While I was figuring out how to make the new layout work, I decided I should really have a couple of storage cabinets, with stainless steel doors, and wouldn't it be nice to have a couple of small wine chillers installed, since we do a lot of entertaining out there?
Wine Chillers are pretty - stainless steel and glass doors, built in dual temperature zones, soft blue LED readouts on the doors, nice handles and... inexpensive. My mistake was thinking they operated like refrigerators. Wrong!
Wine Chiller manufacturers got together with wine makers and decided that, as Europeans have long stated, Americans drink their white wines too cold and their red wines, too warm. So, they cleverly designed the wine chillers with a lower zone that only drops to 46 degrees F, and an upper zone that only drops to 54 degrees F. Well, I don't know about you, but I've been drinking wine for about forty years, and I've become pretty used to my white wines at about 40, and my reds at room temperature. So, not giving me the option of making it cooler was akin to a fine Steak Restaurant only serving medium-well-done steaks. That's fine for some...but not for me. I'll prepare your steak just the way you like it, not the way I want you to have it!
Plus, what I really wanted to do, was to use one of the chillers as a meat-aging fridge, which means I need to get the temperature down to 40 degrees F and keep it there for about six weeks. Well, I'm no electrician, as you'll see in a minute, and I'm not an appliance repair man. I'm just a guy who thinks that wine chillers should get colder. Maybe I want to keep my Champagne out there, or keep beer out there, or just white wine and not red. Perish the thought of actually talking to consumers about what they want in a product and doing something as simple as giving you control over the temperature range!
You see, these units are powered by Peltier Thermo Electric Coolers (TECs), which work by running a current across one side of a ceramic-like tile, making it hot, while the other side gets cold. So, they are designed with a fan and heat sink on the outside, sucking hot air away (and into whatever space you have feeding it, behind) and a fan on the inside, sucking the cold in. They are really designed to operate at about 30 degrees F less than the ambient temperature. I was testing the units out in the open, using an extension cord, and at night, that was fine, but the sun is a heck of a lot more powerful than the TECs. So, once I put them in their enclosed spaces, I discovered that the more I cooled the inside of the units, the hotter the enclosed area behind them became, raising the perceived ambient temperature, so, as hard as the units could work, I couldn't get them cold enough to even act as a cigar humidor!
Now I was getting a little "frustrated". So, I increased the heck out of the ventilation, hacking away at my newly designed and tiled outdoor kitchen extension, and I got about another ten degrees of cold out of it. Trying to figure out what lame-brain designed these things, since they obviously LOOK like built ins, I checked on the difference. For about $1000 more, you could get built-in units that move the heat forward, out the front of the bottom of the unit, instead of the back. That's a lot of damn money! Not going down that road... Any refrigerators that are the same size as chillers? Not a chance. How about a small, cheap compressor air conditioner to cool the air behind? Noisy, expensive...stupid idea. Can I make one? Worse idea.
Know that part where I said I'd show you I wasn't an electrician? I was running electrical from the garage to the outdoor extension, splitting off from a 220v outlet for the garage oven. (Doesn't everyone have a working spare oven and microwave in their garage?) Well, as I discovered, there are a lot of ways to supply that oven, but not so many ways to split off 110v, and being the smart guy that I am, I left one of the chillers plugged in when I flipped the breaker back on. Oops. Fried both of the control boards on the plugged in chiller. Now, doesn't that make you feel better?
Here I am, one fully functional wine chiller, that won't get anywhere near cold enough to do anything but act as a hamster cage, as far as I can tell, and one fried unit. I tested the different boards, swapping power off the good unit, and found it was only the two main temperature control boards that were fried. Everything else was good. What to do? Pack it up, send it back and say "Damn thing's broke, replace it!" Not really my style. My mistake, my loss. I'll know better, next time.
But, at least now I have an opportunity to talk to the manufacturer and get some questions answered. So, I called them up and talked to Service. The replacement boards would run about $34 each, plus shipping. Hmmm. Seventy bucks. What are my options? Is there a control board that will let me get the units colder? Nope. Can I bypass the pre-sets on the door to set the temperature lower? Built into the logic...nope. Can I change out the TECs to colder tiles? Major modification, voiding warranty. Not recommended. Well, "not recommended" works a lot better for me than spending $70 just to get back to square one, so I said "thank you, I'll get back to you" and I started researching.
Johnson Controls has a unit for about $70. Out of my range. The STC-1000 temperature controller is only $13, but has lousy installation instructions, poorly translated from the Chinese. No problem, the Amazon Q & A site has pretty explicit instructions. File that away for future reference.
What about replacing the TECs? Okay, now we're getting somewhere! Adafruit has a video showing a TEC with heat-sink and fan, that gets 30 degrees Celsius colder than ambient temperature, for about $35. Now, I have a plan. If I install the new TECs in the top half of the chiller, because cold air is heavier than hot air, and I control the temperature with the STC-1000s, I only need one control board for each chiller, so no need to buy new boards. Just spent the same $70, and solved my problem. Great!
Remember that scene from "A Christmas Story" when Ralphie gets his decoder ring and runs up to the bathroom to decipher the hidden message? It was just like that. Same result, too. "Don't forget to drink your Ovaltine". Dissappointed!
The new TEC didn't do any better than the old one. Perhaps even worse! What the heck was the problem? This thing should have been cranking like a blizzard in the Arctic. Went back to the site. Use with a 12 volt power supply, pushing 5 amps. Checked the chillers. Everything is 12 volts. Checked the spec sheet. 1.5 amps. Crap! Maybe a power supply from Radio Shack, before they go under. Nope. Fry's...Best Buy...nope. Adafruit? $35 and I need two. Why is everything on this project always $70? Lemme check Amazon. Thirteen bucks. Sold! Ordered two and anxiously waited. Now I'm really invested in this project, time and money, and nothing is going to stop me.
I cut the power supply cord and strip the sheathing, expecting to see black, white and green. Red, blue and green. Why is nothing easy? Turns out, red is hot, blue is neutral, green (which you don't need), is obviously ground.
Now the 12v-5A side, after the transformer. Cut the cord, expecting to see yellow (12v) and black. Red and white. First time I've ever seen white used as hot, but it's true. I'm sure some electrician can explain that. I saw a video that told me that the TEC wires and the fan wires can be wired together, and off the back of the unit, there is a red and black set of wires from the fan, and another red and black from the TEC. Ganged all of the reds together, and connected the blacks to the red (hot) supply. Plugged it in and it whirred into action. Success!
These chillers are only 18 bottle capacity. That's pretty small. Do I need to run both top and bottom, or can I just remove the weather stripping on the door that creates the seal between top and bottom? I pulled the seal and waited. Top was cooling nicely. Bottom was lagging by 21 degrees. Had I created a weather chamber simulating a high pressure zone keeping a low pressure zone at bay? Crap! Plus, when the top of the unit got down to 54, the preset lower limit, it started beeping at me and telling me I'm some sort of scurrilous wag for making modifications when I'm not qualified and I'll never win this battle! Well, that's what it sounded like to me, anyway.
Now, let's get clever about removing all of those new plugs. I could put a bus in, and tie to the chiller power cord, so everything operates with one plug. But I don't need to. The power comes into the chiller and splits to power the two separate boards at 110v. I'm only using one board for the lights and door readout, so I can use the second feed to power my new supplies and controllers. So, here's how the wiring ends up, from the incoming power, through the temperature controller to the power supplies, operating the fans and TECs. (And, just so you know, the slots for the wiring on the STC-1000 are pretty small, so gauge your wires accordingly.)
- Main power to the chiller is red and blue, split on one board. Red is hot, blue is neutral
- Power from the new power supply cords is also red (hot) and blue (neutral)
- The temperature controllers require 110v, and need to have a jumper to act as the switch.
- Solder two new hot leads to the red (hot) power wire, coming in after the chiller splitter, one for each power supply
- Solder two new neutral leads to the blue (neutral) power feed
- Solder a jumper to each of the two new hot (red) power leads.
- Insert one hot (red) plus jumper into wiring slot 4 on the temperature controller.
- Take the added jumper and insert into wiring slot 2
- Solder each of the blue (neutral) wires together from the chiller supply and the power supply
- Insert the blue (neutral) chiller supply with the blue power supply (neutral) into slot 3
- Insert the remaining red (hot) wire from each power supply, into slot 1 on the controller
- Insert the thermometer wires in slots 5 and 6 (non-polarized)
- Solder together your red (neutral) exterior fan wire and TEC red , with your yellow for upper interior fan, with the red (neutral) wire from your post-tranformer 12v-5A line for your upper
- Do the same for the lower, using the blue wire as neutral.
- Solder all of the black (hot) wires together from fans and TECs
- Dial in your desired temperature (HC mode>set) and variance (CA mode>set)
- Hit Set, and watch your fans and TECs power up
- Wait until the unit reaches the desired temp, kick off, then kick back on when the temperature exceeds your variance.
I removed the board that was no longer functioning, to create room for my power supplies and temperature controllers, which I attached with two sided tape. Since I ganged the thermometers, I have no need to see the controllers. I'll know if they aren't working for some reason.
Just remember, the cooler you want to get, the more ventilation you'll need. I just ordered two more power supplies and two more controllers. I still have the colder TEC, heat-sink and fan, which were unnecessary, apparently, but it can't hurt to have a few spare parts. One recommendation from a friend, was to also insert a 5 amp fuse before the controllers.
Hey, as long as it's not $70, I'm good.