Home Carbonation Setup for Unlimited Seltzer

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Introduction: Home Carbonation Setup for Unlimited Seltzer

First off, there are multiple avenues to carbonate water at home. This is definitely one of the higher cost methods but once set up it's the least hassle. I don't have to buy expensive proprietary co2 cylinders or soda bottles (ie. Sodastream) and I don't have to refill and shake 2L bottles using carbacaps. Those are cheaper alternatives which I've used the latter of for the past 2 years. I had a supply of four 2L bottles of water always stocked in the fridge. I probably refilled them every 5-7 days and it was a noticeable chore since I had to shake every bottle.

This is my particular setup for an “unlimited” supply of seltzer water for a bit over $1000 Cdn to give you some inspiration to complete your own. This project could be a bit over $400 US if you skip some of steps and buy used. I’ve used other people’s configuration as a jumping point while adding in my own ideas to best suit my needs. The centerpiece is the McCann’s Big Mac Carbonator that most commercial soda fountains use. It starts with city water passing through a reverse osmosis (RO) system with a bar fridge housing the RO pressure tank and carbonator. The seltzer can then be dispensed through a beer faucet mounted on top of the fridge. This mix of residential and commercial equipment keeps costs relatively low and the space requirement to a minimum. The only maintenance I have to do is to change the RO filters at the recommended intervals, inspect the pump filter once a year and refill the CO2 tank roughly once every 12-24 months.

Step 1: Tools, Materials & Costs

Tools:
drill

screwdrivers

adjustable wrench

beer faucet wrench & spanner tool (can be bought for as little as $3 and it’s definitely not optional due to to the thin kerf required)

aviation or tin snips

dremel drill /w cut off wheel

angle grinder and jawhorse or table saw (to cut carbonator base)

round nose pliers

crimping pliers

oscillating multi-tool (optional)

serrated bread knife (for carving the insulation)

heat gun (for applying the shrink wrap)

soldering iron

utility knife / scissors

safety equipment such as gloves, eye protection, etc

Materials required & Costs*

$120 - 20 lbs co2 cylinder

$45 - co2 regulator

$150 - 4.4 cu ft bar fridge

$120 - 6 stage reverse osmosis system

$250 - McCann's carbonator

$250 - 2 faucet beer tower with 2x Perlick 650ss beer faucet

~$80-100 - miscellaneous supplies, hoses, tubes and fittings including 1/4" ID braided hose, 3/8" OD poly tubing & various push-fit fittings and stainless steel barbs, hanger strapping, teflon tape, desiccant, pipe insulation, duct tape, spare computer cable or several feet of 3 wire 14awg

Optional

$32 - drip tray + drain assembly

$36 - 72”’x48”x3” Roxul Comfortboard (used less than half the board)

$15 - 14’ x 3’ - 7mil shrink wrap

$8 - shrink wrap tape

In the attachment please ensure you understand what each fitting does and that its suitable for your requirements. I take no responsibility for the accuracy of this spreadsheet as there were other components I ordered as well. Consider ordering extra gaskets, plugs, o-rings and a JG tool for easy disconnection of the tubes.

Savings
There are multiple ways to cut costs. Buying a smaller co2 cylinder, used bar fridge or chest freezer (converted to fridge) and a used carbonator can cut about $250. If you skip the RO system and use a single faucet mounted directly to the fridge/freezer’s side that could save another $250. Altogether your project spend could be a bit over $400 US.

*Costs
The prices quoted are simply my costs in Canadian. Your mileage may vary as a lot of my equipment was bought off of Ebay; some used some new. Living in Vancouver offers the luxury of being able to take advantage of both the Canadian and US markets. Any US parcels are simply shipped to Blaine being only a 45 min drive away. As an example, the carbonator was bought unused for about $200 US. It usually retails for double this price even online. If you buy one used, you can save up to another $100.

Step 2: Co2 Cylinder and Regulator

Starting off with a co2 cylinder you’ll obviously need a supply of co2 to carbonate your drinks. If you buy your own cylinder you can either have it refilled or swapped. Fire extinguisher places, gas suppliers, beer home brew stores, Airgas, and Praxair are all places where you can buy co2. There is consumption grade co2 and everything else. From what I read there may be no difference if it’s all from the same supplier but if it matters to you, ask around or get it from home brew stores. You can buy smaller tanks like 5lbs or 10lb but the 20 lbs tanks are most common. They typically cost $30-35 to refill and will last about a year or two. You’ll also need a regulator to step down the 1800+ psi tank pressure when full to 80-100 psi. There are different regulators for different purposes. Beer regulators usually operate up to 60 psi making adjustment in the low end easier. Soda regulators can go up to 160 psi providing the necessary pressure for the carbonator.

Secure all connections and with the regulator off slowly pressurize the system for testing. You want to test for leaks first. This can be done easily enough with a squeeze bottle similar to Starbucks' caramel drizzle or generic ketchup or mustard bottles found at restaurants. Put a small amount of water in with a few drops of liquid soap and shake. Once it's all bubbly you can target the bubbles to the various connections around your regulator and your carbonator tank. Test everything including the gauge connections. If no new bubbles form then you're good to go and can wipe clean. As a precaution I also turned off the tank valve and let it sit overnight to see if the regulator's pressure dial decreased. Any slow leak will deplete your tank fairly quickly as it's constant. The good news is that it isn't poisonous or flammable. The bad news is if large amounts leak in an enclosed environment, co2 is heavier than air and will displace oxygen. You can suffocate and die. There are co2 detectors out there sold under air quality meters costing $100+. Please note this is not the same as CO or carbon monoxide detectors.

Step 3: Reverse Osmosis System*

In Vancouver, BC we actually have great tap water which is quite soft compared to other cities but there are still impurities. One can simply open the toilet reservoir tank and find how much sediment passed through our pipes over the years. Spending $800 on a carbonator setup seems incomplete when just another $200 is needed to purify the water. So I'll start with the household pipes that connect to the RO system. I purchased an adapter (3/8” in x 3/8” out x 1/4” Tube, John Guest Angle Stop Valve) to provide a clean modular solution to hooking up the RO system. This fitting simply goes between the household pipes stop valve and your kitchen cold water faucet inlet. (To figure out which one is the cold or hot water line simply run the tap for a few minutes to see which heats up). It allows a continuous flow to your faucet while teeing in and offers a shut off valve to the RO system. No soldering or plumbing knowledge required.


Once the RO system is hooked up using the adapter I followed the instructions to set up the rest of the filters and drain line. There is a carbon filter that’s suppose to sit between the RO tank and the faucet but I ended up installing all the filters consecutively. This ensures water flow isn’t restricted from the RO tank to the carbonator. The carbon finishing filter exists because the RO tank has a membrane that can impart taste to the water. I haven’t noticed this at all. The RO system sits under the kitchen sink and feeds the RO 4.4 gallon pressure tank (that holds a maximum of 3.2 gal of water) that’s in the bar fridge.

Safety

As you’re tapping into the household water supply it’s important to understand the risks involved. Ensure you know where and can access the shut off valve quickly (in case you encounter a scenario like what I describe below). Water goes in and comes out. Know where the flow goes. I know it’s sometimes very tempting to simply turn the water on to check for leaks but if you’re not prepared for flowing water directing the output tube to a bucket, it may be wise to figure that out first! Follow the instructions that come with your RO system. There’s a step to flush the filters after initial setup and after every filter change. The new carbon block or GAC filters usually have dust thus clouding the first few gallons of water. This shouldn’t go into the RO membrane, the RO tank or the carbonator.

*Aquasafe Canada rant

As a side note here’s my opinion of Aquasafe Canada's Reverse Osmosis system. It sucks - poor customer service, cheap parts and shoddy assembly. I found this off craigslist brand new and unused. The filters were still sealed and the parts bags were unopened. Because of this I have no receipt and thus no warranty. When I followed the instructions to set it up, one of the fittings burst on me. If I wasn't quick on my feet the whole kitchen would have flooded. Imagine having your tap turned on all the way under your sink with no one there to stop or notice it. That's what would happen if any of their multiple unbranded fittings were to fail. I took a picture of the broken fitting and their branded product and asked if I could get a replacement. They held firm and wouldn't send a 50 cent fitting because I didn't have a receipt. Go figure. They also don’t provide the high quality water supply adapter I mentioned previously. Instead, the kit comes with a saddle that requires piercing the water supply line with a needle. I'd rather not physically damage my pipes if I don't have to. What happens if I move or if their valve burst like how mine did? Ultimately I decided to replace all the fittings I could with John Guest ones. Because of this I found that they used silicone caulking in some as their sealant. It may work for a while but it’s a shortcut while teflon tape is the proper method. Aquasafe is a brand I wouldn’t recommend to anyone as they demonstrate a willingness to cut corners at the expense of their customers.

Step 4: RO Pressure Tank

This is the large white tank on the top shelf of the fridge*. Normally this sits under the sink but by keeping the tank in the fridge it ensures the water feeding the carbonator is pre-chilled. Water temperature is quite important when dispensing seltzer as it will lose its carbonation fairly quickly if not cold. I tried filling a 2L bottle with room temperature seltzer, capping it right away and chilling in the fridge and the results were lackluster. Others have had success simply chilling the water in the pressure tank hooked directly to the city water supply. If you don’t plan on dispensing large volumes at once, say when you have guests over, then it should be perfectly fine.


The RO tank serves 2 purposes. It accumulates the RO water created (being it's a slow process) and ensures that water can feed the tap/carbonator pump with pressure. Without this your water supply would be a mere trickle as the filtered water is created. This tank is included with the RO system.

*A heavy load on a glass shelf
The RO tank when full at ~40 psi weighs about 30 lbs. The glass shelf should be able to handle the weight load as long as it’s distributed evenly with the included base but the fridge’s manual specify no maximum weight limit. I’ve tested it bypassing the RO system with the full 65 psi tap water supply (weighing 37 lbs) to no ill effect. Those that are more risk averse may want to replace the glass shelf with a plywood board instead.

Step 5: Carbonator

The carbonator is meant to work with a soda fountain dispenser, chiller, syrups, etc but it can be a standalone unit. It’s actually quite a simple setup. Basically a 5.3L stainless steel pressure tank has a float sensor that triggers an electric motor and pump. When the water level is low the pump runs forcing water to mix with the CO2. In a commercial environment the carbonator passes room temperature seltzer to the soda fountain which chills it before dispensing and mixing with syrup. This home configuration chills the water in both the RO tank and the pressure tank rather than afterward saving space and simplifying the setup.

The McCann's carbonator comes with a plastic base and a rigid stainless steel tube connecting the pump to the tank. I had to disassemble the tube and cut the base in half with an angle grinder so the tank can still sit properly. There are actually 2 welded bolts that stick out from the bottom of the tank which mount to the base. I was thinking about simply cutting the bolts but I figure cutting the base in half instead was better as the tank needs to be positioned correctly for the float sensor to work. I suppose you can use a table saw to complete this step but I ended up using a jawhorse to hold the base in position with an angle grinder to make the cut. The cut can be fairly deep so use a new cut off wheel and wear long heat resistant clothing, eye protection, etc as the ABS plastic can melt and spray everywhere. To finish the exposed cut I mashed the face of the wheel to the edge, melting and smoothing out the plastic.

I also had to extend the electrical connection from the float sensor to the motor thus I soldered and spliced in a spare computer extension cord. Use sealant to waterproof the connection since this is a water appliance after all. I still kept the original (and proprietary) connector so disconnection from the tank is possible. I ended up extending the carbonator tank end but extending the motor end would make more sense. This is simply because of the awkward positioning of the connection once the motor is mounted in the fridge.

Hooking up the carbonator is very straight forward. It has a water inlet at the pump and two soda outlets and a co2 inlet on the tank. Once those are all connected along with the power it's all ready to go. In the materials and cost spreadsheet I outlined the fittings I used and its purpose.

When you’re ready to start it up, purge the tank of air by turning on your water supply and flipping the pressure relief valve up. You’ll hear a hiss as the gas escapes and the water fills the tank. Keep a towel over the valve with your hand ready to close it once water starts spraying out. After purging the tank of air you can turn on the co2 valve and start dispensing water. Simply test to ensure everything works. The co2 pressure must be higher than the incoming water pressure. If it isn’t it won’t work properly. Turn on the faucet and simply let it run until your pump turns on. If everything checks out, you just need to flush out the system a few times before it’s ready to go. Your first several tanks of water will most likely be tainted. I bought a brand new tank and found a metallic taste in the water. I had to flush it out perhaps 5-10 times before nothing was noticeable.

Step 6: Plumbing and Fittings

Now may be a good time to talk about the different plumbing standards used here. There are 2 primary types of threads encounter in this system. NPT is used in household plumbing and the RO system; MPT being male and FPT being female (also the same standard). These connections seal at the thread meaning you need to apply pipe dope or Teflon tape to ensure a proper seal otherwise it could leak. The carbonator, co2 cylinder and beer faucets use flare fittings. Flare fittings use a nylon gasket or washer compressed between the 2 mating surfaces to seal. As the seal is not in the thread, Teflon tape is not needed.


Both thread types attach to the fixture but for the other half to connect to the pipe there are 2 different standards as well. Push-fit, tube, John Guest fittings are all the same using LLDPE poly tubes. Hoses are the alternative attached with barbs and clamps. Push-fit fittings attach to the tube with a locking collet. This bites into the tube when inserting making disconnections next to impossible if you're simply tugging on the tube. To take it apart, you have to push the collet in the opposite direction so the bite can release then simultaneously pull the tube out. Poly tubing seem to be the standard for RO systems, ice makers and fridge water systems while commercial soda fountains use stainless steel/brass barb/flare fittings along with regular and braided hoses. Luckily there are adapters for both making interchangeability possible. Tubing is measured using its outside diameter (OD) while hoses use inside diameter (ID). Thus a 3/8” OD tube has half the flow of a 3/8” ID hose.

I favor push-fit fittings whenever possible as it's very easy to work with. The tubing is cheaper and harder to kink albeit stiffer while the tubes swivel for easy positioning. Hoses are more flexible which is a major advantage but when attached firmly to a fitting you'll have to loosen it before being able to swivel. Disconnecting and reconfiguring the setup means you have to take the whole fitting off as the fittings are usually crimped on permanently to the hose. Needless to say it’s a lot more hassle. With push-fit fitting, you merely have to disconnect the tubing by pushing in the collet. You can reroute the tubing or cut it and reinsert. I've had to test and reconfigure my setup multiple times and using the push-fit system made it a breeze. Keep in mind that once setup, there is little reason to disassemble thus either standards work fine.

Step 7: Tubing and Connections

With my setup, I have the 1/4” OD tubing (blue) from the RO system teed and transitioned to 3/8” OD tubing to the RO tank and carbonator pump inlet line. The carbonator manual recommends a minimum 3/8” ID hose for the water supply but so far I’m not encountering any issues. This may be because the pressure tank is connected to the pump inside the fridge (top right) with a short length of tube. The short length means less resistance for the water flow. I initially wanted to put the pump outside the fridge to keep it at room temperature but the motor and pump can be quite loud. Many commercial establishments have a separate room to house all the back-end equipment and isolate the noise as this isn't the case for me I was considering building a lead lined MDF enclosure filled with mineral wool insulation. In a quiet home environment, noise is more noticeable thus with available room inside the fridge I decided to take advantage of it. This may not be recommended but it simplifies my setup.* It creates a clean simple solution as only 1 tube connects the RO system to the fridge and one less component is strung separately. The airtight enclosure of the fridge serves to isolate and contain the noise. The motor is hung upside down using metal hanger straps mounted to the beer tower bolts and the fridge’s original evaporator plate anchors.

I’ve used push-fit fittings and tubing from the tap up to the pump which then transitions to 3/8" ID braided hose from the pump outlet to the carbonator tank inlet. The soda outlet to the beer faucet and co2 tank to the co2 inlet both use 1/4" braided hose. I initially had 3/8" OD tubing connecting the carbonator tank and the pump outlet but due to the carbonator tank's inlet fitting facing the back of the fridge the line froze a few times if the fridge was on for an extended period of time. I ended up swapping to a 3/8" flare to 3/8" hose barb elbow allowing me to route the line to the side and front of the fridge rather than to the back under the evaporator plate. The more flexible line, larger hose diameter and rerouted line so far has not developed any problems.

**A word of caution
As there are electronics in the motor and most likely grease lubricating everything, I wouldn't necessarily recommend this configuration for everyone. The grease could seize making the motor more difficult to run and moisture could condense and short out the electronics. As this is a dedicated seltzer fridge, I don't foresee myself opening and closing the door often. This sealed environment should minimize the moisture inside the fridge and cause most of the vapor to condensate on the evaporator plates instead of the motor. When defrosting I just have to remember to unplug the fridge and keep the door closed until the ice defrosts. This way the room's warm moist air won't settle on the cold motor. I’ve also purchased some colour changing silicone gel desiccant to put inside. As an additional precaution I’ve plugged the carbonator motor into a GFCI outlet.

Step 8: Beer Tower

The beer tower and faucet offer an elegant solution to dispensing without it looking like a hack. An old fashioned soda faucet is expensive thus I didn't go that route. Soda fountain dispensers mount onto the actual fountain and require power in some cases so that wasn't feasible. I needed something to mount to the top of the fridge and not into its side thus the tower was the logical choice.


Beer dispensing usually only requires 8-10 psi, so with the carbonator at 100 psi this would cause seltzer to spray everywhere. The solution? - Perlick 650ss beer faucets. It actually resolves 2 issues. The built-in flow control offer the necessary pressure reduction and it’s made out of stainless steel. Other beer faucets are chrome plated brass which can flake off with time letting the brass leach into the seltzer. Unfortunately regular kitchen or bathroom faucets are made out of brass too. You can't have brass components with carbonated water.

I have 2 faucets - one for seltzer water and the other for still. It allows for a total solution especially if the wife wants to make an espresso using still water. Alternatively you could simply use the included faucet with the RO system and have that mounted on the sink. This way you can use a single faucet beer tower and save on purchasing another separate faucet.

After using the setup for a while I realize the seltzer coming out is a bit too fizzy for my tastes. I've actually dialed down the pressure to 45 psi which is just barely over the RO tank's pressure of 40 psi. You just need a minimum pressure slightly above your inlet water psi. If the water pressure is higher than the co2, the tank would eventually fill completely with water displacing the co2. The higher co2 pressure allows the co2 to mix in and the float sensor can then trigger the pump to drive water through.

This is when I noticed having 2 beer faucets side by side come in handy. I can now simply mix the still and carbonated water together to reach my ideal carbonation.

Step 9: Modifying the Bar Fridge

Everything is housed in a Whirlpool 4.4 cu ft fridge. I drilled 3 holes - 1 for mounting and connecting the beer tower (plus extra holes for the bolts), another for the drain and finally one for the pump power, co2 inlet and RO water supply. I also cut an inset for the drip tray and trimmed the inside plastic off the door panel to add insulation. The evaporator plate was also bent down eliminating the freezer compartment so the hoses can connect to the beer tower.

The tricky part when drilling holes through the fridge is to ensure no condensing lines are damaged. You can get a rough idea of where the lines are by feeling around on initial start-up after 10-15 minutes. If you feel around after it’s been on for a while the insulation and cover panels would warm up as well making it more difficult to determine. Don’t drill anywhere near the heat. I discovered that the condensing lines for this fridge are on both sides connected at the top rear edge rather than running through the back like most other fridges.

Bending the evaporator plate can be done carefully with the help of rounded pliers. The pliers can help avoid any kinks in the line if one is developing. An oscillating multi-tool and a dremel drill with a cut off wheel makes hacking the fridge very straight forward. I tried using a jig saw but the travel on the blade is too much and I ended up marring the surface. The dremel works well for metal and the oscillating multi-tool works well for plastic.

When cutting or drilling it's a good idea to tape the surface using painters or masking tape. You can then mark a precise location of the cut. I did this for the top drilling down for the beer tower as well as the drip tray and the door. To drill holes from the inside out ensure you have a good grasp of where the holes are going to end up. Pay attention to the thickness of walls as well as what's behind it. Don't cut too close to any edge or corners. Also consider how the tubes and hoses are going to be routed. You want to ensure none are going to be bent allowing a potentially crimp. I used a 1.5" hole saw to cut the holes for the water/co2 inlet and the beer tower supply. You may want a larger hole if you want the cold air to go up the tower. I've seen configurations where people have installed a fan to blow the cold air in.

Step 10: Insulation

The insulation has three purposes. Obviously it should improve the efficiency of the fridge but my primary purpose is actually to dampen and absorb the sound of the pump. Lastly it displaces air to lower the moisture inside the fridge. It works well. I opted for Roxul Comfortboard insulation. This is a rigid mineral wool insulation made of steel slag by-product and minerals. I'm guessing it's like cotton candy except made of rocks. It's heavy stuff and unlike the expanding fluffy insulation you put inside walls or in your attic this is meant to mount outside buildings like plywood with little support. The texture is like floral foam except a 4'x6'x3" sheet weighs about 67 lbs. It carves easily with a serrated bread knife and holds its form which is why I opted for this. Everything is hand cut (thus not perfectly fit unfortunately) and wrapped in 7 mil shrink wrap. The shrink wrap is typically used as boat or building scaffolding wrap as protection from the weather. I have some leftover wrap that I could probably use to professional pack some bricks of cocaine or whatever. The shrink wrap is merely for aesthetics and to hold the insulation in so it doesn't crumble with movement.

Wrap the insulation as if you were wrapping a Christmas present then use the heat gun on its lowest setting at a distance of 12"-18" to shrink the film. Avoid getting any one area too hot as it can melt/catch on fire if done incorrectly. Instead if required make 2 passes to shrink everything down. The tape seems to melt more readily compared to the shrink wrap. If you have a metal drywall joint knife you can use it as a heat shield to protect the tape but any object will do if you simply use it to deflect the heat towards the wrap first. It's quite therapeutic to do. Just be careful as the film can get quite hot. I was on and off with the gloves as I wanted the tactile feel and dexterity without the gloves but yet I wanted protection in some cases. For the most part it was gloves off.


The door has 2.5” of added insulation to the original. Only the surface plastic and shelving partitions were removed. The back of the fridge has a full 3” slab. Care must be taken not to insulate the compressor or relay to ensure it can cool sufficiently. Though it looks quite full, there is still space inside to allow for air circulation. The RO tank is touching the evaporator plate but as there’s an air bladder buffer, it shouldn’t freeze the water inside.

Step 11: Drain

I wanted to have a drain because I intended to discard the first little bit of seltzer in the hose at the start of a pour. The beer tower, though insulated is not cooled thus the first second of water would not be at serving temperature. It was straight forward enough to connect the drip tray to my drain which is only 5 feet away. I simply had to drill a hole in the drip tray and mount a push-fit bulkhead union fitting. I took out the collet off the top and because the lip on the union is quite high I ended up setting up the table saw to cut a groove through the nut. Buying a proper drain assembly bolt may be a better choice. Notice the drip tray I chose has a lip. That way, it can hide the imperfections of my cut. This drip tray turned out to be a tad too narrow. I would have preferred something wider.

Step 12: Conclusions, Next Steps and Retrospect

This has been a fun project and a learning experience. I’m glad there were others before me who have done something similar. It set up the framework for this build. My initial estimate was only about $500 but as I researched more and lost an auction here and there, the costs kept going up. Overall if asked to do it again, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Seltzer water has virtually replaced my pop consumption which is a good thing thus it’s not money wasted.


In retrospect, there are a couple things I didn’t need. I didn’t need a drain as a simple drip tray would suffice. Unless I’m regularly pouring at a slow dribble the force of the water splashes everywhere if it hits the drip tray directly. My expectations were too high. The drip tray is not a sink. Luckily the added cost of the drain assembly only set me back $5 and the labour wasn’t that much more. I also didn’t need a beer faucet to dispense the still water. I went this route because I didn’t want to drill a hole in the countertop for the RO faucet. I ended up scavenging the garbarator switch hole (as this was rarely used) and installing the RO faucet there as well. If I opted for a single beer faucet and tower this could have saved $125.

For next steps, I'm thinking about replacing the generic black plastic beer faucet handles with something a little bit more unique. A small glass vial or crystal are just two ideas. I'm hoping for something easy to work with without costing an arm and a leg. Something the shouts out bubbly water without being too gawdy. Ideas people? Another future upgrade I’m planning on is adding an STC-1000 temperature controller. This is essentially a relay switch with its own thermometer. It switches the fridge on/off depending on what the thermometer probe reads. It's inexpensive and has the ability to chill the water to near freezing without my worrying about it actually freezing. I may pair this with a timer to turn off the fridge for a few hours at night to further reduce the energy requirements. Wiring it should be fairly straight forward following instructions on youtube. After doing so it’s as simple as plugging the fridge into it.

03.25.17 update - The system has served me quite well over the past 1.5 years. I'm glad I made it and I can't imagine going back to shaking 2L bottles of water with the carbonator caps. I also don't have to worry about throwing shade at the wife for drinking *my* water :P I've taken full advantage of the system by drinking at least a liter of water every day. I ended up installing the STC-1000 temperature controller but only because the fridge crapped out on me. It turned on and wouldn't turn off basically freezing all the lines. Luckily I caught it in time before any damage was done. With a problem like that the temperature controller resolves the problem nicely acting as a more precise digital on/off switch to the fridge. A thermometer is placed in the fridge and connected to the controller. You can adjust the controller to 1 C with a +/- 1.5 C allowing a 3 C spread so the compressor doesn't constantly cycle on and off while maintaining a narrow temperature range.

I've also paired it with a mechanical wall timer turning it off nightly. This has resulted in condensation pooling at the bottom of the fridge that I have to clean out every few weeks. I just throw a rag in it and wring it out every once in a while. I'd like to make the enclosure airtight but due to the small holes from the faucet tower, drain hose, drain tray, co2, water and power supply lines, it's not as easy as it sounds. I could use expanding insulation foam in a can but that would permanently glue the hoses in place. Since I have no issues with wringing the rag every few weeks I've left it as-is. On a side note, there is no worry about condensation forming on the motor or electronics. It seems to collect only on the evaporator plate as ice then melt overnight. Only a few drops trickle down daily with the rest just re-freezing when it turns on the next morning. Water so far hasn't leaked out from the fridge onto the floor.

I've refilled the co2 cylinder once and changed out the RO system's sediment filters once. I'm glad I installed the filtration system. The filters came out brown despite having some very clean mountain water living in Vancouver, BC.

I have the pressure set to about 50 psi from the co2 cylinder and haven't had to adjust it since. I mix about 2/3 of my cup full of seltzer then top it off with flat water. This reduces the fizziness which is fine for every day drinking. Only after a long walk or extraneous exercise do I drink the seltzer water straight. It's also nice to dilute apple juice with seltzer to give it some pop and reduce the sugar intake. As such I'm glad I installed both faucets even though I didn't really need to. I also use the flat water to cook with filling my kettle and pots as needed. My existing RO faucet by the sink has to be held down in order for the water to flow. It's nice to simply turn on and wait for the water to fill (like a normal faucet).

To this day I still haven't bothered with replacing the faucet handles from basic black to anything fancier. I guess the novelty of this appliance has worn off but the practicalilty remains.

Step 13: Tips

  • If you buy parts and fittings online, make sure to double and triple check all the connections with the correct item number. There’s nothing more frustrating than buying everything and missing the one right part to have your setup ready to go. I bought all my fittings and the tubing from https://www.installationpartssupply.com/ They have a very wide range of all the fittings I needed. http://chicompany.net/ is another alternative if you want to stick with the hose standard. They don’t carry nearly as much push-fit fittings as installation parts supply. I didn’t find chi company’s service as good either since they never replied to one of my emails.

  • Make sure not to cut your tube and hose lengths too short. Maintenance, disassembly and reconfiguration may be required and there’s nothing more frustrating when you can’t move something out by an extra few inches because you cut the line too short. No one likes long messy hoses everywhere but keep things reasonable. I have mine set up so I can take either tanks out and have it rest on the floor in front of the fridge or I can turn the whole fridge to one side to access the rear.

  • Others have mentioned that some of the lines may freeze due to the proximity with the evaporator plate. I wrapped the pressure tank’s inlet hose in pipe insulation as a precaution and ended up rerouting the line to the side and then to the front of the fridge. The tank inlet fitting faces the opposite direction of the other inlets thus using tubing without an available elbow adapter made the tube go to the back and freeze. Switching over to the elbow fitting and hose resolves this problem.

  • When shopping for a reverse osmosis system consider getting clear filter housing so inspection can be done visually. Pressure gauges are useful in helping diagnose problems such as when to change filters as well as whether there’s too much or too little pressure from your water supply or at the RO tank. Also consider buying a TDS meter to determine the quality of your water before and after the RO system. www.bulkreefsupply.com does a great job of explaining some of the various components of an RO systems. I was tempted to buy from them before I found a deal locally.

  • The beer faucets came pre-mounted on the beer tower with low pressure hoses attached. I bought this combination from www.beveragefactory.com The still water line was left as-is but I had to replace the seltzer hose with ¼” high pressure braided hose. As such, I had to buy a faucet wrench and a pair of crimping pliers to put the Oetiker clamps on the hose and barb. Oetiker clamps work really well and are quite straight forward. Just buy something slightly larger than the diameter of the hose and when crimped as long as it’s quite snug it shouldn’t leak.

  • As the faucet hose barb is meant for 3/16" line while the 1/4" braided hose is 1/16" larger, I simply used 2 crimps to secure it. You may want to buy a 1/4" hose barb elbow shank to make it more compatible. We're still dealing with high pressure water here so be warned.

  • Whether you bought a new or used carbonator you’ll still need to flush it out to clean. You can probably do this with regular tap water. Your RO system can be bypassed which is when the push-fit fittings come in handy. To flush you won’t need your co2, power to the pump or the fridge to be on. Just keep cycling water through the whole system discarding it until your water tastes “normal”. You can also take out the pump filter to clean if required. This is the large brass nut at the bottom of the pump. If you bought the carbonator used you can use descalers, beer line cleaners such as PBW and/or sanitizers such as Star San. This may do a better job compared to simply flushing but as I'm unfamiliar with any of these chemicals my advice is limited. If you have experience, please leave a comment for others.

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69 Discussions

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Question 8 weeks ago

I did it! Got it all installed invisible in a tiny 1.7cf fridge in a cabinet under the sink. It works like a charm. And the pump is loud but with the fridge and cabinet door closed it's really not too bad at all. My only concern is that the pump is pressed up against the plate in the fridge and getting quite cold. Can it get too cold / freeze? Do I need to put a layer of insulation of some sort between them?

Also I don't know how the water is bubbly enough for anyone that is using this set up. I have the co2 on 60 (max) and the water pressure is 35. It's bubbly, but not as much as the sodastream. If I get a regulator that goes higher and set it to 80 or 100, would that make it more bubbly?

Thanks again so much for this instructable and all your help!!!

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Question 2 months ago

Hey sorry to keep bugging you - one more quick question! Do you have an idea of what temperature would be needed in the fridge? Small fridge would be too small so I'm thinking of using a wine fridge and that way we can use some of the fridge to store wine as well, only a lot of them only get down to 50-52 degrees. Not sure if that would be cold enough...?

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piyoman
piyoman

Answer 2 months ago

No I don't think a wine fridge would be suitable. A regular fridge gets down to 32-40 F so that 10-20 F difference would matter.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 2 months ago

Agreed. I'm thinking of just putting it in the bottom of a 4.4 cf fridge and there would still be plenty of space in the top to put other things like bottles of wine or whatever. I know you were concerned with moisture though if the fridge was opened up too often. I wonder if I could make a small airtight box out of metal or plastic to put the carbonator in, just drill holes for the hoses and glue around them so it's airtight? Would cut down on the noise too.

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piyoman
piyoman

Reply 2 months ago

No need to worry about airtightness and condensation. If it's a mini fridge you'll have to simply manually defrost periodically as with any other mini fridge. Frost will form on the evaporator plates but that's normal and not a cause for concern. Keep it simple.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 2 months ago

Good point. I ended up buying the smaller 1.7cf fridge as I decided I'd rather have the whole thing out of sight with the tap mounted on the sink. I'll just decouple the tank and the pump like you did, so they can fit in the fridge.
The fridge will fit in one of the cabinets beneath the sink but I just realized it won't have any ventilation there! I suppose I'll have to just remove the cabinet door to allow the heat to dissipate.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Question 3 months ago on Introduction

Thank you so much for this! I have been looking all over for something exactly like this and was worried that putting the carbonator in a mini fridge might not work with moisture/motor etc.. but you've allayed my fears!

Quick question - do you think this set up would fit in a 3.2 ft fridge? The dimensions are nearly the same as the 4.4 (33" x 19" x 17.5" vs the 4.4 which is 33" x 21" x 20") - so just an inch or two smaller on each side. I figure I could just skip the foam insulation you added and should be fine. Unless you think there's any reason that wouldn't work? Thanks again!

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piyoman
piyoman

Answer 3 months ago

Just as long as the carbonator can fit in the fridge, I don't see why not. You just have to make sure the orientation is correct. Up needs to be up as the carbonator has a float valve in it. If you tilt it, it won't work properly.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 2 months ago

Hey one more question regarding fridge size. We're in a small apartment so even a 3.3 fridge would take up a lot of space. I'm wondering if I could get away with using a smaller fridge and not putting the RO tank in it. (I have an RO system already in place and the tank is under the sink). You said you tried carbonating room temp water and refrigerating it with lackluster results. But then you also said others have had success chilling the water in the carbonator tank. These statements seem contradictory..
If I could get away with just chilling the carbonator tank that would be ideal. But if not then I will bite the bullet and make the larger fridge fit somehow..
My girlfriend drinks seltzer daily, but we wouldn't be pouring several glasses at once..

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piyoman
piyoman

Reply 2 months ago

Hi, this is a great question. I want to clarify that if carbonated water gets dispensed at room temperature, it goes flat fairly quickly. Thus chilling it after isn't going to give you the same results as dispensing the carbonated water cold. If you can only fit the carbonator tank in the fridge that would still be fine even if fed by room temperature water from your RO tank.

What usually happens is that while you're filling, the float will be triggered and the pump will start forcing water into the tank. You could have dispensed anywhere from none to almost a full glass of seltzer when the pump starts. Regardless, that first cup is usually fine and probably the next one as well. However with subsequent cups, the water may get warmer and warmer as you deplete the existing cold carbonated water. So for hosting parties, the results may not be ideal but for a couple of individuals it should be perfectly fine. Even if you dispense it continuously into a cup of ice, non discerning guests may not even realize the difference.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 2 months ago

Gotcha. I think I'd be fine then with that setup. The other issue then, according to the commenter below who installed his under the kitchen bar counter - is keeping the line from the RO tank to the pump short enough to not starve the pump. Though I didn't fully understand why that's an issue. Wouldn't the line be full of water at all times?

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piyoman
piyoman

Reply 2 months ago

The longer the hose, the more resistance there is. If the supply line can't keep up with the pump then you'll get cavitation which can damage the pump. If line is going to be long the simple solution would simply be to upgrade to a larger diameter hose. Ideally you'd change all the fittings to match the larger diameter line. Good luck.

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piyoman
piyoman

Reply 2 months ago

I wouldn't know how long the max length is. You'd have to test flow rate of the pump unrestricted (connected directly to the faucet) and compare that against the flow rate of your intended set up (connected through the RO tank through your length of tubing). If the difference is significant, reduce the length or increase the diameter. If it's not, then it probably would work fine. Good luck.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 2 months ago

Ah, I see, thank you. Do you have any idea about what length would be too long? I don't think I'd need more than 2 or 3 feet.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 3 months ago

Thank you, good to know!

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theguruofnothing
theguruofnothing

1 year ago

I was looking to do the same thing you did and was working though my options and decided to forgo the fridge part of the installation. The water does not have to be cold to carbonate it as these systems commercially only cool the water as it goes through a loop right before it goes into your cup. I turned mine into a conversation piece and installed it under the bar counter in the kitchen. At the moment, I have the tap mounted to a plate that is screwed to the underside of the counter but will eventually install a double head riser like yours on the countertop with a flat water tap as well. My CO2 pressure is set to 45PSI and is plenty. It IS far less fizzy than my Sodastream I started out with but that was too fizzy anyway. Like drinking Pop-Rocks! So your inspiration has paid off for me as well. Been using it for 9 months and on a 10# tank, I will probably have another 12-18 months before refilling it. A word of advice for others... if you are supplying the pump with water from an RO supply tank (1/4" line), make sure you keep that line SUPER SHORT!. If not, you will starve the pump and not only will it sound horrible but it will wreck the impeller in it from cavitation. I learned that the hard way. I didn't roast a pump but even with 2 storage tanks and 2 1/4" lines feeding the pump, I could not get enough flow through 2 - 15' lines to supply the thing without cavitation. I ended up putting in a small "surge" tank right at the pump, mounted up under the counters edge that gives it the needed volume and flow. Not quite as pretty as it could be but I DID put an industrial use product in place in my kitchen after all! People definitely ask questions and think it's pretty darned cool.

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JackFiasco
JackFiasco

Reply 2 months ago

When you say super short, what length are we talking here? Do you think 3 feet or so would be okay?

0
SupaSays
SupaSays

Question 4 months ago

What is the clear tube attached to the new in box Big Mac pump? I don't see any documentation on what it is and also do not see it in your pictures. Did you cap it off?

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dan sh
dan sh

6 months ago on Introduction

Thanks so much for the inspiration here! I got my own rig going today, and thought I’d share a few comments and modifications for my situation.

I have nice well water, so didn’t go the RO route. I had an old kegerator which I wasn’t using for beer anymore, so just upgraded the water-contacting parts to stainless steel. The Perlick faucet with flow control is a great choice!! The flow control has a wide range and keeps the water from splashing all over the place while dispensing into a glass.

The Big Mac was easily sourced online at a good price, but the flare fittings on the unit are not common. I was able to find a kit specific to this unit from a beverage supply house on eBay. About $12 for a complete set with free choices on the barb fitting sizes.

My CO2 regulator only goes to 50 psi, as it’s a beer model, so I installed an inexpensive pressure regulator on the water line ($15 or so on Amazon) to dial down the house pressure (which is 40-60 psi on the well pressure switch). At a delta P of about 20 psi, I see me dialing down the CO2 pressure a bit, as it’s plenty bubbly.

I’m uncertain if the Big Mac tank will keep enough cold water in the fridge for my use. While adding a typical RO tank would easily meet the capacity needs, since I’m not using an RO unit, I’d be concerned that fresh unchilled water would bypass the RO tank at the tee and defeat the purpose of having a reservoir of cold water. Still early on, though, so not sure how this will go yet.

As with any project like this, there were a number of little things to deal with that required typical DIY ingenuity, but nothing insurmountable for someone who does home projects.

Thanks again for the inspiration!!! Very happy to have fresh bubbly water on tap!

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dan sh
dan sh

Reply 5 months ago

After a week and a half or so, I think I’ve got it pretty well dialed in now. I’ve set the water pressure at about 35 psi and the CO2 just a few psi higher at about 38. This gives good fizz, but not too much. I have the temp on my fridge at the higher end of the range in the mid 40s. The capacity of the tank on the Big Mac seems plenty sufficient. The water is always cold enough and bubbly enough...

I will reiterate that the Perlick faucet with flow control is a great choice!

Without needing the extra tank, I do have some free space in the fridge. For now, it’s occupied by the CO2 tank, but could theoretically take a smaller fridge with that gas tank outside...we’ll see what my future brings.

For now, very happy with bubbly water on tap!!