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Electricity Costs for Heated Water Buckets

As winter arrives, barn owners in northern climates usually have to deal with the pain of freezing water pails. The ice needs to be prevented or broken several times during the day so the horses can drink. Preventing freezing means adding heat to the water in some manner. Heated pails have come to the rescue for this application and barn owners considering their purchase typically want to know what additional monthly electricity costs they can expect.

The cost of electricity used for any purpose is a function of several variables — let's discuss them. Buckets come in various sizes from 2-gallon to as much as 16 gallon capacities. At the time of this writing (January 2013), the heaters in water pails are rated to use about the following amount of electricity when on:

  • 2-Gallon Bucket – 50 - 60 watts
  • 5-Gallon Bucket – 120 - 150 watts
  • 16 Gallon Bucket – 260 watts
So, the cost of electricity to run these buckets in your barn will be determined by the following variables:
  1. The price of electricity in your area;
  2. The size of the heater in each of your buckets;
  3. The number of buckets in your barn;
  4. The amount of water you have in each bucket; and
  5. The average temperature in the barn where these buckets are installed.
Now, let's take an example and calculate electricity costs. If you have 10 stalls and each has a 5-gallon heated bucket, you can expect the total electricity used when they're all on to be about 1,500 watts (150w x 10). It's VERY IMPORTANT that the barn's electrical service be able to handle that amount of electricity IN ADDITION to whatever other loads you have in the barn (lights, water heater, washing machine, dryer, etc.) If it cannot, then you either have to get an electrician to upgrade the barn's electrical service or you have to find a different solution to keep the pail water from freezing.

Presuming you already have or will upgrade to adequate service, you now need to have some idea of the amount of time each bucket will need to be on to keep the water from freezing in your barn. This will be determined by the amount of water in the buckets and how cold it is in the barn. For example, if they must run about 40% of the day to keep the water from freezing and your electricity costs is 18¢ per kilowatt hour, then we can calculate the cost.

First, let's consider the time the buckets are on. 40% of 24 hours is 9.6 hours each day, and presuming a 30 day month, that means each bucket will be on for (9.6 x 30) 288 hours. The amount of electricity used in a month by each bucket is 288 hours x 150 Watts each = 43,200 watt hours. Divide that by 1,000 to get kilowatt hours equals 43.2kWh. At 18¢/kWh, that will cost (43.2kWh x $0.18) $7.78 per bucket per month. With ten buckets, that's $77.80 per month total for all the heated buckets. If the cost of electricity is more or less in your area, you can easily calculate your expected cost. Similarly, you can adjust the calculation for the number of buckets you'll install.

The harder part is determining how long each bucket will draw electricity. That's because it will be determined by how cold it is in your area of the world in winter. Fortunately, while it's colder at night than during the day, horses throw a lot of heat and where I live in Connecticut, it's normally warmer in the barn because of the horse heat than it is in the day when all the horses are out in their paddocks. So, the only way you can learn how much electricity each bucket will use is to buy one and either time how long it's on and do the math or put a wattmeter on it and measure the amount of electricity used in a typical day. Obviously, the more northern your latitude, the colder you can expect it to be and the more the bucket will draw electricity to keep the water from freezing.

IMPORTANT NOTE: – Don't think you can save money by buying the smaller 2-gallon buckets. The air in winter is very dry and horses need lots of water, not only for their normal metabolism, but even more so to help them digest hay which is what they need to generate heat to survive the cold of winter. 5-gallon is the smallest bucket you should use for keeping a horse hydrated unless you're checking their pails every few hours and adding water as they drink it. Even when using one 5-gallon pail per horse, you'll need to refill that pail at least two or three times each day. More typical is a 5-gallon pail in each stall and some larger 16-gallon pails servicing several horses in their paddocks.

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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