It’s great to live in Colorado where if you don’t enjoy the weather, wait fifteen minutes – it will change. Getting multiple seasons in a day can be enticing for those who like change, but it still doesn’t change the fact that winter water storage always has its challenges. Fortunately, we get an extraordinary amount of sunlight in the winter, and strong sun at that, since we sit at over 6700 feet in elevation here at the ROTH ranch. Building anything here that uses passive solar is always worth a try, and on top of that, my over-analytical science mind was thrilled to have an experiment on my hands.
Passive solar troughs have been tried all over the States. Some companies have marketed their own with added bells and whistles. The tanks created for the ranch here were straightforward and functional, while still looking neat and well thought-out. The tank pictured here cost less than $300 and could be done over a weekend with one or two people. While I am no carpenter, I found the trough was rather simple to construct, even solo. For larger tanks it is helpful to have another person as the frame becomes heavy quickly with all the 2x4s and plywood. One of the best parts in creating the tank frame is just how customizable it is in choosing the preferred kind of wood, thickness of plywood, layers of insulation, and what costs could be mitigated depending on where the tank frame will live.
Because of the large drinking hole on the lid, the tank is rather susceptible to cold air during below-freezing days. During the colder freezes we’ve had in the last several weeks, the tanks will often have a <1 inch sheet of ice on them at morning feeding, though the ice is often not attached to the sides of tank due to the insulation. This allows the horses to still easily push the ice layer down to be able to drink. For two weeks of 0-25 degree F temps, the frame held the tanks warm enough that breaking ice was not necessary. Another tank with no insulated frame in the same area, our “control” tank if you will, routinely had 4-6 inches of ice that required breaking throughout day due to constant re-freezing.
Where this tank really makes its money is the Suntuf greenhouse sheets on the front. When placed appropriately, this seemingly simple piece collects the energy from our strong solar rays, stores it efficiently between the layers of the two sheets, and distributes it throughout the frame during the daylight hours and likely into the night as well. Though the tank gains efficiency based on how tightly sealed and insulated it is made as a whole, access to a sunny, south-facing location is key to keeping the water above freezing. Any ice that does manage to accumulate throughout cold winter nights has melted during several hours of sun or by mid-day. Most incredibly this even happens with freezing daytime temps.
After almost two decades of wintertime ice-breaking, it was incredibly satisfying to see this passive solar trough frame work so well. If you are over the physical (and sometimes psychological) burden of breaking ice, and you have some sun to work with, I highly recommend giving this a try. You, too, could be doing a happy dance while putting away your ice-breaking tool of choice… for the rest of the year!
We owe this idea finding us to ROTH Certified Trainer, Katie Dixon. Katie emailed us with the details from Mother Earth News and our ROTH intern, Kate Fink, got cracking to make one for the ponies here at Reach Out Ranch. If you are interested in the details of how this tank was made, please contact Lacey@reachouttohorses.com for all the details.