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Do I simply plug a pre-assembled heating element, like this one from the Electric Brewery, into a 120v outlet (given I have no 240v outlet) and then unplug it after the boil is complete?

I am reading about a lot of electrical work that is required for safety reasons in regards to heating elements but I can't distinguish if that electrical work is needed if I am building the heating element myself or if it is needed regardless if someone else builds it for me.

Notably, I am in an apartment and cannot make any modifications to the electrical system.

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Assuming it was mounted appropriately in the kettle, and assuming that you changed the connector from the NEMA L6-30 to the NEMA 5-15 as used for 120V outlets in the US, yes, you could simply plug it directly into the outlet, and it would run at 100% power. Note that if it's a 240V heating element rated for X Watts, you're only going to get X/4 watts out of it at 120V.

There is no "building" of the heating element; it's literally just a piece of metal with places to connect wires to, a big resistor. But it does need to be mounted correctly to prevent liquid from getting to those connections.

For the amount of power you can get out of residential 120V, you probably do want to run the element at "full power" for the whole boil, so you can get away with just plugging it into the wall. But, the electric brewery setup does assume that you're going to run the boil-kettle element at less than full-time. You don't need as much energy to maintain a boil as to raise to boiling temps. They accomplish this, of course, with a PID controller and SSR to switch the element on and off periodically.

If you just want something you can throw into the kettle, look into "bucket heaters", which are basically the same, but designed A/ to run on 120V and B/ to be submerged in liquid. You could even use 2 at a time, if you can find multiple outlets close enough to the kettle.

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  • Good call on the L6-30 - I missed that. When you say mounted appropriately, are you referring to electrical mounting? I.e, correctly grounded wiring? I'll take a look at the bucket heaters, thank you. – Matthew Moisen Oct 26 '14 at 20:13
  • Depending on the power rating of the unit, you may draw more current than the 120V circuit can provide and trip the circuit breaker. Although this is unlikely, I wanted you to be aware of it. It would need to be a heating element that produces more than 7,000W at 240V to be pushing the limits of a 120V 15A circuit, but it is possible. – rjbergen Oct 27 '14 at 15:07
  • Sorry I didn't see your question a month ago. By "appropriately mounted", I mean with a water-tight mounting through the wall of the kettle, and a properly-grounded electrical connection both of the element and the kettle, as well. Also note that given the danger involved, you'll want to be running through some sort of GFCI at some point. – jsled Nov 25 '14 at 18:28

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