ferm chamber?

Cleaning crap out of the basement today, “crap” being stuff that I’ve been hanging on to because I thought it might come in handy one day. It becomes “crap” the day I trip over it or have to move it out of the way one too many times.

Today, one of the items that became crap was a defunct dehumidifier that’s been taking up space in a corner of the basement. Not only did I have to move it out of the way one too many times, I also came within one wildly swinging arm of tripping over the damned thing and nearly killing myself. So really it became crap times two. Double crap. Crap with no chance at all of ever redeeming itself.

I shoved it over toward the stairs where it waited while I piled up other crap to take upstairs to the trash can. And then, just before I hauled it up to get it out of my life forever, a light bulb went on over my head, and that light illuminated this basic fact: A dehumidifier is basically a refrigerator without an insulated box to put beer in. (Everything comes back to beer. Trust me on this.) Instead of keeping beer cool, the refrigeration coils are exposed to the air so that humidity may condense on them, drip off and collect in a bucket. And as it so happened, I was in need of refrigeration.

It’s very important to control the temperature of fermenting beer if you want to make consistently good beer, which I do. Many home brewers do this by building an insulated plywood box big enough to hold the great big bottles or pails they ferment beer in. One side of the box has a hole cut in it that’s the same size as the front of a dorm fridge. Then then take the door off a dorm fridge, jam it up against the opening in the side of the insulated plywood box, and duct tape the fridge to the box. I’m not kidding. Here’s a photo of one. Here’s a photo of another one where the builder didn’t even bother using plywood.

I was going to get a dorm fridge someday after I saved up enough lunch money to spring for one, but here I had a dehumidifier that could do the same job. It was sort of on the fritz, but all I would have to do is figure out what’s wrong with it and I could save myself maybe fifty bucks. So I dragged it down to my basement lair to take it apart, a very important first step. Every guy knows this. To learn what is possible in the DIY world, you must take things apart.

It was a great idea but, unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I took apart all the pieces that I could possibly take apart, but a lot of them turned out to be circuit boards and microprocessors. I don’t know jack about those. The best I could do for this machine was clean everything up, put it all back together, cross my fingers and switch it on. The compressor made noise like a compressor is supposed to and the fan blew hard as a fan knows how, but the coils didn’t get cold. And that’s what I really needed. Without cold coils, I don’t gots refrigeration; not for beer, not for dehumidifying. So out to the trash it went.

olddehumidifierBut wait! I had another broken-down dehumidifier! No, really. I keep crap like this forever. The second one had been parked out in the garage for years. I couldn’t use it because the fan didn’t work and it’s so old that I couldn’t find a replacement fan for it, so I was going to throw it out the next time I went to the dump. Only I never went to the dump. I can procrastinate like that forever.

I honestly never thought I’d have a use for it ever again. I wasn’t even sure the compressor still worked, so I dragged it over to an electrical outlet, plugged it in and put my hand on the coils. They frosted over in less than thirty seconds. *bliss!*

So I dragged it down to my basement lair to take it apart, and I learned that this was a dehumidifier built back in the day when they built them to last forever. It had a compressor as big as a wrecking ball, stainless-steel chilling coils and a robust electrical system so simple even I could understand it: two wires in, a switch to turn it on, and that’s all she wrote.

The biggest challenge I could see was separating the chilling coils from the radiator. The coils would have to go inside the fermentation chamber, while the radiator would have to stay outside. If I couldn’t make that happen, then the dehumidifier was not going to be lucky enough to be reincarnated as a beer-making gadget. As luck would have it, though, the copper tubing the makers used to connect the chilling coils to the compressor was just flexible enough that I could separate them from the radiator by more than a foot, plenty of room to get them inside a thickly-insulated fermentation chamber while still leaving the radiator outside.

The next step was building a fermentation chamber.

As I mentioned earlier, most guys just build a plywood box. That would’ve required me to go buy some plywood and build a box. As it happened, though, I already had a box: The space underneath the work bench in the corner of the basement that I rather grandly refer to as the brewery. I’d built shelves under the counter top where I could stash my beer-making gadgets and store bottled beer, but that could all be removed and stored in other places. I had to keep my priorities straight. The space under the bench was the perfect size to convert into a fermentation chamber, almost as if I’d had it in mind when I cobbled it together more than a year ago. And so the gadgets and the bottled beer were moved to other places, leaving all sorts of room.

I decided to install the compressor and radiator on the right-hand end of what would be the ferm chamber, which wouldn’t be easy. I’d have to cut a hole in some drywall in order to sneak the coils under the bench into the chamber, but I thought that was a better option than having the compressor and electrical wiring at the other end of the bench, which would require me to install it underneath the sink where water would inevitably end up dripping all over it. Bad idea, I thought. The other end will always be much drier. So I found my drywall saw and started hacking away, eventually stopping when I had a hole big enough to get the coils through.

And that’s about where it stands for the time being. I had to stop when it got a bit too late and the dust and dirt were starting to get to me. The next step is getting the coils through the hole into the ferm chamber, then working out how to insulate the box, which really presents no problem. All I would have to do is make a trip to a local building supply store and come back with sheets of extruded foam insulation, cut it into appropriately-sized chunks, then slide the chunks into place. But that’s for another day. I was bushed. It was time to shower, pop open a frosty cold one, and settle down for dinner. My Darling B prepared quinoa, and there was still some leftover hamburger from the July 4th burger burn.

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