Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday encore ~ Solar-heated water trough product review

Lots of horse-owners are preparing for winter. How do I know? They are looking for information on solar-heated water troughs and Google keeps sending them over here.

I dug my BT Sun Tank out of the feed room last weekend and set it up for its second winter – just in time, too, because we had our first hard freeze here Wednesday night. I'm still happy with the way it works, but still a little disgruntled that I had to spend so much money for it. Anyway, I'm reposting this review for those who may be interested. The unit has increased in price from $500 to $560 in the past year.


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.


  1. I am married to an electrical engineer and if we had horses and found a heated trough necessary he could totally make this on the cheap. Sloppy is as sloppy does. Hope someone competes with them.

  2. As a fellow graphic design snob, I must say the instruction look like they're for Rockin' Ranch Barbie's new barn than for an actual product.

    When the horses are here, we just use the $10 electric coil. Life on a shoestring ...

  3. I would doubt that it is a product that is either patented OR if they have a patent on it that the patent(s) are defendable, if thats the correct legal term. A stock tank painted black on the south side and insulated on the sides that didn't receive sunlight might work pretty well. It would be a better design to incorporate an electric heater with a thermostat that would sense a below freezing temperature inside the tank to keep the system from freezing solid and breaking. That way it would only use electricity when it really needed to in extreme situations.

  4. I thought about my thermostat idea and realized the temperature for it to turn on should probably be more like 33 F to prevent freezing because the ice starts expanding just as soon as it turns solid. Additionally, having the tank partially below ground level would probably prevent/reduce freezing as well. Now you have me curious, I should build a system....

  5. I agree with Leah - the instructions look like they should be accompanying a child's ten dollar toy not a $500 piece of livestock equipment. Just out of curiosity did you ever contact the company about shipping delays and sloppy workmanship?

    Here's an even better idea!!! After all you have accomplished with your chicken palace you could design a make it your self version and we could buy the plans from you!! Hee hee!!!!

  6. "...if unable to DUE so..."??? Sounds like English Second Language folks wrote this. And the colors. I've had $19.95 blenders that came with more professionally done manuals.
    But it seems to due the job LOL.

  7. I'm trying a new experiment this year: after cutting heating costs last year by simply putting a sheet of plywood over most of the top of my THREE 70/100 gallon tanks (and only filling them to about 50/70 gallons), this year I splurged on duplicate tanks ($200), wrapped one of each pair in tech-foil (essentially insulated bubble wrap), shaped a piece of foam insulation for the bottom, and dropped the insulated tank into the other tank. I'll do the plywood on top again, and, since I had to replace one tank heater anyway, I'm going to try a 500 watt to see if that'll work with the extra help from the insulation. I'll keep you posted.

  8. Building an insulated and heated water trough is at the top of my DIY projects list. There is a great source of ideas to be found on building a solar powered stock tank:

    I saw what you did with your chicken palace so I know you could easily handle building one if these yourself if the need ever arises.