View Full Version : Checking water tank for stray voltage? Water tank woes

Feb. 16, 2010, 12:37 PM
I might have a stray voltage problem with my water tank. We have a plastic water tank with a drain hole heater. We have had the same set up with absolutely no problems for 13 years, this winter I have no end of issues.

To make a long story short...I am now suspecting stray voltage.

A search of past threads seems to suggest I can use a fence tester to check for voltage. I have one; it is the kind where you push a spikey thing (technical term) in the ground next to the fence and then touch the tester part (another technical term) to the fence line.

Can I use that to test the water? I would like to test it before changing the whole set up again, but I also woudl like to avoid electrocution.

I don't feel any current when I put my hand in. Based on my observations, one horse is prepared to drink from the tank but the other two are not.

Feb. 16, 2010, 12:53 PM
You won't feel it with your hand I suspect. Tongues are the best for feeling any current however I doubt very much you wish to be sticking your tongue in a water trough. Your fence tester will probably not work, you need specialized testers for water. I believe horses are our best testers should anything go wrong with the electricity going out to our water so if I were you I'd just change the heater.

Feb. 16, 2010, 01:06 PM
You'd need to buy a voltmeter to really check.

I'd just replace the heater. If you are using extension cords, which most folks do....then you might just swap those out.

Meanwhile set out some buckets or unplug it so they'll all drink...

Feb. 16, 2010, 01:16 PM
I am not above sticking my tongue in the water...

No extension cord, the heater plugs right into the wall of the run in. Switching out the third heater in one month is a hassle I would prefer to avoid if it is unnecessary, I really want to make sure that is indeed the problem.

Where can I buy a voltmeter? Home Depot? Rona?

Feb. 16, 2010, 03:17 PM
yep, Home Depot will have one. Shouldn't cost much and will give you a digital readout of voltage....tell them what you're wanting to check and they can show you how to use it...if there's a mom and pop electrical supply house, their counter guys for sure can show you...

Feb. 16, 2010, 09:57 PM
I am not above sticking my tongue in the water...

A true horse woman.

Pictures please. :D

Feb. 17, 2010, 09:19 AM
We had this problem (discussed in previous posts). My hubby even drove a grounding rod into the ground and grounded it with copper wire. It turns out the problem was a faulty tank heater. We found out when our electric bill was $475!! It's normally just under $200 this time of year. Whatever you do, you might want to do it quickly!

Feb. 17, 2010, 11:03 AM
A true horse woman.

Pictures please. :D

It gets even better. It occurred to me that if I stick my tongue in the water while standing in rubber boots, I would likely be insulated and would feel nothing (that is about as much as I can remember from high school science...) So I went one step further and climbed on the water tank so that no foot touched the ground and then stuck my tongue in the water. Felt nada (other than the astonished stares of the horses).

And no, there is no photographic evidence ;)

After I tried the tongue trick, I did go out and buy a voltmeter. No reading. DH will try it himself as well. If he also gets no reading...I am stumped. Perhaps we will just try a different brand of heater (maybe there is a reason these are all on sale....).

Horses have water in their stalls all evening and all night so I guess I will have to continue hand watering a couple times during the day until we sort this out (hung buckets would freeze in literally no time).

Feb. 17, 2010, 11:12 AM
You could try leaving the heater on at night when the horses are in the barn and unplugging it when they go out. At least the water will be warm and take longer to freeze. Down here in Georgia, I only plug the heaters in at night and even when we had 2 weeks on temps that never got above freezing, the water never froze. (heaters plugged in at 5pm and unplugged at 7:30am)

Feb. 17, 2010, 06:42 PM
Suppose you make your own heated water tank the same way they make the heated buckets? Take an extra tank a bit bigger than the one you have, wrap the smaller tank in heat tape, set inside the larger tank and drill a hole to run the cord through. The result would be a heated tank with no possibility of stray voltage to shock the horses--or humans testing the water for voltage. ;)

Feb. 17, 2010, 09:31 PM
Normal volt meter will not pick up stray voltage, need a mega volt meter. You're looking for small voltage leaks.

Feb. 17, 2010, 10:20 PM
meh, the SO is a master electrician, tests our tank with a volt meter. What is this about a 'mega volt meter?' link?

Feb. 17, 2010, 11:12 PM
When you do figure out what is potentially wrong and fix it, you may have to move your trough. I had this problem recently. One of my run in sheds has a trough set inside of it, but when the electrical problem developed the water literally became "hot" to the touch (I did not have to put my tongue in it to determine it had a current, my hand was enough). We had the outlet the heater was plugged into serviced by an electrician which fixed the issue, but the two mares that were living in the field and shed absolutely refused to drink from it. They had obviously been zapped. I had to move the trough to a completely different location to convince them to go back to using it.

Feb. 18, 2010, 04:06 PM
OMGIH. I have no ideas for you, but the mental image of you straddling your stock tank while trying to taste the water and not fall in as your horses look on going "WTF!" is just ... awesome!! I'm dying here! :lol::lol::lol:

Feb. 18, 2010, 07:36 PM
I am super impressed with you Mozart! :D

One thought which occurred to me. I had a horse who would not drink out of a trough with a heater in it. All the other horses in the field would, but not this one. I don't know how or why I figured this out but it seems that she did not like the sound of the electricity. She obviously could hear it because the moment I switched the electricity off, she would drink. Now I did have mine on an extension cord and so I took it off the extension cord and voila! she drank again. Could the cord on your heater be emitting some electricity noise do you think? Is this horse super sensitive?

Feb. 18, 2010, 09:17 PM
Actually, if you stick one hand in the water and wet your other hand and put it on the ground, you should be able to feel the "tingling" from the electricity.

I have the problem as well with tanks that are near large overhead transmission lines.

Feb. 18, 2010, 10:10 PM
Actually, if you stick one hand in the water and wet your other hand and put it on the ground, you should be able to feel the "tingling" from the electricity.

I have the problem as well with tanks that are near large overhead transmission lines.

That only works if you HAVE ground, and I am betting Mozart has about the same amount of bare ground as I have - none.

Mozart - go get yourself a multi-meter with different settings so you can pick up little bits of current, and set it to the highest possible setting - I think it measures in ten thousandths of a volt, same for amps...or maybe it's thousandths, mine is in the workshop and I am not :)

Frank B
Feb. 19, 2010, 08:46 AM
If changing the heater didn't solve the problem, it may be in the wiring. A GFIC receptacle tester (http://www.lowes.com/pd_292761-12704-61-501_0_?productId=3128411&Ntt=receptacle%20tester&Ntk=i_products&pl=1&currentURL=/pl__0__s?newSearch=true$Ntt=receptacle%20tester$y= 10$x=23) will usually reveal this. They're easy to use, just plug in the receptacle and check the indicator lights.

There are some very unusual problems that these testers won't pick up on. If that doesn't work, you'll probably want to contact an electrician.

Incidentally, a millivolt meter, not a megavolt meter, was what the above poster was referring to.

It's also possible to have circulating ground currents, a big problem around dairy barns. The cows tend to get teatillated when milked, and fail to see the humor in it! These currents are usually (but not always) the domain of the power company.

Feb. 19, 2010, 10:28 AM
This is very educational. Thanks to our many electrical experts on this board! Must go put my tongue in the water trough now, with my other wet hand in the snow, my rubber boots off. Horses won't drink.

Feb. 19, 2010, 10:37 AM
YES- multi meter, not mega meter, I'm sorry I didn't think to tell you that... you can adjust it's sensitivity...when our last heater flaked out, we couldn't feel a thing in the water, but the horses could. Wet hand to ground, other hand in water, nada. The meter read 11 volts. We humans apparenly can't feel 11 volts. But Chico the donkey can :)


+1 on moving the tank. They don't trust it.

Feb. 19, 2010, 04:39 PM
The problem might be in faulty grounding. Another type of fix: put stall mats around the tank, so the horses are isolated from the ground when touching the water.

And yes, I've had problems getting horses to drink after they've been zapped at the water tank.

Feb. 21, 2010, 06:02 PM
I had this problem once too and could not feel the charge myself. Boots off, kneeling on bare ground....no shock. When I finally lured one horse over and convinced him to reach for a carrot in the water (ya know...to show him it was safe!) as soon as HE touched the water, I got a shock thru the water. I guess 4 hooves are more grounded than a person?? In my case, adding a copper ground wire to the tank solved the problem.

In hind sight, it's really not a good idea to use yourself as a human ground rod...electricity and water are a dangerous combination. I'd get an electrician to look at it!