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Startup cost is around the same as buying one of the $100 SodaStream systems if you go for a mix of new and used parts. It's a little more if you buy all new.
For new prices, you would be looking at;
$70 - 5lb tank
$35 - CO2 regulator
$20 - Bottle top carbonator (you can get the plastic version a few bucks cheaper)
$5 - Ball lock (Gas side)
$10 - misc hose and clamps
If you shop used, you can generally pick up the tank for $20-30 less and the regulator will usually go for half of new.
I already have quite a few tanks and regulators (I use CO2 for a lot of things other than carbonating), so my out of pocket startup cost was $35 at our local home brew supply store.
I like that I'm not stuck with using Soda Stream's bottles. If I want to have 6 different flavors in the fridge, it's not going to cost me an extra $40 in bottles. You can use 20oz, 1 liter or 2 liter bottles, whatever you want. This method of carbonation is far more efficient than SodaStreams method, which is injecting non-regulated CO2 at ~800psi into the water. Consumable's cost (CO2) is FAR cheaper. In my case, I have (2) 100lb bulk tanks in my garage. It cost me $55 to fill them both. That breaks down to $0.017 per ounce of CO2. SodaStream's CO2 breaks down to $0.483 per ounce if you buy the $30 tank or $0.241 per ounce if you go for the $15 tank.
I realize that not everyone wants to keep 100lb cylinders around to refill their smaller tanks. That's still really not a problem, any welding supply, beer supply or bottling company will refill your tank. Even most sporting good stores (used for paintball) and quite a few aquarium shops (used for planted tanks) will do it as well. Around here I can get a 5lb tank filled for $15 at my local welding shop. That breaks down to $0.062 per ounce. Again, significantly cheaper than SodaStreams cheapest option.
5lb of CO2 using this method will carbonate a LOT of water.
My biggest concern for SodaStream is that I see it as one of those fad products. When they go out of business, or change names, or change owners, are those tanks all going to stay the same? The bottles? Or are you going to be left with a $100 paper weight?
Using a CO2 system like I described above, nearly every part of it is an industry standard part. The CGA-320 valve / fittings on the tank and regulator have been used for longer than I've been alive. I don't need to worry about anyone discontinuing anything.
About the only con that I can come up with is that it doesn't exactly look pretty. I keep my CO2 bottle under my sink for now. I'm going to buy a few more of the bottle caps and ultimately move the CO2 tank on top of the fridge. With the additional bottle caps, I can re-pressurize the bottle after a pour and never worry about flat pop again!
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