I have used sinking water trough deicers for thirteen years with no issues. I had them setup with miles of extension cords (despite a clear warning not to use extension cords), hooked under the barn door (wrapped with duct tape so they don’t fray) and plugged in to outlets in awkward places in a barn full of hay. A couple years ago and right after setting up the heater for the winter, I noticed my horses were standing at the trough, pawing and scraping the sides with their teeth. I went out, stuck my hand in and felt nothing. I watched them a bit longer and for sure knew they were getting shocked. I stick my hand in again and grab the fence and sure enough, shocky water. Not kill you shocky, but enough I could feel a tingle in my fingers. I dragged everything around to the back of the barn and plugged the heater into a different outlet, no shock. On checking the electric, one of two lines feeding the barn was going bad. I couldn’t afford to fix it right away, so the last couple of winters have found the water trough out back. I assumed the two issues, shocky water and dying electric line were related.
Fast forward to this year, and I can finally afford to replace the lines to the barn. I allowed for outlets on the fence posts, so I don’t have to run 150ft of extension cords for the trough heaters. When it was all installed, I plugged in the heater straight away…and my horses were still getting shocked. Luckily enough, the electrician had to come back, but you know I couldn’t wait for that…
I bought a brand new heater, in case last year’s heater was bad and the water still carried a charge. Enter google, and a programmers curiosity for a good problem; I read a few horse forum threads and find a boatload of how to videos, all somewhere on the redneck spectrum. I learn stray electric is causing the problem. Apparently, electricity is like feral cats and it can prowl anywhere if all lines are not properly connected. I figured an existing outlet or light must be bad. All the videos say I should ground the water, two out of three use the proper 8ft copper ground rod and copper wire, the third uses a metal fence post and fence wire. Want to guess which set of materials I had on hand? And now I’m sinking a metal fence post where I don’t want one and I’ve created the most trailer trash ground line setup in the history of trailer trash ground line setups. It doesn’t work, shocker, right? I try to get the post out and pull my back. Now I have a bad back and shocky water. A friend came over and grounded the water using the right materials and…that didn’t work either. I have a new GFI outlet and a new GFI breaker independently grounded, and brand new lines from the house to the barn on a dedicated breaker in the house. I still can’t use the trough heater without shocking my horses. It’s going to get cold by Wednesday…I’m sore and filled with sadness. I spoke with the electrician and he wasn’t sure what the problem could be…
The electrician came out a couple days later to correct the position of the breaker box and had been thinking on the issue of shocky water at my brand spanking new fence post outlet. Turns out, it’s modern practice now to run a ground line from the house with the neutral and hot wires. In the house, the ground wire touches the neutral wire were it connects to the breaker while the neutral and ground lines connect to separate bars in the barn. Stray electric from the house was being picked up by the ground line from the neutral wire and ending up in the ground around the barn. Disconnecting and capping the ground line from the house to the barn solved the problem. And now I have an issue in the house I need to track down, because HOME OWNERSHIP! But…none of this caused the issue when the original electric went bad, because no ground line from the house in that setup. So, two different issues causing the same problem at different times.
I can officially use the new electric in the barn without shocking my horses.
I learned the following:
If you own a farm, you should own a good multi-meter electrical tester. Check your water for charge while the heater is on if you see any hesitation from your animals when they head to the trough. Horses can feel and be turned off attempting to drink water with as little as .5 volts of charge.
You can ground water, but it’s just a patch and might not eliminate all the charge. Find the source of the stray electric and get it fixed.
It’s not uncommon in new barns to put troughs on concrete pads with grid grounding. It’s basically a rebar grid in concrete grounded to the barn panel. Apparently, many concrete dairy barn floors are grid grounded to eliminate shock from milking machines, though that is hearsay and was not independently researched by me, seems reasonable after my experience.
Even with properly grounded GFI outlets, you can still have an issue if anything nearby is not properly grounded.
If you live near power lines, you can experience stray electric from compromised towers. If you have an issue you can’t resolve with a licensed electrician, contact the power company to inspect towers in near proximity to your farm for issues. It’s my understanding towers are regularly inspected every three years.
Happy farming, but don’t expect to get it right the first time.
The Management, Charged Ass Acres.