Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

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Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

Post Number:#1  Unread postby Ferra » Fri Nov 18, 2016 8:47 pm

Kinda a weird first post to make, haven't even done an intro post yet, but thought I'd show an idea my husband and I worked up and installed today to keep some of the potential water-icing problems I could experience this winter at bay.

[Edit for context: I'm a new rabbit owner/rabbitry, and I've had my rabbits 2 months. So far everyone is happy, healthy and growing like weeds. But this is the first winter for both my rabbits and I, and I'm trying to play with ideas that can handle some of the more extreme winter weather in my climate as a contingency.]

The idea is that there is 5 gallon bucket, with a water heater inserted, serving as a reservoir. The heater is run by a temperature sensor, keeping it, in this case, at 40c. A bilge pump inside circulates the warmed water through a line that runs up through my cage stack, with copper coils inside water dishes in each cage, before returning to the reservoir. (Coils inside the cage, water line outside to avoid chewing issues). The copper coils serve as a heat transfer location, warming the water in the watering dishes, keeping them de-iced.

Temperature controller:
Rabbit waterer temp controller.jpg
Controller System
Rabbit waterer temp controller.jpg (61.92 KiB) Viewed 105 times

Rabbit waterer reservoir.jpg
Waterer Reservoir
Rabbit waterer reservoir.jpg (46.85 KiB) Viewed 105 times

Heating element/water bowl: (note the fancy salmon can...)
rabbit waterer heater element.jpg
Waterer Heater Element
rabbit waterer heater element.jpg (66.87 KiB) Viewed 105 times

The first test went quite well! (My buck seems to the be smartest of the lot, and had figured out the new water within 5 minutes)
Rabbit waterer in use.jpg
Rabbit waterer in use.jpg (62.52 KiB) Viewed 105 times

I'll be the first to admit: It's over-engineered. However, we had all of the parts sitting around, and a bored engineer on hand, so hopefully that somewhat explains how ludicrous this thing is. It's also somewhat designed around the conditions in my rabbitry in particular: 3 rabbits/holes, access to power, and a reasonable probability of the kinds of temperatures capable of freezing hell over. I don't really expect this to transfer perfectly, but thought the idea was worth posting in case someone else is looking at building a system and wants to see how this particular approach works. While I suppose it would be possible to scale this up to a larger rabbitry, I can see their being some issues with it. Not the least of which is if you're running 50 feet of warmed water loop, you need a large/fast enough pump to complete the whole circuit before anything can freeze, even in extreme temperatures.

We'd discussed other ideas for winter watering, some low-tech and some more traditional high-tech ones such as running nipples off the warmed water line, or having open cups with inflow and outflow all on the common line. But I shied away from those, mostly because I think keeping water warmed at 20-40c and running it through all the cages seems like an easy way to get contaminated water. At least this way, each rabbit gets it's own water dish and if that gets fouled, it's then on the rabbit in question that they ruined their perfectly good water. The only other issue with the nipple system was that with very low temperatures, it was possible the nipple-end COULD freeze even if the main line is still flowing, locking the rabbits out of their water anyways.

Now, the disadvantage is that my rabbits get only the amount of water that fits in their cage bowl: I don't have anything automatically refilling that. Given the kind of temperatures I'm trying to ensure this system can handle, I think a warmed gravity feed system might get a touch complicated. But an auto refil system isn't a priority at all. The easier way to handle that would just be to make bigger dishes to stick the coils in. (Maybe some of those nice rubber 1 quarts? But they'd have to be imported to me, so that's perhaps a ways out.) I'm out there 2x a day to feed anyhow, topping up the water dishes is easy enough. I just felt really bad about the rabbits getting locked out of their water. And if it ever hit -40C (which is plausible, though we are currently having a very mild winter for the time being.), I would be concerned that they'd be unable to drink anywhere near enough from a bottle before it froze up. (I also wonder if rabbits can freeze their tongues to cold metal like I used to as a kid... that was painful!) I figure this will give them access to at least a minimum amount of water in a day.

Our worst case scenario is we scrap it and I move to switching crocks of some type 2x per day. The only cost to us for the system so far is the electricity to run it, since everything else was lying around from other various DIY builds or home-brewing projects. And my smarty-pants buck seemed very happy about it, at least. :)

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Re: Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

Post Number:#2  Unread postby SixGun » Sat Nov 19, 2016 1:55 pm

The ingenuity of it is sure fun. Definitely thinking outside of the box with what you have handy.
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Re: Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

Post Number:#3  Unread postby MaggieJ » Sun Nov 20, 2016 8:25 am

Interesting system, Farra. People are always looking for ways to keep their rabbits' drinking water from freezing, so it is nice that you took the time to give us the details and pictures.

Please post an update when your weather gets really cold. It would be good to know how it is working and if you needed to tweak the set-up.

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Re: Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

Post Number:#4  Unread postby Ferra » Sun Dec 18, 2016 11:32 am

Well, the early results of the system are promising. Though temperatures have been quite mild for this time of year. Next week that's supposed to change, and we'll get the first hard test.

But so far it has done the following:
- Kept the shed/rabbitry (uninsulated) about 2c (4F) above the outside temperature.
- Kept the water ice free, even when the bottles would have iced over. We've been at a persistent -5c (23F) but have had nights as low as -11 (12 F) with continued success.
- Maintained temperatures of 32c (90F), 28c (82F), and 22c (72c) in the water dishes in the cages, from nearest to farthest from the system.

This week, I swapped from the salmon cans over to galvanized water cups from grandview rabbitry. The advantage has been that they're easier to swap out for cleaning, and they have slightly more capacity. Also, in the summer, I can just pull the heater coils and use them with the bottles, as intended. (Right now the coils prevent adding a bottle, maybe that's something to think of for a V 2.0 where increasing capacity is concerned). The downside is that they aren't as well fitted to the coils, so there might be a little more wasted heat.

We'll find out next week if the amount of contact currently between the coils and the water is enough to keep it defrosted at around -22c (-7.6F)

Of course this sudden plunge from above-seasonal to frigid HAS to come in the 2 weeks where my first doe is due to kindle... *sigh* Poor tiny buns, let us hope mom knows what pulling fur is all about right from the start.

-- Sun Dec 18, 2016 9:31 am --

The cold snap has finally broken.

The system worked fine keeping water de-iced over 14 days that ranged from -22 (-7.6F) to -30c (-22F) in average temperature. (without wind).

On average, it heated the shed about 5 degrees above outdoor ambient, as well.

The only issue I can see long term is evaporation from the main water tank causing issues in the shed. So far, that is being partially controlled with a lot of duct tape.

I am quite pleased that the temperatures are finally returning closer to 0c (32F) though. Hypothetically, I have a doe due to kindle in three days, and I wasn`t going to bank on her being able to keep her kits warm at -30c as a first timer.

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Re: Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

Post Number:#5  Unread postby Preitler » Sun Dec 18, 2016 12:58 pm

That's a nice system, maybe not that overengineered as it looks at first glance considering the wide range of temperatures you have to deal with. I would at least keep a spare power supply and pump handy.

My solution is more simple, electromagnets (That were thrown away at the company I work at, before I used simple resistors) under ceramic 1 liter crocks that burn around 5-6W max, connected to a battery charger that I can switch from 6 to 12V, at 12 V the -7°C we had til now were no problem, when it gets colder I'll add some insulation to the crocks.
I need that capacity because I have 2-4 rabbits per hutch.

Doesn't the water get stale, slimy and dirty fast at these temperatures? I mean, that's optimal condition for bacteria, and my bunnies always manage to get some stuff into the water to feed those.
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Re: Winter watering: Immersion warmer system

Post Number:#6  Unread postby Ferra » Sun Dec 18, 2016 10:29 pm

You'd think the water would be pretty bad, but I am finding it is evaporating and drying out on a regular basis at these temperatures. I think that's improving the water quality somewhat, so that I can get away with changing the actual water dishes every 2-3 weeks at the moment.

We've already swapped one power supply:. My husbanded confessed to building it with he flakiest one he owned at the time. Pump is still going strong though.

Not a bad impromptu solution, for now.

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