Thursday, December 9, 2010

Solar-heated Water Trough product review

I learned about solar-heated water troughs several years ago, while working at a horse rescue. I put one on my wish list but never got around to buying it because of the expense ($500 plus shipping). After last year's obscenely cold winter, I finally bit the bullet. I was tired of spending a dollar a day for the electricity to operate a 1500-watt stock tank de-icer. My expectation is that this new solar unit will pay for itself ... eventually ... if George and Alan don't destroy it first.

Officially called the "BT Sun Tank," the unit is manufactured by Pine Ranch Products in Utah. I ordered mine from Country Supply on September 10 and it shipped 11 weeks later. Why it took so long is anybody's guess.

The tank must be set up on level ground, facing south. The solar collector panel is allegedly shatterproof, but the manufacturer suggests building a wire fence around it for protection. I set up mine a few inches inside a corral panel, knowing full well that George and Alan would try to paw it to death just to hear the noise.

See this round thing? It's an insulated float that bobs atop the surface of the water. 
The animal has to push it with his nose to get a drink. 
I'll move out of the way and let Hank show you how it's done.




Hank and Alan figured out how to use it in no time at all.



George took a little longer.



Of course, as soon as I set up the tank, the weather got freakishly warm so I wasn't able to thoroughly test it.  But Wednesday at dawn, when the temperature was about 24, there wasn't a speck of ice to be found. The unit is guaranteed to work down to minus 20 degrees.

Overall, I'm satisfied with the Sun Tank, and I'll sleep better knowing that the electric meter isn't spinning out of control all winter. I hope it's as durable as the manufacturer claims and that it will last a very long time.

But here's the part that bugs me. As I look at the unit, I can't help but wonder why it costs so darned much. It shouldn't. It's just a bunch of plastic - no fancy mechanical parts, no high-tech wizardry. And the workmanship is sloppy; for example, there are gobs of sealant sticking out from around the solar collector panel and some of the screws that attach the bucket to the housing are misaligned. It looks like something I might have assembled in my garage.

And the instruction manual? Don't get me started. Click on the image if you'd like to read it. Call me a graphic design snob, but a $500 product should come with something a tad more professional.

As far as I can tell, this brand is the only solar-heated water trough on the market. Maybe if they had some competition, the price would go down and the workmanship would go up. It's a great concept, just not a very good value.

27 comments:

  1. Well, anything to keep the electric meter from spinning off the house, but when you mentioned the price I also wondered what it was about it that made it that expensive. I think it's because it says 'solar' on it. Not kidding, but most stuff around here that says solar on it seems to have a jacked up price. Like they want us to conserve, yet when you try it's totally unaffordable.

    Good luck Carson, I hope it works out well for you and your boys!

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  2. Sounds like they need some competition to get them to do a better build. Products are always expensive when they first come out on the market. I can understand that they need to pay for the R&D. But I don't see where there would be much of that on this particular product.

    Hope it solves your ice problems for the boys.

    Di

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  3. yep,,,,the company needs competition! I hope it saves you money your electric bill. It is minus 20 degrees here. any water out side can now be used to iceskate ;-)
    signed
    Theresa in Alberta

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  4. The Solar SunTank is another one. It was selected as one of Horse Journal's Products of the Year after they tested for a year. SAme price range.

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  5. "...if unable to due so..."???

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  6. Anonymous - the Solar SunTank that was selected as a Horse Journal Product of the Year/August 2010 is this same product.

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  7. Dearest Linda,

    It takes a while for delivery because you have to catch the tank first. The one before last pic of George is hilarious... DUH George!! lol... I'm not sure how it works in sunless winter days but I'm sure I'll get it eventually.

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  8. We want one! I'm so tired of taking buckets of water out to the barn every morning already. :D

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  9. Wonder if there are solar powered bird baths for winter? Hmmm...got me thinking.

    Love the photo of George trying to drink through the fence. :)

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  10. Nancy in NC12/9/10, 6:47 AM

    You're just a good pet Mommy - wanting the best for her little uns.... Hope it keeps the power bill down. George just has to figure it ALL out before he puts his nose down in a hole!

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  11. What a great idea! Yes, they do need some competition. Where is the water source? Your garden hose? I was relieved to hear your comments on the donks destroying items. I was thinking mine were just bored. They tear up anything they can get their mouths on. I found a piece of my electric pole conduit down by their hay rack the other day. I keep plenty of balls and cones out for them, but guess they like to find new stuff.

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  12. Carson, why don't you write to the company. Tell them you love the product though the craftsmanship is lacking and that you would be delighted to create a new "Manual" for them. They might contact you if they are interested?

    Sigrid -- we only have a handful of sunless days in a whole year -- that little tank will have a tan in no time.

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  13. Guess I should have mentioned that you add water to this with a hose. And I've learned the hard way to remove the float before adding the water.

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  14. I've had friends that built them out of wood and plexiglass with insulation. Much cheaper and works just as well!

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  15. You still have to fill the tank with a hose? Can the tank have a water line installed on it so it automatically refills? Or is that a next summer project for the water line. We use the automatic waters with the heater and it was the same price as your solar. I hope it works for the boys.

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  16. Guess they're making money hand over hoof.

    They could have a patent on the concept. This would keep anyone else from duplicating the idea for a set number of years. This could be why they have a monopoly on the market until their time runs out.

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  17. I'm with you on the cost to run an electric heater for the trough - I shutter just thinking of it. Too bad it doesn't go lower then 20 degrees or I'd buy one today.

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  18. Not that this will help you now, but Mother Earth News recently featured an article about how to build your own.

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/do-it-yourself/solar-stock-tank-z10m0gri.aspx

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  19. I dunno, the pink horse is sort of cute.

    I'd be there with George, I have a way of taking the round about way to learn anything.

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  20. Wow I didnt think 500 was a bad price till you said you still have to fill it, seems silly. We use electricly heated ones that are pretty efficient and refill automaticly (richie) and I know there are some solar ones that are connected to the water line, but they are much bigger than that. Hope it works well when it gets cold.

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  21. Very cool idea. I remember trudging out there breaking the ice on the water tanks for the horses and cows as well as my father breaking the ice on the pond in below zero temperatures. Back breaking. I agree....for that kind of money they should be a bit more professional. Still loving your photos.

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  22. There is the BAR BAR A waterer, no electricity is used but the water line has to be burried deep down... A friend of mine set a barrel in stacked tires that she filled with rocks. She lives at 8500 ft and it works well for her... Still need to use the water hose though... And then there are the 18 gallon water buckets that just use 125W for $50. I used a Nelson Automatic Waterer in Germany, it barely uses any electricity, great quality and ease of use, but like the BAR BAR A, the water line has to be burried under the frostline..

    Petra Christensen
    Parelli 2Star Junior Instructor
    Parelli Central

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  23. Ummmm...maybe it was made in a garage. :)
    Suzanne

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  24. No 800 number for "techincal support"? Geesh.

    Hmmm, expect Bruce to be over to look at it someday and figure out a away to make it for half the price. I'm thinking someone had better get a patent on this thing pretty quick if they haven't already. I would have read further to see if they had...but couldn't take the pink and blue print any longer!

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  25. I have to say that I love my units.I have the 25 gallon auto- fill unit and the 42 gallon unit and it saved my horses life. If you are worried about the price, maybe you need to think about how much it would cost to replace your horse if it dies because of deydration. to me it was worth the money. plus it is saving me over 500 dollars a year in electricity. so right now it has paid for itself over and over again. Thanks

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  26. Jake C. near jackson hole Wyoming.6/4/12, 3:56 PM

    I Have three of the suntank 25 gallon auto valve water tanks and I live near Jackson Hole, wyoming,I am completly off the grid with temperature -35 degrees below zero in the winter time. I am amazed how well these units work. they are worth every penny, especially in our cold winters conditions up here. Our horses love them! and I couldn't do without them.

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  27. I don't know why everyone is so concerned with instruction and the color of them...so what! at least they are not in a different language. I purchased my 25 gallon BT Suntank and I love it. I have had really cold temps here and I go out to feed and see my suntank working Great!!! I don't need to worry about chopping all that ice. think positive not negative. best thing I have bought for my horse.

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