My notes for electric heat for waterer


Free Ranging
6 Years
Jul 1, 2017
Upper Midwest, USA
I need a short term solution to freezing water to make chicken chores easy for the neighbor while I'm gone ten days with temperatures expected to be as low as highs of just below freezing, lows of high teens F (-9 C).

This thread is mostly to gather info and ideas.

I'm thinking two wateres. One that will freeze slowly or not at all. The other that will melt quickly if it does freeze.

The melt quickly kind is what I've already used for a few days. A black rubber pan in the sunniest corner (if there is any sunniness - we get a lot of thick clouds this time of year). It is put in a heavy base so they can't tip it over.

My friend uses an aquarium heater inside the upright leg of pvc return pipe for his 20 - 40 (maybe) chickens. The return pipe enters a 5 gallon pail inside an insulated wooden box at about shoulder height. The outgoing pipe is pvc down to the height of the chickens' backs, then 90 degrees to horizontal with nipples, then 90 degrees to become the return pipe. All the pipes are insulated with one layer of foam tubing. The aquarium heater is enough to generate enough circulation to keep everything from freezing in his set up. He has a thermo cube so the heater doesn't run unless the weather is cold. This system also worked for up to 62 rabbits in addition to the chickens.

We've discovered there are different sizes of aquarium heaters. His is not especially big but I found an especially small one (8 watts), designed for a 1ish gallon fish tank. I paid about $15. We think it will work in the five gallon bucket with nipples directly out of the bucket and as much of the bucket well insulated as possible. Or a completely insulated bucket and a very short pipe, insulated as well or better than his.

The store where I bought the aquarium heater also had reptile heat bulbs on clearance, 90% off, and then, I think another 2/3 off. They were $0.65 each. I got two. If the bulbs work well for a dry heat system (cookie tin or flower pot style or such) then I will return the aquarium heater.

Three stores did not carry or were out of thermo cubes. One had what might be a different brand of a similar thing but I didn't like it's temperature range.

I checked bird bath heaters, stock tank heaters, heater bases for poultry waterers, heated dog dishes, and heated 8 quart buckets at Tractor Supply. I didn't buy any due to prices and not wanting to store them when not needed. I did get two 3' lengths of 3/4" pvc pipe for $0.35 each from their clearance section.

For completeness: transmission pad heaters, block heaters, and oil pan heaters might work. As might seed bed warmers. I've seen description of them for poultry water set ups in the past but didn't take notes. All are too expensive for my short-term purpose; I don't have any laying around.
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Initially about heat sources in the coop in general

porcelain socket base, outlet box, wiring, stainless steel pot applicable to heat/light bulbs also

Stainless steel pot, black stove paint, more about cords than usual

Reptile bulb in modified heat lamp base in cement block among the responses

Coffee can on wooden base

Side track about halogen bulbs and heat; and about bulbs, heat, and enclosed spaces

Extension cord protectors

Edit to add: the following were attributed to the wrong thread; now are connected to the correct one

page 9, post #89 more wiring

Mention/discussion of wiring a greenhouse thermostat switch instead of thermo cube
or make your own
" 'wiring thermostatically controlled receptacle' and came up with a number of hits."
And various shortly before/after #189 discussing small water pumps as for reptile waterfall or statuary
All on or near
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My bulbs are "night heat light" I didn't know what that meant so looked it up.

"night heat light bulbs give lower heat output than daytime or basking bulbs.
And some sites talk about reptile lamps emitting UV spectrum (that is the purpose; some reptiles require it), and that it is not good for other animals or plants. Not a lot of detail about how concerned to be. It shouldn't matter here because the bulb will have an opaque cover. Evidently many of the bulbs for reptiles do not emit UVB; it seems to be a specialty thing for some species and not others.

The picture below is helpful but I wish they gave the ambient temperature. I'm not finding better info; looks like I'll have to build it to measure. I don't know much about electrical.

Installation directions for the ceramic socket base. Porcelain Light Socket Base Installation Instructions.pdf

That gives two or three wires going .. where. How to get the electricity from the extension cord to those two or three wires. ... starting at the other end - the extension cord plug... thermo cube... light base. So, just I need to sacrifice a cord or learn how to attach a plug to wire.

- check for a ground fault outlet
- consider the "flower pot" part
- consider: water, dust, stability, effectiveness

And/or work out the aquarium heater.


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Current plan is the tiny aquarium heater in a number ten can full of water set in a 2 1/2 gallon pail. The vacuum sealed ice bucket that they currently use for water sets on top of the number ten can.

I cut two holes in the lid to the pail. One in the center just big enough for the ice bucket to slide through. The other for the cord to the heater (not cut yet).

The pail is about 11" tall. The can and the ice bucket are each about 7" tall. One and a half to two inches of insulation inside the pail and under the can allows the ice bucket to nest by between two and three inches, allowing got the thicknesses of the pail, lid, can, and bucket. There is about 3 inches of space between the sides of the pail and the sides of the can and about 2 inches between the sides if the pail and the sides of the ice bucket.

The aquarium heater box says to expect a 5F to 15F increase in temperature in a 1/2 to 1 1/2 gallon glass or acrylic aquarium depending in size and temperature. The number ten can holds about 3 quarts. I think it will be in the ballpark of working... the greater heat transfer from the metal on top offset by the insulation around the rest. I can tweak several things if it doesn't.

The garage does not have a ground fault outlet. I bought a plug in version that is rated for exterior. And a plug in switch that I may use instead of the thermo cube.


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I don't know... that is a lot of metal not insulated. The first thought was to put insulation all around the bucket... even part of the top. But they don't perch on it like this; I think they would if I covered it or made the walls that much thicker. And they kick very little bedding into it; I think they would if it was sunk below the level of their bedding so they wouldn't perch on it.

I have non metal alternatives to the ice bucket. A black rubber feed dish or a ceramic crock.

Or can try to find a way to insulate the fence side of the ice bucket, maybe. Or look for a bigger aquarium heater. I took this one because it didn't have a glass case like all the other options in the store I tried.
It is working. Temperatures 23F drifting down to 19F then slowly up to 26F the first 24 hours. Then slowly up to 29F over the next 4-6 hours. The water in the ice buck stayed liquid and nothing got too hot. I don't have more pictures until I get home.

End design is 1" wood block spacers in the bottom of a 5 gallon pail, a circle of maybe 1/2" thick mat (like used for a yoga mat) also for spacing.

Then the #10 can surrounded by a couple of layers of a wool sweater that I had thoroughly felted for a different purpose as insulation and spacer for a layer of the blue yoga mat foam... the cylinder of blue foam going from the bottom of the can to the top of the pail. The foam cylinder holds the rest of the insulation back so the water bucket can be replaced more easily when it is removed for cleaning.

The insulation is sheep's wool (sweaters and parts of sweaters bought from thrift store years ago for other projects).

The water bucket is about half in the pail and half sticking out the top.

The cord to the heater goes in the side of the pail, just under the reinforcement ridges molded as part if the pail. I drilled six holes and cut between them with a utility knife to get the plug through from the inside. The plug is smaller than the aquarium heater end. I cut a notch in the can with tin snips so the cord didn't get pinched between the top of the can and the bottom of the water bucket. And so the water bucket and can could both be level. Both holes are cushioned.

The heater plugs into a thermo cube that will turn it on at 32F and off at 45F.

The thermo cube plugs into a ground fault device. The test button can also be used as an off switch.

The ground fault plugs into the extension cord. That extension cord plugs into another extension cord. This joint has a water resistant cover. The "another" extension cord plugs into a ground fault plug which plugs into the outlet inside the garage.

Expensive for one week of use, even counting only the parts we bought for it (all the electrical components and nothing else). I would have been okay with just one ground fault device but was over ruled on that. The rest we both need to feel safe leaving the components in the dust and dampness.


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make it simple, (plug tied up high )
Heated Dog Bowl.... no training required ;)
An option that may work well for many people.

I didn't because the only heated dog bowl in town was $40 vs less than $10 for the aquarium heater. Evidently, some online options are as little as $25 - still more than double. And a big, awkward shaped thing to store for next year vs something an inch by a few inches.

Edit to add: I just saw the heater cost is different in two of these posts. I think the other aquarium heaters were $15 And this one was $10 (full price at local store). Not that it matters concept-wise.
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An option that may work well for many people.

I didn't because the only heated dog bowl in town was $40 vs less than $10 for the aquarium heater. Evidently, some online options are as little as $25 - still more than double. And a big, awkward shaped thing to store for next year vs something an inch by a few inches.
ahhh sorry, I just read the 1st & 2nd post :)

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