another 100-150 bucks and got a BIGGER freezer....plenty of room in my shop.
 

AZMDTed

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Thanks. I saw a lot of beer brewers using chest freezers for their fermentation too. Good idea, and multi use like you say. Sadly my wife who tries to buy organic food whenever she can just doesn't understand that deer are the ultimate free-range meat. Oh well, Maryland is nothing like Arizona was so no elk or deer for me any more. More time for wine :)
 

Redbird1

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Thanks, good comments/suggestions. Right now there are some small air gaps at both the top and bottom of the door. I'm thinking this should act as a natural cold air return and maintain a small flow of air. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for the temps on each shelf. The gauge for the Ink Bird is presently on the second shelf next to the unit itself. Separately I put in an indoor/outdoor temperature unit so that I can check on it without opening the door. My working theory is that the heat from the can will rise to the top so hopefully being a small space the temperature differential shouldn't be huge.

The 60W bulb certainly warms up the can but I wouldn't call it hot to the touch. The shelves are open to promote air flow as well. I will probably move the move can away from dead center under the bottom shelf to limit direct heating of the tile.

I also will be checking to get a sense of how often the bulb is on. I don't think it will be on more than half the time, if that but we will see.
Sounds like you have a good plan. You might consider moving the indoor/outdoor temperature unit around to different locations and taking readings once things stabilize inside the closet to see if it actually an issue or not.
 

stickman

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You may want to consider a ceramic rather than plastic socket if the bulb ends up being on for extended periods of time.
 

Mismost

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Thanks. I saw a lot of beer brewers using chest freezers for their fermentation too. Good idea, and multi use like you say. Sadly my wife who tries to buy organic food whenever she can just doesn't understand that deer are the ultimate free-range meat. Oh well, Maryland is nothing like Arizona was so no elk or deer for me any more. More time for wine :)
we have friends who just "can't stand deer meat"...but they will chow down on our chicken fried steak, sausage, and burgers...if it's red meat, it's almost always venison around here. The Hill Country deer herd is about 2 million...it's self defense hunting...shoot 'em before they wreak your car!
 

AZMDTed

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Any concerns about a temperature gradient between the top and bottom? It looks like there is a fair amount of space between the slats for the shelves, but the tile on top of the can might keep a lot of the heat towards the bottom and it doesn't sound like you have a fan. Where do you have the thermocouple for the inkbird? I think you might end up with a warmer bottom section and cooler top section, but maybe I'm overthinking it.
Nope, you weren't overthinking it. There's a 3 degree differential between the bottom shelf and the top. As an experiment this evening I will add a small fan to the bottom that will come on when the light bulb does and see what happens. Worst case scenario is that I turn down the inkbird temp setting and have the bottom rack at 75 and the top at 72, both still in the recommended temp setting for fermentation. I also added a piece of Reflectix between the tile and the wine on the bottom to insulate the bottle from direct heating from the tile. I figure that still allows the tile to act as a heat sink while not adding heat to the wine above it. I could also try putting the Reflectix under the tile and prevent the tile from direct heating altogether.

But the good news is that it does seem to be a cost effective way to maintain a desirable temperature in a small area without heating the whole basement.
 

Redbird1

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Nope, you weren't overthinking it. There's a 3 degree differential between the bottom shelf and the top. As an experiment this evening I will add a small fan to the bottom that will come on when the light bulb does and see what happens. Worst case scenario is that I turn down the inkbird temp setting and have the bottom rack at 75 and the top at 72, both still in the recommended temp setting for fermentation. I also added a piece of Reflectix between the tile and the wine on the bottom to insulate the bottle from direct heating from the tile. I figure that still allows the tile to act as a heat sink while not adding heat to the wine above it. I could also try putting the Reflectix under the tile and prevent the tile from direct heating altogether.

But the good news is that it does seem to be a cost effective way to maintain a desirable temperature in a small area without heating the whole basement.
Glad to hear it is working out. 3 degrees seems reasonable given the bit of cold air return you mentioned. If it was completely stagnant, like you'd get in a closed fermentation chamber or keezer, I imagine it might have been a bit higher. A small fan should probably get things consistent throughout.

I'd also recommend changing the light fixture to ceramic as suggested earlier out of an abundance of caution. If things ever go haywire for some reason, it can't hurt to have ceramic in there instead of plastic. I didn't even know they made those out of plastic.
 

Redbird1

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we have friends who just "can't stand deer meat"...but they will chow down on our chicken fried steak, sausage, and burgers...if it's red meat, it's almost always venison around here. The Hill Country deer herd is about 2 million...it's self defense hunting...shoot 'em before they wreak your car!
:h

We've found that if you mix a little pork fat in with ground venison it really hides some of the gaminess that turns some people off. Plus, for burgers, the extra fat helps since by itself, venison is so lean. The other cuts of meat I can't really tell much of a difference.

Now you've got me hungry for a grilled roast...
 

Mismost

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:h

We've found that if you mix a little pork fat in with ground venison it really hides some of the gaminess that turns some people off. Plus, for burgers, the extra fat helps since by itself, venison is so lean. The other cuts of meat I can't really tell much of a difference.

Now you've got me hungry for a grilled roast...
Yeah...there is pork fat and it's ok. THEN THERE IS BACON!! And the difference is just unbelievable. We use those boxes of bacon end pieces marked "for cooking"...grind it in for great sausage and burger meat. Actually beef fat ain't bad in the burger grind.

However, I would not store any of this in a heat ferm closet...just to stay on topic.
 

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