Keeping your fermenter at the ideal temperature for the yeast is extremely important to making a good batch of brew. Living in Rochester, NY in an older house, the ambient temperature of my apartment rises and falls 10-15 degrees F on any given day. The basement is much more constant, but generally too cold for fermentation (40-50 F). What to do then to keep my fermenter right at 70 F when it’s cold? Build my own garbage can fermentation chamber!
After researching many different areas, I found an extremely great solution. Rather than buying a semi-expensive temperature regulator and plugging it in to a special heat wrap (or even more expensive adapting it to a spare fridge/freezer), I decided to purchase a 20 gallon Rubbermaid garbage can ($14 Home Depot), and a 50W submersible aquarium heater with temperature setting capability ($18 Amazon & free shipping – bought myself Designing Great Beers to qualify over $25).
Water is a fantastic insulator – having a very high heat capacity. So by submersing my fermenter into a larger garbage can containing water (not over the brim of the fermenter of course) that is set to 70 F by my aquarium heater that uses minimal power, I’ve got myself a great way to control my temperature, for much less than it may otherwise cost! Analog temp controllers by Johnson Controls run around $60 (for fridges), and digital ones are upwards of $80. Plus, rather than controlling the ambient air around my carboy, I am insulating it with water, which will maintain a temperature much more consistently. So far, the belgian tripel that I brewed on 2/4/12 has been extremely happy with it, and the temperature has not fluctuated from 70F during any time of day, while my apartment’s ambient temp has been rising and falling from 55F – 70F.
A note after using this for my primary fermenter the first time, and now my carboy for secondary: Leaving the lid of the garbage can unsealed & slightly cracked over the top is a good idea to prevent condensation buildup so things don’t get wet in there. Just better that it all stays dry, but it still will keep the sunlight out.
Happy brewing! Check out my other easy DIY projects here.