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6 simple ways to cut your energy costs this winter

Kyle Booth Published on 31 December 2015
insulated stock tank

If your dairy is located in a four-season climate, you’ve probably had your share of freezing temperatures and winter weather by now.

It might seem that spring is still a long way off, but that means there’s still time to cut this year’s cold-weather energy expenses. Changes you make this year will not only save you energy right now but will leave you well positioned for next year’s winter.



Here are some easy ways that dairies can reduce their heating costs:

1. You could easily be wasting energy each winter through your engine block heaters for tractors and skid steers. Standard engine block heaters are 1,100 to 1,500 watts, and a farm may have several engine block heaters running.

Installing a timer for the engine block heater can reduce engine block heater energy use by 75 percent. Typical run time for an engine block heater is 12 hours per day during winter. Installing a timer reduces the run hours to approximately three hours per day.

You can find a heavy-duty engine block heater timer at your local hardware store for about $25, and it can save you upward of $100 per year for each timer, depending on your local electricity rates. If your dairy has a lot of diesel vehicles, the savings can add up quickly.

For example, two tractors with 1,500-watt engine block heaters plugged in 12 hours per day for 20 weeks per year use approximately 5,040 kilowatt-hours (kWh) annually. At $0.10 per kWh, an engine block heater timer that reduces the engine block heater use to three hours per day would save about $378 annually. That’s a pretty quick return on your $25 investment.


2. It is important to keep water in your stock tanks from freezing so that animals have adequate water supply. Older-style heated stock tanks are often uninsulated, constructed of metal and can have heating elements without thermostatic controls. Well-insulated, thermostatically controlled stock tanks can help save electricity during the cold months.

Well-insulated tanks allow you to use a lower-wattage heater. For example, a thermostatically controlled 1,500-watt heating element in a metal stock tank could be replaced with an insulated stock tank with a thermostatically controlled 500-watt heating element.

At $0.10 per kWh, this would equate to an annual savings of $112. At an average of $800 installed, the insulated stock tank would have a simple payback of 7.1 years without financial assistance. If the existing heating element was not thermostatically controlled, then the savings would increase and the payback would be reduced.

The insulated tank provides the equivalent freeze protection with one-third of the energy use. Depending on how many stock waterers your dairy uses, the savings can add up quickly.

Many utility companies in cold climates offer incentives for switching to insulated stock waterers, so check with your electricity provider to see if there are any incentives available. Even without a rebate, insulated stock waterers are a good investment.

3. Most dairy operations use uninsulated structures with significant air flow. When using a forced hot-air heater in these areas, much of the heat is lost through air exchange and through the building envelope.


A better option is to install radiant heaters. Radiant heaters heat the objects in a room instead of heating the air. This allows heat to stay in a room even when there are high rates of air exchange.

As an example, a propane-fired 140,000-Btu-per-hour input forced hot-air heater in a parlor running six hours per day for 18 weeks uses 1,155 gallons of propane.

This unit could be replaced with a 100,000-Btu-per-hour radiant tube heater, and the savings would be approximately 330 gallons of propane annually. At $1.40 per gallon, this equates to an annual cost savings of $462. With an installed heater cost of $1,800, this measure pays for itself in just under four years.

4. If you use electric space heaters, only use them when needed rather than letting them run all day. Space heaters are fairly inexpensive to purchase, but they are no longer a bargain when you consider how much it costs to run them. A 5,000-watt electric heater running eight hours per day over the winter uses approximately 5,000 kWh. At $0.10 per kWh, this equates to $500 per season for just one heater.

5. Some dairies have been able to capture the waste heat from their refrigeration compressor to heat spaces in the winter. You can configure a vent to remove the heat from the room during hot weather and install a fan to blow the heat into a milk room or parlor in winter.

This design configuration enables you to reduce your use of other heating fuels by utilizing waste heat that’s already generated on the farm.

6. Last but not least, make sure you are maintaining your space heating and water heating equipment according to the manufacturer’s schedule. Poorly maintained or broken equipment will use more energy than well-maintained equipment.

These simple fixes can keep warm air and money from flowing out the door of your dairy. If you’d like more information on what practices will save the most energy for your dairy – regardless of climate – consider having an energy audit performed for your farm.

An energy audit will tell you what equipment and practices are best suited for your operation, and how much energy you can expect to save based on your particular energy-use patterns and cost. An energy audit can also unlock funding for implementing energy-efficient equipment.

We can’t help keep Old Man Winter at bay, but at least we can provide you with some tips to better manage your winter energy costs. Stay warm!  PD

PHOTO: An insulated stock tank not only keeps water from freezing, but it can also offer energy savings over older heated metal tanks. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

Kyle Booth
  • Kyle Booth

  • Engineering Team Lead, CEM
  • EnSave Inc.
  • Email Kyle Booth