Building a "Heat Stick" By: Dave Carota
[Editor's Note: Please exercise extreme caution when completing DIY (do it yourself) projects. love2brew assumes no responsibilities for anything that occurs during your construction and usage from the heating element outlined below. Please read the article multiple times in its entirety before attempting.]
A “heat stick,” or electric immersion heater, is a great way to put the heat exactly where you need it during your brew day. I am going to break down, in the most specific way possible, what you can do to create your own without too much time, or money. This is a very simple project if you’ve already got the tools, and are the D.I.Y type.
Hopefully this clears up any confusion about how safe, or easy, or practical this can be when you’re brewing on a budget and looking to heat more volume, in less time... without heading out into the unpredictable climate with your propane tank, turkey fryer and burner.
For my heat stick, I used a drain pipe with an elbow, but you can use a straight length as well, and follow all these steps exactly the same way.
First, if using a recycled computer power cord, cut the end opposite what will be plugged into electrical outlet, off of your old computer cable. (the end that goes into the computer, is what you want to cut off).
Peel the jacket back and check that all three conductors are intact, not nicked at all, exposing copper, this could cause a shorted connection later, and you don’t want that, so look closely.
Once cleaned up, and checked for damaged conductors, strip off about ¾” of the insulation on all three conductors. It should look something like this.
Now time to drill a ⅝” hole through your rubber stopper, this is how you will get the power cable down through the stopper, and into the drain pipe, to your heating element, which will all later become your finished “heat stick”.
Once your hole is drilled, go ahead and pull your power cable through, with the exposed conductor end going through top of the stopper first. Later, this rubber stopper will be glued or sealed to the top part of drain pipe, to prevent any water from getting inside to your electrical connections on the heating element. You can use a zip tie to prevent your power cable from getting pulled out of the stopper (not shown here).
Now take a look at the connection end of your heating element. It should look similar to this. You’re going to be using your 3/32” drill bit (or smaller ) to drill a pilot hole in the base of the element for what will be your grounding terminal.
After you’ve drilled your pilot hole for the ground screw, it should look something like this. Now you’re ready to install the ground screw, which will be your peanut, or tech screw (really any small screw that threads into your pilot hole will work). Just make sure it’s far enough away from your positive and negative terminals so that it isn’t touching when your connections have been made.
Here is a peanut, or tech screw that I used.
Go ahead and insert the screw into your pilot hole, and you should now be looking at something similar to this. Don’t tighten your ground screw all the way, just get the threads started, you’ll tighten it later when it’s time to connect your power cable.
Now start to loosely assemble your heat stick, as shown above, you will snake your power cable, and rubber stopper assembly down through what will be the top of your heat stick. This is the end, without the threads for the drain pipe nut.
Here is the opposite end, the end where your heating element will later be installed using the drain pipe nut, optional washer, and waterproof sealant.
You can now go ahead and connect your power cable connections at the terminals on your heating element. As strange as it may sound, for this project it doesn’t matter which of the two screws on the element you use for your positive and negative terminals, so connect those however you like, but the green conductor must be connected to your ground screw, the one you drilled a pilot hole for earlier. Follow exactly as the photo shows, and you can’t go wrong. Green=ground, make sure it goes onto the screw you drilled out the base for, and the black and white can go on either remaining screw terminal.
You should now have something that looks kind of like this sitting in front of you. Your power conductors coming out of the threaded end of the drain pipe, terminated onto your heating element, just as shown.
If you’ve decided to use the optional rubber/silicone washer to seal your element end of the stick, here is where you’d put it in place, no sealant or glue is required just yet. For now, just slide it over your element and conductors, and get it into position. You’ll seal it all with the DAP sealant later.
Now, put a thin layer of the DAP sealant on the side of the washer that will be touching the drain pipe, and set into place.
Once set into place, it should something like this. This washer isn’t necessary, I was just lucky enough to find one that fit perfectly at the Hardware Store, so bought it as an added precaution. You can follow all these steps, and get a tight seal, even without the washer, you’ll just use a tiny bit more sealant.
Now coat the threaded area of your drain pipe with a fair amount of sealant to make sure it gets into all the threads, and all over the surface area surrounding the terminals on the underside of your element, like shown above. You’ll next be placing your heating element directly on top of the sealant, and sliding your drain pipe nut into place, then tightening down over the layer of sealant, and then sealing the whole thing to prevent any water from getting inside the pipe.
Once you set your element in place it should look similar to this, you’re now ready to slide the drain pipe nut over the element, and tighten down over your threaded end of the pipe.
Here is what your drain pipe nut should look like. To the right, you can see I even put a little bit of sealant on the inside of the nut before tightening.
Now slide the nut down over the heating element, and tighten it up, as shown here.
Tighten your drain pipe nut now, and cover all remaining areas around the nut, and base of the heating element with sealant, be sure to work it into all the little open areas you may see, making sure there is no space for water to get past. Let dry completely.
Once dry, it should similar to this.
Lastly, before testing, make sure you use that 1 ½” rubber stopper to seal up the top of your heat stick / sink drain pipe. The purpose of this is to make sure no water will get inside. You can do one of the two options shown above. I used PVC cement on the photo to the left, and I simply shoved the rubber stopper inside my drain pipe, then completely covered with sealant in the photo to the right. Either will work, and you may find other suggestions to achieve the same thing online. The goal is, prevent water from getting into the pipe and touching your electrical connections.
Now that you’re all set up, and dry, go ahead and prep for a test run.
When testing, and using to heat water or wort, always make sure you plug the heat stick into a GFI outlet. If you’re going to build more than one of these, also make sure you only have one powered up per circuit in your home. More than one on the same circuit will likely trip your breaker after about 25 minutes of use. If you live in an apartment, make sure you have access to your apartments electrical panel in case you do have to reset a breaker while testing, or using.
I am not a licensed electrician, but I do work with one every day when I’m not at home brewing beer. I ran all this by him, and he sees nothing wrong with it, just be careful, use caution while testing and assembling and you should be sucessfully using your DIY immersion heater(s) in no time at all.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do Not Plug Heat Stick into power outlet unless it’s completely submerged in water. If heating element is not covered in water, it will burn out in less than 15 seconds and you’ll be off to the hardware store to buy another one.
As always, I welcome your questions, or comments.
Feel free to write me any time.
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