Heatstick: Put the heat where you need it.


The photo shows three different versions of a device that I call a Heatstick. It is basically a heating element for an electric hot water heater mounted so that it can be submerged in any liquid that you need to heat. I have built three of these and use them for all of my brewing needs (except rehydrating yeast or priming water). The parts cost for each is less than $15 and it takes me less than 2 hours to build.. To illustrate how effective they are, three Heatsticks can bring 5 gallons of water from tap temperatures to a full boil in less than 20 minutes. Brewing with them has made my entire brewing process simpler and easier and allows me to setup my brewery in a very small area


. The Heatstick is the result of my need to build a very compact brewing system. My garage is quite taken up with other things so I was left with a very small area for brewing. I didn't have the space for either a RIMS or a 3 tier rack. I decided to see if I could devise a system that could be stored compactly and at the same time be set up quickly While searching for ideas, I came across the plastic brewing system on Ken Schwartz 's web page . His pioneering work and great success persuaded me to explore it. Using the information he had derived, I decided I needed three 120Volt hot water heater elements to create a boil in any reasonable time. I also concluded I would need elements to heat the mash tun and sparge water. This would dictate that I would need between 5 and 7 elements. Since each element would need a separate circuit from the main circuit box, this was getting to be a lot of work and expense. It was also excessive because I never needed more than three elements at a given time. That's when I came up with the concept of the separate, unattached element I called a Heatstick . With these Heatsticks, I can apply the heat where I need it and in I don't have to commit to a specific vessel for sparge, mash, or boil.  In addition, they are easy to clean because they are not mounted in the bucket.


When I brew, I start out by putting one or two Heatsticks in the mash tun with the first volume of water and bring it up to the first temperature. This also preheats the mash tun to make it easier to hit and hold the mash temperature. I put the third Heatstick in another plastic bucket to get that water up to the next mash temperature or sparge temperature. If the mash temperature starts to fall, I can use one of the Heatsticks to warm it and stir the mash at the same time.

When I am ready to boil, I drop all three Heatsticks in the boil bucket as shown below. Depending on the initial temperature after the sparge, it typically takes only a few minutes to get to a rolling boil. At that point I drop back to two Heatsticks. Actually, one Heatstick will maintain a mild boil. Two Heatsticks will create a boil that I consider too violent. Typically, I keep one Heatstick on continuously and use a temperature controller to cycle the other one off and on. Even if you brew on a stove or with a gas fired burner, one of these would be useful for the mash and sparge water and it would also help to speed up the boil.



The hot water heater element is a 120Volt 1440Watt unit that is available at most home stores for less than $10.00. For two of the units I mounted the element horizontally so that it can be fully submerged in less than a gallon of water. For the third, I mounted it straight so it makes a better mash stirrer   I used #12 wire with a ground for the power cord because I had some available. I believe that since the heating element draws 1bout 12 amps, #14 or even #16 wire would be acceptable.

Since the heating element requires 12 Amps to operate so only one can be used in a typical house outlet. Although the tubing is grounded, I would highly recommend using an outlet that is protected by a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI). Since I wanted to use three Heatsticks I ran three separate lines from three separate circuit breakers. In the photo of figure 3 you can see the three separate circuits.

Each consists of an unswitched outlet on the left and a switch to control the GFI protected outlet on the right. The Heatstick should always be plugged into the GFI protected outlet. The two circuits on the right use regular light switches to control the Heatstick. The one on the left uses a surface burner controller from an electric kitchen stove. This device controls the temperature by switching the element off and on at a rate determined by the setting of the knob. I included a neon pilot light to indicate when it is heating. The unswitched outlets have a few amps available for other needs like rehydrating water for yeast or to power my four channel digital thermometer.    You can see my 4 channel thermometer by clicking here


When using the Heatstick you have to be sure it is submerged at all times (just like you have to be sure you have liquid in a pot you are heating). Just a few seconds in the air with power on and the Heatstick will start to burn. Also, try to keep it from contacting the walls or bottom of a plastic bucket. I did some initial testing of the concept using just water and concluded the heat from the element did not affect the plastic even if it contacted it directly. However, if you are heating a high gravity wort or have some undissolved extract in the water, the plastic can melt.   That can make a real goat rope  in the middle of a boil.

Construction Details:

Parts List:

1 Hot Water element heater, 120 V, 1440 Watts, screw type.

#14 or #12 Electrical Wire, with Ground.

3 Prong Plug for the wire

1 Sink Drain Pipe with or without elbow, 12  to 18  long, 1 ¼ ID includes hex nut on end. (See Note below)

            1 Plastic Drain Extension (if using shorter Drain Pipe)

1 cable tie

            PVC plastic cap.

            1 #6 Screw.

            Food Grade Silicone Sealant (DAP #8641) as required.


            Note, be sure that the terminal end of your heater element fits into the threaded end of the drain pipe and that the hex head that comes with the drain pipe will fit over the element and hold it firmly to the drain pipe.



To start, I like to spread open the element a little so it fits better in the plastic bucket and is easier to clean .  I do this by driving a wooden wedge in the gap of the element.  Don t try to spread them too far or the shell of the element can separate from the fitting,  I did this to one of the heatsticks.  I put a glob of sealant over the split and it seems to work fine.  I am sure that if there were a leak, the GFI would trip.


Next attach the wires to the element.  In this case, the black and white wire can be attached to either terminal.  For the ground lead, there is a little space near the terminals where I drilled and tapped a hole for a # 6 screw.


 Then, thread the wire through the drain pipe, threaded end of pipe first. The sink drain comes with a washer but I wasn t sure of the material so I didn t use it.   Fit the hex head of the element into the pipe and slip the hex nut over it.  The threads on the element are not used.  Tighten the hex nut to the drain pipe.  Once you get the feel of how it goes together, back off the nut and cover everything with sealant.  Then tighten the nut again.  It should look like (or better than).



If you are using the drain pipe extension, thread the wire through it and attach it to the pipe.  Then drill the end cap to accept your wire.  Put the cable tie on the wire so that it will form a strain relief by bumping against the inside of the end cap.   I just force fit the end cap on the pipe.  Then, put the plug on the wire.


Now, put a glob of sealant on the end of the element as shown below.  Then, if the end of the element happens to touch the plastic bucket for an extended period, it won't melt a hole in the bucket.


             If you have any questions or comments, email me at the address below after removing the "NoSpam_":




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