Planning an Indoor Electric Brewery – Part 1 – Electrical Considerations

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This week I’ll take a look at some of the considerations that come into play with planning and building out an electric brewery. There are huge advantages to brewing indoors in that you can brew in any weather year round, but properly installing and operating an indoor electric brewery does require some planning – especially with regards to electricity. In almost every case you will need the assistance of an electrician to properly power your brewery.

A few months back I switched to a new Blichmann BrewEasy 10 gal (38 l) electric brewing system. I’ve really enjoyed the system so far, and love the flexibility of being able to brew inside when it is too cold or even too hot to enjoy brewing outside. I did have to get a new circuit breaker and wiring installed to support the brewery in a safe manner, and I’ll share some of that with you below.

Indoor Electrical Brewery Considerations

Planning your indoor brewery comes down to three fundamental considerations: a water source, electricity and ventilation. The electricity and ventilation available may limit the size of indoor brewery you can install, and even water could be a limiting factor if you are running an immersion or plate wort chiller that require a continuous cold water source to operate.

Today I’m going to focus on the electrical considerations and I’ll cover the ventilation and water considerations in a separate article (part 2). I will emphasize up front that you should hire a qualified electrician to take a look at your existing circuits and brewery requirements as running a large heating coil on an improperly prepared circuit can lead to fire, electrical shock or even death.

Electric Boil Coil

Electrical Considerations

Most home breweries are heated using an electrical immersion coil in the kettle, mash tun or both. Using a typical brewing gas or propane burner inside safely simply requires more ventilation than the typical home can provide, so I don’t recommend using a propane burner indoors. Electricity can also be a major limitation as it is hard to boil batches over 5 gallons (19l) with a standard 120 volt US electrical outlet.

Here in the US, we typically use two types of electrical outlet. The most familiar is the 120 volt wall outlet, which is used to power all of your average household items like the TV, computer, lamps and accessories. Most homes also have a small number of higher powered 240 volt outlets which are typically used only for large appliances like electric stoves, clothes dryers, water heaters and home heating/cooling units.

The largest 120 volt heating coil for brewing run at about 2,250 watts of power – enough to slowly boil the 7 gal of water needed for a 5 gal (19 l) batch of beer. However this is not large enough power to boil a 10 gal (38 liter) batch. For a 10 gal (38 l) or larger batch size you need a 240 volt circuit. A typical 30 amp, 240 V circuit (the size that might power your clothes dryer) can deliver 5,750 watts of power, which is enough to boil 20+ gal (76 l) of wort. Beyond that you need to install an industrial 240V circuit – typically used in one barrel or larger breweries. In my case, I wanted to run a 10 gal (38 l) BrewEasy which meant installing a 240 V, 30 amp circuit to power my 5,000 watt boil coil.

The Critical Importance of Ground Fault Circuits

Now you may want to just use your existing clothes dryer (240 V) circuit or perhaps a simple wall plug if you are running a smaller brewery. However you really can’t do that because you need what is called a “Ground Fault Interrupt” circuit (GFCI) on the plug to ensure safety. You may be familiar with GFCI outlets which have been required in kitchens and bathrooms here in the US the last 25 years or so. These outlets have a separate “test” and “reset” button on them. What the GFCI circuit does is automatically shut down the circuit if electricity starts flowing along an unintended path such as through water or a person. Since you are mixing electricity and water in your brewery, the GFCI is really a REQUIRED piece of safety equipment – not optional!  It could, quite literally, save your life.

For 120 volt outlets, you do have the option of having a GFCI outlet installed for your brewery (or use an existing kitchen one). These outlets are fairly cheap and can be easily installed by an electrician, but make sure your GFCI and home wiring is rated for the full 20 amps needed (see below). Another alternative is a GFCI circuit breaker which can only be installed in the home’s electrical distribution box, and should only be done by a qualified electrician.

While there are also GFCI outlets for 240 volt, they are expensive and rarely used. The more common solution is to install a 240V ground fault circuit breaker in the electrical distribution box (which again should only be done by an electrician). Because GFCI’s are not required for typical US appliances that run 240 volts such as your existing electric stove, dryer or water heater, it is highly unlikely that you have one in your home. They are typically installed only for powering hot tubs. So unfortunately this means to build a 240V brewery you will need to install a new GFCI circuit breaker. Often it requires installing separate wiring and a new outlet as well, as a GFCI may or may not play well some older dryers and appliances. Again, running 240 V and installing a GFCI means you need to get an electrician involved.

Circuit Current Capacity Considerations

In addition to installing a GFCI as mentioned above, you need to also look closely at the capacity (amperage) or your existing wiring. A typical 5 gal (19 l) brewery runs at about 2,250 watts. So at 120 volts that circuit peaks out at 2250 watts/120 volts = 18.75 amps of current, and requires a 20 amp breaker as well as wiring thick enough to handle 20 amps. However many typical household circuits are only rated at 15 amps. So if you plug your 2,250 watt boil coil into a typical 15 amp circuit you may indeed trip the circuit just when you’re trying to get the boil going or even worse burn up your 15 am wiring which could cause a fire! Fortunately most modern houses do have some 20 amp circuits so it may just be a matter of picking the right circuit to plug into (and installing a GFCI per above!).

Its important to note that you can’t just swap out an existing circuit breaker for a larger one – as the wire itself may not be rated for the higher current. So if I had an existing 15 amp breaker swapped for a 20 amp breaker I could be creating a significant fire hazard if the wiring between the breaker box and outlet was only rated for 15 amps. I recommend having an electrician check out the existing breaker and wiring to make sure it is properly rated before operating your brewery.

The same is true for a 240 V brewery. While at 240 volts, you can run up to a 4,500 watt heating coil with a 20 amp circuit, the most common heating coil sizes are typically 5,000-6,000 watts which requires a 30 amp GFCI circuit breaker and supporting wiring. Many 240 V household circuits like those used for a clothes dryer are rated at 30 amps, but not all of them are. Again you need to check both the circuit breaker and wiring before operating your 240V brewery. In any case you are going to need to install a GFCI circuit breaker or outlet for 240 volts, so you will need an electrician involved. Just explain exactly what you are doing and how large your heating element is and they should be able to provide you with options. Some dryers and large appliances don’t play well with GFCIs so don’t be surprised if the electrician recommends an entirely separate circuit and wiring for your brewery.

Postscript – My BrewEasy Install

I spent quite a bit of time planning my indoor brewery, and eventually selected the 10 gal (38 l) Electric BrewEasy system which had a 240 volt, 5000 watt boil coil powering a 20 gal boil kettle. I looked at using my existing 240 volt dryer circuit with a new GFCI breaker but eventually decided to have an entirely separate 240 V GFCI breaker and proper wiring installed dedicated to the brewery in my basement. The GFCI and dedicated circuit gave me confidence that the system would be safe. I also purchased a high-amperage 240V extension cord so I could roll the system outside if needed, and still operate it from the same dedicated fault-protected circuit.

I hope the notes above help you when planning your electric brewery, and again I encourage you to get an electrician involved early in the planning process so you don’t end up with a big bill, or even worse a fire or safety hazard when operating your new brewery. In part 2 I’ll cover ventilation needs.

Thanks for joining me on the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter or my podcast (also on itunes…and youtube…and streaming radio station) for more great tips on homebrewing. Also check out the How to Brew Video series I shot with John Palmer if you want to learn more about all grain brewing.

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