As a child I remember going into my uncles basement.... wait let me start that a different way. As a kid my uncle used to have a bar in his basement where we could help ourselves to unlimited fountain pop. The basement was full of cool toys like a pool table, hot tub and just about every other item you could cram into a basement.
Well i guess a little of that stuck with me over the years. I started out with a sodastream machine but always new i wanted to install a full fountain pop machine in the house just like they have in every restaurant.
About 5 years ago i started collecting parts and pieces at auctions and finally ordered the last of the parts a few weeks back from http://www.sodadispenserdepot.com/
If your thinking about doing the same thing in your home here's a few things to consider
Why your doing this?
If your motivation is cost, stop right now, this isn't going to be a cheaper way to drink your favorite soft drink. Here are the elements that caused this to cost more then i though.
- The cost of the equipment totals up to a little over $3000 CAD (even with buying parts used)
- The refrigeration unit is always plugged in, always trying very hard to make a block of ice in an un-insulated water bath while your furnace is trying to heat the room, this uses more electricity then i would have guessed.
- Diet pop goes bad within about 90 days, if you have a few flavors it might be hard to drink it all in time. This is not a problem with sugar pops.
- Your going to waste many liters of pop when installing the system and getting everything dialed in and primed up. Every time a new C02 tank is opened up you will need to pass a few liters though the system to drain the lines of un-carbonated water as well.
- Boxes of syrup cost $88 and are hard to come by. Coke and Pepsi wont sell to home users, if your in the USA its easy to buy at sams club. If your in Canada like me you will need to find someone that works at a restaraunt to sell it to you out the back. I get mine from a community center.
- A CO2 tank refill costs $60 or so.
- When pop flows freely your more likely use larger glasses.
- When pop flows freely your more likely to dump out unfinished flat pop and get a fresh cold glass from the machine.
- When friends and family come over they drink more pop.
Now if your motivation is more around how cool it would be or the ability to always have ice cold pop at hand this might be a good fit for you.
Know that its a ton of work.
- Setting up the system will take days, I ended up doing it over a few times working out the kinks as i went.
- The first time i used rubber lines that were not food grade plastic which made everything taste horrible
- The second time i resorted the items under the table to put the refrigeration unit closer to the fountain head. This makes the drinks colder.
- The third time i used thinner water lines after the refrigeration unit, this caused less warm water to sit in the lines, also makes drinks a little colder.
- Getting everything to taste just right takes time and a little skill. Adjusting syrup levels, Co2 levels, Water levels, etc takes time and effort.
- There are some special tools you will need to buy to crimp fittings, cut hoses and calibrate the syrup levels.
Its easy to make a mess.
- Fail to crimp a line properly and you could flood your house.
- I had a syrup line come off a pump and spray high pressure syrup all over the room. I was being stupid, made a hell of a mess.
- Pop will splash out of the machine from time to time so be ready to clean up around the machine often. Carbonated drinks fly outside of the glass, people spill, etc, etc.
- The machine nozzles need to be cleaned every few days because syrup will dry up inside its little holes.
Where should it go?
These systems get pretty big, you will need to store
- These items can be mounted a ways away
- Co2 tank (small or large depending on what you buy)
- One BIB syrup box for each flavor
- One syrup pump for each flavor
- A carbonator
- A water filter
- These items have to be near to where the pop is dispensed:
- A refrigeration unit (lots of options here)
- The main head unit with dispensers
- Other items to consider.
- You will need a fresh water supply at 30PSI
- A drain line is a nice item to have but not required.
- I highly recommend you also have a sink in very close proximity. When i first installed the unit i didn't have a sink, within a week i installed one to make clean up easier.
- run the catch pan under the fountain head to a drain, you will need some plumbing close by for that.
OK, Im not scared what parts do i need.
- Co2 tank.
- I picked mine up from an auction used, I have two each of which holds 20lbs of Co2
- if you want to pick one up new its best to call companies that sell wine and beer making supplies. They often have cheep solution where they re-valve and clean old fire extinguishers
- Co2 Gas
- Not as hard to find as you would think, i filled my tanks at a fire extinguisher company.
- There is no such thing as food grade Co2 gas, Co2 is Co2.
- Co2 Regulator
- you will need a dual head regulator, one will feed the carbonator, the other will drive the syrup pump.
- Water pressure regulator
- takes the high pressure from your house and converts it down to 30PSI. If you don't have this it could cause premature failure of the carbonating unit.
- Mine came with my carbonator when i bought it used. They are also available from Soda Fountain Depot
- Syrup pumps (also called beverage pumps)
- There are two styles, one used by coke the other by Pepsi. (they function the same but look different)
- I choose to buy the coke type used on Ebay for about $30 a piece, they cost $100 new. If you go this route they will need to be cleaned.
- If you order used pumps make sure to buy extras, 1 bought 6, out of those 4 worked.
- If used pumps are used for root beer everything that goes though them will taste like root beer, doesn't seem to matter how much they are cleaned
- Bag in Box connectors (BIB connectors)
- There are 3 styles, Coke, Pepsi, Other.
- I bought 8 male Coke connectors, 4 female Coke connectors, 4 Pepsi connectors, and 4 "Other" connectors.
- The syrup pumps have coke connectors on them, i then made adapters that adapt from coke to Pepsi and Coke to "Other". This allows me to buy any syrup i want.
- Co2 Carbonator
- I bought this used for $80, new they cost $300-400.
- There are several different sizes and types, the smallest model will work fine for a home machine. Larger units are only required if you want to vend pop out of multiple (4+) heads at the same time.
- Refrigeration unit or chill place
- This unit will cool the carbonated water and potentially the syrup if you have enough coolant loops. Cooling the syrup is optional. The water has to be cold for carbonation to work, if the water is warm the carbonation will leave the drink almost immediately.
- Option #1
- This is the option i went with, i bought a lancer 500 for $150 used.
- Buy an external refrigeration unit with coolant loops. These work by creating a block of ice inside of a water bath. The water bath has stainless steel lines that run though it. Please note that these units do make a little more noise then a standard fridge.
- Option #2
- a chill plate. A chill plate will need to be located inside a fridge or freezer or placed in a cooler filled with ice. Many people drill holes in the sides or back of a refrigerator and put the chill plate into the freezer portion of the fridge. This option may be cheaper but it creates a larger install and obviously drilling holes in a fridge would void its warranty and could cause issues.
- Option #3
- Buy a refrigeration fountain head. Some fountain heads contain refrigeration units or ice makers with chill plates. These all in one units are easy to use but require more counter top space and in some cases can be quite loud.
- Fountain Head
- One of the only pieces i bought new, I went with the 4 head unit from Soda Dispenser Depot
- Resist the temptation to buy to many heads, the size of the install goes up with each head, not to mention the cost.
- Another option is to install a WonderBar handle, they take up less counter space and work just as well.
- Rubber lines
- 1/4" high pressure food grade lines, I used 27' of 1/4" line for:
- Co2 regulator to the carbonator
- Co2 regulator to the syrup pumps
- Syrup pump to the next syrup pump, etc, etc, etc
- Syrup pump to fountain head (syrup line), one length for each pump
- Refrigeration unit to fountain head (tees off to each head)
- 3/8" high pressure food grade lines, I used 25' of 3/8" line for:
- Bag in box connector adapters x8
- Bag in box to syrup pump x4
- Cold Water line to water filter
- Water filter to carbonator
- Carbonation to refrigeration unit
- YOU HAVE TO USE FOOD GRADE LINES. I spent $100 at the hardware store on non food grade lines, I then installed all the lines, syrup and water that sits in the lines picks up a flavor after a few hours that will make you gag. Seriously its bad enough to make you throw up.
- 1/4" high pressure food grade lines, I used 27' of 1/4" line for:
- All fittings need to be stainless steel. Copper or brass fittings will poison everyone that drinks from the machine. No joke, it could kill someone. This is caused by the Co2 reacting with the copper or brass.
- From all of the items I bought at auction I had most of the fittings i needed, Soda Dispenser Depot had the rest of the fittings.
- Used to crimp the rubber lines, you will need about 25 1/4" o-rings and 25 3/8" o-rings for a 4 flavor system.
- Water Filter
- My pop had a noticeable weird flavor that i couldn't pinpoint. I ended up buying an inline water filter at a nearby hardware store for $20 and installed it, the weird flavor went away.
- Soda Dispenser Depot sells filters, but they are REALLY expensive. My hardware store sold the exact same ones for 1/3 the price.
- Flavor stickers
- For that professional look you need the real flavor labels. Soda Dispenser Depot sells these for $2 a piece (you have to ask on the phone, they dont have them on the website)
- Tubing cutter
- Optional but VERY handy.
- Pincer (O-ring crimp tool)
- used to secure the rubber lines to fittings.
- Drill & Bit
- you will need to drill a hole though the counter top
- Philips screwdriver
- to take apart the fountain head
- Hex Key (i think the size depends on the head you buy)
- To adjust the syrup and water mixture levels.
- Brix Cup
- Used for calibrating the syrup levels.
Hooking it all up (Considerations)
- Put the refrigeration unit as close as possible to the fountain head. Keep the chilled water line as short as possible. Any water trapped in the lines will be dispensed into the cup warm. This will cause immediate foaming in the drink, foam makes more foam. keeping the lines short and having ice in the glass when pouring will lessen this effect.
- Syrup boxes and syrup pumps can be really far away with no impact to performance (if you want to put them 20 feet away that would be fine)
- Co2 tanks can be far away as well.
- you will need a shutoff valve for the water close by to properly prime the system.
- Co2 PSI for the pumps should run at about 60 PSI
- Co2 pressure for the carbonator will need to be set to 105 PSI
Hooking it all up (Instructions)
- Counter Top Install
- Counter Top Regulator Assembly
- How to Crimp
- How to take a bar gun apart
- Installing a Drain
- Bag In Box Fittings
- Regulator Installation
- Remote Cooler
- Water Hookup
Priming the System
- Start with the Co2 off, water off and carbonator unplugged. Make sure all lines are connected.
- Turn on the water
- Open the pressure valve on top of the carbonator until water shoots out (this will make a mess, try putting a rag over top)
- Turn on the Co2 tank
- Plug in the carbonator
- The carbonator should run for 20 - 30 seconds, if it runs longer unplug it, it could get wrecked if it runs to long.
- Dispense some pop until syrup starts to come out and the water looks carbonated. (you might have to put 2-3 liters though it)
- Hook the Brix cup tube to the fountain head and take the top of the fountain head.
- The Brix cup fits under so that the water goes into the large portion and the syrup goes into the smaller portion. The brix cup should have two smaller sides, use the side that is meant for your specific syrup ratio (written on the syrup box, usually 5 parts water to 1 part syrup)
- Dispense some water and syrup into the Brix cup
- The water should dispense 6 oz in 5 seconds, adjust the water screw on the top of the fountain head to speed up or slow down the flow. Counter clockwise will speed up the flow, clockwise will slow it down.
- Now adjust the syrup flow so that the water and syrup levels in the Brix cup rise at the same rate
- Thats it, put the top back on the fountain heads and test it out. If the pop doesnt taste right you can adjust the heads to change the ratio to your taste.
- If the pop is not carbonated enough or is to carbonated you can adjust the Co2 regulator that goes to the carbonator. Mine is running at 105PSI.
- Once every few days
- Take the nozzles off the head and wash them in warm water.
- Once a month
- Mix cleaner with water in a bucket. Put the bag in box hose into the bucket and dispense Pop. This will pull soap though the pumps and lines cleaning everything out.
- Once every few days
- Co2 refills
- When the tank is empty the lines may still contain significant pressure. Do not just disconnect the lines..
- Turn off the water (if you dont water can flow up though the Co2 lines and out through the regulator)
- Drain the lines slowly by dispensing pop or using the pressure release valve on the carbonator (prepare for a mess if this is your method, water will spray out with the Co2)
- Once the Co2 lines are empty disconnect the tank and have it refilled.
- Once the Co2 tank is full reattach the regulator. (leave the tank off)
- Turn on the water.
- Use the purge valve on the carbonator to drain out any air in the system (water will come out of the purge valve)
- Turn on the gas.
- You will need to put a few liters though the system before the drinks will be carbonated.