Step by Step: Balancing Your Kegerator Draft System

I had the pleasure of attending the HomebrewCon held in Grand Rapids, Michigan several years ago.  If you didn’t have the chance to go, or even if you did, the AHA provides seminar recordings for that conference.  In fact they provide recordings going all the way back to 2012’s conference.  This is a member’s only benefit.  If you’re not a member of the AHA, I think you should consider joining.  Access to conference materials is only one of many benefits.  Join nowLooking for a deal?

One of the sessions I attended was Tom Schmidlin’s “Draft System Design and Maintenance”.  Having built several kegerators over the years, clarification – several iterations of the same kegerator, I feel like a know a fair bit about putting together a system.  Many things were re-affirmations of lessons I’ve learned.  I did pick up a few new tips.  Thank you to Tom Schmidlin for putting on this great presentation!

Why Balance Your Kegerator?

Balancing your kegerator helps eliminate excessive foam, gets you your desired carbonation level and saves time, effort and frustration.  A non-balanced system may produce foamy beers and may require manual changes.  It’s not uncommon for a non-balanced system to require turning down pressure for serving.  Balancing your draft kegerator correctly means walking up to your kegerator at your leisure and pouring a beer at your desired carbonation level without lots of foam.

On to setting your temperatures and pressures and balancing your system…

Step 1: Figure Your Desired Temperature and Pressure

The carbonation level of your beer is a function of CO2 PSI and your kegerator temperature.  The colder your kegerator, the more CO2 your beer will absorb.  You need to decide two things: How cold do I want my beer?  and what carbonation level do I want to serve it at?

1.  Carbonation Level.  Typically expressed in volumes of dissolved CO2.  Check out the BJCP’s style guidelines for a starting point.  The guidelines give general terms like low, moderately low, high, very high, etc.  Other more specific charts and tools are also available.  Most recipe formulation tools have guidelines or tools on the subject.


Consider Brewfather: Brewfather offers a free full feature trial.  After the trial period, you’ll still have access via a limited, non-expiring account.  See: Hands on Review: Brewfather App – Recipe Formulation, Calculators & Brew Day Tools – Brewfather has style specific carbonation range recommendations as well as a CO2 calculator.


2.  Temperature.  Most bars serve between 34 and 38 deg F.  Of course, this is a personal preference.

Use a Carbonation Chart

After you have determined carbonation level and temperature you can use a carbonation chart or calculator to determine what pressure you need to store your beer at.

CARBONATION CHARTClick to enlarge – thank you to Spike Brewing Equipment for this resource!  This is also available for purchase as a poster.

Or, Use an App To Figure Pressure

Most Brewing software will have a utility to help you figure carbonation.  Consider Brewfather: Brewfather offers a free full feature trial.  After the trial period, you’ll still have access via a limited, non-expiring account.  See: Hands on Review: Brewfather App – Recipe Formulation, Calculators & Brew Day Tools – Brewfather has style specific carbonation range recommendations as well as a CO2 calculator.

Example: Kegerator Balancing – Temperature and Pressure

If you’d like your beer to be 38 degrees and you want 2.4 volumes of CO2, you would find 38 degrees on the far left hand column and then follow it over to the right until you find something similar to 2.4.  In this case, 2.38.  After you have located that, follow that column down and you’ll find your required storage and serving PSI.  In this case, 10 PSI.

Step 2: Figure Resistance/Restriction

Pressure and Temperature help you get the right carbonation level.  This next step helps you dispense your beer at the proper speed and without excessive foam.

Goal: Dispense Rate

A common goal is 1 gallon per minute or about 2 ounces per second.  That’s accomplished by balancing your system.

Balancing your kegerator is an equation of sorts.  You have storing and serving pressure on one side and resistance on the other.  Essentially, you want to offset most of the pressure (all but about 1 PSI) that is required to store and carbonate your beer with resistance in your system.  Everything on the liquid side of your system counts toward this resistance.

Standard Tubing Resistance Estimations

  • Vinyl 3/16” ID 3.00 lbs/ft
  • Vinyl 1/4” ID 0.85 lbs/ft
  • Vinyl 5/16” ID 0.40 lbs/ft
  • Vinyl 3/8” ID 0.20 lbs/ft
  • Vinyl 1/2” ID 0.025 lbs/ft
  • Barrier 1/4” ID 0.30 lbs/
  • Barrier 5/16” ID 0.10 lbs/ft
  • Barrier 3/8” ID 0.06 lbs/ft
  • Stainless 1/4” OD 1.20 lbs/ft
  • Stainless 5/16” OD 0.30 lbs/ft
  • Stainless 3/8” OD 0.12 lbs/ft

Credit goes to the Draught Quality Manual for these figures

EVABarrier Tubing Resistance Estimations

Related: Hands on Review: Kegland DuoTight Fittings & EVABarrier Tubing

Credit for EVABarrier resistance goes to William’s Brewing

EJ Beverage Ultra Barrier Resistance Estimation

Credit for Ultra Barrier resistance goes to MoreBeer.  There are lots EJ Beverage Ultra Barrier options available.  MoreBeer includes restriction estimations on many of those.

What Tubing Should You Use?

Given it’s general cost, features and flexibility, I think EVABarrier Tubing deserves a hard look

Homebrewer Problems vs Commercial Problems.

Because of generally short runs, most homebrewers are trying to increase restriction to control foam.  Commercial installations usually have the opposite problem.  With generally long runs, they are trying to reduce resistance to move the beer longer distances.

Restriction Estimations for Other Gear and Conditions in Your Setup

  • Standard Faucet and Shank – .5 lbs
  • Picnic or Cobra Faucet – .5 lbs
  • Rise in elevation – .5lbs/ft of rise, measured from the center of the keg

Step 3: Bringing it All Together – Estimating Resistance and Tubing Lengths

Continuing our previous example, we had our pressure set to 10 PSI.  Everything on the liquid side of the system counts toward the system’s resistance.  Let’s say you’re using a picnic tap and 3/16″ ID Tubing.

Picnic Tap = .5 lbs
Estimated Rise from Center of Keg = 2 ft = 1 lb

Total = 1.5 lbs of resistance

That leaves us 7.5 lbs that we need to use up.  We’re using 3/16″ ID Tubing (3 lbs/ft).  We’ll need a total of 2.5 ft of tubing to offset the required pressure.

The total system looks like this…
Picnic Tap = .5 lbs
Estimated Rise from Center of Keg = 2 ft = 1 lb
2.5 ft of 3/16″ ID Tubing = 7.5 lbs

Total = 9 lbs of resistance

Remaining = 1 PSI to serve beer

Now Double Your Tubing Length…

You should double the length of the tubing.  Why you ask?…

What I learned about Draft Dispensing at NHC #1 – “Estimates aren’t always right”
Estimations for the resistance of vinyl tubing per foot are… wrong.  Practically I’ve know this for years.  Some time ago I tried to serve a Hefeweizen at traditional carbonation levels (3.6 to 4.5 volumes of CO2) using these figures.  Didn’t work.  Tom’s suggestion: Double the amount of vinyl tubing called for and trim until you get an acceptable flow rate of about 1 gallon per hour and a good pour.  Along those lines, Tom also suggested buying your tubing in bulk.

One more thing…

What I learned about Draft Dispensing at NHC #2 – “Longer Shank = Less Foam”
A longer shank means… a colder faucet.  More mass inside your kegerator or keezer keeps your faucet colder and reduces foam.  Related: Kegerator Foam Problems? – Fight the First Foamy Pint!

Serving Beers with Multiple Carbonation Levels + A Game Changer:

Each carbonation level = a different pressure.  If you want to serve beers at different pressures you’ll need multiple regulators.  This could be in the form of a primary regulator with multiple bodies or a primary regulator + secondary regulators.

 TAPRITE T752HP-02 DUAL PRESSURE TANK MOUNT CO2 REGULATOR MFL OUTPUTTaprite Regulators at kegconnection.com – Keg Connection is so confident in these regulators that they include an additional extended warranty.  If you buy one of these from Keg Connection for homebrew use you’ll get a total of two years.  Check out the details on any Taprite regulator product page.

A double body primary regulator is pictured.  It allows you to serve at two carbonation levels.  I currently use a double bodied regulator.  I feed a manifold off one regulator with what I’ll call my standard or house carbonation level – and have a single line going off the other regulator for beers that I want to serve at a different carbonation level or for force carbing a keg at a higher pressure.

Secondary Regulators at kegconnection.com

This is a secondary regulator meaning that it has no high pressure gauge or connection.  This hooks on to your existing primary regulator and allows you to serve additional pressures. You get one pressure per secondary regulator body.

Tip: You can get one additional pressure out of a primary/secondary regulator setup.  Set your primary regulator to your highest desired pressure level, put in a T or manifold on the primary outlet and feed the secondary from there.

Game Changer… Kegland Inline Secondaries!

Duotight Regulator with Gauge

Kegland’s DuoTight Inline Secondary is a game changer, in my opinion.  It allows you to set each keg line independently.  It’s DuoTight compatible, which is awesome and features and built in gauge.  It’s also relatively inexpensive.

Multiple Kegs, Same Pressure… A Manifold Works

If you simply want to split one of your pressures for use in multiple kegs, a manifold will do the trick.  These give you multiple tubing runs, have integrated check valves to prevent cross contamination and have valves to control each link.  The list of things that grow with you in homebrewing is… short.  You can’t add on two gallons to your brew kettle.  This expandable manifold system from MoreBeer is one thing that will actually grow with you.  Check out my Hands on Review of this great system.

Additional Resources and Related Products:

Also: Kegerator Tips & Gear | Keg Repair Part #s | Recent Keg Finds

Our Top Draft Resources!

Another Carbonation Chart

Beer Carbonation Chart Temperature Pressure VolumesClick To Enlarge.  This graphic is found all around the web.  I believe that credit goes to the great John Palmer of How to Brew fame although I’m not 100% certain.

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Make sure the components you use are compatible and rated for your intended application.  Contact manufacturer with questions about suitability or a specific application.  Always read and follow manufacturer directions.

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