Thursday, October 27, 2011

So, what would you say... ya do here?

Well, title bar, thanks for asking!  The best projects are ones that create solutions for real problems.  This gives you real, hard requirements to work towards.  Then anything on top of the requirements is just gravy!  And I do love gravy! Plus we all know that gravy is the best thing you can add to any food product that doesn't contain bacon. (BTW...don't even get me STARTED on bacon gravy!)

OK, whew, where were we?  Oh yes, problems and solutions.  So, my problem (well, one of them anyway) stems from one of my hobbies: brewing beer.  The fermentation process of brewing beer requires that the wort (unfermented beer) be at a fairly specific and constant temperature.  Many ales require approximately 72 degrees for the magic to happen.  My home, which calls it's home Texas, fairly consistently exceeds the 72 degree mark from May to November. And this unfortunate fact prevents me from brewing quality beers during this time period (now you see the magnitude of this problem!)

One solution to this problem is to set your thermostat to at cool and constant 72 degrees.Which sounds like such a simple solution except that when the average summertime high temperatures this year were well over 100 degrees, it gets quite expensive.  In fact, when you factor in the utility prices in for this particular solution, it easily quadruples the price of each batch. Pass.

So the next solution is to create a sort of "fermentation chamber" to ferment the beer.  This consists of a device that allow you to keep the the wort at a constant temperature.  Many people will use a converted fridge or freezer with a modified thermostat, which is the solution I'm currently working on. More specifically, the 'modified thermostat' aspect of it. There are a few thermostats out there that will do the job, but nothing out there that will do exactly what I wanted.  So I decided that I would create my own.

The device I'm creating will essentially drive a power outlet that (in my case) a small chest freezer will plug in to.  When the temperature gets too warm inside the freezer, a relay will kick on to allow power to the outlet, which will in turn kick on the freezer.  Neat-O huh?  Well, not really (sorry to set you up like that).  This is nothing that can't be purchased from the cloud.     The device that I am creating will allow for you to create programs.  For example, the first stage of the program will set the temperature to a certain level while fermenting, which will take about 2 weeks, then it will gradually lower the temperature to 34 degrees over a week's time to allow it to lager (which is a German word for 'to store') for a few weeks or months.

I plan on keeping my "fermentation chamber" in my garage, and since we have especially harsh winters here in Texas, it is possible that sometimes the chamber will need to be heated to keep it's requested temperature.  So to remedy this, I came up with this nifty idea to add a second outlet on the thermostat to control a light bulb within the freezer.  The bulb can then be used as a heater to warm up the chamber (man I was on a roll that day!).  Plus, with a simple magnetic switch input into the thermostat, the light bulb can turn on when the door is opened up. Why can't you just use the one provided with the fridge you ask??  Great question! Post the answer in the comments below and you will receive a free Attaboy (**please allow 5-7 days for shipping and handling... or however long it will take for you to forget you're getting one).

So this is my overall goal for my thermostat.  I've gotten off to a decent head-start on this project and it seems to be going fairly well.  I'll give you some of the greasy details in another post.

Summary for the Skimmers:  Can't brew in heat.  Make a chamber. Control temperature with electronic toys.  (Oh, NOW you go read it more carefully.)

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