The combination of water and electricity together can be lethal. Water is a conductor, so any electrical short can be transferred to a person’s body via water on a table or their hands. While an electrical breaker prevents damage to equipment and wires, it does nothing to protect a person’s life. Current as small as 20 milliamps (0.020 of an amp) is enough to stop the heart, which can easily lead to death.
As such, most electrical code stipulates that GFCI (ground fault circuit interruptor) circuity be present on many kitchen and bathroom plugs that are near a water source. A GFCI component measures the amount of current going into a circuit as well as the amount of current leaving a circuit. When all things are good, those two currents will be equal. If those currents don’t match though, that means that the current has found an alternate route to ground, usually through a person that is currently being electrocuted. When the GFCI detects that condition (usually after 1/60th – 2/60th of a second), it will automatically disconnect the electricity. In short, these devices save lives.
If you’re going to build an electric brewery, then you need to make sure your equipment is GFCI protected. Nobody should attempt to build one without, even though it will likely save a few hundred dollars. While brewing beer is a great hobby, it’s not worth anyone losing their life over, so do yourself a favour and make sure you have GFCI protection.
- Add a GFCI breaker to your main breaker panel and run a new 30A line to where you will brew
For this to work you need to install a new double-pole 240V/30A breaker [Siemens] [GE] (or 240V/50A breaker if you are building a 50A installation [Siemens] [GE]) in your main breaker panel and run 10/3 (for 30A) or 6/3 (for 50A) wiring to your brewery. From there you can install a typical dryer plug (for 30A) or a range/stove plug (for 50A) that you can then use to power your control panel. If you purchase a breaker, make sure you purchase one from the same company that makes your panel as not all breakers fit in all panels.
If I owned my own house and didn’t rent an apartment (like I currently do), this is the route I would go because it’s results in the cleanest installation.
Some people consider replacing their non-GFI breaker for their dryer or stove to one with a built in GFCI. I’ve heard this doesn’t usually work with most dryers and stoves, and it will typically trip the breaker as soon as it is turned on.
Purchase an inline GFCI
This is the next best option, as you can use an inline GFCI (basically an extension cord with a GFCI breaker built in) between your dryer or range/stove plug and your electric brewing system control panel. You simply plugin one end of the inline GFCI into your dryer or stove connection, and the other end into your brewing system.
If you plan on moving your electric brew system from time to time (for example, taking it to a friend’s place for a brew), this unit is nice because it’s portable as well.
Unfortunately inline GFCI cables can be very expensive and are often hard to find. [View on Amazon]
Create an inline GFCI using a SPA panel
When installing a hot tub, many people choose to install a separate breaker box outside that has a GFCI breaker inside so that they can control the power to their hot tub while in close proximity to it. These boxes are called SPA panels, and can often be purchased with a built-in GFCI for cheaper than most people can purchase an individual GFCI breaker for. Hooking up two cables to a SPA panel effectively creates an inline GFI which can then be used to power your control system. [View 50A spa panel on Amazon]
Some people may wonder why they can’t simply install a GFI breaker directly in their control system and use the outputs from that breaker to power the system. That works in theory, but it’s not very safe – if a wire comes loose from the GFI breaker while you are brewing, you could be electrocuted without having any protection from the GFI itself. It’s much safer to have the GFI as close to the source of power as possible, and far away from where the brewing will take place.
If you are using an inline GFCI or a SPA panel in conjunction with a normal breaker, then you can use any amperage for the GFI as long as it is the same or more than the amperage of the breaker. For example, if you have a 30A breaker for your dryer in your panel, you can use a 50A spa panel or inline GFI if that’s all you have access to. In that scenario the 30A breaker is effectively limiting the current while the GFI is just adding extra protection in case of a short through equipment or a person.
Using A Spa Panel
Since I live in a rented apartment, I didn’t real feel comfortable adding a new GFCI breaker into the control panel or adding any new wiring. Undoubtedly I would have needed my landlord’s permission, and probably some type of permit to do it properly.
Instead I decided to simply build my own inline GFCI using a spa panel. I decided to purchase a 50A spa panel in the event I decide to upgrade my control panel to a 50A system in the future.