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It is my pleasure to announce to you that I have launched a new blog called Taste of Artisan.
On this blog, I will be focusing on my long time passion – artisanal foods and drinks.
Smoked meats and sausages,
cured meats and sausages,
– it will all be there.
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With Taste of Artisan up an running and me being ready to actively work on it, THIS POST and all of the pertinent content on i FOOD Blogger will be migrated there in the near future. So, if you are looking for cured salami recipes, or sourdough bread recipes, you know where to find them – that’s right, on Taste of Artisan.
For those who are into making beer or hard cider, a kegerator is godsent. There are those who still stick to bottling their beers, but for me a kegerator is indispensable. I learned how to build a kegerator by reading countless articles and forum posts, and built two of them, making quite a few mistakes along the way. In this post I will share my experiences, which, I hope, will be helpful to those who are just staring out and want to learn how to build a kegerator the right way from the start.
There are many other reasons why you should build a kegerator. No beer bottle bombs from over-carbonation. No under-carbonation. Kegs are much easier to handle than bottles. Some may call me crazy, but I feel like the beer from the keg tastes differently. Better differently. I don’t like the taste of bottled beer. And don’t get me started on canned beer. You can have you beer carbonated and ready for dispensing within a day. Bottled beer will take its sweet time to adequately carbonate. Finally, don’t forget the coolness factor of having a beer dispenser in your dining room. It’s a guest magnet.
Also, kegerators are not just for dispensing beer. I built a single tap, 2-keg kegerator specifically for carbonating and dispensing carbonated water, which I talked about in my How to Make Carbonated Water post. My family loves it. The ongoing cost of homemade carbonated water is only pennies per gallon. This is huge given that you will pay a couple of bucks per bottle of carbonated water at the local grocery store.
What is a kegerator?
In simple terms, a kegerator is a beer dispensing device. It is a refrigerator that has been specifically designed or modified to chill, store and dispense contents of kegs. The word kegerator was cleverly derived from “keg” and “refrigerator.” A part and parcel of a kegerator is a CO2 tank which allows the beer to be force carbonated and then dispensed under pressure.
The CO2 tank can be located both inside and outside of a kegerator. Depending on the type of beer served, the CO2 gas may be replaced with a beer gas or pure nitrogen. Beer gas is a 75% – 25% mix of nitrogen and CO2 gas. Nitrogen and beer gas require a different from CO2 gas tank due to higher pressure they are stored at.
How hard is it to build a kegerator?
As I mentioned above, it’s a lot easier than many people would think. Having built two kegerators, I would say the hardest part about building a kegerator is figuring out what parts you need and making sure you have everything you need. It can get pretty frustrating when you realize in the middle of the build that you need longer beer tower bolts, or your worm clamps are useless for preventing gas leaks, or that you need specific size washers and so on. This will really slow you down. But, if you have all the parts, tools and supplies on hand the actual build should take about 3-5 hours at the most. I built my second kegerator in a little over 2 hours.
I’ve detailed all those little things in this post, down to bolts and washers. Hopefully, it will help to get the job done quickly and effectively even to those who don’t consider themselves ‘handymen’.
DIY kegerator size
Kegerator size matters. The size is what you start with to define what is the best home kegerator for you. If you plan on dispensing 3 or more beers at a time, it’s best to build a large kegerator. A regular size fridge will fit 4 kegs. It’s a good option for a basement, but won’t look great in a dining room. Unless, of course, you are single or want to be single.
A keezer, a chest freezer kegerator, with a custom finish would work best as it can be made to look very attractive, doesn’t stand too tall, and can fit multiple kegs. For an average person, a small kegerator that fits two kegs is all that’s needed. The focus of my post will be just that, how to build a small kegerator. Though, the same idea applies to any fridge or freezer you pick.
Picking the best keg fridge
As I implied above, the best keg fridge is the one that will cater to your specific needs. So, choose accordingly.
Assuming a 2-keg setup is what you are looking for, you will need to find a fridge that will fit 2 kegs. Some compact fridges will allow that, some won’t. When picking a compact fridge look for the following:
- No freezer compartment
- 4.4 cubic feet or larger
- It’s a Danby designer compact, 4.4 cubic feet fridge
Yes, Danby fridges work really well for kegerator conversion and thousands of people use them. I have two DIY homemade kegerators built based on Danby compact refrigerators.
Danby fridges are also a good choice because they cheaper than many other brands and are commonly available. You can buy them new for less than $200, or used for around $100. The curious thing is, used standard size fridges cost less used than these compact fridges. At least, this has been my experience.
Best place to buy kegerator parts
In my experience local home brew stores are the worst places for that due to ridiculous prices. Reputable online sellers like Keg Works, Keg Connection and Midwest Home Brew Supplies are a good option. Amazon is a great place to buy too. I mostly buy parts from Amazon as when you factor in their free shipping and a no-questions-asked return and exchange policy where Amazon pays for return shipping, it wins most of the time in my book. The online retailers I mentioned above also sell their merchandise on Amazon.
Picking the right kegerator parts
When I say the right parts I don’t only mean the parts that will work, I mean the parts that will work well and won’t need to be upgraded soon after you build your kegerator and realize you’ve made a mistake.
A fridge that can fit two standard 5-gallon Cornelius kegs,
such as this Danby 4.4 Cubic Feet Compact Refrigerator:
Money saving tip
Look for these Danby fridges on Craigslist.com or Kijiji.ca if you are in Canada. You can get them practically new for around $100, sometimes less. The best time to buy is April-May. Guess why. (Answer: students are getting rid of them when moving out of dorms).
A kegerator CO2 tank,
Money saving tip
Go with the largest CO2 tank you can buy and live with. I started off with a 5-lb tank, progressed to 10 and 15-lb tanks and now have settled on two 20-lb CO2 tanks. It’s nice to keep the CO2 tank inside the kegerator, but only a 5-lb tank with the regulator attached will fit in the back if you have two kegs. Depending on how you use it, a 5-lb tank will last about 10-15 kegs, or even more according to this source here. A 20-lb tank will last 4 times that. That may translate into going to refill your tank once every 5-6 months vs every two years.
The cost of refills should also be considered. The place where I refill my tanks charges $18.50 for a 5 lb tank, $22.50 for a 15 lb tank, and $25 for a 20 lb tank. I use a lot of CO2 as I also make carbonated water. For me it’s also a 30 minute drive each way. I figure with the cost savings I realize by switching to 20-lb CO2 tanks I will break even on investing in them in about 5 years. Not bad, but I wish I knew all this before I bought smaller tanks and then sold them at a loss.
A kegerator regulator,
Such as this Taprite Regulator with WYE’d dual check Valves:
This regulator will allow feeding CO2 gas to two kegs at the exact same pressure. Alternatively, you can use this Taprite Dual Gauge High Performance Regulator:
To feed CO2 to two kegs with this regulator, you will need a device called a manifold or CO2 distributor, such as this 2 Way CO2 Distributor:
With the regulator above and the manifold you will be able to carbonate two at the exact same pressure. This may be too limiting if you plan on having two different beers on tap that require different carbonation/serving pressures.
In that case, a Taprite T752HP Two Product Dual Pressure Kegerator CO2 Regulator will be a better alternative:
Or you can go with a single pressure regulator chained to a 2-Way Secondary Regulator:
Which way should you go? It depends on what components you already may have, and what you plan on doing in the future. If you think you may be expanding your system to 4 kegs or more, a dual pressure regulator will provide the most flexibility at the minimum price. If not sure, but now you want to carbonate and serve beers at different pressure levels, go with a single pressure regulator and a 2-way secondary regulator.
A CO2 Air Tank Wrench,
like this Learn To Brew CO2 Air Tank Wrench:
A gas hose,
Such as this high quality Gas/Air Hose, 5/16 ID, 9/16 OD:
You will need about 12 feet minimum with the CO2 tank on the outside, possibly more depending on your configuration and the distance to the CO2 tank.
Two gas ball lock quick disconnects,
There are good quality quick disconnects, like CMB Becker, made in Germany and assembled in USA, and there knock offs which tend to stick, leak, break prematurely and generally piss us, homebrewers, off. Don’t be cheap. Spend a few dollars more and get the quality stuff.
Be very careful buying these. 1/4″ MFL to 1/4″ barb are too thin for the 5/16″ gas line, even though descriptions try to (incorrectly) convince you that they are fine for 5/16″ inch lines. They are not. You need a 5/16″ barb for the 5/16″ ID gas line I linked above to fit perfectly.
Two liquid ball lock quick disconnects,
with two Barbed Swivel Nuts, 3/16″ ID:
Beer towers come with hex nut assemblies suited for commercial kegs. Like shown on the picture below.
What you will need to do is cut these hex nuts off and reconnect the beer lines to liquid ball lock quick disconnects mentioned above. The beer lines are 3/16″ ID. 1/4″ ID barbs will fit, I am using them, but it’s a super tight fit and you will need to push really hard to get those barbs fit in. A better approach would be to get quick disconnects with MFL (threaded) connectors and swivel nuts with 3/16″ barbs.
Two ball lock beer kegs,
AEB kegs are the highest quality kegs, made in Italy. I started off with 4 AEB kegs in 2009, and now I have a total of 6, adding another two just recently. I love them. They look great, the quality of craftsmanship is top-notch.
When buying my last two kegs, I went with AMYCL, India made kegs. They look very similar to the AEB kegs on the picture and I fell for the cheaper price. When I saw them I immediately felt disappointed. The quality was just not there, the lid opening mechanism felt awkward. I packed them and immediately sent them back to Amazon. So, know what you are buying especially if you are new to this.
Money Saving Tip
Instead of buying new kegs you may want to buy reconditioned kegs for about half-price and save a bunch of money. Nothing wrong with that and many folks do that. Just be careful about what you are buying. Many reconditioned kegs come in poor shape and may not perform as expected.
A stainless steel dual tap tower,
like this awesome Kegco Double Faucet SS Draft Beer Tower w/Perlick 650SS Faucets.
Money saving tip
Beer line balancing to get a perfect beer flow without too much foam was my most frustrating beer dispensing experience. Calculating perfect line lengths, throwing out 5-foot long beer lines that came with the tower and buying new, longer ones… Then realizing the stock chrome plated faucets are junk and upgrading to stainless Perlick 630SS faucets, then finally upgrading to Perlick 650SS with flow control and getting rid of a mess of long beer lines inside the kegerator. What a waste of time, effort and hard earned money!
Granted, when I was just starting out 650SS’s did not exist. Now they do. Do yourself a favor, just buy a dual faucet tower with Perlick 650SS pre-installed from the get-go. This will save you a lot of frustration and money in the long run. You will thank me later.
A set of longer beer tower fastener bolts,
such as this Fastener Bolt Set for Draft Beer Towers from KegWorks.com (pictured below on the left). The bolts that come with towers are generally shorter than what you would need for the Danby fridge (pictured below on the right). From what I recall, people have had the same issue with other fridges, so keep that in mind.
A Kegerator temeprature controller,
This is a very welcome addition to my kegerator and I absolutely love it, especially for the price. I used to think that beer must be ice cold to be good. But, once you switch to drinking home-brewed craft beers you learn that different beer styles are best appreciated at specific temperatures, from 38F all the way to 55F. A digital temperature controller sure comes in handy for that.
A kegerator tower cooler (optional),
There are many solutions for chilling beer in the hoses that go inside the tower, from really inexpensive ones, such as using copper pipes, to using computer fan that blow air up the tower, to using uber expensive glycol chilled towers. I use neither and am quite happy with the results. You decide for yourself.
Beer mug rails (optional),
After a lot of search I settled on these beautiful LANSA stainless steel drawer handles from Ikea that look amazing on both of my kegerators. They come in pairs and you will need the 13″ (for the sides) and the 17″(for the back) sets.
Kegerator conversion kits – good or bad?
I see dozens of kegerator conversion kits sold everywhere. This makes me think that there good demand for them. Should you go with a kit instead of buying parts separately? If you have to ask this question, go back and read my tips above. The answer will be obvious.
My recommendation is to forget about the kegerator conversion kits and buy quality parts separately. Kits are only attractive by their low price. The attraction ends there. Parts that go inside kits are usually low in quality and performance. They are designed to get people going at a lower price, but soon they will feel the limitations and will be buying better parts. That’s normal. We all do that. But I hope my experience helps you make the right pick from the start and save money in the long run.
Making a kegerator – work, tools, materials and supplies
Before you start assembling the parts and building your awesome DIY kegerator, you will need to do some dirty work, like drilling holes and removing plastic shelves from the door. This isn’t hard and doesn’t take a lot of time, but you will need to be careful.
Assuming you are converting a Danby 4.4 cubic feet compact fridge or similar, you will need to do following:
- Drill a 2″ hole for the beer tower
- Drill 4 small holes for beer tower bolts
- Remove plastic shelves from the door as they will interfere with properly closing the door when the kegs are inside.
- Drill a 7/8″ – 1″ hole for the gas line. Perhaps even two holes side by side depending on your needs (more on that later). This is needed if the CO2 tank will be kept outside the fridge.
- Drill 6 or more small holes in the fridge cover for the mug rails, if you are adding them
- Drill a 1/2″ hole for the drip tray, if you are adding it
As for the tools, material and supplies, this is what you will need:
- An electric drill
- A 2″ hole saw (don’t use a dull hole saw, it won’t cut through steel)
- Drill bits
- A Phillips screw driver
- A utility knife
- A spray bottle with soap water
- Oetiker Standard Jaw Pincers
Additional materials and supplies:
- Silicone caulk (depending on the model of the fridge)
- A sheet of white plastic (depending on the model of the fridge)
- 4 feet of 3/8″ thick wood planks
- Aluminum tape
- 4x of the following size washers: 1-1/4″, 3/4″ and 7/8″
- 4-6 Oeticker Stainless Steel Single Ear Hose Clamps size 5/8″ or 15.7mm (for the 5/16″ gas line)
- 2 Oeticker Stainless Steel Single Ear Hose Clamps size 1/2″ or 13.3mm (for the 3/16″ beer lines)
It’s best to buy Oeticker stepless hose clamps in bulk as they are much cheaper that way. At my local homebrew store they are a buck a piece. And when you need them while changing the system configuration or fixing leaks and such, it’s nice to have them handy.
If your fridge is not a Danby that I am using as the example, do yourself a favor and check out your fridge’s schematics to make sure you don’t accidentally drill into some important stuff, like cooling lines or electric wires. I like using Part Select for that kind of check.
Preparing the Fridge for Kegerator Build
All the pictures were taken after the fact, so they may not necessarily reveal all little details and intricacies. If something is not clear, just ask in the comment section at the bottom of the post.
MAKE SURE THE FRIDGE IS UNPLUGGED BEFORE YOU START!
Step 1 – move the fridge light assembly out of the way
- Unscrew two screws in the front of the assembly and one in the back.
- Pull whole assembly down and to the right.
The wires are rigid and it will stay put and out of the way from where you will be drilling. If you want to be more careful, disconnect and remove the assembly while you are drilling.
Step 2 – drill a 2″ hole for the beer tower
- Tape masking tape over the area where you will be drilling to avoid scratching the top
- Mark the center where you will be drilling. I centered the hole 5 inches from the back of the fridge. I did not remove the lid before drilling. I think you can center the hole about 5-1/4″ to 5-1/2″ from the back and still be fine. This will move the back tower fastener bolts away from cooling plate a little more and provide more space for the larger washers.
- Drill the hole from the top down. You will be drilling through plastic top, white foam board, steel sheet, insulation foam, then white plastic sheet. Cutting through steel is the most difficult part. Make sure to use a sharp hole saw.
Step 3 – drill 4 small holes for the beer fastening tower bolts
- Place your beer tower over the 2″ hole. Center and align as needed.
- With the beer tower in place, mark on the masking tape where the holes for the beer tower fastening bolts are.
- Drill the holes for the tower fastening bolts.
Step 4 – drill a 2″ hole and 4 small holes in the wood plank
- Remove the top from the fridge.
- Place a wood plank under the lid and mark where the holes you just drilled are
- Drill the same holes in the wood plank
- (Optionally) drill a hole for the drip tray, if installing
Step 5 (optional) – attach rails to the top
- With the top off, drill the holes for the rails
- Attach the rails by fastening to the fridge top
Step 6 – clean up, tape the hole with aluminum tape, put the top back on
- With the top off, clean up the mess and smooth out rough edges.
- Align the wood plank with the holes in the fridge.
- Re-attach the lid and fasten with screws
- Tape the sides of the hole with the silver tape
Step 6 – Drill hole(s) for the gas lines
If you will be using a larger CO2 tank or just want to keep it outside the fridge, you will need to drill one or two holes (depending on your configuration) for your gas lines. Pictures below are my older and newer model of Danby 4.4 cubic fridge. If you are using a different fridge, you may have to drill elsewhere, depending on the schematics of that particular fridge.
- Drill the hole(s) over or near the drain hole, using a 1″ drill bit.
- Smooth out edges with sandpaper.
Step 7 – Remove plastic shelves from the door
The molded plastic shelves on the door will interfere with the closing of the door with two kegs inside the kegerator. There are three ways to deal with that.
- If you have an older version of the Danby fridge, you can simply unscrew the whole panel, replace it with a similar size sheet of plastic from Home Depot and be done with it.
- Cut the whole panel out around the door perimeter with a utility knife , then attach a similar size sheet of plastic from Home Depot.
- Cut out only the bumps that interfere with the closing of the door, then cover them with silicone caulk. I actually prefer this method. This way the light will still work otherwise you will have to remove the bulb or it will on all the time until the bulb burns out.
Step 8 – Cut off the shelf guides on the side walls (optional)
The newer Danby fridges have plastic shelf guides that stick out and make it very tight for two kegs to fit in. I did not bother shaving them off. Yes, it’s a tight fit but they still fit and it doesn’t bother me. If you want, cut them off with a utility knife and seal with silicone caulk.
Kegerator Assembly and Adjustment
Step 1 – install the tower
- Fasten the beer tower to the kegerator using the longer screws from KegWorks.com. Some people like to install a wood board on the inside for stability, but my approach work well for me and I’ve never had any tower stability problems.
Step 2 – attach liquid quick disconnects
Step 3 – run gas lines and attach gas quick disconnects
- If the gas tank is outside the fridge, run gas line(s) through the hole(s) in the fridge.
- Connect gas line(s) to the CO2 regulator.
- Connect CO2 regulator to the manifold or secondary regulator, if using.
- Attach gas quick disconnects to the lines going to the kegs.
Example 1 – 4-way manifold
Example 2 – secondary regulator
Step 4 – connect CO2 tank to the CO2 regulator
- Using CO2 air tank wrench, connect CO2 regulator to the CO2 tank.
Step 5 – connect liquid and gas disconnects to the beer kegs
- Connect gas disconnects to filled up beer kegs.
- Connect liquid disconnects to filled up beer kegs.
Step 6 – turn on the system and adjust pressure
- Open the valve on the CO2 gas tank
- Adjust the pressure on the CO2 regulator to the desired level
- Test the system for leaks with soap water (very important!)
Step 7 – adjust flow control on the faucet
This is it, your homemade kegerator build is completed. It wasn’t too hard, was it?
Enjoy your beer!
DIY Draft by Popular Mechanics
Blueprint for A Badass Kegerator by Homebrew Academy
Build You Own Kegerator for Homebrew Kegs by Instructables