Thursday 11 November 2021

How to convert a fridge into a kegerator

Most people start out homebrewing and bottle their beers for consumption. It's almost inevitable that at some point down the track, most will start looking into options for kegging their beer - to save time and the hassle of endlessly cleaning bottles.

Our custom made Kegerator

You can of course purchase ready-made Kegerators - but it can be much more cost effective to buy a used/second hand fridge (or you may have one already as a dedicated beer fridge) and 'convert' it into a kegerator - that is, a refrigerator that has been converted to server from kegs.

This is something we've done ourselves so we thought we'd share what was involved and some hints and tips we've learned along the way.

What you need

Here's what you'll need to begin your kegging journey

  • A fridge (obviously)
  • Beer keg(s) - the 19L cornelius "corny" kegs are the most popular, but you can also use commercial kegs. For the purpose of this post we'll be focusing on corny kegs.
  • A carbon dioxide (CO2) gas bottle
  • A CO2 gas regulator
  • A beer dispenser - usually a tap and shank which you can mount to the fridge door, or otherwise you can use a handheld pluto/beer gun
  • Line/tubing to connect your gas regulator to your keg(s)
  • Line/tubing to connect your keg to your tap(s) and/or pluto/beer gun(s)
  • Gas and liquid disconnects (these are used to attach the beer and gas lines to your keg on the keg posts)
  • Stepless clamps or push in fittings - used to secure the hose connection to your gas/liquid disconnects and/or CO2 regulator

A basic overview

If you're new to the concept of kegging - here's a high level overview of how all the above listed parts work together.

CO2 gas bottle and regulator

The CO2 gas in your system is used for two (2) primary purposes. Firstly, for carbonating the beer in your keg(s). The second is to provide pressure to dispense the beer out of the keg. The pressure inside a CO2 bottle is incredibly high, so a regulator is used to set or control (regulate) the pressure coming out.

A CO2 gas regulator attached to a 6kg CO2 bottle

Cornelius "corny" keg

Probably the most common type of keg used in home brewing and kegerator setups. They typically hold 19L (but other sizes are available) and have two (2) posts on the top. One is for connecting gas to the keg, and the other is for connecting/dispensing beer. The gas post will typically be labelled with 'In', and the liquid post will be labelled with 'Out'. The 'Out' post will have a long metal tube that reaches to the bottom of the keg which is where the liquid/beer is drawn from. The gas post will have a much shorter tube attached (generally a few cm's) to avoid liquid coming into contact with it.

Quick disconnects and lines/tubing

Disconnects are used to 'clip' onto the two (2) posts on your corny keg. They are colour coded with grey being for gas, and black being for liquid. The disconnect attaches to the corny keg post, and then your plastic line/tubing attaches to the disconnect.

A grey (gas) disconnect with dutotight push in fitting

The internal diameter (id) of the gas lines is not important, but the internal diameter of the beer/liquid lines are important - the smaller the diameter line, the shorter length you will need to 'balance' your system to avoid constantly pouring super foamy beer. We'll cover this in more detail later.

Push in fittings or stepless clamps

Push in fittings are a great solution to make connecting beer and gas lines to disconnects quick and easy. Some people do find them problematic with leaks but they have not caused a problem in our experience with them. There are plenty of brands/options available.

Taps and shanks

Most people know what beer taps are - but you will also need a 'shank' to attach the tap to. The shank is a long piece of metal that will go through the fridge door that the beer passes through. The tap attaches to one end, and the beer line attaches to the other.

Pluto/beer gun(s)

These are an alternative to beer taps and allow you to dispense beer from a handheld device or gun style apparatus. This avoids the need for drilling holes into the fridge door if you can't or don't want to. We initially went with this option but got tired of having to open the fridge door to access the gun - we'd recommend going straight for taps - it's just better, but you do have this as an alternative option.

Drilling holes in your fridge

This is always an area of concern for people - the last thing you want to do is put a drill bit through a coolant/gas line in your fridge, but with some careful consideration and research you can minimise the risk of this happening. There are plenty of videos on YouTube with details on how to look for pipe outlines when defrosting the fridge, or drilling small pilot holes to check.

Firstly, never drill a hole in the rear of the fridge - this is where all wiring and plumbing for your fridge will be. 

Drilling holes in/through the door is generally safe to do - as long as you have a standard/basic fridge without any electrical features on the inside of the door (like lights or water dispensers etc). However, make sure you use a drill bit designed for metal. We found that drill bits designed for wood did not work well for cutting through the thin metal outer skin of the fridge door.

Inside door of fridge with beer lines connected to shanks

The size hole you need will be determined by the size of the shank you use. We used the Kegland 100mm shank which specifies a 22mm hole.

We also drilled a hole in the side of our fridge for the gas line to feed through - we initially had the gas line running through the door but got sick of the door not closing and sealing properly.

8mm hole drilled in side of fridge to feed 8mm gas line into fridge

Putting it all together

So you've got all your parts, drilled the hole(s) you need/want in your fridge, so now it's time to piece it all together.

Attach the CO2 regulator to the CO2 bottle

Attach the regulator to the bottle, and tighten well with a spanner. Check out our other post here on how to set and adjust the pressure on your regulator.

Attach your gas output line to your CO2 regulator

Connect your gas tube/line onto the output of the CO2 regulator. Feed the length of the cable into the fridge. You can use T-pieces if necessary to split the line so you can have multiple disconnects to be able to connect gas to multiple kegs.

Attach your disconnect(s) to the other end of your gas line(s)

Attach your gas disconnect(s) onto the other end of the gas line(s) and the fit them to the keg(s).

Insert the tap shank through the hole(s) in the door

If you're using taps, then fit the tap shank through the hole(s) you've drilled in the door. Fit the tap to the outside end of the shank, and attach your beer line to the other end of the shank.

Attach your disconnect(s) to the other end of your beer line(s)

Attach your liquid disconnect(s) to the other end of the beer line(s) and fit them to the keg(s)

Turn on your gas - check for leaks and test pouring

Now for the fun part - turn on your gas at the gas bottle and check for any leaks. Big leaks will be audible (hissing), smaller leaks may be more difficult to diagnose. A good way to tackle leaks is to spray connections and fittings with a soapy water solution and looking for bubbles forming/popping.

Balancing your kegerator system

A common term you may hear when talking about kegerator and draught beer systems is "balancing" them. This refers to getting the right amount of resistance in the beer flow to prevent excessive foaming when pouring. Too little resistance and you'll get loads of foam. Too much resistance and your beer will lose fizz/carbonation.

There are loads of calculators online to help work this out - but the easiest method is to increase the length of your beer lines, and decrease the internal diameter of the line itself. We've found around 2 - 2.5m of 4mm internal diameter beer line works well for us - serving at 2-3c and 10-12psi of pressure.

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