Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Watts and Amps and Volts, Oh My!

We've been having trouble with some of our tank heaters. We use 1,500 watt aluminum sinking heaters, which should be drawing 12.5 amps, in our dry lot tanks. Due to the placement of the tanks and the electric box, we have to use extension cords to reach the tanks. Lately, when I go to inspect the tanks at morning turnout, often one or the other tank heaters has stopped working, with resulting ice (and associated swearing as I remove the ice). To restart the heater, I have to get down on my hands and knees - the outlet box is almost at ground level (don't get me started on what I'd like to do to the person who installed it that way) - and put my face almost down to the ground in order to see the GFI (ground fault interruptors) and reset them if necessary. Often, the GFI has not tripped but the heater has just stopped working, which presents a mystery. And then other times the GFI is tripped.

Sometimes it's the heater that has failed, and sometimes it's something else. Lately, we may be dealing with a loss of voltage - the outlets are a fair ways from the barn, which results in a loss of voltage, and since we're using extension cords, that reduces the voltage even further, which I've learned results in an increased amperage draw. So the heaters may not have sufficient voltage to operate properly. So tomorrow we're going to swap out the extension cords for ones with a heavier gauge, and also get extension cords that are shorter. We'll see if that makes a difference - I certainly hope so, as wrestling with water, heaters and extension cords when wind chills are below zero F isn't my idea of a good time!


  1. I would hate that and hope mine (just one) continues to work. I can't imagine your electric bill with several going...but there is not much choice. Hope you figure it out.

  2. Thankfully we don't have to actually use our heaters very much, just a few days here and there, but some are on extension cords. We have very heavy duty extension cords (they cost almost $100 each) and have not had any problems so far. We use the type that are inserted through the drain plug, I'm not sure if they take the same wattage or not as the sinkers. I wanted it to be really hard for the horses to A) touch the heater and B) as hard as I could make it for them to touch a cord. Unfortunately I have a few houdinis so I have to keep them in mind for things like this!

    I now have a mental image of you down on your hands and knees looking at the outlet!!

  3. I had wondered about heavier cords, too. I just finished putting my third GFI in at my newest water trough location, and I made sure that all three outlets are on different circuits, to prevent overload--have you checked your main breakers when the GFI's don't seem to be at fault?
    I keep my heaters going all winter, as Mama Misty impaction-colicked a couple of years ago, and I want to make sure no one has an excuse ("too cold!") to not drink. Besides the [slightly] warmer water, I also add a tablespoon [more or less] of loose salt to everyone's supplements, to make sure they're thirsty [think potato chips and soda/beer, take yer choice].

  4. Kate;

    Just FYI, we use 10 and 12 gauge cord on our heaters around here and voltage/amperage has never been an issue, even over several hundred feet !

  5. Fighting frozen waterers is my biggest issue with winter , everytime I think I have it beat...

  6. Oh my--I had a year like that. At one point, I could see the extension cords under the ice, but couldn't get to them---they still worked. They were heavy duty.

    I wonder if there are any new solar tank warmers that work--or propane?

    Hope you figure it out so your life is easier.

  7. You must use heavy duty extension cords designed for outdoor use AND heavily insulate/cover the junction where the extension cord meets the tank heater cord. Any kind of moisture at all will either cause the GFI to trip or cause a complete failure of the heater.

    We found special waterproof covers for our extension cord/heater cord junction. Found them at a greenhouse garden supply center and they work fabulously!

  8. Hi Kate sounds fun, I remember when we had to use heaters like that, we now have stock waterers and best of all, I have a husband to do all the yucky cold water fixing cause it also affects his cows.

  9. We only have to use heaters a couple weeks a year, and that's enough monkeying around for me. I don't envy your constant struggle at all.

  10. I have to agree with Jenn about protecting any kind of juncture from the moisture. I had that problem with my Christmas lights tripping the GFI or just not working even when the GFI was OK. Because it was a low power draw, we put plastic bags on all the connections to keep them dry and it was just fine.

    Whatever kind of protection you use, the idea is to keep the moisture from touching any of the metal in your connections.

    I have heater fastened in a drain plug and one of the submersible heaters. Fortunately since each water tub is only about ten feet from the outlets, I don't have a problem. Not sure what would happen with a longer extension, but I'd surely want to go heavy duty and make sure the cords are rated for outdoor use. (I'm sure you have, but just double check.)

    Making sure the horses have water is one of my number one priorities all year round, and winter is no exception. Hope it all works out so you don't have to worry.

  11. Oh so sorry for the issues..sounds like Jenn has a good remedy though. We just have small heaters in the water barrels in the stall runs and so far no probs...only a week of bad or we'd be hiring for power nearer the troughs out in the fields too.
    Hope you get it figured out!

  12. What a challenge! We had one day with ice in the troughs and another day of pipes bursting. It's pretty harsh for us, but nothing like you've been dealing with.

    Hurry up Spring!!

  13. Hope this works out with the heavier extensions, having freezing water is always a super annoying part of winter. I've always hated breaking up ice.


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