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We're making some big upgrades to our homebrew system and one of them involves moving everything to 1/2" fittings and barbs. This means we need 1/2" tubing that will easily and reliably fit on the barbs.

My question is regarding different options in tubing. I've been using the 3/8" clear plastic tubing from the LHBS, but I'm curious if anyone has thoughts on other options. Silicon tubing has better temperature characteristics I hear? Does it last longer? Do you worry at all about impacts on the beer? Are there other better options out there?

Specifically I will need tubing to recirculate (I suppose by hand for now) and sparge in our new converted keg mash tun, as well as standard racking needs of course. Eventually (hopefully not too long) I plan on adding a march pump as well.

I haven't been worried about tubing up to now because racking just doesn't take that long, but I was curious if anyone had strong feelings on the matter. Do you all use the clear plastic tubing or have you found a way that works better?

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as well as hoses, you may want to ask a separate question about what types of fittings or disconnects to use to attach to the other hardware in the brewery. There are quite a few options there also! –  mdma Apr 22 '12 at 6:05
    
also, don't let the price of silicone put you off - keep hunting on auction sites and you may find a good deal. I got 50' for $10 a year ago in a fire sale. –  mdma Apr 22 '12 at 14:28
    
Indeed. I spent quite a while on the forums looking through fitting options, particularly bulkhead options. We also decided to go with barbs rather than the nicer disconnects due to cost. I noticed that there was lots of info on that, but relatively little on tubing between all the fittings, so this helps. Thanks. BTW, we decided to go with silicon, sounds like thats the smartest choice. –  Thursdays Coming Apr 23 '12 at 0:50
    
fwiw, Camlocks in stainless are a good disconnect and don't cost the earth. –  mdma Apr 23 '12 at 13:39
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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I used to use the clear vinyl tubing also. The pros for this kind of tubing are

  • it's transparent, so you can see the contents clearly
  • it's relatively inexpensive
  • it's food safe at room temperature

But there are some significant cons also

  • at typical mash temperatures, the tubing becomes soft, and doesn't support the weight of the wort, so it collapses and kinks, sometimes cutting off flow
  • it's not food safe above 135F, since there is risk of leeching plastic into the wort. Also the pressure tolerance drops with higher temperature.

So, pvc tubing is recommended for cold wort transfers only, such as when racking.

For hot transfers, there are a couple of alternatives

Silicone tubing

Pros

  • Highly temperature resilient, up to 480F,250C. Can be put in the oven at 350F to sterilize.
  • Semi transparent - you can see the presence of liquid and/or air bubbles
  • Fairly rigid, doesn't kink under typical brewing use.
  • Flexible, has a bend radius of a couple of inches
  • Little absorbtion and cross contamination
  • No "memory" effects - can take on any shape after being coiled

Cons

  • Max pressure is 30 psi. Fine for pumps, but will balloon if connected to water mains.
  • Can be split/shred by sharp objects, such as the hose barb and worm clamp - special worm clamps can be used to avoid this.
  • Can be expensive - look around for good deals.

Thermoplastic tubing

Pros

  • temperature resillient, up to 275F, 135C
  • very thick walled, rugged, does not collapse or kink
  • retail price cheaper than silicone

Cons

  • completely opaque, not possible to see the contents
  • inflexible - has a minimum bend radius of around a foot - coiling smaller than that restricts the flow even though it doesn't kink.
  • memory effects - after being coiled for storage, it will want to stay in a coil
  • difficult to clean and sanitize without a pump. The rigidity made it difficult to put this in a bucket of PBW or sanitizer.

There is also norprene tubing, although this is more expensive than both of the other tubing types, and also fully opaque, so it's seldom used in brewing, other than for peristaltic pumps.

I've upgraded my brewery twice from the original PVC hoses, and over the years have used all 3 hose types. None of these hoses are completely ideal, but I have settled for silicone for most of the brewery since it was the easiest to work with - mash recirc, transfers between kettles, dumping to fermentor. I use braided vinyl for water supply and the water out side of the wort chiller since it can withstand mains water pressure, and regular garden hose isn't food safe.

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I use an RV hose for my water supply. I looks like a garden house but its and FDA approved water supply line inside. They are usually blue. I picked up a nice 20foot one and run that from an exterior house faucet to the brew rig in the garage. Very durable and no vinyl/rubber garden hose taste. Keep in mind every hose and tubing needs to solid rinse before it is "clean" tasting. And don't let any hose sit in the hot sun, that tends to leach flavor into the water I have found. But with RV hose it can be rinsed through and your back in business. –  brewchez Apr 22 '12 at 12:52
    
Very nice answer. I also use RV hose for my water supply and silicone tubing for everything else. –  JoeFish Apr 23 '12 at 2:37
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I use 100% Silicon tubing like this stuff from MoreBeer. Its excellent heat range, very flexible at all temps. The walls are pretty thick so it'll withstand some pressure. I use a pump to recirc and transfer from vessel to vessel. Each tubing run isn't all that long so I can still easily soak it in a bucket of cleanser if needed. In fact my racking cane tubing is longer than any one run in my pump/brewing setup. It is opaque but you can see that beer is running through it, even pilsner worts. I don't use disconnects yet, so I just loosen a hose clamp and move it to the next fitting. I haven't seen any adverse wear or tear on the tubing. Despite its slightly higher expense over vinyl, its pretty rugged and I don't see a need to replace it any time soon (8 batches in). I imagine it gets expensive if you want to do a ridiculous amount of plumbing with it.

100% silicon is the stuff to use. Its what every brewer I know uses for this application.

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I agree, and I'd get the thicker-walled tubing. When I shopped for mine, the thicker wall didn't cost much more. –  Dale Apr 23 '12 at 21:54
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