Heed these online words,
Do not cross the Sodastreams,
Fizzy pop for all

I started drinking a lot of seltzer in the past few years after trying to cut back on soda and beer. My Costco membership made it really cost-effective to pick up a 35-pack of Kirkland sparkling water, but the number of cans always seemed super wasteful, and I got tired of shuffling them from the store to the car to home to the fridge, and so forth. A couple of previous roommates had Sodastream setups before, but I didn't like the amount of prep necessary for a relatively inconvenient container of fizzy water that would quickly go flat, and I could also never get it as fizzy as I liked. I wanted arbitrary amounts of cold water carbonated enough to make my mouth/throat hurt just a little. I'm told that's the real definition of the "spicy water" I like so much.

Being a frequent procrastinator on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, I was eager to leverage someone else's sudden or fleeting shame of hoarding for my own financial gain and snag a kegerator on the cheap. After all, I just needed a couple of tanks, some valves, and a mini-fridge, right? What could possibly go wrong?

A Summary of a Typical Kegerator Setup

A CO2 tank with regulator is connected to some reservoir (usually a keg) to pressurize it, which then forces some fluid (usually beer) to a dispenser. Setting the pressure and how much time the CO2 is connected to the reservoir determines the degree of carbonation. Not too fancy.

Sodastream users may be used to a screw-on plastic bottle as the reservoir, whereas homebrew setups probably use a Cornelius keg or similar variant. The nice thing about the latter is that they come in a range of various sizes and have quick-release connectors, as well as several add-ons for further modification beyond the basic configurations. All of this doesn't necessarily need to be stashed in a mini-fridge, but I didn't see the point of a kegerator build that doesn't dispense cold beverages.

My Simple Kegerator Setup

Stuff I Messed Up in Setting Up My Kegerator

  • The regulator comes with a nylon washer that MUST be placed in-line before screwing down the attachment. An old CO2 tank may have a damaged nylon washer, and without that washer properly in place, no amount of teflon tape is going to save you from gas leaks. I lost most of my first CO2 tank on the first night this way.
  • Hose and barbed fitting sizes need to be selected such that they're all snug fits before you add hose clamps. Otherwise, leaks leaks leaks everywhere.
  • Be careful about buying after-market corny keg quick-disconnect fittings. They look compatible, and the product listing probably says they're compatible, but the wrong ones will definitely leak. Be sure to have a spray bottle of soapy water on hand to test for leaks.
  • CO2 tanks need to be tested before anyone will re-fill them, so if you're buying them secondhand, you'll likely need to swap them out. I read that paintball stores may sometimes swap out or refill tanks, but locally in south LA, I had better luck with welding supply and fire extinguisher stores.
  • Didn't force-carbonate each batch aggressively enough, so then I'd have to go back and re-adjust the regulator pressure once the CO2 (slowly) diffused into the beverage.
  • Didn't replace my faucet tap initially, so my first few gallons of seltzer were a bit mineral-heavy, to say the least

Does a Kegerator Actually Out-perform Sodastream?

Baseline Costs

The neighborhood Costco, as of mid-2024, sells a 35-pack of 12oz Kirkland-brand seltzer cans (3.28 total gallons) for $10, or approximately $3/gallon. There are more bougie and expensive brands, but I'll take the value pick for sake of this comparison.

A basic desktop Sodastream kit will cost around $90, with each CO2 tank refill costing about $15 or so. Sodastream lists the tank as sufficient for 60 liters (15.85 gallons) of seltzer, or approximately $1/gallon, though I guess your mileage will vary depending on how carbonated you like your drinks. Super rough math tells me that it'll take about 45 gallons, or 3 tank refills to recoup the cost of the Sodastream. Pretty good!

Hidden/Surprise Costs of Kegerator

A kegerator is going to be much more expensive, though the extra keg capacity plus the fridge plus the ability to carbonate other types of drinks may be completely no-brainers to some customers. Amazon lists a no-frills, basic kegerator for around $400, which comes with an empty CO2 tank but no keg. A typical 5 gallon Cornelius keg could run you an additional $100-120, and a tank refill/swap cost me $20-30, giving us a total of around $550 for a typical new startup cost.

I pieced my setup together from Facebook Marketplace and Amazon, for a total of around $300:

  • Run-down, old/used kegerator w/ CO2 tank: $150
  • Used 5-gallon Cornelius keg: $40
  • CO2 tank swap: $30
  • Replacement quick-release valves: $14
  • Replacement CO2 tank regulator: 40
  • Replacement faucet handle: $14
  • Extra barbed fittings: $6
  • Empty 5-gallon plastic jug for filling water: $10

If you have patience and filtered water at home, you could certainly fill yourself, but I found it easier to re-fill my 5 gallon tank from a water kiosk or purified water store (which I had no idea where so widespread and popular). That typically runs around $0.25/gallon. Compared to the Sodastream CO2 tank (which actually holds 410g or 0.9lb), a 5lb CO2 tank with $30 refill/swap cost results in about a $0.60/gallon rate. A properly handled 5lb CO2 tank could produce 80-90 gallons of seltzer. The shop that sold me my first CO2 tank gave me a 10-tank stamp card with a smirk, saying that she's never seen one of those cards redeemed ever. Surprisingly, I guess about 2 tank swaps should make up for my investment.

Procedural Differences

That said, my seltzer workflow has suddenly gotten more complex. As in, now I have a seltzer workflow to deal with. There's going to be some downtime when I run out of water or CO2. It's hard to tell when either will run out, though some DIYers have resorted to adding scales for monitoring usage. I just curse at the world and miserably resign myself to flat water (the horror) for a couple of days. Until I install a reverse osmosis setup or filter, I'll likely continue to lug my plastic jug to and from the nearby purified water store for refills.

Beyond refills, carbonation also takes time, since the gas needs to slowly diffuse through the exposed surface area of the liquid. There are a lot of suggested tips for forced carbonation, but ultimately it's a waiting game for the seltzer to reach the consistent and desired carbonation. That may not be something a customer is willing to deal with. There are both carbonation lids or dedicated carbonator devices to help expedite that process.

The build/debug process was pretty fun for me, and I thoroughly enjoy the dispensing aspect of the kegerator way more than the Sodastream, but be warned that it's not a set-it-and-forget-it system forever.